Hiring child care staff: top tips for recruiting in early education

Get three experts’ best advice on hiring the educators of your dreams.
November 16, 2022
Reading time:
a light bulb with the letter p inside it

a black and white image of two hearts

famly icon - piggy bank

a black and white image of two houses



a black and white image of a bunny and a bottle


a black and white heart icon

With Famly since

In a rush? Here’s the quick run-down.

  • We're here to explore hiring in child care — how it works today, and what you can do to find the very best early educators for your program.
  • You’ll hear from three experts (two in the UK, and one from the US) with HR experience within the early education sector. We’ll explore everything from how to make a compelling job post, to what makes new hires want to stick around at your setting.
  • If you take just one thing away from this, it's that you should think about all the ways you can meet your candidates' needs and concerns during the interview process.
newsletter box iconJoin the community
Image of iPad on purple blackgroundWant to give Famly a try?
A smiling Famly SDR removing his headsetSee Famly for yourself

Hiring child care staff might feel like an uphill battle right now.

It was hard before the pandemic, but now, we're dealing with new constraints and considerations. How do you make a good first impression on a Zoom call? What can you offer child care workers that other early education programs can't? And how do you make sure that your new hires want to stick around for the long run?

If it all seems a bit tricky, don’t worry — it’s not just you.

That’s why we’re here to revisit the process, and to learn how child care hiring works in the here and now. And to shed some more light on it all, I called up some expert voices from within the sector.

In this article, you’ll hear from:

  • Sophie Haylock: Sophie has worked in the Early Years HR sector for over 10 years, and knows early education from the perspective of an owner and an HR specialist. Today, she owns a day nursery in Surrey, England, and runs an Early Years HR consultancy firm.
  • Lauren Gill: Lauren is the Head of People at Vivvi, a New York-based child care provider. She helps plan and direct how Vivvi hires early educators for their nursery settings in New York City.
  • Imogen Edmunds: Imogen founded HR consultancy Redwing Solutions in 2004, and is still the Managing Director. The firm, which is based in Redditch, England, specializes in advising early education settings on HR and employment law.

Let’s see what they’ve got to say.

With child care hiring, a bit of extra work will pay off

If you’re looking for an extra helping hand these days, you’re not alone.

Once you post that first job ad, you’re likely to see plenty of applications coming in. The challenge is sifting through them all to find your top picks — and then persuading those top picks to come join your team.

As Imogen Edmunds says, that’ll require you to be more proactive in your hiring than you’re used to.

“You’ve got to educate your candidate on what you’ve got to offer — almost in the same way you’d try to woo a family to register at your setting,” she says. “The employers who are succeeding these days are really thinking about who that ideal candidate is, and what they’d want to hear.”

So what might persuade that perfect hire to join your team? Here are the factors that matter most:

  • Consider your applicants’ own time commitments. Start your hiring process off by showing you understand your applicant’s lives and commitments. A good way to do this is to make it clear that you can do interviews in the off-hours, if necessary. “A successful practitioner may be working from 7:30 AM to 6:00 PM, Monday through Friday — so inviting them for an interview at 3 PM won’t do, even if it works best for you,” Imogen says.
  • Show you’re serious about growth and development. That ideal hire should know you’re serious about investing in them, and helping make a career in early education. Do you have a plan set up for providing CPD to your team? Are you planning to open another setting, or build a new room? Put that front and center in your ads and interviews, to make it clear how you value the work you do.
  • Treat the pandemic as a learning experience. This one’s big — after the pandemic, child care workers will be curious about how you looked out for your staff when times got tough. Be prepared to explain how you supported and protected your team, and what you learned from it.

The big ideas

When hiring child care staff, should you think long term or short term?

You might be tempted just to say yes to the first applicant, just to fill the spot.

But every expert I spoke to says it makes more sense to hire for the long-term right now.

Here’s why:

  • Children need consistent caregivers. “We want to build those stable teaching teams and be a consistent touchstone for families, especially in this turbulent time,” says Vivvi’s Lauren Gill. “It’s nice for families to know they’re not going to have a rotating cast of teachers, but the same teaching and leadership team supporting them.”
  • Your staff deserve a setting they can commit to. “Hiring long-term shows you believe we’re going to have a future,” Sophie Haylock says. “It’s a matter of being confident and optimistic about it all. We do need to look at the long term, because the need for child care is just not going away.”

Show child care workers what you learned from the pandemic

When that ideal applicant is thinking about joining your team, one of the first things they’re looking at is how you support and protect your team.

We might be out of the woods with the pandemic, but its lessons are still relevant to the child care hiring process. On a practical level, it’s a test of how adaptable you are, and how organized you can be during tough times. But beyond that, it’s a question of how well you care for the people you work with.

As Imogen Edmunds says, it’s important to spend some time thinking about how you’ll answer those questions beforehand.

“We’ve seen some very negative impressions of employers who didn't take COVID-19 security seriously. I know of candidates who have declined job offers just because of that,” she says.

From the moment you post your “now hiring” advert, here’s what you can do to show you’re serious about looking out for your child care staff:

  1. Have your first interview via webcam. Especially at this stage, there’s no good reason to bring someone new into your early education bubble. Digital interviews are also more flexible, so it’s easier to accommodate your interviewee’s own schedule.
  2. Make the in-person visit count. If you’re inviting a candidate to visit your setting, that first impression counts. You might consider being extra flexible with your availability for that visit, to show your applicant that you appreciate any schedule constraints they might have in their life.
  3. Write up a document detailing your safety measures. Think about how you adapted at the start of the pandemic, and all the things you’re still doing differently today. What new tools or procedures are you using? Which daily routines are new, and which are on hold? At some point in your interviews, you can expect to discuss this at length — so it’s best to reflect on it a bit now.

What should you be looking for when hiring child care staff?

The past few years have brought huge changes (and challenges) to child care, but you should still look for the same traits as always. That means the same creativity, the same willingness to read the same picture book five times in an hour (and still do all the voices).

What is new, though, is the ways we can see if someone has those traits from a conversation. As Sophie Haylock points out, the pandemic can help frame people’s ability to step up and handle change and pressure.

“It’s important to talk to people about what’s changed for them during the pandemic. What have they learned, or how are they doing things differently? Has this period made them look for different things in life? Reflective questions like those can speak pretty deeply to an applicant’s character,” she says.

As you head into your interviews, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Don’t get too carried away with the CV. Being great on paper is different than being great on the floor. Focus first on your candidate as a person — how they make you feel, and the energy or attitude they project. If you really wish they had some qualification, you can always train them for it later down the line.
  • Communication skills are more important than before. When we made the leap into remote learning early in 2020, it marked a technological shift for the sector. Parents now expect to be in closer touch with their children and caregivers during the day — so it’s worth making sure your candidate is skilled with communication and management software like Famly.
  • Ask about the projects they finished, not the ones they started. If they’ve got a certification course listed on their CV, did they see it all the way through? What about with the projects or hobbies they might have started during quarantine? Especially if you’re investing in CPD courses for your team, that sense of commitment is a big one.

Where should you be posting your child care hiring notices?

These days, we’re seeing most candidates come from two places: Designated job-posting websites, and social media.

But which one’s best for you? Let’s take a quick look at our options.

  • Job posting boards. Websites like Indeed and ZipRecruiter are still at the forefront here. You’ll still get plenty of applicants for your listings — but since so many are looking for jobs right now, you might get flooded. That makes more work for you as you sift through it all to find the best candidates.
  • Social media. Facebook and Instagram can be more effective in certain instances, especially if you’re looking to hire younger educators who will want to stick around and grow at your setting. The challenge here though, is this all hinges on you already having a strong and active social media presence for your child care setting. If that doesn’t sound like you, it’s either time to start investing in your social media presence – or choose a different avenue.
download pdf
Why hiring the right child care workers matters so much

It sounds cliché, but having a tight-knit team and a close sense of community is a big factor in how you’ll fare when the going gets tough.

And of course, that starts with hiring the right people. So it’s worth reiterating that right now, it’s worth putting the extra time and effort into your hiring process.

Of course, that attention shouldn’t end once the hiring process is wrapped up. As Vivvi’s Lauren Gill points out, it’s an important chance for child care directors and owners to reflect on what they offer their educators — and how they can make early education a lifelong field.

“So many educators are just absolutely compelled to do this work, no matter the conditions. But I think we need to think less about who we can hire that can endure and make sacrifices, and much more about how we can make early education a career,” Lauren says. “What can we do to give the same resources and opportunities for growth that we see in other sectors? I think it’s a tragedy that educators sometimes have to choose between their passion and a comfortable life. It’s our duty as program and business leaders to make sure educators don’t have to make that choice.”

graphical user interface, text, application
Official Danish Government Reopening Advice

Guidance from the Danish Health Ministry, translated in full to English.

Picture of a Guidance document
UK Nursery Covid-19 Response Group Recommendations

The full recommendations from a working group of over 70 nursery chains in the UK.

Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.

Learn more about Famly's nursery software

Find out below how Famly ensured the Tenderlinks team felt well-supported in managing their nursery, and see what we can do for you in a personal demo.

Big purple quotation icon

“I think the support at Famly has been great, someone’s always there on the phone to help you, should you need it, and there’s a lot of useful articles in the help centre." - Vicky-Leigh, Manager, Tenderlinks Nursery

Show me Famly

Learn more about Famly

Find out below how Famly ensured the Tenderlinks team felt well-supported in managing their nursery, and see what we can do for you in a personal demo.

Sign up now

Learn more about Famly

Find out below how Famly ensured the Tenderlinks team felt well-supported in managing their nursery, and see what we can do for you in a personal demo.

Sign up now

Learn more about Famly

Find out below how Famly ensured the Tenderlinks team felt well-supported in managing their nursery, and see what we can do for you in a personal demo.

Get your free trial

Learn more about Famly

Find out below how Famly ensured the Tenderlinks team felt well-supported in managing their nursery, and see what we can do for you in a personal demo.