Surviving a Bad Reference by Glenda Propst
Recently, a good friend emailed me for advice on what to do. She had decided to leave her “not so great job” and try to find a new family. She called her agency, filled out the paperwork, listed her references and waited for the phone to ring.
She went on a few interviews but nothing came of any of them. Even the ones where she felt she really connected with the parents she never got a call back.
Finally, one day her agency called and asked her if she knew that her former employers were giving her a bad reference. She had been with the family for 2 years, and even though things were not perfect, she could not believe the parents were giving her a bad reference. The nanny was fortunate that she was working with an agency that knew her and knew what kind of nanny that she was and gave her the heads up on what was happening. This is why working with a reputable agency can be a benefit.
She asked me for advice, and I turned to my panel of experts, a list for parents, nannies and agencies that I co-moderate on Yahoogroups.
Not only did I get great feedback, but I found that this is something that happens to nannies often, with and sometimes without their knowledge. Most of the parents said that if a nanny had been with a family for 2 years, and the parents had kept her employed, they often felt that was a sign that things were not as bad as indicated and the length of employment spoke for itself. They also said that they checked all the nanny’s references before making a final decision and that often times that was the only bad reference they got. If that was the case, they would not let that keep them from hiring the nanny. They also said when they specifically asked what the problem with the nanny was, the problems were most often not related to the care they gave the children.The nannies and the parents all felt that honesty is the best policy. It is never good to start a trust based relationship with a lie.
If the nanny knows that the parents are giving her a bad reference, and not using the reference would create a big gap in her work history, it is best to be honest. Simply say that this was not a good family match but that you loved the children and that was why you stayed.
I can’t stress enough the importance of using restraint and diplomacy when talking about a former employer. The nanny should always take the high road and even when confronted with what the former employer is saying, say only as much as is absolutely necessary. Refrain from opening up to any potential employer about the personal lives of former employers just to expose the real picture of what went on there to justify your exit. The world of professional nannies and the families that employ them is much smaller than you can imagine, you never know who knows who. Do not go on the defensive. State your case simply and move on.
There are other ways to get references from previous jobs besides using the parents. If the children went to pre-school, or school, you might be able to get the teachers to write a short letter of reference. They could simply state your time of employment and their observation of your interaction with the children. Sometimes in situations like this you can use a neighbor, a soccer coach, a piano teacher, anyone who saw you interact with the child on a regular basis.
When you list your references, list your good references first with contact information.
List the name of your bad reference on the sheet without contact information. When the potential employer questions the lack of contact information you can simply say that they were upset when you left and are not giving you the best reference. Offer them the contact information but warn them that when they contact them, if they focus on your childcare abilities the reference should be fine.
The best way to protect yourself from being the victim of a bad reference is to be pro active. Never start a job without a written work agreement, that stipulates a yearly review. Ask your employers to put your yearly review in writing for your files. This way, if a relationship goes sour, you have a written record of positive things your employer has said about you. As professional nannies we must remember that our jobs do end. We have to make a conscious effort to prepare for the next family search so that we don’t get caught in these awkward situations.
When a former employer is slandering you, of course you have a choice to take legal action but if you are a nanny that has other good references, that should be your very last option. Sometimes legal action will only make a bad situation worse and even if you stop them from slandering you, you may very well put an end to your nanny career.
You can never go wrong taking the high road. Refrain from trying to get “even” with your former employer because in the long run, it will only hurt you.Always project the most professional image you possibly can.