References are just a small piece of the overall puzzle that you will put into the equation when considering whether or not to hire someone. Some employers never check references and some hang on to every word. Generally, you will have a gut-feel about your applicant. They will have made a first impression and your job is now to see how valid it was.
Some employers have hired based on a glowing reference only to find this person just isn’t catching on. This is called a “false positive” reference. Every work environment is dynamic and individual. Sometimes two more weeks and come coaching and further clarification will be all that it will take; sometimes they are just not going to “get it.”
Effective reference checking happens when you have a very good fix on the employer’s style and the environment they were operating within. How close is it to yours? Does this applicant have the ability to cope with the similar, or a changed environment. Get a fix on the differences. There are some employer’s who have very high (almost unrealistic) expectations and others that have almost none. It’s easy to please the employer who has no expectations, so be wary. Give some real situations that occur in your home and ask their opinion how they would handle them.
Also understand that there are many substandard and unfair jobs out in the marketplace. Some applicants get trapped in a “no win” situation and shouldn’t have to pay the price for taking one of these jobs. Applicants who “quit” on their employer will face a “sour grapes” kind of reference sometimes. The true test of a great employer is someone who can give an objective reference in the face of losing a nanny they valued. It’s emotional to say the least.
Find out how they communicate and how open they are to constructive criticism.
Are they a positive thinker
Find out how much steering you will have to do. (ie initiative)
Assess how easily they learn things.
Is this just a job, or do they take pride in their accomplishments
Try to get a pulse on the complexity of the decisions that she has had to make.
Understand their personality, what makes them tick.
Find out how happy they are (self esteem)
Any family health problems back home?
Are there any glaring weaknesses
Always call after you have met with the individual. If you call before, you may have to call back after meeting with them to double check on something. The goodwill of past employers is easily burned out with too many calls.
We hope this helps.