A year ago I wrote about finding babysitters online using Craigs List. It’s one of my most trafficked posts and was referenced in a Boston Globe article afterwards. It seems a lot of other moms are also desperately seeking quality babysitters they can’t find in their local neighborhoods.
And believe me, I tried. The high school girls on my street are “too busy” to sit what with their academic and sports schedules. I called nearby Fairfield University and received (for $20) a list of a couple hundred students interested in sitting. It was four sheets of densely packed names and contact information. Where to start? Alphabetically? Names that looked like they’d be nice, responsible people? That didn’t seem right. I randomly picked about ten students, emailed or called them, and never heard back.
How was I going to find a sitter for an afternoon a week plus occasional weekends? I considered using one of the nanny services friends have used but simply couldn’t swallow having sitters I’ve never met show up at my door for a few hours with my kids. They may be perfectly well qualified and screened by the service, but I need to screen them myself. I wanted some control over the choice.
That’s when I tried Sittercity, an online site where you browse a list of sitters in your area or post ads for specific sitting jobs. The sitters have profiles and their schedules online. It seemed like a nice way to pre-screen candidates (yes, a photo speaks a thousand words) yet I would still have control over choosing my sitter. The fee of $80/year (it’s closer to $100 now) seemed pretty steep. But I swallowed their $7/month breakdown and figured that’s a nominal fee to pay to have access to sitters when I need them.
Fortunately, you can start with a 7 day free trial and now they offer your money back if you don’t have three responses to your ad in 24 hours. A year ago, I had mixed results in finding a great sitter through Sittercity. Today, it works like a charm. The difference is that the site seems to have reached critical mass in my area and many great local college students post their sitter profiles. During the summer, tons of students home for the summer posted profiles as well. Add to this local nannies who are willing to sit when kids are in school during the day or on weekends and the Sittercity fee opens up a world of sitting choices I wouldn’t have found otherwise.
There are two primary ways to use the service:
- Browse the sitter profiles and contact sitters who look appealing to you with a specific one time or ongoing job.
- Post an ad for a specific job. This doesn’t need to be just for a regular job. I once couldn’t find an available sitter from ones we knew for a Saturday night engagement. I posted it on Sittercity on Friday and had four responses within an hour. Given that I didn’t know the sitters, I selected one who sat for another family in my town and gave me the reference to call.
This Fall, I looked for a sitter for Tuesday afternoons after school. I posted the job and have had about ten responses so far. All the candidates wrote me nice emails formally introducing themselves and their qualifications for the job. It was really rather professional and gave a better sense of the candidates beyond their profiles.
I then called each one who sounded like a good fit for a phone interview. If they sounded promising from the phone interview, I invited them to come over and meet me and the kids in person. I usually suggest they care for the kids for a few hours to see how things go. This is the best way for me to assess candidates. I typically have them sit a couple times while I’m home before making a final selection for a regular gig.
Several emails came in after I had already started interviewing candidates (it’s wise to take your ad down after the job is filled or you keep getting email from candidates) and found two who would work well.
As with my experiences on Craigs List, there was a bummer candidate. This time, she sounded wonderful on the phone but never showed up for the interview and trial play date. Fortunately, I had enough other good candidates to write her off.
(I should note that earlier in the year a candidate showed up who appeared to be highly qualified on paper (swim instructor, etc.) But in person she looked slightly medicated and while sweet, I wasn’t leaving my children with her for five minutes. At the time, a few friends had just found great sitters on Sittercity so I stuck with it!
And that’s what makes Sittercity successful for me now. It has the volume of good sitters to compensate for the few irresponsible or deadbeat ones.
To check if there are sitters in your area on the site, type in your zip code and see what comes up. Fairfield County, Connecticut, where I live, isn’t listed as an official area covered by Sittercity but there are plenty of sitters in my tiny town and the surrounding area.
All in all, Sittercity has become a great way for me to find a stable of good local sitters. And if none are available for a specific date, I know that I have a good resource to find another one on short notice.