Looking to hire a helper? Here are the routes (and tips!) to finding someone for your family.
After mulling it through, you’ve finally decided to hire a helper. The next hurdle to jump over now is figuring out how you’re going to do that! With so many options to go with, which one is best? Our expert, Mel from HelpWise, answers this question for us in this month’s Ask Mel.
Q: I’m about to hire a helper. What’s the best way to find one? Should I go through an agency, or should I be looking to get a referral from someone I know? What are the choices and which one is best?
It’s great to hear that you’re weighing your options carefully!
Since each household has different priorities, it depends on which aspect of the hiring process is most important to you. For instance, would you prefer to avoid doing the contract paperwork yourself, or are you trying to save money on the hiring process? Do you feel more confident with a personal referral, or more confident when professionals are involved?
Here’s the scoop on the four routes for hiring a helper, so you can decide which one suits you best.
Helper Agencies (think: real estate agents)
There are over 1,000 helper employment agencies throughout Hong Kong, but their hiring practices, business styles, and even the types of helpers they can provide varies widely.
Agencies exist to help you throughout the hiring process, from searching for candidates on your behalf to helping you sign the contract at the end. A good agency will take time to understand what you’re looking for in a helper, assist you in arranging interviews with candidates, and then walk you through the paperwork and processing. If you don’t mind paying a little extra money to have an expert guide you through this important decision, you may find assurance in using an agency.
Tip: Unfortunately, one of the darker sides of this industry is that there are hundreds of helper employment agencies operating unethically. Many are run without a license, and many charge illegal fees that can lead helpers into serious debt bondage. Since these traits are not detectable on the surface, make sure you go with an agency that advertises its good ethics, such as Fair Employment Agency, Maid for You, or Arrow… to name a few.
Online Platforms (think: dating sites)
If you’d like to try your hand at finding your own helper “match”, you’ll be spoiled for choice with some of the online platforms that help employers and helpers connect directly. For a reasonable monthly service fee, websites such as HelperChoice and asiaXPAT allow you to search through a database of helper profiles for potential matches. You can then contact the candidates yourself to set up an interview. This route could be right for you if you want a large amount of helpers to select from, and if you’re at ease with not having personal or professional endorsements of the candidates.
Tip: With so many candidates to choose from, you’ll need to be very specific about what you’re looking for in a helper. And since you may not know much about the candidates’ work history—and given that their profiles are often self-populated—don’t hesitate to ask questions about their previous jobs and the reasons for any broken contracts. It’s always better to ask the hard questions now, than to find out troublesome details later.
Online Referrals (think: newspaper ads)
When employers part ways with their helpers on good terms (normally due to relocation), it’s common for the employer to go online and “advertise” their beloved helper on Facebook or some other local forum. With the hopes that some other lovely person will hire their helper, these ads are often filled with praises and positive descriptions of the helper’s attitude and skills (I’m sure I would do the same thing for my helper if I were to leave Hong Kong!). Finding a helper through online referrals might suit you if having a reference and being able to talk to a helper’s previous employer is of great importance to you.
Tip: Since helpers who get such strong endorsements often get lots of interview opportunities, these helpers can be more choosy when selecting who they want to work for next. You may have to decide whether you have the time (and sometimes, the budget) to pursue these sought-after recruits. Also keep in mind that just because a helper was perfect for one family, doesn’t necessarily make her perfect for your family. Glowing endorsements aside, make sure she’s the right fit for your specific needs and personality.
Personal Referrals (think: your friend’s babysitter)
The hiring route with the most potential—for either success or heartbreak—is the personal referral. This is where a friend or colleague hears that you’re looking for a helper and personally recommends a specific helper to you, sometimes with much enthusiasm and gusto. This can be very appealing because someone you trust is recommending someone they trust. A personal referral can be a good starting point, especially if you’re already a bit familiar with the referred helper and can envision yourself working with her day-to-day (which is different from simply “liking” or “respecting” her).
Tip: It’s vital to interview the referred helper just as you would interview any other candidate to make sure it’s a good match for your particular household. Even your most trusted friends can have different helper preferences, household rules, managing styles, family dynamics, budget, amount of pets/kids/square footage. If someone you know refers a helper to you, thank them politely and say something like, “Thank you so much. I’d be happy to interview them and see if they’re the right fit for us.” Avoid giving your friend the impression that it’s a sure thing, because you need to make sure it’s the right fit for both you and the helper before saying yes.
The good news is that any of these helper search routes can work if you’re well-informed and can navigate them carefully. And you don’t have to pick just one route either! Exploring more than one approach may actually help you grow in your understanding of what you’re looking for.
Legal Stuff: If you end up finding your helper through one of the latter three routes, keep in mind that if she is an Indonesian helper or a Filipino helper with a broken contract, you’re still required by law to have an agency run the paperwork for you regardless of how you found her.
For more employer-friendly advice (no judgment here, mamas!), contact Melanie to schedule a private hiring session or to attend one of her helper management workshops. We’ve done both and can say they are definitely Sassy-approved!