The Importance of References
Begin by gathering references during your first interview with a potential nanny. Ask him or her for the names and numbers of at least three former employers, plus the contact information for three personal references like a clergyman or former teacher. Don't accept best friends or relatives as references. You don't want to waste your time listening to someone's mother gush that, "Linda was so sweet with her baby dolls and was voted Most Popular in eighth grade!" or hear her best friend offer up tired cliché's like, "She's the kind of person that's always there for me! She's always there through thick and thin." That's all lovely, but it doesn't tell you the important stuff like how someone reacts under stress or if they learn best through verbal or written instruction.
Unless your nanny candidate is really on the ball, she won't have all those names and numbers handy, so give her a day or so to gather the necessary information for you. If she's only been a nanny to one or two other families, it's perfectly valid and sometimes helpful to contact her old boss from a restaurant or retail store. You may learn something by inquiring how many sick days she took in a year, if she was consistently punctual, and if she quickly adapted to new tasks or if was ever Employee of the Month.
Armed with a solid list of references, it's time to burn up the phone lines! The best time to call someone is generally in the evening. Due to Human Resource Department restrictions, many companies will only give out a person's date of employment. Even if you manage to get a manager on the phone, they are often reluctant to discuss former employees within earshot of the ones still there.
If you're having a hard time breaking the ice with an old boss at the office, politely offer to call him or her that evening after dinner. Something along the lines of, "You know, it's hard to talk about this stuff at work, and I'm probably interrupting important things you need to get done. Would it be too much trouble if we could continue the conversation this evening? Say around 7:00 PM?" Having a heart-to-heart chat later in the evening ensures that you're speaking to someone who's a bit more relaxed, with no worries of anyone listening in.