How to Hire More Staff for Your Childcare: The Basics
I totally struck out with hiring in January and February, then hit 'reset' with a new system and hired 4 new employees in 5 weeks. This post outlines the basics on how I do for successful hiring.
Before we get started, I want to acknowledge that this is my very first post for Care Camp! I'm Elizabeth Garza, and I've been working in childcare for 15 years. I run a successful center and have held a wide array of roles in my childcare journey.
Over these years, I often felt alone. I've often had few people I could turn to for help or who could understand the stress of operating in this highly regulated industry. I’ve had to learn “on the job”, and I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way. Above all, I always wished someone more experienced would have shared their wisdom with me. So, for current and future childcare operators, that's exactly what I'm going to do doing here.
I'll be publishing regular posts on how to improve your program while making it easier and hopefully a bit less stressful to operate. I’ll mostly be sharing about the business-side of childcare, not delving into philosophies or curriculums, as those are pretty well covered online. These next handful of posts will all be about hiring because that's the biggest need we all collectively have right now.
You may note at the end of this post you can leave comments. I hope that becomes a way for you to connect with me and others in the industry. For now, feel free to let me know any questions you have, or just drop me a line. I’d love to hear from you and how things are going.
By the way, you’re likely receiving this because a colleague or friend recommended you. As this is just the beginning, I'm only sending this out to a few hundred childcare folks right now. If you no longer want to get my posts - just reply "no thanks" and I'll never email you again. If you like it, please share it with colleagues or friends.
OK, now here we go! 🎉
Hiring staff to work in childcare is a tough job. And it's so much tougher right now due to Covid-19, the fears of contracting the virus in childcares, stimulus checks, and school districts hiring more childcare teachers and aides.
In January I set a goal to hire 4 new staff members by April 1st and to be honest, I was immediately striking out. I've heard from many other childcare directors with the same story. I was spending $800-1000 per month on Indeed, pushing Craigslist job posts weekly at $35 apiece. Nothing was working, and it felt like the hiring pool was bleak.
At the end of February, I decided to take a step back and analyze what was going on. I found I wasn't getting very many candidates in "the door", and those that were entering our hiring cycle never made it to the end. It was partially a systems issue on my side.
I set up a new system that took 30 minutes a day and included posting jobs in a couple of new locations. This turned around our hiring, and we hired 3 fully qualified candidates in March and our final hire in mid-April. These small changes meant a world of difference, and our business would not be thriving without them.
I'll go into more detail about the hiring system I implemented in a later post, but right now let's take time to set the groundwork of hiring in childcare.
Hiring and keeping childcare staff has always been hard. There are many things you need to consider, and when the candidate pool shrinks as it has right now, it can be difficult hiring the very best staff. Maybe you haven't hired in a while, or you've never needed to hire until now. Or maybe you just need a refresher. Here are the basic steps for good hiring:
1. Determine your staffing needs
The first thing you always need to do when hiring staff is to determine your staffing needs. The more children, the larger the operation, and the more staff are required.
But have you considered your attrition rate? Look back through your roster or payroll history and assess how often you've lost staff.
Now dig a bit deeper and assess how often you've lost staff at each role type (aide, teacher, administrative, etc.) This will give you an indication of what numbers you need to target in your staffing plan.
What's a staffing plan?
We're so glad you asked. A staffing plan is a written document that outlines your staffing needs, the qualifications of each position, and how many you need.
It's not just about filling in gaps when they happen to arise, it's part of an ongoing strategy for effective management.
What? You don't have one? Well, read on!
The first step should be assessing how many staff you'll need short term (think in the next three months), mid-term (in the next year), and long-term (in the next few years.)
You can then write your staffing plan. Start with an outline of the types and number of staff members you need for each position in your organization, as well as a list outlining when those positions will be available to fill.
You need to carefully consider your budget for staffing. We'll cover this in a later post.
Here are some questions that might help guide your thought process:
What does your staffing forecast look like? What does your enrollment forecast look like? How do these two forecasts compare?
What services does it take to run at peak efficiency? How many people work full-time or part-time now? What experience and qualifications do these staff members have and how many children can they teach and supervise?
2. Get super clear on what’s required for the role
Finding any candidates is tough right now, but it's even harder to find qualified candidates. You need a clear idea of what qualifications are absolutely required for the role versus those that are potentially flexible qualifications. You don’t want to screen candidates with qualifications requirements that aren’t absolutely necessary.
If you don't know what's required for a position such as a childcare teacher, refer to your licensing and any other relevant regulatory documents to find what qualifications are required. I call these "hard" requirements - your candidates need these to work in your program. It's important to differentiate them from "soft" requirements, as we'll explore in our future post about writing excellent job descriptions.
Depending on the type and location of your childcare, some of these hard requirements may include:
Early childhood education degree or diploma (preferably from a reputable institution) or a certain amount of units completed
CPR and First Aid training
Ability to transport children - car seat experience preferred, but not necessary.
Valid driver's license with a clean driving record
Soft requirements are what you need from a candidate for the job, but you may be able to develop with the candidate or be somewhat flexible short-term if you need to hire urgently.
Some examples of soft requirements you may include in your include:
Full-time availability at least three days per week between the hours of sunrise and sunset (maybe they don't have childcare right now, which you can either supply with at own or program or choose to wait for them to go full-time once they have childcare arranged).
Early childhood education degree or diploma (you can support the employee with pay incentives for this).
If no degree, enrolled in classes (even if not enrolled at the moment of the interview, you could get the employee to enroll before hiring, or to enroll for a small pay bump in the next semester).
To find qualified candidates who meet all these qualifications, you need to advertise your opening on many websites.
3. Create a job description that is clear, concise, and attractive
Creating a great job description part is an art, a special balance, and super important to get right. You want to be clear about the role, but you don't want to add every single detail. Remember, this is effectively an "ad" to get more candidates in the door, but it should also set some expectations to filter out unqualified would-be applicants. You want people to know what it is like working at your childcare, and what work is involved (for example- they may not expect or want to do diapering).
Your job description should include:
Job title and summary
Information about the organization (location, credibility, notable facts, maybe a testimonial from staff)
Job duties (remember, don’t be too thorough)
Job requirements (again, keep it clear and short)
Benefits of working at the organization (capture all of them in their best light)
Any required legal language
Make an effort with this step because it can make or break how many applicants apply for the job opening which will leave you more options when it comes down to selecting for interviews.
Spend time looking at your competitors' job postings (especially if you know they've had success at hiring great staff) and take cues from them!
4. Post the position on various websites, including social media sites like LinkedIn and Facebook
Note: we’ll have a post in the future about new places to post that you’ve probably never considered.
To find qualified candidates who meet all these qualifications, you need to advertise your opening on as many networks as possible. The more candidates who are aware of a position available, the better chance one has of being selected!
You should post the job opening on LinkedIn and Facebook. Facebook and LinkedIn are both social media sites that allow people to share links with friends; if you don’t have a personal or professional account there already, create one to advertise the opening. Don’t waste your time posting on Indeed unless you have the budget. The free Indeed posts get nearly no exposure. Indeed is expensive, but can work well (more about this in a future post).
Lastly, don’t discredit the old school methods. They’re often still effective, and your competitors may no longer do them. Post roles in your local newspaper or put up flyers in grocery stores. Chalk the sidewalk outside your local community college with “Hiring Now: Preschool Teacher” then your phone number or email.
5. Screen applicants by asking them for their resume, references, and an interview
Now you need to dig through the volume of candidates and do it efficiently. To do this, you need to make sure that your applicant pool is diverse but also qualified.
To start with, ask applicants for a resume and references so that they can be screened in advance of an interview. If you’re using an applicant tracking system (“ATS”), ensure you get all your candidates in there. First filter by “hard” qualifications. Then take that group and filter by location (I weed out anyone that’s more than a 30 minute drive), then resume (I filter based on length of previous roles, experience, and “soft” qualifications).
After screening out unqualified candidates during the initial round of applications, schedule phone or Zoom interviews with those who seem most promising.
Your phone or Zoom interview should be short, like 15 min max. It should be used as an efficient screening. It should include:
A review of your hard requirements and if they meet them.
A review of your soft requirements and if they can’t meet them now, discuss a potential plan.
Their schedule availability. We’ll review how to ask this (which is important!) in a future post.
Their commute. Again, important how you ask since in most states you can’t ask where they live.
One question to see if they’re passionate about working in childcare.
One question to see if they’d be a good team player (or meet another critical “fit” requirement).
Next move candidates who are a good fit to the onsite interview(s).
Some possible questions to ask at onsite interviews include: "What skills have helped you succeed at work?" and "Can you describe three examples where you were able to successfully relate or communicate well with others?"
Asking open-ended questions about past experiences and how they would handle certain situations is helpful when trying to see how much of a good fit someone might be.
A good way to narrow down applicants even further is by conducting reference checks and talking once more about past experiences in conversation before making any offers.
6. Hire someone who, above all, is a good fit for your company's culture and values
Fit is so important with job candidates.
A candidate can have all the experience in the world, but if they don't fit your company's culture and values, it will be difficult for them to succeed.
After you've gone through a few candidates that seem promising, find out what their personality is like during interviews. If they're not excited by the prospect of working at your program because it doesn't match up with who they are as a person then this could be an issue.
A good way to find out how a candidate would fit in with your company is by asking them how they spend their time outside of work. This will give you some idea about what's important to them, and whether or not the position aligns with this. It might seem like an odd question but it can tell you a lot about someone!
Another way to check for a good candidate fit is by giving them challenging scenarios. This helps you understand at least how they approach issues. It also shows you how they approach conflict, a pretty important thing to know.
A last thing I ask is what they would have changed about a previous role. It’s an insight into what they may not like in jobs and how they would or wouldn’t bring it up.
I can’t overstate enough how important it is to not only look at how they do on paper but also how well they gel with you and your staff. You want to make sure that you have a good rapport with the person who will be working with your team and caring for children.
Hiring a new employee can be an overwhelming process. It is important to set the stage for success by planning and following these steps so that you will have plenty of qualified candidates to choose from before deciding on who should fill your open position.
Remember, it's not just about finding someone with skills or experience--it's also about finding someone who fits in well with your company culture and values!
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You should never ask the following questions (or even approach indirectly) in interviews:
Sexual orientation or gender identity
Country of origin
Salary history (in some states)