by Gael Ann Dow, Professional Nanny
Searching for a new Nanny job in this economy can be very challenging. In my recent search for the next wonderful family to share my Nanny talents with, I had to do things a bit differently than I have in years past. I found myself registering with a larger number of traditional “brick and mortar” nanny agencies, both local and out of state, and creating a personal profile for use with an online nanny placement service.
The use of online nanny placement services means we, as Nannies, need to take more responsibly in the matching process. Families (and agencies) have always had the opportunity to check our work and personal references. Having the family also provide some references could be equally as valuable to the nanny. Speaking to several family references would be a excellent tool for gathering the kind of information that is needed to assess if the match may be a good one for nanny and family. Which of course is the key to a successful , happy relationship that benefits everyone especially the children.
As a career Nanny, with 25 years of experience interviewing for Nanny positions, this is the first time I have asked a family for references. I found the prospective family happy to provide the names and contact information of people willing to speak with me. Then I realized, oh dear, I’m going to need some questions to ask! And not just any old questions, but professional ones that would help me add some more pieces to the puzzle of who these people are, as I consider working for and, in my case as a live-in nanny, living with them too.
I did a few Google searches and checked a few of my favorite websites but I couldn’t find a thing that addressed this specific situation. There are plenty of resources out there if you are looking for some great interviewing questions to ask a family. There were even more sites for families to find helpful questions to ask the nanny candidate, but what I needed didn’t fit either of those categories. I did find some information on questions to ask a reference but they were all related to the business world. I needed questions that addressed the parents; character, lifestyle, values, parenting style and family priorities. Keeping in mind that my questions (and a critique of my conversation with each reference) would most likely be reported back to the family, I wanted my questions to be well thought out and professional.
When I couldn’t find what I was looking for online, I knew just where to turn. I went straight to the experts, of course! I emailed professional nanny friends and the online nanny groups I belong to asking them what questions they would ask if given the chance to talk to friends, co-workers and former employees (not necessarily the previous nanny) of a family they were in the process of interviewing. Within a few minutes I started receiving replies and few short hours later I had enough helpful responses to tackle the task of writing up my questions.
Getting started I found this bit of advice particularly helpful: figure out first what answers you’re hoping to get because once you figure that out it will be easier to think of what questions to ask. This advice helped me think through just want kind of information I was trying to learn about the family or confirm from my own observations during our face to face interview.
Although your information goals will vary from family to family, I think sharing the thoughtful brainstorming responses I received will be helpful to any nanny wanting to devise her own list of family reference checking questions.
I wish to thank everyone who submitted input!
Here are the responses, organized into three broad categories but in no particular order with names removed for privacy. Naturally, not all these questions will be appropriate for your situation and you would want to word your questions to suit your style.
General questions – for anyone, friends, neighbors or others
How did you come to know the family?
Can you tell me one great experience you shared with the family?
How long have you known the family/or parent?
How would you describe them as people and as parents, the two being completely different (obviously paraphrase).
Would you describe them as being punctual when you’ve made arrangement with them?
What words would you use to describe them.
What information do you think I most need to know about them?
Do you feel they communicate well?
Do they strike you as emotionally stable?
Hmmmm…things I would like to know are some character strengths and maybe (gently) ask for one weakness.
How long have you known this family?
In what capacity do you know them?
What is your relationship with them?
How often do you visit in their home?
Have you ever stayed in their home for an extended period?
Ask if the parents have talked about or asked about any particular child issues. That might give you a clue on how they will be as parents or at least see as “issues” they are concerned with.
Ask for some words that describe the mom/dad so you can get a sense of her/his personality.
Tell me what you love about this family and why?
Tell me how you think I can be of a help to this family? (this is where opinions about their child-rearing will likely come out)
Tell me what things you feel this family will want me to help with? (this is where their observations about the family’s personal blind spots will come out)
What qualities do you most admire about ________________?
If you were asked to care for _______________ child (ren), what do you think their expectations would be?
What impressions have you had about how ____________________ balance the demands of work and responsibilities of parenting?
Open-ended questions like,
Have you ever lived with (names) before, or stay together while on a trip?
Based on that experience, what should I know so I could fit into their home without friction?
For instance (if they look blankly at you), do they wake up alert and cheerful and ready for the day, or grumpy and nonfunctional….or somewhere in between?
Is there anything I haven’t asked that you would like to share with me?
Would you work as a nanny for them? Why?
Does she/he communicate well?
What type of person would work best with ___ (mom or dad’s name)?.
Can you tell me about a positive experience you have shared with ___________(family name)?
What information do you think I most need to know about them?
Have _____________(mom or dad’s name) asked you your advice about any particular parenting or child care issue?
What kind of parents are they/will they be?
Do your children enjoy playdates with ___________name?
How would you describe ___________(name) ?
Would you feel comfortable with your daughter/niece living and working with this family? Why?
Questions more suitable for coworkers, previous employees or roommates
Would you have any hesitations working with the family?
How have they regarded past employees?
Knowing as housemates issues do come up… please tell me how issues were usually resolved?
Do you feel he/she has realistic expectations? (management style)
Do you think they would make good roommates? Why or why not?
When something bothers them, do they say something right away, let it stew, bring it up diplomatically, lash out, get passive-aggressive, forgive and forget, keep a list of wrongs and come back to it, …what’s their style?
Do they fuss about anything out of place, or drop things where they are, or somewhere in between…and where are they on the scale?
Can you give me an example of how she/he resolved an issue/conflict you had?
Additional comments and advice I received:
Sounds already like the family is ahead of the game since they are willing to let you check their references!!
This is a nice change, checking employer references. 🙂
I think the thing to do is figure out first what answers you’re hoping to get because once you figure that out it will be easier to think of what questions to ask. For example, if it were me I’d want to work for people who are honest and have good integrity. It would also be important to me that they were punctual, loyal, have good follow through, and have good communication skills.
Also, because you’re concerned about the questions getting back to them, make sure to ask open ended conversations where its required that they elaborate on their answers that way they can’t be construed as negative. For example, rather than “would you describe them as punctual?”, “How would you say they are with time management?”
One thing that I noticed when I interviewed for my current job was that my employers had friends lots of friends from each stage of their life, friendships that they maintained over decades. For example: My DB’s best friend since age 12 is still his best friend. My MB had friends from a different state that had lived in same town and tons of friends all over the country from grade school, high school, college etc.
I think that says a lot about how they value the people in their life, and I have always advised nannies to look at that.
If you ask for references make every effort to check them. It shows you are serious and professional.
When you do call make sure it is a convenient time for them to talk for a few minutes. You can offer to call back at a more convenient time. I played cell phone tag with one of the references, but we were able to arrange a good time for both of us by texting back and forth a couple of times. Another reference’s voicemail was full so I wasn’t able to leave her a message but luckily I also had an email address for her so I could let her know I was trying to contact her. This made things easier when I did reach her.
I prepared a little intro speech which I gave if I reached a live person or left as a message if needed. It went something like this: Hi, my name is____________ and am in the interviewing process for a position with ______________(name of family). They put you down as a reference. I would like to ask 10 minutes of your time and have just a few questions for you. Is now convenient?
To get the conversation flowing I wanted my first question to be an ice breaker type question. I either picked a simple to answer question such as “How long have you known the family?” or something connected to them personally such as “__________ mentioned you are a neighbor of hers. How do you like living in______.?” This made it easier to move on to my more specific or open ended questions.
Working into the conversation a little information about myself helped the person on the other end of the phone feel a connection to me and I got more insightful answers. I just made a comment here and there about something or some place they mentioned, or referred to a detail that I knew about them such as they have similar ages children or live in the same neighborhood as the family.
Q: Where did you meet? A: We worked together when she lived in _________. My response: Oh, I visited there once when traveling with a family.
Ex. _______(name of mom) mentioned you have 6 children and have known ________’s family for 20 years.
Of course only say it if it is true and make it short because your main goal is to get them talking and then listen.
I recommend you keep it short (10 to 15 minutes) In that amount of time , I was able to ask 4-5 questions that I had selected especially to suit their relationship to the family.
Naturally, you end the call by thanking them politely for taking the time to talk with you. One delightful reference I spoke with (she was a neighbor and former coworker) told me that she hoped I was offered the job and she looked forward to meeting me in person, demonstrating just the kind of impression you want reported back to the family.
Checking references by itself won’t give you all the answers to whether or not you have found a good match for yourself but I do think you will find it a useful tool.
I spoke with each of the three references provided by the prospective family. And I think the biggest thing I learned was yes, I did have an accurate picture of what type of family they are, something difficult to know even with a first and second interview totaling about 4 hours.
I hope that by sharing my family reference checking experience and the brainstorming replies I received, you will be better prepared to devise your own questions and check those references like a true professional nanny.
Please feel free to share any questions you would ask a family’s references in the comment section.