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Monday, February 8, 2010

Monday Moxie: Surviving a Bad Reference

Surviving a Bad Reference by Glenda Propst

Recently, a good friend emailed me for advice on what to do. She had decided to leave her "not so great job" and try to find a new family. She called her agency, filled out the paperwork, listed her references and waited for the phone to ring.
She went on a few interviews but nothing came of any of them. Even the ones where she felt she really connected with the parents she never got a call back.
Finally, one day her agency called and asked her if she knew that her former employers were giving her a bad reference. She had been with the family for 2 years, and even though things were not perfect, she could not believe the parents were giving her a bad reference. The nanny was fortunate that she was working with an agency that knew her and knew what kind of nanny that she was and gave her the heads up on what was happening. This is why working with a reputable agency can be a benefit.
She asked me for advice, and I turned to my panel of experts, a list for parents, nannies and agencies that I co-moderate on Yahoogroups.
Not only did I get great feedback, but I found that this is something that happens to nannies often, with and sometimes without their knowledge. Most of the parents said that if a nanny had been with a family for 2 years, and the parents had kept her employed, they often felt that was a sign that things were not as bad as indicated and the length of employment spoke for itself. They also said that they checked all the nanny's references before making a final decision and that often times that was the only bad reference they got. If that was the case, they would not let that keep them from hiring the nanny. They also said when they specifically asked what the problem with the nanny was, the problems were most often not related to the care they gave the children.The nannies and the parents all felt that honesty is the best policy. It is never good to start a trust based relationship with a lie.
If the nanny knows that the parents are giving her a bad reference, and not using the reference would create a big gap in her work history, it is best to be honest. Simply say that this was not a good family match but that you loved the children and that was why you stayed.
I can’t stress enough the importance of using restraint and diplomacy when talking about a former employer. The nanny should always take the high road and even when confronted with what the former employer is saying, say only as much as is absolutely necessary. Refrain from opening up to any potential employer about the personal lives of former employers just to expose the real picture of what went on there to justify your exit. The world of professional nannies and the families that employ them is much smaller than you can imagine, you never know who knows who. Do not go on the defensive. State your case simply and move on.
There are other ways to get references from previous jobs besides using the parents. If the children went to pre-school, or school, you might be able to get the teachers to write a short letter of reference. They could simply state your time of employment and their observation of your interaction with the children. Sometimes in situations like this you can use a neighbor, a soccer coach, a piano teacher, anyone who saw you interact with the child on a regular basis.
When you list your references, list your good references first with contact information.
List the name of your bad reference on the sheet without contact information. When the potential employer questions the lack of contact information you can simply say that they were upset when you left and are not giving you the best reference. Offer them the contact information but warn them that when they contact them, if they focus on your childcare abilities the reference should be fine.
The best way to protect yourself from being the victim of a bad reference is to be pro active. Never start a job without a written work agreement, that stipulates a yearly review. Ask your employers to put your yearly review in writing for your files. This way, if a relationship goes sour, you have a written record of positive things your employer has said about you. As professional nannies we must remember that our jobs do end. We have to make a conscious effort to prepare for the next family search so that we don’t get caught in these awkward situations.
When a former employer is slandering you, of course you have a choice to take legal action but if you are a nanny that has other good references, that should be your very last option. Sometimes legal action will only make a bad situation worse and even if you stop them from slandering you, you may very well put an end to your nanny career.
You can never go wrong taking the high road. Refrain from trying to get "even" with your former employer because in the long run, it will only hurt you.Always project the most professional image you possibly can.


Nanny in Boston February 8, 2010 at 7:02 AM  

Great Advice as always!

Anonymous February 8, 2010 at 7:48 AM  

Very well said, Glenda.

Anonymous February 8, 2010 at 8:53 AM  

As an agency owner, checking references is the best way to learn more about the Nanny's past employment; when we run across a bad reference, we ask additional questions about the childcare vs the relationship between the parents and Nanny. It usually is very positive.
Glenda, GREAT posting!
Patti @ NannyMall

Anonymous February 8, 2010 at 9:32 AM  

Sometimes a bad references come back to bite families in the tush! I always kept all positive notes written to me and put them in my portfolio. I had their own words that proved..things weren't always bad and sometimes they really did appreciate me. It happens to everyone in any kind of job...just keep a positive attitude and keep moving forward!

CareerNanny97 February 8, 2010 at 10:03 AM  

I had that happen to me, but the employer had given me a glowing letter of reference on his law firms letterhead, I was employed as his son's Nanny for 18 months and stuck it out with this family and 2 weeks before our agreed upon termination date he let me go on that friday and said he didnt see the point of paying me for 2 weeks that his son was going to be with his ex-wife 70% of the time and said he was sorry he just couldn't afford it! I decided that this was unacceptable and informed him of our Nanny Agreement that was notarized and our corresponding e-mails that I still had that he stated he would pay for the whole agreed upon time period and 2 weeks severance. Now he had given me the letter of reference a week before this happened and I was already interviewing with families. He basically told me if I insisted on him paying me he would give me a bad reference thats exactly what he did with two families and they informed me of this and I politley explain to them the situation and presented them with his letter of reference that was notarized as well. They both made job offers to me. Its ashame that I to resort to involving my lawyer to get my 4 weeks pay but I think it was the principle behind the matter that he felt like he could take advantage of me just because he was an attorney. I not only got my 4 weeks pay but won my unemployment against him!! I really loved his son very much! I think its important that Nannies get everything in writing when it comes to the termination and always get your letter of reference before your end date and if possible have it notarized.

CareerNanny97 February 8, 2010 at 10:15 AM  

Hmmm, I went back an reread the post and I am having mix feelings about not taking legal action when a Nanny comes across and injustice. I think that if you have a solid Nanny Agreement and it is notarized and family decides to back out of it and you dont hold them responsible for their actions what message would you be sending to the Nanny Profession and the family who could do this to the next Nanny they employ because you let them get away with it, that it is okay for parents to sign a Nanny Agreement, but they dont necessary have to abide by it if they dont want to because a the Nanny will not take legal action for the sake of she may end her Nanny Career. I think if we as Nannies want to be consider Profesionals and taken serious then we need to abide by the same standards in the business workplace. If we were in a office and employer wrongfully terminated us or sexually harrassed us we would have the right to take legal action. JMO I guess its case by case though!

Just g February 8, 2010 at 10:25 AM  

It's Glenda here. I think that legal action is a serious step and that it should be a last resort but you have to really weigh out the motive behind it and the cost (both monetary and professional)
Maybe there's a nanny out there that has had this experience that would be willing to share, but in my professional opinion it's a serious decision.

Anonymous February 8, 2010 at 7:22 PM  

I had a family give bad references about me and it stunk! The family that was checking ref's even refused to use the agency after this happened. It was an awful situation but fortunately everything has worked out since then.

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