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Recruiting in a nursery

Recruitment can be a daunting process and in early years it can be a particular challenge when you have a vacancy to fill, as you may need to get staff in post quite quickly in order to ensure you are meeting the legal ratio requirements. However, you don’t want to just take the next person who walks through the door; they have to be right for your children.

Considering the tips below may save you precious time so you can get that ideal candidate on board quickly

Know what you're looking for

Be clear about what position you are recruiting for before you make a start. Every member of staff will have different skills and experiences; are you looking for someone who has experience of working with babies for example, or someone who you want to cover in all of your rooms and therefore has a wide experience of all ages? Look at the balance of qualifications of your team to meet the needs of the children and the requirements of the EYFS in England or Foundation Phase in Wales.

You want your advert for new staff to try and relay the ethos of your setting. If you have a mission statement, include this. Or why not ask your wider team to describe the ethos of your setting in five words and try and include these in your advert. You want your advert to be eye-catching, and of course you will need to include all of the details regarding what type of post or posts you have available. Include any benefits that you offer; for example a staff discount.

Be prepared for applications

Once practitioners start applying for positions; be prepared. If you have asked candidates to call to enquire, make sure you're available to take the calls. Take notes on how they came across on the phone; what sort of questions did they ask? Do they have the type of experience you are looking for? Do they sound professional?

When you receive their application form or CV ensure you look through this carefully. Quite rightly there has been a lot of focus in the early years sector recently on safer recruitment. It is essential to safeguard all children by ensuring that your team are ‘suitable people’. Nursery managers are responsible for ensuring all appropriate background checks take place, including gaining a clear enhanced DBS and suitable references. They can also register for the DBS update service at the same time as applying.

You can start this ‘safer recruitment’ process as soon as you get their CV by looking for any gaps in their employment. If you do notice any, make a note to ask the applicant about this when they come for the interview. A very strong candidate would be aware of this and should have detailed any gaps in their employment history. You will still need to ask them about these in person and write down their responses.

Check references

Look at who they have written down as their referees. One of these should be their last employer. If it isn’t, you will certainly need to ask why their previous employer is unable to give them a reference. It is useful to have character references, but ensure these are from a professional person and not simply a family friend. References must never be from a member of their family. If they have never worked, then a school or college tutor would be the most appropriate referee. Don’t be put off by a candidate simply because they have never had a job in early years before. If you are looking for someone to join an already experienced team a newly qualified practitioner may be ideal as they will bring a different dynamic and you may be able to help them develop into an outstanding practitioner.

Shortlist and interviews

Once you have shortlisted for interview make sure you consider your questions carefully. You will need to ask all candidates the same set of questions to ensure a fair process. Again, think about the position you are looking to fill and tailor the questions around that. Be sure to ask them questions about current practice within the regulatory frameworks; for example, what can they tell you about the British Values or the Characteristics of Effective learning? A well prepared and experienced candidate should be able to answer these questions easily.

It is important to try and get the best out of people in their interview. Of course candidates will be nervous, but welcoming them warmly and chatting about how they got here today and how the traffic was will help put them at their ease. Start by showing them around the setting. Not only will this help them to relax as you talk them through your nursery, but you will also be able to see how they respond to the children (and how the children respond to them!) Try not to make the process too formal; starting with an open question when you begin the interview such as “tell me a little about yourself” will give the candidate the chance to open up and relax into the interview process.

Take notes of the candidate’s responses to each question. If possible, have another member of staff there to take the notes for you. Having another person’s opinion will also be useful when making a decision. If you are interviewing several candidates it may be useful to devise some sort of scoring system for each question so you can compare afterwards.

See them in action

Asking someone questions can only tell you so much. It is a really good idea to invite candidates to take part in a stay and play session so you can see what they are really like interacting with the children. If you plan to do this on the same day ensure you let the candidate know when you invite them for interview so they are wearing appropriate clothing and footwear. Try and have one of your senior team in the room so they can give you in depth feedback; were they down at the children’s level asking open ended questions, did they ask any questions of the staff team, did they initiate any activities or engage well with the children in their own play?

Finally, enjoy working with your new member of staff.

About the author

Jenny Shaw is a Childcare and Curriculum advisor for Busy Bees Nurseries. She has worked for the company for 10 years, previously managing one of their outstanding nurseries. Her experience also extends working in children's and family centres and she has a background in speech therapy.

Jenny’s role within Busy Bees is to offer support and guidance to a group of nurseries on how to develop their enabling environments, supporting children’s learning and development through challenging activities and the key person relationship.  A key element of Jenny’s role it to stay abreast of current research, curriculum requirements and best practice within Early Years Education and share her knowledge with other nurseries; thus ensuring the best experiences for children.

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