Skeptical Reference Checks for Nannies

One of the most important things that you must know about a nanny you are considering hiring to take care of your children is to find out what the references have to say.

If someone comes to you applying as a nanny to care for your children and/or your home, you want to be sure of the following before entering any conversation:

1) Does this person have experience as a nanny?
2) How many years of experience?
3) Are there working references that can be contacted?

Once you have the “yes” answer to the above three questions, now you can proceed with the interview.

Let’s assume that the interview went fabulously and you are 90% sure you want to hire this nanny. You have all the driving and criminal checks completed and the nanny has voluntarily provided you with medical testing. You are basically good to go, except for one thing, you have yet to speak to the references where this person worked as a nanny.

So you sit down one quiet evening after the children are asleep and with pen in hand, you take a pad of paper and begin to call the references provided by this candidate. Your first call is to the most recent employer since this will be the most relevant reference. This is how the conversation goes.

“Hello, my name is Mrs. Smith, and I am calling on a reference for Maria whom I met recently and am very interested in hiring as my nanny. Could you please tell me about your experience with her?”

The first thing you get is a huge hesitation. The former employer is not even sure if she wants to talk to you. She is reluctant because she isn’t prepared to say anything nice about this former employee. However, she does know that, by law, she has to, at least, provide employment verification. So she begins by telling you that Maria indeed worked for her as a nanny for three years.

Now you become suspicious and concerned that there must have been problems with this relationship. So you begin to pry for more information.

“I sense that you were not completely satisfied with Maria. Is there something that happened that I should be made aware of?”

The employer is afraid that if she divulges how she truly feels, Maria might get wind of this conversation and become angry. Perhaps Maria will be angry enough to retaliate in some manner. So you continue to pry, band finally she blurts out the truth.

“Well, I just want to say that Maria was a great nanny in the beginning and had a wonderful attitude with us until about 1 year ago when all hell broke loose. She simply decided she didn’t want to do certain things and she began changing her attitude with us. She was always great with the children and they continue to ask for her, but we had our problems.”

You now know that the reference check isn’t the best and your 90% desire to hire this nanny has now diminished to maybe a low 60. By the time the former employer finishes talking, you are completely confused about how to proceed.

Sometimes you are very lucky to find a nanny who has top-notch excellent references across the board.

Other times, a nanny will have a few great references but just one that is questionable. In this case, you have to sincerely estimate how to balance what you have heard and whether to give the nanny “the benefit of the doubt”. Here are some ideas for you to

Since we are dealing with humans, not widgets, there are bound to be chemistry issues that cause changes in relationships. It would be next to impossible to know every single thing that happened in the three years that Maria worked for this family as a nanny. It well may be that the change in attitude came along when Maria asked for an increase in salary and it was not provided to her even though the list of duties continued to increase over time. More work, less pay.

Certainly this isn’t something that would make anyone of us so happy. It might well be that the former employer changed her attitude with Maria first over issues that festered inside the employer. Issues that she was either reluctant to discuss or simply let go.

Usually things that bother us can be put aside, but if they are matters that really affected us, they will never just be forgotten. The likelihood is that we will simply lock them away in a corner of our mind and let them fester until one day we just blow up.

Maybe this relationship between Maria and her employer failed because they did not conduct “review sessions” giving each of the parties an opportunity to voice their problems and issues. Whatever the case, you have to decide what to believe and whether you should still give this candidate an opportunity with you.

There is an old saying: “every story has two sides”. When discussing a relationship between two people, there are absolutely two sides, especially under an employment scenario. Unless there was gross negligence or some form of dishonesty, my advice would be to give this applicant the benefit of the doubt and a chance to have a fresh start with you.

If you want to be assured that some of the issues that occurred with the former employer do not happen to you, discuss these openly with the applicant.

Once the applicant is hired and you are working together, have periodic review sessions to keep an excellent open line of communication. All problems can be solved one way or the other with discussion.

References may not always be perfect. Depending on the problems, keep an open mind and weigh the information provided so that you don’t end up passing up a
potentially great employee.

Marta Perrone, author of How to Find, Hire, Train and Maintain Household Help. Free report: Top 10 Mistakes Household Employers Make When Recruiting Help.,,

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