Business development

How you can set up the ideal early years job interview

Part one of a three-part series addressing recruitment and retention in early education
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May 25, 2022
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 In a rush? Here’s the quick run-down.

  • In part one of this series on the recruitment in the early years by guest contributor Valentina Grizner, you’ll find advice for managers looking to fill a role…
  • Asking the right questions as part of a thorough hiring process means you can be sure you’re getting the ‘hidden gem’ you want.
  • Consider apprentices too, just be sure you can offer them the training and study time they need to develop.

Finding the right early years practitioners for your nursery setting is more challenging than ever. Recruiting staff across the sector is difficult enough, but what about retaining them? 

Nailing this process starts with making sure you've got the best interview experience you can provide. Don’t forget, candidates are ‘interviewing’ you too, so sell what your organisation has to offer them, like incentives and benefits. As we'll get into down below, you've got to walk through your process from your interviewee's perspective, to see how they'd experience that 'first impression' of your setting.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach, but I have gathered a few top tips on recruitment for childcare providers, which you can tailor to your setting’s needs!

Women tackling the recruitment crisis

Three keys for advertising an early years job posting

Number one: be flexible

Okay, so you are an early years provider, about to put together the job description and post it on Indeed. 

Even if you are advertising a full-time role, it is worth mentioning that you could offer part-time for the right candidate. Let’s face it, not everyone can work 40 hours a week, especially if they have children of their own. 

Of course, it is crucial to meet minimum ratios by law. But, if you find a real gem and they can only work term-time or 30 hours a week, then you should still consider offering them a job then think about making it work. You don’t come across exceptional practitioners every day! 

This could turn out to be a win-win - you hire someone amazing for your team and drive up retention of quality staff through your flexibility.

Number two: be open to potential

Sometimes setting the expectations a little too high can scare off candidates from applying for a role. 

If you say that the ideal candidate must hold a full and relevant CACHE Level 3 qualification and have at least two years of experience, you are less likely to get people applying that are not serious prospects, which can be a relief. However, it can also prevent candidates with less experience but lots of transferable skills, putting themselves forward. 

Although the EYFS requires having minimum number of qualified staff, the right qualifications are not everything. 

You may find someone wonderful without a childcare diploma, but years of experience in early years, who would love to study towards an Early Education qualification. Or a candidate with no experience in a nursery setting or traditional classroom, who worked as an au pair, nanny, or babysitter and is interested in pursuing a career as a practitioner. 

Number three: use your (social) network

If you already have an early years educator on staff, find out if they have equally amazing friends within the sector. You could run an employee referral scheme - refer your friends and get a little bonus. 

Or, harness the incredible power of social media by advertising role openings on Instagram or in Facebook groups. Perhaps you could even create a TikTok video about a day at the nursery (asking for parental permission here goes without saying), to show everyone what a fun and diverse workplace it is.

Group picture of early years staff in their nursery with children

Nailing the interview stage

When someone wants to work in a nursery, you need them to be committed because it is crucial to provide consistency for children. They also need to be flexible, as they may sometimes need to cover different rooms to maintain ratios. 

Safe recruitment is key. As an employer, the best thing you can do is to follow the guidelines of Safer Recruitment in Education and ensure that there is a thorough interview process in place. This consists of:

  • Narrowing down to suitable candidates
  • A phone screening, 
  • First stage interview (ideally in person)
  • A hands-on interview or trial day when the candidate can spend time in each room.

You might also ask them to plan an activity or write a short observation, so you can have an overview of their practice. 

If the candidate already has an enhanced DBS certificate registered on the Update Service then that is great. If you need to process a new one, ensure that they register it within 30 days, so you can carry out regular status checks. 

Glowing references covering the past two years are a must.

Questions to ask during an interview

Here are some select interview questions you could ask potential early years educators:

  • What qualities will you bring to the nursery?
  • What do you think is the most important thing when working in a team?
  • Tell us about an activity you planned! How would you differentiate it for Babies (0-2), Toddlers (2-3) and Preschoolers (3-5)?
  • If a child would come to nursery with a bruise, what would you do?
  • If a Preschool-aged child discloses serious safeguarding concerns to you, what steps would you follow?
  • If a team member was being rough towards a child, what would you do?
  • What is your understanding of the revised EYFS and what are the main changes?
  • What are British Values and how would you implement them into practice?
  • Can you talk to us about the importance of parent partnerships?
  • What would you do if a 2-year-old showed challenging behaviour?

An early years practitioner teaching children in their setting

How to show all you have to offer

The candidate is also deciding if you will be a good fit for them as much as it is the other way around. Make sure you show off how working with you will benefit them and how you're different from other employers.

Firstly, what's special about your provision? For example, do you have an awesome outdoor classroom with a mud kitchen and ‘bug hotel’? A sensory room? A vegetable garden where children can do daily gardening classes and plant their own carrots? Or do you happen to have a pair of pet rabbits called Cashew and Peanut (but a strictly nut-free nursery, obviously)? 

We all have an inner child deep down and practitioners want to work in a setting that provides a fun and stimulating environment for both little ones and grown-ups. 

It’s also important to showcase how you can support your candidate’s well being and development. What incentives does the company offer staff? Examples could include: 

  • free lunches at work, 
  • a day off on birthdays, 
  • an extra day of annual leave with each year of service, 
  • a duvet day each term if you don’t have a sick day (we all know it’s almost impossible not to catch anything when you work in childcare), 
  • opportunities for progression, 
  • annual pay reviews, 
  • social events, 
  • employee appreciation awards, 
  • open-door policy, 
  • budget for work clothes instead of a uniform, 
  • gym membership discount 

The job title is important too - Early Years Educator sounds way better than Nursery Practitioner!

Healthy food in an early years setting

Giving early years apprentices a chance

Hiring apprentices is another way to expand and upskill your team. There are so many young individuals out there that are willing to learn on the job and complete their qualification through an apprenticeship, you just need to find the right people and a good training provider. 

It is, however, important to make expectations clear to avoid disappointment - clarify from the beginning how many hours in the classroom are expected versus study time. Depending on your setting’s needs, you could offer them four full days and two half-days spent in the classroom, and two half days (mornings or afternoons) of studying at work (if this can be accommodated in a quiet space). 

Ensure you offer support, monitor their progress, check in regularly with their assessor, and appoint a mentor from your team who can help them (this makes the practitioner feel more valued and important too, as it is a special task to buddy someone!). Complete apprentices’ enrolment in a week - if an apprentice is keen to learn, they will be excited to get started! 

What should an apprentice interview look like?

The interview process should be similar to that for practitioners, including initial phone screenings, in-person interviews, then hands-on interviews, but feature different kinds of questions. For example:

  • what’s motivating them to work with children? 
  • where do they see themselves in two years’ time? 

It is likely their first job, so they need to understand the importance of safeguarding, health and safety, and punctuality. 

Allow them to spend enough time in each classroom, so they can experience the difference between the age groups - you can see which one they are best suited to and which they enjoy the most. 

If you are hiring multiple apprentices, they can also support each other, which is so important. You never know, they might stay with the company for many years and become future Room Leaders or Deputy Managers!

Working in the Early Years is incredibly rewarding and whatever steps you take when it comes to hiring educators, the main thing you need to remember is to find individuals that follow outstanding practice, keep children in your care happy, safe and provide them with stimulating activities, so they can learn and get ready for ‘big school’. 

By keeping these tips in mind, you can unearth the gems waiting to be found.

The big ideas

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Official Danish Government Reopening Advice

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

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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

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.