This section talks you through all you need to know about interviewing nanny candidates on the references.
In this section:
You’ve done the first phase of narrowing down the possible nanny who will be take care of your child(ren). Now is when the most important work begins. This is where you ask tough questions, become a detective, read through the lines, and trust your gut. Starting with the in-person interview, all the way through to the job offering, being mindful and diligent will help you sleep better knowing you made the right decision for your family. If there’s anywhere along the way when something doesn’t add up, dig in to get resolution or move on; there plenty of great candidates out there.
The in-person interview is to test chemistry, likability, and fit with your family. This will be more in-depth than the phone interview. The in-person meeting is when ask for examples of past work situations, get a better understanding of the way the nanny likes to work, and what you will need. Make sure to discuss exact hours, the type of work situation offered, vacation, and any long-term goals. Introduce the potential nanny to your child(ren). Give the nanny a work agreement by the end of the meeting if you're still interested.
SAFETY FIRST: Request an ID and documentation. Make sure you confirm your candidates’ identities and addresses. If they indicate they use multiple names (married, nickname, etc.) ask for documentation. Going by multiple names is typical in some cultures and not necessarily a red flag, but to NOT have accurate information about your nanny is not okay. Be sure to get an address of the potential nanny. (If she doesn't bring it you should consider this a red flag either for lack of follow through or identity issues.)
Don’t do all the talking. Starting with "Tell me about how you came to be a nanny…" allows the nanny to tell you a lot without having to prompt
Ask open-ended questions (“What would you do in this situation?” “Give me an example of…”) rather than yes/no questions.
Get a copy (or take a photo) of the person’s ID.
Don't rush things - give candidates enough time to respond thoughtfully; silence, however, is a powerful response.
Ask a few squirmy questions to see how the nanny handles them
Remember that some nannies will try to be as professional as possible in an interview which isn't a reflection of their caregiving style
Do at least one in-person interview with the kids since chemistry is key
“I found it incredibly telling how [nannies] related to my child during the interview. I think you can tell a lot when they immediately get down on the floor with them or start engaging them and when they ignore them and keep chatting with you. It's obvious that some people are just delighted by kids.”
Is there anything you can’t ask?
The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights statute was passed a few years ago, protecting nannies from harassment based on gender, race, religion, or national origin and prohibits retaliation for complaining of such harassment. While the statute does not specifically include hiring decisions, our advice is to avoid asking direct questions about an applicant’s protected status. Of course, there are ways of asking general interview questions to elicit the information if framed properly. The best practice is to avoid the subject altogether. (If it’s illegal to ask the job candidate, it’s also illegal to ask the reference about the job candidate.)
Questions such as "do you have children?" are not protected questions. Also, if you want to hire someone with special skills or characteristics (e.g., kosher cook, Spanish-speaking) you can ask for those things in your job description and screen for those in an interview (or with a reference).
Can she do the job and do it well? This includes being reliable, following your instructions and knowing how to take care of your child.
Does her personality fit with the needs of my family? Does the nanny operate independently or socially ? Indoor or outdoor nanny? A 'take charge' or 'take orders' nanny? This goes beyond chemistry to a good working relationship. Remember, your nanny's personality will impact your child(ren)'s social life and can even impact personality.
What does she expect of this job based on her last one? If she's used to having a lot of freedom with her past employers and you work from home, will that be a problem? Do you need flexibility but she's used to a set schedule that she can't easily vary?
Is there good chemistry? This includes her attitude, working style, and how your personalities complement each other.
NOTE: If you at all feel intimidated during your interview with a candidate, take this as a red flag. A nanny who asserts what she wants can feel awkward yet comforting at the same time to new parents who are nervous. However, the nanny can become more assertive once hired which can become an issue.
We have compiled a long list of questions to ask a nanny candidate. Do you need to ask each and every one of these questions? Of course not. Read through them, familiarize yourself with the types of questions to ask. If you are thinking this hire could be longer term, plan ahead and ask questions about future roles the nanny might take on (e.g., homework help, preschool transition, part-time switch or additional responsibilities).
Why should I hire you?
How did you get involved in childcare work?
Why do you like being a nanny? Tell me some of the things that make this job fun.
What is your dream job?
Are you open to writing down details about our child(ren)'s days?
What age children do you most enjoy working with and why?
How would you describe your style when working with kids - are you hands-on, physical, hands-off?
How do you build independence in a child?
How do you nurture a child?
Do you know your way around Brooklyn? Manhattan? Park Slope?
Do you know where things like story-times are and the days that the Botanic Garden is free to the public? (If you hire a nanny who has not worked in the neighborhood you live in then there will be a learning curve to know where classes are held, etc. You may need to show the nanny the ropes).
Do you know any other babysitters in the neighborhood that you would see regularly? What are the ages of the children they care for? What do you normally do when spending time with other nannies?
Tell us about the best child you ever took care of.
Do you have any pet peeves about parents or children you've worked for in the past?
Tell us about the worst child you ever took care of. (These questions give insight into the nanny's attitude about good and bad behavior)
Do you like to offer your ideas and opinions about the way things can be done?
Have you found that parents you've worked for are open to your suggestions?
Tell me about the work style of your past employers. Was it hands-off, where you had plenty of freedom, or were there set ways to do things? Did you feel you had a tense or relaxed relationship?
Were there any things about your last job you would like replicated in your next work situtation? Are there things you do not want to have?
What additional duties did you perform in your previous jobs? Did you do any cleaning or errands? Laundry? Dishes? Cooking?
Did your former employers ever come home later than agreed? How did this impact your life/schedule?
What were the arrangements you had with your last employer in terms of hours, benefits, pay, vacation, etc.? (These questions help you sound out ideas like working nights, weekends, travel with the family, etc.)
Where do you live and how would you travel to work?
From your previous positions, how did you ensure that you were not late arriving to work in the morning or for things like after school pick up?
In past employment situations, did you ever have to renegotiate work terms? Did you ever approach them about something you disagreed with regarding a parenting decision? Were you given an unexpected raise or special tips? Can you tell us a bit about the situation and how you handled it?
Did you miss any work for illnesses? How often and why? Do you have any health issues that would limit your ability to do your job? Did you help find someone else to cover for you? (These answers should be double check these with their references)
Can you tell us about a time your former family was trying to deal with a transition (potty training, sleep training, weaning) and how you helped them deal with this?
Are you okay transitioning in a few years to a more part-time childcare and part-time housecleaner arrangement?
What would be your expectation if we were to have another child?
Potentially Squirmy Questions
Do you think all your former employers would all give you a positive reference? Why or why not?
Have you ever yelled at or hit a child? What would you do if you saw a nanny in public being rough with a child or yelling at them?
Are you legally authorized to work in the U.S.?
Do you want to be paid on or off the books? Why or why not?
What are some of the strategies you've used to handle a crying baby?
How would you handle a temper tantrum in a public place?
Does your behavior change if it's a temper tantrum they throw at home?
Sometimes there are parenting decisions that you might not agree with. Can you give me an example of a time when you might have disagreed with a parent's decision? What, if anything, did you do about it?
What is your opinion of sleep training and having kids "cry it out"?
Were there ever any emergency situations that came up when you were taking care of kids? If so, can you tell me about it?
Did you have the authority to make decisions for the child(ren) if the parents weren't available?
The first interview is done and if you’re like many people, you’ll conduct a handful. Make notes about each person shortly after they leave when things are fresh in your mind. Many people tell us they get confused throughout the process. Write down identifiers and any red flags. You’ll have a general feeling about the candidate, and also pay attention to the following:
Was the candidate punctual? (If they are late to an interview, it’s a bad sign for the future)
Did they following directions? (If you asked for history and an ID, did they bring it)
How did the candidate present themselves? Neatly dressed?
Did the candidate wash their hands when they came in? (If you have the nanny change a diaper it can go a long way to helping you see the type of interaction you may or may not get).
Did it seem like the candidate was prepared with questions for you? What was the focus of these questions (pay, benefits and hours or the children)?
There’s no real way to quantify this, but DO listen to your gut. If your child(ren) seem happy with this potential nanny, you’ll know. If you feel calm when she’s there, you’ll know. It’s a nerve-wracking process for sure, but when the right one comes along, you’ll feel more at ease with this person. You’ll be able to say, “I feel comfortable leaving my baby with this person for x hours a day, every day, Monday to Friday.”
If you like the nanny, it’s time to interview the references. It can take time to connect with some references and ensure adequate quality talking time with you. People are busy, but a recommender who can’t make time may be torn between guilt over cutting off a nanny’s income and not being 100% happy with the nanny.
For recommenders, helping a nanny find a new job is time consuming if done well, and during summer and fall months there are a lot of nannies on the job market making it nerve-wracking for them. Recommenders are also going through a roller coaster of emotions, letting a nanny go is a symptom of a larger transition. Frequently cited reasons why parents let a nanny go include job loss, moving, or starting to school. With those life changes, recommenders may feel a sense of responsibility, stress, sadness and more.
Researching the nanny and her references
The overwhelming majority of nannies are good, honest folks with legitimate references. However, nanny jobs are in high demand, leaving a few desperate nannies to rely on less than honest means to try to find a job. Doing your due diligence in finding out if the nanny and her references are legitimate will give you the peace of mind that you’ve left no stone unturned in making sure you found a person you can trust.
Ask detailed questions of the references. Make sure to ask for concrete examples of the nanny’s "glowing" abilities. It’s one thing to have a reference say “she is great at engaging with my child” and another to find out that the child has afterschool classes five days a week.
Search Google, Craigslist, Facebook, and LinkedIn for verification. This is important for verifying both the nanny’s identity and the reference’s identity. You can use the email addresses they give you on their work history.
Check multiple references and meet them in person or on Skype if possible. If a reference is not open to meeting you in person or online, this could be a red flag.
Do not rely only on written recommendations. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it happens that people feel confident enough in the recommendation that they don’t follow up with a phone call.
Investigate holes in employment. If a 3-year-old reference is glowing but there's not a current reference, ask both the reference and the nanny why there is a gap. Go beyond, "The employer doesn't know I'm/she’s looking for another job." You'll need to know what expectations were not being met to make sure you won't fall into the same trap. (Remember that there are not great employers as well as not great nannies; some nannies are trying to find a better work situation.)
Double check facts given by the nanny and the reference about the working situation. The names and ages of children, dates worked, employers' job, etc.Consider changing the age or sex of the children or where the people live (“You are the family in Cobble Hill, right?”). If they don't correct or catch the error this is a big red flag.
Ask the references where they had put up advertisements/ recommendations for the nanny. We have seen nannies pose as employers and post messages, going so far as taking out email accounts without the employer’s knowledge. While lying to join a website may not relate to a nanny's ability to care for children, you need to know that the origin of the reference is legit.
Do a background check. You can obtain things such as criminal records, civic judgments, bankruptcies, professional licenses, driving records, tax liens and sex offenses. While this information is important, remember if someone’s not caught for an offense, it won't be on a background check. Also note that if a nanny doesn’t have work eligibility there may be little to no record of them to check.
“If you're hiring a nanny for the first time, do yourself a favor and do not rely on references alone. Do background checks, ask SPECIFIC questions of former employers (was she ever late?, did she call in sick a lot?, would you trust her in an emergency?, what method of discipline did she use, etc.) and most of all, follow your gut.”
Further reading on PSP: how to do a background check on your Nanny.
Meet the References in person if you can. Having a face-to-face meeting can help you decipher a lot about what the nanny's had to deal with on a daily basis and what their family environment might be like. Additionally, just suggesting a meeting can help you determine a reference's legitimacy (if a false reference has been given, they probably won't want to meet you in person!)
Be on the lookout for hidden agendas. A reference may feel guilty about their nanny's termination or may want to 'unload' the nanny for financial reasons. As a result, they might hesitate in offering any negative feedback or criticism. Expect to always be reading in between the lines of what they tell you so notice any hesitations and probe.
Ask for Stories. Ask the references to share specific situations such as how the nanny helped with potty training, sleep training, or how she adjusted into the family.
Check your Circles. Research is essential. Find out if you have mutual connections, for example a teacher, tutor, sports club, or any other contact that might be able to chat about both the nanny and her references. Ask the references what classes the former nanny used to take their kids to and then confidentially ask the class teacher about their observations of the nanny’s behavior with the children.
Listen to how the nanny is described. There is a big difference between an enthusiastic parent whose beloved and favorite nanny has left versus a friend posing as a reference pitching the nanny as the perfect candidate. A nanny with little or no prior experience or is desperate might recruit friends or family members to pose as a prior employer.
Check non-nanny references if possible. If you can find employers other than parents it could help you get a new perspective on the nanny. Ask for references from teachers, advisers, or other non-parent employers.
Tell the reference your wish list. What are the ideal qualities and tasks you are looking for your nanny to perform? Write down the important things you see your nanny doing with your kids and ask the references for examples of these qualities to help you know if the candidate fulfills your wish list.
Discuss your lifestyle and living situation. For example, if you have a pet, ask the reference how the nanny was around animals. If your family schedule is busy and hectic, you will need someone who is organized and punctual, so ask the reference how the nanny kept to a timetable. If the reference waxes on about her clean house more than the kids it’s useful to know.
He Said/She Said: Some nannies may be leaving jobs because of a bad employment situation. If you get conflicting references, it may be due to personalities. The key is determining if the candidate is a good match for your family, not the former employer’s.
REMINDERS: When you call references…
Ask "Is this a good time?" There's nothing like a rushed conversation to leave you wanting more.
You learn a lot by just letting the references talk without prompting at first.
You should also follow up most questions with a "Can you give me an example of this?", "Can you remember a time when this happened?", and "Tell me more."
“All references have wonderful things to say about their nannies. References are not necessarily a good indication of good fit with your family.”
Questions for the Reference Interview
Obviously you don't need to ask ALL of the following questions. Many depend on your situation. If you are hiring a nanny you don't know and who you have little knowledge of the reference, you should be as thorough as possible. However, even if you know the nanny it’s useful to ask these questions since the reference may have different policies than you do about things. Take your time with the reference and please don’t rush the process.
Tell me about your nanny and the things that you think I should know about her.
How did you come to hire this nanny?
What was the date (month/year) she started working for you? (Cross-check this with the nanny's work history form)
Why is the nanny leaving?
What were the hours worked, flexibility, start date, children's ages, pay rates, benefits?
How many of her references did you check before you hired her? (Note the names of the other references and double check these).
Do you think you paid more than the going rate? Less? (Get a sense if you would be offering less so you can plan accordingly).
Why did she leave her other jobs?
Did she ever work nights for you? Travel with you? Do weekends for you? (If not, you can ask, “Do you think she would be open to it?”)
How many vacation days did she get? Did you give her vacation of her own choosing? Were there any issues about vacation or time off that were uncomfortable or had to be negotiated? (If the nanny is used to getting 5 weeks off and you’re offering only 2 you need to know.)
Work Situation and Philosophy
Were you at home when she was caring for your children or were you gone? How often? How was that situation? (Probe this specifically if you plan on working from home as some nannies work better than others with parents around).
Did you organize play dates or did you want or have the nanny to do that?
What were your policies about things like TV? Candy? Sleeping in the Stroller?
Was it okay for the nanny to run errands while at work? Taking your child(ren) on the subway?
How would you describe your family’s vibe? Laid back? Structured? Intense? Easy going?
Did you ever have any differences in parenting philosophies? If so, what were the differences and did this ever cause conflict?
Did you feel the nanny supported your wishes on things like sleeping, eating, and discipline? How did she communicate (or not communicate) this?
What was she like as a person? For example, was she warm, strict, upbeat, or energetic? Quiet, patient, outspoken? What worked/didn’t work about these traits?
What did you see as her strengths? Weaknesses?
Would you describe her as a hard worker? Neat? Active? Structured? Did she ever go above and beyond what was required of her without being asked?
No employee is perfect. If there was one thing that you would have liked your nanny to do (or do more of), what was it?
Does she have children? How many and what are their ages? What is her family like? Have you met any of her family members?
Is she up on things like where the story-times are and what days the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is free?
Does she have nanny friends she hangs out with? Do they ever meet/hang out at your place? Has this ever been an issue?
Does she get along well with the other mothers and nannies who may live in your building, at daycare, or who are your child's friends' nannies?
What kinds of activities did your nanny do with your children?
What additional duties did she perform for your family? Did she do any cleaning or errands? Laundry? Dishes? Were these part of her regular duties or did she only do these things once in a while?
(NOTE: Only 28% of people on the 2008 Nanny Survey agreed with the statement, “I feel 100% confident that our nanny would know exactly what to do in case of an emergency situation.” Figure this out with the reference.)
Have you had any emergency situations that came up over the nanny’s tenure with you?
How comfortable do/did you feel about your nanny’s ability to handle an emergency?
Did you ever feel like she made a decision that wasn’t 100% safe for your family?
Did you ever show up unexpected?
Did she ever have to react quickly to a medical problem or other issue? How did that go?
Do you have an Emergency Plan? What was it? How did the nanny’s family play into that plan?
Did your nanny help you through any child transitions such as potty training, sleep training, or having another infant? Give me examples of how that was handled.
Do you feel the nanny respected your desire to do things a certain way, such as sleeping, treats, or staying up late? Did this ever cause tension?
Having it in Writing
Did you have any type of written statement, such as a work agreement or nanny contract? Why or why not? Was there anything about it that came into question?
Did you do a background check on your nanny? Did you find anything or nothing? Is she authorized to work in the U.S.?
Was your nanny punctual? Reliable? Dependable?
Did she ever bring the kids home later than you expected? Why?
Did the nanny miss work for illnesses? How often and why?
How well did she follow directions?
Do you think you will stay in touch with her after she stops working for you?
Will you invite her to your child(ren)'s birthday parties in the future?
If there was one thing you wished the nanny would have done (or not done), what would it be?
Final Wrap Up
Is there anything else I should take into consideration if I am going to hire this person?
If you had to do it over again, would you hire this nanny? Do you strongly recommend without reservation that I hire this person to be a nanny for my children?
“My big regret was not checking the nanny’s most recent employer for a reference. My nanny provided outstanding references but for families she worked with over five years ago. I later found out that her recent references would not have recommended her, and I would not recommend her either going forward.”
KEY TAKE AWAYS FROM STEP 3
Use the in-person interview to test the nanny’s fit with your family
Research both the candidates as well as the references.
References all love their nannies; determining if the references have similar styles and expectations is key.
Further reading on PSP: how to do a background check on your Nanny.
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Now that you've interviewed candidates and their references, let's move on to Step 4: How do we Seal the Deal?