When you’re searching for a new nanny, one of the most important steps you can take is checking references for any potential hires. Reference checks are a golden opportunity to learn more, not just about a nanny’s job history, but about her strengths and weaknesses, how she functions in real work situations, and what has made her an asset to families she’s worked with in the past.

The vast majority of nannies are qualified professionals who will be able to provide you with several reputable professional references. Occasionally, though, you may be confronted with a reference that leaves you with doubts. Maybe their answers are vague, the information they give you isn’t matching up with what you were told by the nanny, or you have reason to suspect they’re not being totally honest about their relationship to a nanny. That’s when you, as an employer, need to be able to tell if that reference is actually legitimate.

At Westside Nannies, we have years of experience combing through nannies’ work histories and professional references to find the most qualified and reliable candidates. But if you’re new to hiring a nanny or leading the interview process, those may be skills you’re still honing. Here are some tried and true ways to tell when a reference isn’t up to par.

Compare facts
The nanny may have had a fantastic interview with you and said all of the right things, but the reference check is your chance to verify those claims. For this reason, it’s important to directly compare facts from the nanny’s interview with the information you get from a reference. If the nanny claims they drove children around, for instance, the reference should be able to verify that fact and provide additional information, like how often and where the nanny drove and what their level of trust was in the nanny’s driving skills. The answers you get from the nanny and the reference about specific job details should always match up, and if they don’t, that’s a red flag.

Ask “process” questions
Great references are all about the details, and you can easily trip up a fake reference by asking for in-depth information that only a real employer would know. These are called process questions because they center on how the employer handled issues pertaining to managing their employee. You might ask how they handled sick days, if the nanny’s hours were guaranteed or variable, and what service they used to handle payroll. Someone who has a genuine history with the nanny will be able to answer those questions immediately, but a fake reference likely will not be able to come up with adequate responses.

Do some online sleuthing

Most people have a digital footprint, and it’s perfectly acceptable to Google a reference prior to your chat. A simple search could bring up social media profiles or a site like LinkedIn where you can verify the basics of what the nanny told you about the reference. You don’t need to spend hours going down a Facebook rabbit hole, but it can be helpful to at least check out the basics that are public on their online profiles.

Try an age check
One foolproof trick we use to vet references is asking them to verify their children’s ages. At the beginning of the reference call, ask how old the person’s children were when the nanny started working for them. Carry on with your other questions. Then, at the end of the interview, ask something like, “And how old are your children now?” A fake reference won’t be able to do the math quickly enough, but a legitimate reference will always know the ages of their children.

Ideally, a nanny candidate should be able to provide you with at least two to three professional references, and those references should each be able to offer you a nuanced perspective on the nanny’s work ethic, personality, and caregiver style. If you suspect that you’ve been given a fake reference, you can always ask for additional references or move on to other candidates. Trust is one of the most important aspects of the parent-caregiver relationship, and you should walk away from your conversations with references feeling completely confident in the person you’re about to hire to care for your children.