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How to check babysitter references like a pro

When you’re hiring a new babysitter and you feel like you’ve found someone who’d be great with your kids, it’s tempting to jump right in and let them get started. But, as with any hiring process, asking for references — and actually checking those references — is vital to being able to make a sound decision about your caregiver.

If you’re hiring a casual sitter for a date night or even for just the odd weekday afternoon when you have an appointment, you might feel awkward about asking for references and wonder if it’s really worth the hassle. But asking for references is one of the most important things you can do, says Leah Clarkson, co-founder of the background checking service NannyTrack.

“I think a lot of times parents are hesitant to ask,” she says. “I think that’s unfortunate, because that’s really the single best way to get to know who you’re hiring to look after your children.”

Ultimately, says Rachel Charlupski, founder of the Babysitting Company, you want to make sure any person you’re hiring treats their job the way a professional would — and the people they’ve worked for in the past will be able to tell you that. She recommends requesting two or three references, and scheduling a time to speak on the phone with them so you can have an in-depth conversation and ask follow-up questions if needed.

Once you get a reference on the phone, here is what you should ask and focus on.

1. Verify the babysitter’s employment history

At this point in the process, you will have interviewed the potential sitter and possibly had a trial day with them. So use a portion of the reference checking process as an opportunity to verify the information you already have about your candidate and see how their prior experience compares to what you need.

Ask questions like:

  • How long did this person work for you?

  • What were the ages of the children they cared for?

  • How often did they care for your children?

  • What were his or her basic duties and responsibilities?

  • Were you satisfied with their overall job performance? Why or why not?

  • I am potentially hiring this person to do [X]. Based on your experience with them, do you think this position sounds like a good fit for them?

A casual sitter who works multiple jobs may still be employed by the reference with whom you’re speaking. However, if they no longer babysit for that person, Clarkson says it’s also a good idea to ask why they left the job.

2. Evaluate their past performance

Asking pointed and thoughtful questions about the babysitter’s past performance serves two functions: It gives you honest insight into how other families feel about this person’s caregiving skills, and it helps you determine if they are the right fit for your family on every level.

“What works for one family, even if they were really happy with a sitter, might not be what works for every family,” says Charlupski.

And listening to references break down the specifics of a babysitter’s performance can you help you get a much a clearer picture of what they really have to offer.

Be sure to ask:

  • How did your children feel about this person?

  • Does this person show initiative?

  • Are they enthusiastic about the job they’re doing?

  • Do they follow instructions and abide by household rules?

  • Do they work well independently?

  • Was this person warm and caring with your children?

  • How does he or she handle stress?

  • Tell me about a time this person really impressed you.

  • How do you think he or she would respond in an emergency?

3. Get the final impression

As your conversation draws to a close, you should make sure you have a good idea of where this babysitter stands with their former employer because that will ultimately tell you the most about how well they did their job.

Try asking questions like:

  • Are there any areas in which you think this person could improve?

  • Do you have any advice for me as a future manager of this person?

  • Would you recommend this person to other parents?

  • Would you hire this person again?

At the end of each reference check, you should feel like you have a more complete picture of who your potential babysitter is as both a caregiver and a person, and that is what will help you make a hiring decision that leaves you with zero doubts.

Read next: Babysitter interview questions you should ask