By Melinda Holzschuh, contributing writer


Though it is tempting to think of reference checks as a formality, this step is critical in finding the caregiver that best suits your family; do not take it lightly or overlook it. By now you’ve read reviews of the candidate, interviewed her, maybe even watched her interact with your children during an initial visit — but you still don’t have a complete picture that you could. There are other insights you can only gain by talking with other people who know her through day-to-day interaction. Reference checks will help to round out your research, and can even seal (or break) the deal.

Ask your candidate for the names and contact information of three to five people. At least two of these references should be families who have employed the sitter or nanny multiple times or on an ongoing basis, as they will have the best understanding of the sitter’s habits, personality, approach to discipline, and so on. Contacting a sitter’s previous childcare-related references will allow you to talk with someone who has directly experienced the babysitter, well, babysitting. They will also be the people whose relationship with the sitter will most closely mimic yours. The other references can be friends, colleagues, or even university faculty, if your candidate is a student.

When you call her references (we suggest calling instead of emailing, since you can intuit a lot by hearing someone’s vocal reactions), be sure to introduce yourself. Explain that the candidate has given them as a reference in her search for a childcare-related job, and ask if it would be okay for you to ask some questions. (If the contact person seems uncomfortable or says they would rather not answer any questions about the candidate, it could be a major red flag.) From the time the phone call begins, remember to not only listen to the person’s answers, but the manner in which they are given.

But exactly what should you ask your candidate’s references? Below is a list of sample questions to help guide your conversation, beginning with those people for whom your candidate has worked:

  • How long / how often did she work for you?
  • How old were the children she cared for?
  • What were her typical responsibilities while watching your children?
  • Was she punctual?
  • What do you think is her greatest strength, as related to childcare? Her biggest weakness?
  • How would you describe her personality?
  • Does she present herself as capable and mature?
  • Were there ever any emergencies while the children were in her care, and if so, how did she handle them?
  • Why does she no longer work for you?
  • What do you think your child’s opinion of her is?
  • Would you hire her again?
  • Is there anything else you think I should know?

Here are some questions you should ask non-employer references who know your candidate:

  • In what capacity did/do you know her, and for how long?
  • Have you ever been in a disagreement with her? How was it resolved?
  • Do you consider her punctual? Mature? Responsible? Energetic?
  • What do you think is her best personality trait?
  • Have you ever worked with her professionally? Describe her work ethic.
  • Do you think she’s capable of handling an emergency?
  • Is there anything else you’d like to add?

A helpful trick in checking references is to ask if there’s anything else the person would like to tell you. It opens the door to a few minutes of freeform communication, and this is often when the most telling tidbits about your candidate will be revealed. As the conversation is wrapping up, thank the reference for their time, and let them know that if anything else comes to mind, they are welcome to contact you.

References shouldn’t be neutral or indifferent about your candidate — they should be gushing. You’ll know a genuine recommendation when you hear it! Reference checks are just one piece of the puzzle when deciding who should care for your children, but they can give you confidence that you’re making a fully informed choice.

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