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How to Conduct a Private Caregiver Interview

Deb Hipp
By Deb HippSeptember 5, 2018

If you’re considering hiring a caregiver to assist your parent or senior loved one, it’s important to conduct a private caregiver interview to narrow down your list of potential candidates and see if they are the right fit for you and your family.

Read on for caregiver interview tips and questions to help you get started.

Finding the Right Caregiver for Your Family

When Ashley Smith hired a private caregiver for her mother, 61, who has early-onset dementia, things started off well. The caregiver visited five days a week and was caring, engaging and reliable. After a few months, though, the new caregiver revealed a less favorable side.

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She began taking Smith’s mom, who lived with her in a Dallas suburb and was confined to a wheelchair, for long drives, returning after her mother’s bedtime. The caregiver ignored dietary instructions and fed Smith’s mom, who was prone to urinary tract infections, milkshakes, soda pop and sugary snacks. The caregiver even defied instructions for feeding the family dog by sneaking him table scraps.

One day, Smith came home from work to find her mother dehydrated and throwing up. The caregiver had taken her out all day and they’d dined outdoors in 100-degree temperatures. That evening, the caregiver announced that she planned to buy a farm in the Midwest and hoped to bring Smith’s mom to live with her.

Fearing that the caregiver was not only incompetent but also losing her grip on reality, Smith fired her. “We severed ties and I had her return the fobs and keys,” says Smith. “Then I had the locks changed.”

Hiring a Quality Caregiver: Trial and Error

Smith had years of supervisory experience, so she was no stranger to firing and hiring. However, hiring a private caregiver for her mother’s intimate daily care was uncharted territory. Prior to the caregiver she fired, Smith had success hiring her mom’s first caregiver, but they’d parted ways amicably after a year.

Then Smith worked with an agency, which sent on the first day a woman wearing flip-flops who announced that due to an injury, she couldn’t push Smith’s wheelchair-bound mom on walks or even move her at all. After a few hours, Smith reluctantly left for work. From her office, she viewed her in-home security system’s online camera footage.

The agency caregiver immediately turned on the television despite instructions to occupy Smith’s mom with interactive activities. Then she flopped on the sofa, snuggled beneath a blanket and talked on her phone. The caregiver left Smith’s mom alone while she went outside to smoke. Sometimes, Smith’s mom, who couldn’t form sentences and was in the late stages of dementia, motioned toward the woman for assistance. Yet her body language went unnoticed.

“I could see her start to cry,” Smith says. “She wasn’t getting consoled. People in that stage don’t think coherently. You have to distract them, so they’ll stop a certain behavior or emotion.”

When Smith complained, the agency offered to send new caregivers, but Smith didn’t trust the staff’s judgment. So she set out to hire another private caregiver on her own.

How to Conduct a Private Caregiver Interview

When hiring a private caregiver, the interview is critical, says Leslie Eckford, co-author of “Aging with Care: Your Guide to Hiring and Managing Caregivers at Home.” “The interview allows you to see how comfortable the candidate is speaking with you,” says Eckford. “It’s also an opportunity for the family member who needs the care to participate or at least meet the person.”

It’s crucial to prepare a list of questions in advance, Eckford says. Here are her suggestions for interviewing private caregivers:

1. Ask questions about experience and qualifications.

Don’t automatically rule out people with little professional experience, though. “I’ve been glad to hire people whose only experience was with a grandparent or other family member,” says Eckford.

Questions might include:

  • Have you had caregiving experience for someone with dementia, mobility issues or Parkinson’s (or whatever applies for your loved one’s needs)?
  • In what setting was the position?
  • What did you like or not like about the work?
  • What was that like for you?
  • Why do you want to work as a private caregiver rather than through an agency?

2. Be upfront about a background check and drug screening.

A criminal background check is essential, says Eckford. So is pre-hiring and random drug screening. “Tell them upfront that you need this as insurance that you’re making the right decision,” says Eckford. You’re legally required to obtain written permission for a background check and drug tests. You can order background checks from specialty companies or from the state police.

Many cities, counties and states offer free online access to docket information of civil or criminal cases, lawsuits and orders of protection. For more information on background checks, see the Family Caregiver Alliance’s “Background Checking: Resources That Help” page.

3. Be upfront about special needs.

“If that person has dementia or mobility issues, you need to know whether the caregiver has experience dealing with those issues,” says Eckford.

4. Beware of applicants who badmouth former employers.

The person may not understand boundaries and confidentiality,” says Eckford.

5. Check former employer references.

Don’t just call the friends of the applicant for glowing testimonies. Call former employers, especially for caregiving positions.

6. Conduct the interview at your loved one’s home.

This allows you to observe how the person interacts with your family member and also gauge your loved one’s impression.

7. If the applicant avoids answering certain questions, recognize a potential red flag.

“You have to be honest with yourself,” says Eckford. “Go over the list again later to determine whether you actually got an answer.”

Trust Your Gut Feeling

Smith and her mom finally found an ideal caregiver, who works four days a week, after advertising on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, Indeed and calling local caregiving resources for referrals. This time, Smith vetted all applicants and implemented background checks and drug testing into the hiring process.

Smith and her sister, who also lives in the home, share caregiving duties the rest of the time. During the interview, the caregiver impressed Smith by taking the initiative to interact with her mom, asking about household rules and taking care not to talk about Smith’s mother in front of her.

“It took a while to learn how to advertise, interview and what to look for when trying to find the right person,” says Smith. “Call it women’s intuition, but I knew when I saw the right mix of care, compassion, experience and forethought that this was the right person.”

What other suggestions do you have for conducting a private caregiver interview? We’d like to hear your tips in the comments below.

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