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A Valuable Tool for the Hiring Process

Reprinted by Permission Doris J. Pick, Ph.D.

Originally Presented to the INTERNATIONAL NANNY ASSOCIATION, 12th Annual Conference, June 5 - 8, l997


From the corporate world to the childcare industry, the cost of hiring a person who does not fit the work environment can be costly; not only in terms of money but the time spent finding another person to fit the job. The cost of mismatching is high; as reflected in the costs associated with employee turnover, personality conflicts, absenteeism, workers compensation claims and grievances. For example, research shows that the cost for training and recruitment of an employee can range from $3000 to $17,000 or more. There is no way to measure the cost associated with emotional stress to parents and children when a nanny does not work out.

Thus, one of the most important factors that impacts on the effectiveness of any system, whether it is a large organization or a small intimate family, is the quality of its employees. The issue of staff effectiveness became a focus of a two-year innovative research grant that a colleague and I received from the national Head Start program. For those who do not know about Head Start, it is a program that draws its staff from the community and the parents it serves. This program wears many hats: Child Care, Child Development, Pre-school Education, Family Day Care Centers. The child population it serves ranges from infant to preschoolers.

Research shows that persistent turnover negatively impacts on children's language and social development. The issue of quality childcare givers and their impact on children's development can not be over stated regardless of the setting, from child care centers to nannies working in homes. For those working in homes, such as nannies, the issues are even more complex because those caregivers are often viewed as part of the family.

The results of our study involving over 600 employees from Head Start programs and day care centers shows that we can identify several work behaviors associated with a successful childcare giver. Some of the behaviors identified are:

  • Dependability Work Attitude
  • Working with Children Social Maturity
  • Common Sense/Intelligence Openness to Change
  • Professional Behavior Interpersonal Skills

From this original research we expanded our study to include the nanny population. More than seven years have been devoted to collecting and analyzing data. The result of this endeavor was the creation of a questionnaire. This questionnaire, the Personnel Attitude Questionnaire, yields a computer generated profile and narrative work behavior report customized for the applicants seeking employment in Head start and the childcare industry, such as nannies.


Extensive research, including our own, has demonstrated that an individual's basic attitudes regarding the work environment can be measured through paper-and-pencil tests (e.g. questionnaires). Furthermore, employers can legally use these tests (in conjunction with other information) to make predictions and, therefore, decisions about candidates or about current employees. Using tests for pre-employment is not new. Perhaps the most widespread usage occurred and still does in the military. Estimates vary, but almost two million would-be military recruits were turned away during World War II due to mental disturbance or mental deficiency. Pre-employment for psychopathology is still being used in sensitive occupations such as police, fire fighters, transportation workers, and nuclear power plant operators.

During the past 40 years a variety of pre-employment tests have emerged which claim to measure just about every human variable from intelligence to sales ability and perceptual motor skills. As a spin-off of the civil rights movement of the 1960's concerns were expressed that pre-employment testing might have an adverse impact on various minority groups. Thus, organizations subsequently were required to demonstrate not only the validity and reliability of the instruments they used, but also the relevance of these tests to the jobs.

In 1971 the Supreme Court declared in the Griggs vs. The Duke Power Company case, that employment practices can not have an adverse impact on minorities. In 1978 the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures further demanded that tests be professionally developed and proven statistically to be job relevant. The 1978 Guidelines which required that organizations tailor their selection criteria to job analyses were a step forward because they required that management focus on organizational variables as well as those of the prospective employee. Because of these guidelines, tests need to meet certain criteria if they are to be used for pre-employment screening purposes.


Two main concepts of test construction are validation and reliability. These concepts are important to selecting tests appropriate for pre-employment screening.

Validation answers the questions "Does the test measure what it was intended to measure?" and "Does the test produce information that will be useful to persons using the test for selection purposes?" What value is there in giving a test to a nanny, if it measures qualities unrelated to her profession? There are many competent tests available; you just need to be sure that you are selecting the test that measures those traits associated with the nanny position.

Reliability refers to the dependability, stability, consistency, or accuracy of the test. In other words, if a nanny took the same test on two different occasions the results should be the same. If the test is not reliable then the information about the person becomes questionable. A test must be both valid and reliable in order for it to be useful. There are other criteria that also should be used in selecting and using competent tests:

  • Tests should be developed by reputable professionals.
  • Tests should have proper documentation regarding their validation and reliability studies.
  • Tests should also show documentation that they have been normed for the specific setting in which they will be used.
  • Test results should not be used as a sole criteria for hiring. Results should be considered in conjunction with all other available information, such as reference checks, work history, and personal interviews.
  • Applicants from culturally different backgrounds should be given an opportunity to be retested if they are unsuccessful the first time.


There are many different kinds of tests that are used in a variety of settings. Most us are familiar with testing from being students in school. The following are examples of some of the tests that have been used for pre-employment screening:

  • Achievement Tests are used to assess the degree to which a person has learned something, such as technical knowledge. The Wide Range of Achievement Test is an example of an achievement test.
  • Interests Tests are used to measure a person's interest, such as occupational interest patterns. An example of a well know interest test is the Strong-Campbell Interest Inventory Test.
  • Intelligence Tests are used to measure a person's cognitive abilities in several areas, such as verbal and non-verbal capabilities. Some tests, such as the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scales Adults (WAIS) can only be administered, scored and interpreted by licensed psychologists.
  • Personality Tests are used to measure personality traits such as dependency, anxiety and self-esteem. The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) and the California Psychological Inventory (CPI) are examples of tests have been used for years both, appropriately and inappropriately in the work environment. These tests can only be administered and analyzed by licensed psychologists. Other examples of tests that are considered good for pre-employment screening are: Personnel Selection Inventory for Banking. It evaluates such qualities as honesty. Personnel Attitude Questionnaire (PAQ), which measures several traits associated with being a successful childcare giver such as, working with children, and common sense.


With respect to the childcare applicant recruitment and selection process, the use of competent tests can make significant and demonstrable contributions to the agency's bottom line by saving time and money, and reducing the risk of placement not working due to applicants not being suited to childcare. In addition, pre-employment testing is a way to increase confidence in the parent-agency relationship because parents need evidence they are making the right choice.

Here are some other benefits to using tests:

  • A considerable amount of information can be obtained quickly. Sometime it takes a long time before you get to know someone. The results of testing give you some of this information immediately. You do not want to hire a person who will develop an emotional bond with children only to find out later that person is not suited for the family.
  • Some people show well in interviews, and often personal and work references will not reveal the total picture of a person. Some kinds of tests will reveal both strengths and weaknesses of a person's personality.
  • The best personality tests do not produce answers; they produce a profile of leading indicators associated about how someone is going to perform on the job. For example: Is the person dependable, use common sense, work well with children? These personality qualities are indicators useful to the nanny selection process.
  • Assume there are no " good" or "bad" employees, just people in the wrong job. Testing helps to select those who are suited for the childcare industry by comparing the applicant to others who have been deemed successful in this industry.


It is illegal to use some tests unless you are a licensed psychologist. Examples of these kinds of tests are intelligence tests, such as WAIS and the personality tests like the MMPI and CPI. Please remember there is a difference between legal and ethical behavior. If it’s illegal, it is against the law. Ethical issues pertain to the standards as set forth by a person's professional organization, such as the American Psychological Association. Just because something is considered unethical does not mean it is illegal.

From an ethical perspective is it important to have the applicant sign a Confidential Release Form to release the test results to the person requesting the test information, such as a nanny agency owner. By signing this form the applicant is giving permission for someone else to access information about her. Otherwise, a person's privacy is violated. It is important that all raw data and test reports be maintained in a secure, limited-access system. You do not want the information floating around for others to see. As an agency owner, or parent you need to think carefully as to whether you want to provide feedback to the applicant regarding the test results even if the applicant is hired. This holds true for any other information obtained on the applicant, such as from a personal reference. Sometimes negative information can cause unnecessary grief or possible harm. If you choose to relay any negative information, it needs to be done in privacy and in a sensitive manner with ample time for the nanny to share her perceptions. Finally, it is important to remember that hiring a person based on just test results is insufficient. No matter how good a test has been designed or how honest the person is in taking the test, there will always be a percentage of people whose tests results will not be reflective of their actual performance on the job. This dilemma is referred to as false positive and false negative test results. Therefore, it is important to use all information available including a second or third interview if you are still not sure before making the final hiring decision.


Society's most precious commodity is its children. We can not afford to be derelict in our responsibility to provide the very best care for them. Against the backdrop of economic pressures requiring a dual income or in view of the high divorce rate producing a large number of single parents caring for their children, all efforts must be devoted to developing better support systems for families. For those parents who can afford a nanny, this represents the best solution. Children can be cared for within the familiar surroundings of their home. Nannies can address children’s needs on an individual basis. And, nannies are in a powerful position to implement parental goals and be a model for the family's values. The positive impact that a nanny can have on a child's development can not be under estimated nor accurately measured.

Whether you are a professional nanny, a parent who is in need of a nanny, or an owner of an agency, the use of competent tests can be a valuable tool. For the nanny, the test results can be included with a resume and serve as a self-help tool; for the agency owner, pre-employment screening can improve the bottom line; and for the parent, it can aid in reassuring that the person hired is the right one for the family. In summary, please remember a test must be technically sound, be appropriate for the job and be interpreted in a competent manner.

Reprinted by Permission Doris J. Pick, Ph.D.
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