23 Questions to Ask to Find the Best Staff for Kids Programs

We know you take the health and well being of your littlest members seriously. Of course you follow legal guidelines when hiring youth-serving staff, like background checks, teacher/student ratio, etc. To bring out the best in your kids, you need to hire the best for them, and with summer camps, sports clubs and lessons right around the corner, now is the time to start finding the staff members who can really connect and nurture your kids.

Whether it’s seasonal hires you’re looking for, or full-time staff, consider important characteristics when hiring those who work with children, and make sure you ask the right questions.

There are several things to look for in a great youth-serving staff person:

1. They demonstrate the ability to take safety seriously, and know how to appropriately enforce rules. Kids make mistakes. Kids don’t listen sometimes. It’s a natural part of growing and developing, but it doesn’t ever mean poor or dangerous behavior is acceptable. You want to find staff who understand that, and can find the balance between keeping a tight handle on child safety while appropriately addressing discrepancies.   

Potential interview questions:

  • Tell me about a time when a charge of yours violated a safety rule. What happened and how did you handle it?
  • Describe your discipline style on the job. Give an example of 1) when it worked well to address a situation, and 2) when you felt your natural style did not meet the need at hand. (Staff make mistakes, too. The key in this question is to decipher if he/she can adjust and adapt to different situations).

2. They know how to connect with children to bring out their best. Anyone can take a job to earn a paycheck. You want a person who is genuinely interested in your mission and making a difference. A one-size fits all approach doesn’t work with kids. You’re looking for someone who can zone in on the individual and unique gifts and talents of each child he/she serves.

Potential interview questions:

  • Why do you want to work with children? (Listen for their genuine and specific interests and intentions to improve kids’ lives).
  • Tell me about a time when you feel you really connected with a child and helped them be their best. How did you know what to do?

3. They can meet a child’s energy. Anyone who has spent more than five minutes with kids knows their energy is boundless. While staff don’t need to be doing cannonballs into the pool or back flips out on the soccer field, they do need the physical and mental stamina to keep up with the demands of young children. That looks like:

  • Building enthusiasm
  • Encouraging physical activity
  • Vigilance
  • Creative problem-solving
  • The ability to hold the attention and control of a room
  • The “Fun” Factor. Kids learn when they’re enjoying what they’re doing.

Potential interview questions:

  • Tell me about a time when you had to rapidly switch gears to keep your kids engaged.
  • What strategies do you use to keep control/focus of a classroom?
  • What is the best compliment you’ve received from a child?

4. They enforce and teach social/emotional learning. Today’s children more than ever need to see kindness, equality and fairness modeled by adults. Instructors don’t just teach the backstroke or ABCs. They also teach work ethic, respectfulness and the many ways we choose to speak to each other and treat each other. For many children, the people you hire will be a primary model of adult behavior. That is not something to take lightly.

Potential interview questions:

  • Describe how you encourage children who are struggling.
  • How do you establish group expectations around behavior?
  • How do you like to acknowledge positive behavior?

Other questions that can help you find the best:

  • If you were to operate your own program, what would you consider to be the key elements to encourage high performance that you would be sure to include?
  • Where have you seen programs fail? What would you have changed?
  • What part of (role) is the most satisfying to you? The greatest challenge?
  • What strategies do you use to engage children in the lesson/task at hand?
  • Tell me about a stressful professional situation you encountered and how you handled it.
  • Give an example of a time when you were a self-starter.
  • Tell me about how you like to engage/communicate with parents.
  • Tell us about a child with whom you had particular difficulty. What happened and how did you handle it?
  • Tell us about a time when your authority was challenged. What did you do?
  • What do you think is important in order to create safety in a classroom/team/caregiving environment?
  • What do you think is important in order to create respect in a classroom/team/caregiving environment?
  • What do you think is important in order to create kindness in a classroom/team/caregiving environment?
  • What do you think is important in order to create a supportive environment for both students and staff in a classroom/team/program

Best of luck building your team!