Every morning I order a “tall, half-caf, nonfat latte; extra hot; no foam”. It may seem like a complicated order, but those are the terms I need to use to get the coffee that I want. When I see a job description that has less clarity than my coffee order, I wonder what they’re going to get. I’ve read phrases like ‘experience with fine furnishings’, and vague requests for ‘laundry skills’ and ‘cooking’, and can only guess that the authors of these requests are not familiar with how to articulate what they want into the terms our industry recognizes or how important the job description is to the recruiting process.
The more detailed and specific your job request is, the more tools you are providing an agency to make a good recommendation and placement. That means a little bit of work is needed between the Principal and the Estate Manager (or whoever handles HR). Together, you’ll need to assess the way the household works and determine what skills, services, and delivery style are required to fulfill the needs of your specific household. For this article, we’ll be thinking about hiring a new housekeeper.
Start with who your Principals are fundamentally as a family. Is it a quiet, formal home or a bustling family environment with lots of moving parts? Jot down the words that come to mind to describe daily life. Reflect on this descriptive list when you consider what, how, when, and by whom things should get done. Also consider the relationship the family will want to have with the staff. Do they require high touch attention or would it be best for someone to disappear into the background?
Next, look at the daily routine. Observe the movements through the house and the pace at which the family occupies and leaves spaces. Do you need a rockstar who’s going to get in an out in a flash, or would a detailed, methodical, calm pace be more welcome?
Consider the workload. Is a just a few dishes and tidying up in the morning, or is putting the whole place back together after the teenagers have turned everything upside down in pursuit of the perfect outfit for school? How much energy, flexibility and patience will be required for this particular role?
What’s the best timing for service? Is there a long quiet daily breakfast and news, or should the house be silent until well after noon? Are you better served with a staff member who will be there for evening turndown and stay late to put the house back together after dinner?
I could go on, but you get the gist of it. Look at your household from all angles and thoroughly map out the needs. When you’re done with this task, you’ve identified the job. The next step is to identify the candidate. You’ll want someone who has the right skills to do the job- that includes communication skills, practical skills, technical skills, and soft skills.
Communication skills should be your priority. You’ll want to know what languages your candidate uses to speak, read, write and comprehend instruction. You’ll also need to have someone who communicates the way the household does, be it text, email, on the phone, via written bulletins or memos etc… It’s good also to consider what languages recurring guests or relatives speak so that the candidate may be of service to others who visit.
Consider your communication skills as well, and how much time you would have to translate or explain things if you choose someone with a different set of communication skills. Your job description should make note that the candidate will need to demonstrate communication and language skills in the primary language of the home. Those who are not up to the task will not apply.
Good communication is not just about language, it’s about sharing a common vocabulary of service and standards. How clean is clean? What does that mean? You need to know what your standards are and come up with questions to test the instincts of your candidate in the interview process. Let’s go back to the ‘expert care of fine furnishings’ line item. Be specific in your interview. Create a quiz sheet of the fine furnishings at your property and multiple choice or matching cleaning methods. If she chooses to clean the silver with Tarnex or thinks that bleach is a good option for your marble- you just won’t be able to say ‘please clean the silver’, because you have a different definition of clean and choose different methods to accomplish the task.
We define practical skills as the basic skills needed to perform tasks. There are objective skills like scrubbing, mopping, washing a dish, for example, that vary only slightly by the materials and cleaners that are used. There are also subjective skills like organizing, straightening and polishing that should be specified if important in your household. As a personal note, my greatest frustration is the housekeeper who doesn’t organize everything every day and things just start to pile up. I always specify matching skills, categorizing, and following patterns when I’m listing practical skills required.
Technical skills vary by household. Do you have a mangle and a Swash? Do you have a built-in Nespresso machine or a wall vac system? Is the house lighting controlled by a Vantage or Lutron system? List out the less common appliances and smart home technologies and add them to your description. It’s good to add things like driving or operating small machinery here if they apply.
Soft skills will determine the way the work will be completed. They are personality traits, social graces, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism that characterize relationships with other people. What’s the best fit for your family? Go back to that list you created to describe the household. You want a person to match.
In addition required skill sets, you may also have educational or certificate requirements, or a minimum service tenure. Be sure to list these along with any screening requirements such as criminal background, credit check or other pre-employment screening.
Lastly, now that you’ve stated what you are seeking, what are you offering? I highly recommend stating salary range and benefits in a job description, with the appropriate disclaimers of ‘based upon experience or qualification’ or similar. It will weed out anyone who’s not operating at that level. You should also note the expected work hours and exceptions. Include whether it’s an entry position with growth potential (meaning they may move up in time), a contract term, or if you’re seeking a long-term employee.
It’s good also to let a person know who they will interact with and report to. Will he or she be taking sole responsibility for their job or are they part of a team or a shift of shared responsibilities. Where will this person sit in the hierarchy of service management?
If you can put all of these things in your description, then your agency can really do the work. If you’re not getting resumes that meet 80% of your needs, find another agency. The ultimate goal is that you end up with the very best employee for your household and you’ve made the best use of everyone’s time in the process. It’s worth the effort.
Here’s a sample job description for an Executive Estate Housekeeper
(On Estate Letterhead)
For Immediate Placement (or future hire)
Spring 2019 (date position will be open)
XYZ Estate (*Agencies, please do not release Estate information to Candidates)
Formal, adult home with a heavy entertaining schedule seeks quiet, mature Executive Housekeeper for multi-structure upkeep.
The ideal candidate has over 5 years’ experience in an estate over 25,000 square feet in a leadership role, or has been promoted to that role.
The candidate should be comfortable and composed around recognizably famous individuals, heads of state, and foreign dignitaries.
This home has a very busy entertaining schedule. The candidate should be familiar with and capable of different types of table settings and service including buffets and catered off-site events under the direction of the Executive Chef.
The candidate should be able to work swiftly and quietly, keeping a prescribed daily schedule. Family service goals include efficiency, privacy, quiet, and minimal interaction with staff unless requested. Principals prefer an anticipatory style of service over having to request things.
This role is the part of the Executive House Management team, along with the Executive Chef, Landscape and Facilities Manager, and Executive Assistant. The Executive Housekeeper leads a full- time team of three and schedules supplemental outside contractors as needed in coordination with the House Manager. This position reports directly to the House Manager.
- In coordination with the House Manager, schedule Housekeeping Staff throughout the house so as to least inconvenience the Principal
- Instruct, Supervise, and Review the work of the Housekeeping Staff
- Submit expense reporting for the Housekeeping Department
- Keep track of household supplies and maintain household par stock levels
- Report damaged items and maintenance issues to House Manager
- Submit weekly reports to the Estate Manager detailing issues, exceptions, needs, and anomalies
- Perform detailed interior cleaning in multiple residential buildings on one property utilizing green / non-toxic / environmentally friendly products chosen by the Principal
- Maintain residence and guest rooms for guest readiness at all times per the household manual
- Manage whole house laundry services, dry cleaning, and garment repairs as needed
- Keep closets organized, sorted, and categorized
- Keep all household items and furnishings organized and in good condition
- Set tables for both formal in informal events
- Set up buffet services for meetings and events
- Help pack for off-site luncheons and events
- Serve drinks and food to guests using formal service skills
- Assist Chef in keeping the kitchen clean before, during and after events
- Assist staff in cleaning whole house after events
- Make house ready for morning after event
- Maintain par stock and readiness of event service items including linens, serving dishes, china, silver, glassware and catering items
Supplemental Support Tasks as Needed
- Occasionally work at other nearby residences or off-site to assist service staff
- Occasionally run errands or buy groceries
- Be willing and available to perform light duties not considered housekeeping to assist staff (ie.. answer the door, answer the phone, walk the dog)
Experience and Knowledge desired
- Minimum 5+ years related experience working in a private home 25,000 sqft or larger as a Lead Housekeeper or have been promoted to that role
- Demonstrated experience with museum quality cleaning and care for: fine furnishings, antiques, silver, china, fine art, etc… per specific care instruction
- Knowledge of fine fabric care (cashmere, silk, linen, etc.) per specific care instruction
- Ability to communicate in English (verbal and writing)
- Basic Computing skills including internet and online ordering
- Ability to communicate via electronic means (i.e. email and text)
- Basic accounting skills in regard to expense reporting and petty cash
General / Miscellaneous
- Availability for special projects and events as needed
- Availability for occasional overtime and weekend hours
- Work with supplemental service staff as needed for special events and entertaining
- Highly organized; skilled in sorting and matching and able to recognize and follow patterns
- Flexible and willing to work in a variety of settings
- Well groomed and professional appearance
- Long-term intent
- Reliable and punctual
- Willingness to take direction and conform to Principal’s service standards
- Willing to wear a uniform (provided)
- Ability to lift 40 pounds and perform strenuous physical tasks
- Exceptional attention to detail
- Ability to take direction and work independently
- Legal to work in the United States
- Able to pass extensive background check including criminal and credit history
- Eligible for bonding
- Able to pass US high school level English language reading, writing, logic, and mathematical screening
- Able to demonstrate, through hands-on observation, written and oral testing, mastery of the skills and proficiencies required
- Full time position Monday through Friday 9:00 am to 6:00 pm with occasional flexibility for special events
- Immediate start
Compensation and Benefits
- Annual salary of $65,000.00 based on experience
- Full health insurance coverage after 90 days including dental and vision
- Vested 401K plan after 90 days
- Vacation accrual up to 2 weeks per year
- Paid sick leave up to 6 days per year
- Comp days off for worked weekends and events
Agencies only; Resumes will not be accepted by unrepresented individuals
Principal requires 1 week working interview for acceptable candidates prior to agency commitments.
Please direct resumes and inquiries to the Estate Manager
Your hours and time zone