References are a key part of presenting a picture to families of what you can offer as a nanny. They ideally come in two forms – written letters of recommendation, and contactable referees who can speak to a prospective employer on the phone. Using both written and verbal references is a valuable tool to selling yourself in your job search, and minimising the concern of ‘bothering’ past employers. Everyone provides references differently, but this blog post covers what I think is the ideal way for nannies to navigate each of the two forms of references.
Written Letters of Recommendation
I absolutely ADORE my reference letters. (I’ve even pulled some of my testimonials from them, including one dating back to the early 2000s!) I feel like they each present a unique testimonial that shares the type of service I provided and relationship I had with each family. In order to make the best use of these documents, I suggest the following steps:
- Ask employers for a letter of recommendation. This might be towards the end of a position, when the family knows you will be looking for alternative work. I also suggest having a request in your work agreement for a letter to be provided at the end of each year of employment. I advocate for this because I’ve heard of many situations where nanny/family relationships unfortunately sour as time goes on, and sometimes parents who are upset or angry that a nanny is leaving are not willing to provide a reference that provides full and accurate information.
- Send a few letters of recommendation with your application. Along with your cover letter and resume, these documents provide a picture of what you are like as a nanny and person, and the working relationship you have had with previous families. I like to choose letters from families that have similar ages or needs to the family I am applying to work for. I highly suggest removing any contact details for your referee from these letters when you send them out in advance of meeting a new family. You can always show the originals if the new family wants to see them once you’ve gotten to a point of knowing you’d like to work together.
Referee Contact Information
As much as it can feel like a nuisance to allow people to call your old employers, it’s an important part of the process when a family or agency is considering taking on a new nanny. I do think it is important for references to be verified verbally (in the case of international references, I recommend asking questions initially by email and then verifying with a quick phone call). The question is, when is it appropriate for the references to be contacted, and how often? Most happy past employers say they are willing to be contacted whenever needed, but as nannies we often don’t want to impose on them too much. So:
- This should not be included in the resume that you send when you apply for jobs. (‘References available on request’ is the standard and acceptable thing to include there!) I only provide the contact information for my referees after I have met with a family and am sure that I am interested in a role. Usually these days I email my reference contact list after the interview, along with a message about enjoying our meeting. You could also hand out the contact list on paper at the interview if you prefer.
- If families expect me to provide contact information for references before an interview, I explain to them that the privacy of my employers is important and I am conscious of respecting their time, so I only give their numbers out after we have met for an interview. I have never had an issue with this, but I have heard that some nannies do. If parents did have a problem with this, I honestly would lump them into the same category as some parents I have encountered who expect me to be available immediately rather than giving appropriate notice/completing my commitments – they would not be the type of people I would want to work for if they do not understand and value my commitment to professionalism and respect for my employers/clients.
- In regards to agencies, they typically will need to speak to references before you meet with a family. I would happily provide my referee’s contact information after I have had an interview with the agency and a discussion about any specific job I’ve applied for, so that I know it is something I am interested in pursuing. Even when agencies have verified references, some parents might still want to speak to your past employers themselves. While, again, this can feel like a nuisance, I do feel it’s an important step if it will help parents make the decision to hire you. Sometimes for parents there is nothing like speaking to a fellow parent and hearing how you impacted their lives as a nanny!
If you haven’t already been doing so, I think it’s a great idea for all nannies to ask employers for letters of recommendation. They don’t replace verbal references, but I’ve found them to help in my applications and in reducing the urgency for prospective employers to speak to past employers before I feel it’s appropriate. Some parents are busy and might ask you to write your own for them to sign (don’t – I really feel like nanny jobs are too personal for that to be done, and I find I notice when the style a nanny’s letters are written in are all the same), or might take some time to get it done. If your employers (or past employers) aren’t eager to spend the time writing one, let them know that you would appreciate it to stand out in your job search, and you hope it will reduce the need for people to want to contact them too often.
Happy reference gathering!