References on a Potential Employer?

Received Sunday, March 9, 2008-Perspective & Opinion
Can I, the nanny, request past-nanny references from potential employers?I am the fourth nanny in my five-year old charge's life. Because of the mother, I have grown to hate my job so much that I have anxiety dreams that wake me up screaming. Had I known what a terrible person and bad mother she is, I never would have accepted this job. Too late, I surreptitiously spoke to the other three previous nannies and learned we all share the same horror stories and not surprisingly, they all quit because of the mistreatment they received by our employer. Hindsight is 20/20! I don't want this to happen to me again when I hunt for my next nannying job. What is the protocol for asking parents for their references? It seems that if nannies must provide references, parents should too. Thank you in advance for any advice.


Anonymous said...

If a family asks you for your references, why can't you ask them? It's a valid point, however, a lot of parents might look at you like you're crazy. If you're working through an agency, maybe ask the agency for reasons why previous nannies quit, or see if you can get a list of previous nannies and contact them yourself. Another option is to ask the parents why they hired a new nanny or why they've been through so many nannies - they might get defensive, but it might give you some clues. If you're waking up with nightmares, though, get out and get out quick!

emily said...

I always ask families for references from previous nannies and wouldn't even consider working for a family that couldn't or wouldn't provide at least one good reference.

I usually wait until the in-person interview to request the information. I just say, "Can you give me the contact information for one of your past employees as a reference?" They may not have the info right at hand because I know I usually like to alert my references that I'm giving out their contact info beforehand, so I usually say that they can call or email me within the next few days.

When I speak to the reference I try to ask some fairly generic questions, like "What was the best thing about working for the X family?", "What was the worst thing?", "What is Mrs. X's communication style?", etc.

I wish you luck in your search!

emily said...

Also, 2:23, the agency might have some useful information, but keep in mind that their #1 priority is placing someone in the position and getting their commission, so don't rely on their opinion exclusively.

Also, any good agency wouldn't just hand out a list of contact info for a family's pervious employees without the family's knowledge and permission.

Anonymous said...

You can always ask....when I've left other, non-nanny jobs some potential replacements have asked to speak to me about why I was leaving, but not every employer will agree to that. Maybe that's a warning sign in itself.

A Westchester Nanny said...

Yes of course you can! If a family refuses this request I would be suspicious as to why. You can always explain your previous situation if they ask why you need references. You have to do what's best for you and your job happiness. If you're unhappy (especially in a nanny job) it effects your life as a whole. Good luck, as a nanny I understand your situation and hope you can resolve it.

just anonymous said...

I agree with you. Case in point-my last job. The mother raved on and on and said they had only had 2 nannies throughout their children's lives (the oldest was 12), well, I get into the job and learn that I was actually their 19th nanny!!! I def. think it's okay to ask to talk to their current/former nanny. If they make up some excuse of why you can't, then it's probably not the family you want to work for.

Caroline said...

I've always asked to speak with previous nannies and also sometimes have asked if they'd mind if I spoke to either another employee or even a preschool teacher - sometimes framed in "I want to know what sort of child you have" more than to grill them about what sort of employers the parents are.

If the potential employer is unwilling, it's a warning sign.

I've also offered to be a refernce for every family that I've left and only been taken up on it once - I guess most nannies aren't as thorough.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely! I learned this the hard way too. A family that seemed so wonderful during our long application/hiring period turned out to be god awful. When I spoke the former nanny months later, she said she wished she had been able to warn me away from them.

Now I always ask for a reference. A prior nanny if there is one, or neighbors, etc. Just yesterday I spent an hour and a half of the phone with the current nanny of a family who I am interviewing with. It was very eye-opening (in a good way!) and I'm so thankful I had the opportunity to talk with her.

Abused Nanny said...

just anonymous,
I had the same situation. Mother was a complete and total liar. I quit within one week. I think I was #21 and the oldest was 12.

Anonymous said...

This is OP from previous (March 7) post about "injured on the job". You better believe I'll not take another nanny job WITHOUT getting reference on the family from a previous employee. AND, while your at it, OP, you might want to ask what a potential employer's policy is on work-related injuries...will you be paid for time off and medical expenses if required...are you (as an employee) covered under the liability provision in their home-owners policy? This is a VERY legitimate concern, based on the responses and horror stories people shared in response to my post. In the future, I won't hesitate to ask those questions, and will insist on that provision being stated in the Work Agreement.

Sorry-didn't intend to divert your concern back to my own issue, but it kinda ties in, don't you think?

Potential employers UNhesitant to give references, and to put in writing ALL the parameters of your job (benefits and protections, as well as, responsibilities)are the only one's worth working for.

There are so many questions I now realize I should have asked when interviewing for my current position. Of course, the parents can always CLAIM to be open communicators, respectful and generous, looking for someone to be "like a part of the family"...blah, blah, blah. God only knows what any of those things REALLY mean to them! So I don't think there's any substitute for a reference from a former employee, and getting as much in writing as suits YOU before accepting your next position.

I am now convinced the best attitude to have is one of "I'M interviewing THEM", as much as they are interviewing me. Parents have every right to examine our backgrounds and check our references to determine if we can be expected to be trustworthy and reliable caregivers for their precious children. Why shouldn't THEY be expected to prove (at the very least)that they are decent employers??????????? Best of luck in your search, too!

Anonymous said...

I have to say on this matter:

A lot of times the parents who hire subpar nannies know they are hiring subpar employees. They just want to save a buck.

And a lot of time nannies take jobs with people they think are wealthy or are in a position to offer extras or for the sake of working for someone who is particularly wealthy and the nanny learns that the woman is a real bitch.

So nannies are just as much to blame for putting $$$ in front of what is best for them.

Not every nanny is tricked in to a bad position. Some nannies see a big house and $$$ and get starstrucked, but end up just....

Sue said...

Mr. and Mrs. I'mTooBusyToCareForMyOwnSpawn...

I'm a highly qualified nanny and I'm only looking for jobs that are long term. In order to ensure that all of us are happy with my employment I'd like to speak with past nannies.

If they shrivel and shriek, run!

If they give you information then you just might have a job for the next 10 years.

Anonymous said...

OP, four nannies in five years should have been a big red flag! Employers with a high turnover usually have an explanation. The nannies went home, back to school etc. and that may actually be what the nannies told them. Very few will tell the real reason they are quitting if the job is miserable. It is a very good idea to ask to speak to a reference.
I wouldn't expect any help in that regard from your agency. They want to place a nanny and collect their fee, and frankly, in my experience they send their strongest candidates to the families they know are difficult and demanding. You have to watch out for yourself. As someone said, while they are interviewing you, you are also interviewing them. Good Luck
UES Nanny

Anonymous said...

I feel that as a nanny you need
to interview them as well as they
interview you...I had a job which I left and was threatened by one of their kids...I did interview the last employee but take this also...I had a confidental agreement which I was told during my exiting still is in effect to
future employees that contact me
for a reference---which finally put the last piece of the crazy
families life in order for me..she couldnt warn me...ask the right questions...i even talked to her a few months into my job asking her
questions regarding the crazy child and she didnt seem to have can find out info
without making them feel like they
are revealing too much about past

mimi said...

oh...boy...please tell me your not in Cleveland Hgts. with a family with 1 girl and younger twin boys...cause if you are....I was a previous nanny with the same issues!!!!

mimi said...

p.s I was nanny number 3 and little girl had JUST turned 2!!!!

Anonymous said...

I'm a nanny employer. When interviewing for nannies, I was happy to give out the number of my current nanny to good candidates that I'm serious about potentially hiring (after checking with her of course). I have to admit, I was surprised the first time we were asked by a candidate, and told her I had to check with my nanny before giving out her number, but to me it was a sign that they were looking for a long term situation as we were and wanted to make sure we were a good match. I recommend that nannies ask and parents be prepared to give out numbers. Be aware though (just as I am when speaking wiht a nanny's reference), if it was a good relationship and an amicable parting, your conversation/questions may be shared with your potential employer, so consider that discussion as part of the interview process. My former nanny called me after each nanny candidate she spoke to and freely shared whether or not she thought the candidate was the right person to take care of my kids. I really appreciated her opinions since she knew my kids and us so well.

cali mom said...

It's certainly only fair for a potential nanny to ask, and a perfectly valid request. Come to think of it, when interviewing for a corporate job, there is usually at least SOME info on the company available, and if it's publicly traded there will be financial info. This isn't the same as talking with current or former employees, but it's not fair that household employees should have to just walk in blind knowing nothing about the employer while the employer reserves the right to ask all the questions and check all the references. And I agree with other posters, if you phrase it well and they seem uncomfortable at the idea, you probably would ot be a good match for each other.

Anonymous said...

4:50 here again -- The employer at 12:29 makes a great point. Assuming the nanny still has a good relationship with the parents (and she should if they are using her as a reference) she's very likely to share the conversation -- or at the very least her impressions -- with them. The mother I'm interviewing with currently called me within hours of my discussion with her current nanny and said that I got the thumbs up from her. She also referenced the discussion in later conversations. (ie. "I know Mary told you...")

It's something to keep in mind. Stay professional even though she isn't your potential employer. This isn't the time to vent about your current/past employer or to talk about inappropriate things.

Anonymous said...

Please don't post in all caps. Doesn't sound like you intended it this way, but all caps online is the same as screaming in real life. I agree with your point. Having both nannies work together is a great transition plan. Doesn't always work out because of timing, so getting the prior nanny's number for a reference is good.

Anonymous said...

This is the employer at 12:29. Like I said I think it's a good idea to get family references and I appreciated when candidates asked for them, but based on what my nanny told me when I asked her what caused her to ask for family references, there is good reason for employers to give them and to be completely upfront about their nanny histories. Think of it as self-defense if you ever had a bad nanny experience.

Apparently, shortly after my nanny started working for us, a few nannies approached her to tell her we were a horrible family to work for and we've gone through a lot of nannies in the past year. My current nanny told me when she heard the negative rumours, she was a little concerned, but decided to ignore them because she knew although we said our first nanny was not a good fit, we had good references from our other two nannies, and it just didn't match with her impression of us.

The basis of these rumours was apparently bad mouthing from our first, terrible "nanny" who spent her days sitting on a park bench talking to other "nannies" rather than caring for my children. There were several reasons for our letting this woman go, but we were more than fair to her and still gave her two weeks severence. (My two children had several accidents while in her care, one of which required I take my youngest to the emergency room, she did drop off playdates even though I told her I felt my 3 year old was too young, she allowed my children to play unsupervised on a different floor than she was on in our home and many other issues.) We had several discussions over the 6 weeks she worked for us about what needed to be improved and her reaction was basically, I've taken care of kids before and we don't need you looking over my shoulder (she actually suggested the problem with why she was having trouble bonding with my kids was that I was working at home too much--which I was doing mostly because I was not comfortalbe with her). It was good to be rid of her.

We had great experiences after that, but had two more nannies before hiring our current one. Because we were without childcare and didn't want to rush a decision, we hired a wonderful lady who had done occasional baby sitting for my children in the past as a temporary until we could find a permanent replacement. Nanny #2 ended up working with us for almost two months because it took awhile to find someone we felt was right and she was not immediately available when we found her. When nanny #3 started, we thought we had found our last nanny ever--she was wonderful, sweet, caring and formed a great rapport with my kids really quickly--but, personal issues caused her to relocate after several months with us. (Shortly after starting with us, she separated and started divorce proceedings against her husband, it turned very nasty very quickly and she decided she wanted to move down south where her family was to get away from him.) Both our temporary second nanny and our third nanny were our references when we hired nanny number 4, our current nanny. We had and have very good relationships with them and both feel we are a great family to work for, gave us strong references, and called us to volunteer their feedback and impressions with us when candidates contacted them.

When my nanny told me this, ti said I'm surprised she didn't mention her concern to us then, and she said she was new and was still getting to know us, and after awhile it was clear the rumours weren't true. From conversations with my prior nannies (they both call now and then to say hi to the kids) and from comments from the kids about how mean their first nanny was since then, she knows what type of person my first nanny is and where the rumours came from. Only thing she says surprised her is that we kept her for as many weeks as we did.

Anonymous said...

12:46 PM
You make some good points. It is very helpful for a nanny to get feedback from her previous employers after they speak with a potential employer as well. Everyone is putting their best face on in an interview, but chatting with another mom, their character is more transparent. I have turned down a couple of offers based on my former employers advice.

Anonymous said...

I have been employed since my children were in school. One thing I learned very quickly, was to research the company or organization I was interviewing with. I made it my business to know about them, and to find out what I could about their human resource policies...staff turnover ...that type of thing.

Of course you should be allowed to ask for references. A nanny is not a slave nor a servant, and this hugely qualified group of people deserve to know who they will be working for, and what their history is as an employer.

Good for you OP!

maggie's mommy said...

I, too, have held jobs where the children were a pleasure and the parents were the problem and can be very sympathetic to your situation. I would never consider a position where the parents refused a reference - in fact, the best job I ever had, my first interview was WITH their nanny. A former caregiver is the best person to get the "whole truth" about a family from.

That being said, I would take all references with a grain of salt. I always ask for a timeline of childcare - how long do your nannies stay for? What kind of reasons do they move on for? What worked/didn't work with each particular caregiver? I have no secrets in my background - I would rather hear the truth before I accept a job. Although I have since left nannying, I once spoke to a nanny who could not say enough nice things about the family. Having met the parents (who seemed nice enough) and the kids (who were definitely handfuls), they didn't seem like the lovey-dovey dreams she was describing. After some fairly probing questions, she finally broke down and admitted she hated her job, the parents were awful, the kids were worse, and they were withholding a positive reference until she helped find a suitable candidate. Although this is an extreme example, if it sounds too good to be true... it probably is.

Anonymous said...

As a mother, I would have NO PROBLEM supplying my nanny with references from my past nannies.

I would be very questionable of someone who refused.

GL in your search for a new job.

Anonymous said...

You most definitely should ask families for references. I was a nanny for 2 families while I went to college. They both were more than willing to give me references. In fact, the 1st family still stayed in touch with the previous nanny (she quit after she finished college and got a teaching job). That position was only for 2 years until the youngest started school full-time. The 2nd family also stayed in touch with the previous nanny (she quit when she went away to another college), and then had me help with hiring my replacement later down the line when I had my daughter and decided to be a stay-at-home mom. They were both wonderful experiences, and I knew before-hand they would be, because I had the opportunity to talk with the previous nannies. Good luck to you!

Waycross48 said...

I think that most parents would balk at giving a nanny references. BUT, if you are one in a long string of nannies, you might politely ask so speak with one or two of the other nannies before you commit to the job. Be kind - say "I'm sure they will speak highly of you but this is just something I've been advised to do". If they hesitate or refuse - MOVE ON. There is always a reason why you would be the 5th nanny in the life of a 5 year old child.

Anonymous Nanny said...


I am a log time nanny and also an agency owner. My advice to you would be that you can absolutely ask for references from potential employers. While I have had many wonderful, positive experiences with nanny families I have worked for, I have also had a couple horrific experiences. Long ago, I began asking for references from potential employers. Like others who have posted, I wouldn't work for a family without a reference.

One of the posts here says that agencies don't look out for nannies and all they are out for is the placement fee. I agree that some agencies are that way. However, there are also agencies that truly look out for nannies. I know I do. I have turned away several families because I will not place a nanny with a family that I would not work for myself. Not all agencies are bad. You need to "shop" for an agency before deciding to sign on with them. The good agency will treat you fairly and look out for you.