What should you ask a potential babysitter?

With no family in town, and no teenage neighbors in sight, you've set up an account at Care.com or Sittercity, uploaded an adorable family photo, created a job posting that's getting a lot of responses, and whittled your applicant pool down to a handful of prospective sitters. 

Now comes the tricky part. You have to talk to these people. On the phone. With your toddler in the next room. You've only got so many uninterrupted minutes, so make the most of them by avoiding these three terrible questions. 

Why do you want to babysit? 

There are only two answers to this question, both of them equally unsatisfying to the interviewer and useless for judging a candidate's qualifications. The first answer is "for the money." That's why anyone is seeking a job. The second answer is "because I like kids." This answer is the equivalent of the personal essay in which you write you want to be a doctor because you want to help people. This should of course be true for people applying to medical school, but no person reading the application learns anything about you from it. So it's reasonable to just assume that your babysitter would like some extra income and also likes working with kids. If the sitter doesn't like kids, that's going to become clear in answers to better, meatier questions anyway. 

What is the most important quality of a good babysitter? 

Turns out there's only one answer to this, and that's "keeping the kids safe." But that's a given in posting a babysitting job. It's not like you're looking for a babysitter to let the kids play with matches over a gas stove while also juggling knives. For a more illuminating response, prime your applicant saying "Of course, keeping the kids safe is the most important part of the job. What other responsibilities are more important for a babysitter?"

Any yes/no question. 

This is not just one bad question, but a bad category of questions. Your advertisement should make clear that you want a non-smoker (if that's important to you). You should be clear you're running a background check if you care about criminal records instead of wasting valuable interview time asking people whether or not they have been arrested. Ask an open question that invites a thoughtful response. You might ask what lessons the candidate has learned from a previous or current job, or how the candidate would share his/her own interests with your child.