Booking a Babysitter or Nanny?

How to make the most of childcare reference checks.

Whether you are looking for a full-time, in-home childcare provider or simply an on-call babysitter, securing someone you’re confident in can seem like a daunting task. How can you know for sure whether you’re hiring someone capable and reliable? This is where thorough due diligence really pays off.

One of the easiest and most telling of background checks is calling references. Here’s how to make the most of your reference checks.

  1. Always speak with the reference directly. Your childcare applicants should be able to provide you with a minimum of three references. However, don’t take a letter of recommendation at face value. Rather, ask each applicant to provide you with a current phone number for all references, even references who have written their praises.
  2. Realize that not all references need to be from prior jobs. Childcare providers who are newer to the industry as well as those who have held the same employment for a long time may not have more than one or two employment references. Before letting yourself skip over a potentially great candidate, consider asking for personal references, too. Former teachers, coaches and clergy members are references who could provide insight into the applicant’s character, personality and ethics.
  3. Check the facts. For each reference, double check the candidate’s length and consistency of employment to be sure the information matches what your applicant has stated. Don’t lead with the information; simply ask for it. Posing the questions: “How long did she work for you? How many days a week or month?” should give you a good idea of the accuracy of the information the candidate has supplied. If it has been a while since the end of your applicant’s employment, the reference’s memory of the exact dates may be a bit hazy. Still, you should be able to tell if any discrepancies are a simple case of forgetfulness or if you’re getting two different stories.
  4. Be specific. When asking a reference about the babysitter’s duties, you may find yourself receiving answers that are quite general. Don’t be afraid to inquire about specifics. Asking for details permits you to get in-depth information about your candidate and her job performance. Did the childcare provider give the children baths? Did the nanny make the kids’ lunches? Was she allowed to drive the children places? Was she responsible for anything in addition to childcare like household duties? What kinds of activities did the nanny initiate with the kids? These are the types of questions you should consider posing.

    Beyond the job responsibilities, ask how the candidate interacted with other people’s children. And have the reference to describe the candidate’s typical day on the job. Such inquiries begin to separate the active applicants from those who tend to take a more distanced approach to childcare, in turn helping you decide which type of candidate is the best fit for your family.
  5. A good idea: Create a written employment contract that includes particulars, such as the employee’s required work hours and payment arrangements for overtime. It’s also wise to include specific duties, prohibited behaviors and arrangements for vacation and sick days.

  6. Ask for clarification. If you find references giving you subjective answers, prompt them to clarify responses. For example, if a reference tells you the candidate did something “a lot,” inquire how often that was in actuality. If it is said that a nanny was “OK” at performing a specific task, find out exactly what “OK” constitutes to that reference. You may find that your definitions of the subjective words vary widely from the reference’s definitions.
  7. Inquire about specific scenarios. Tailor a few questions to your own needs and priorities. For instance, if your biggest concern is tardiness, ask if the candidate ever arrived late to work. If so, how often and exactly how late did she arrive on those occasions? The more specific you are, the better idea you’ll have about how the candidate’s previous habits may affect your lifestyle and demands.
  8. Trust your gut. If something seems fishy or not quite right, it might not be. Trust your instincts and only continue checking on applicants with whom you feel entirely comfortable.
  9. Don’t stop short. It is important to call every reference. Even if the first two references give an applicant incredible praise, the information you receive from the third reference may change your mind about the applicant.

    This is one instance where more is more. Take the time to have a lengthy conversation with each reference. At the beginning of the conversation, you might mention that the call could take up to 20 minutes, enabling the reference to gauge whether or not to arrange another time to speak with you. Remember, this childcare provider will be in your home caring for your most precious commodity— your children. It’s worth being thorough to make sure you’re hiring the best candidate.