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Nanny Reference Checking: How and Why

The nanny candidate has just left your home. The meeting went very well. You felt a connection, an instant bonding. You think, “Hurrah! I found the perfect nanny for my family!” You are ready to make an offer — or are you?

Whoa! Stop right here! Never make an offer to any candidate without checking nanny references and performing a caregiver background check.

Remember that hiring is a selling process on both sides. The nanny candidate will be putting her best foot forward, and will almost always present only her very best side. Anyone’s best side can be impressive. As a parent, you must identify the nanny’s strengths and weaknesses before you can reasonably determine that she the best choice for your family.

Checking nanny references is hands-down the most effective way to learn more about how this nanny thinks, acts, and performs on the job. You should always require a minimum of two child care references, persons NOT related to the applicant. It is a waste of time to talk to someone’s friends and family. Even a nanny candidate looking for her first nanny job should have prior child care experience. Often they will have taken child care course work in high school – insist on speaking to her teacher too.

A candidate reluctant to provide references is a red flag. A nanny may reasonably request that you not contact their current employer if they have not yet provided notice of their intent to leave the job. The candidate, however, should still have the requisite child care and previous employment references available. You need to stand firm and simply tell the candidate that you cannot extend a job offer without checking references. Invite the nanny to think about how to solve this and get back to you with a solution. If the nanny follows up with a reasonable solution, this is a positive. If they do not, you have most likely saved yourself from a hiring mistake.

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Nanny Reference Checking Tips

Here are some questions to ask a nanny reference. The answers to these questions will either validate your initial impressions, or cast the candidate in a less than favorable light. You have to learn which. The following is a general list of good questions to ask a nanny reference.

  1. Please describe the child care situation you observed the applicant in?
  2. Please describe the applicant’s child care style – i.e. How did s/he relate to the children?
  3. Can you comment on the applicant’s communication skills, level of maturity and common sense?
  4. Can you comment on the applicant’s ability to provide quality care to children in an unsupervised setting?
  5. Would you recommend the applicant for child care employment?

If this was a previous nanny employment reference, consider adding these to your list of questions to ask a nanny reference.

  1. What were the applicant’s responsibilities while employed by you?
  2. Can you describe any difficulties the applicant had carrying any of these responsibilities out?
  3. Can you describe the applicant’s receptivity to directions or suggestions you gave her regarding the care of your children?
  4. Did the applicant have any occasion to handle emergencies? If yes, was the emergency handled to your satisfaction?
  5. Can you comment on the applicant’s honesty, reliability and punctuality?
  6. What advice can you give me as the applicant’s future employer to help ensure that our relationship goes smoothly?

Start the reference check by introducing yourself and the purpose of your call. Ask for no more than five minutes of the reference’s time and confirm that this is a good time for them to talk. Be prepared to have to schedule a time and be patient with voice mail phone tag. Briefly describe the position you are considering the candidate for and make notes of the reference’s responses. Play up the fact that this person would have sole-charge responsibility for your children to elicit more candid responses.

Ask your questions and then be silent and listen to the answers. Don’t verbally agree (umhum) or disagree (really?) or interject any of your feelings into the conversation – this will lead the reference in the direction you are considering rather than provide you with the unvarnished truth. The reference’s responses can indicate enthusiasm, discomfort, hesitation, concern, or other key indicators.

Most previous nanny employers are willing to give five minutes and will tell you the truth. Most will not come out and say, “Do not hire this person!” but you will learn much that you need to know to prevent a hiring mistake.

Keep what is said absolutely confidential. Never tell the nanny what a reference said about them. If you do get a bad reference, check others to be sure that you do not have a disgruntled reference. If you get a good reference, check the others anyway. You want consensus. Measure the answers against your own impressions. Process the information, evaluate the results, and be fair.

But wait… you are not done yet. Assuming that the interview went well and the references are stellar, you still must do a professional criminal background check. If the nanny will be driving your child, you must also include the DMV records. Hand record searches such as those done at are the gold standard for child care pre-employment criminal checks. Do not rely on instant databases, which are notoriously unreliable.

Ultimately, you have to depend upon your own instinct and judgment. Input from others, however, helps you focus, and will reinforce, or require that you rethink, the judgments you make to hire the best nanny.

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