4. Find out the wheel deal. Will your nanny be driving your car? If so, you need to be sure that she has a license and a perfect or near-perfect driving record. If you hire an agency or investigator to do a background investigation, it usually includes a driving-record check. If not, ask a serious candidate to order a copy of her driving record and show it to you. (You can't legally access this for another person.) She can get a copy for a small fee through your state Department of Motor Vehicles and she may be able to order it online. (Offer to help with the paperwork or provide computer access to make things easy.)
5. Review her credentials. Most of the qualities you want -- love, patience, and reliability -- can't be taught in a class. But some important skills can. All childcare providers should be trained in child and infant CPR and first aid (and so should you!). If either of you are missing this important credential, it's an easy fix. Your local Y or community center probably has a course for about $60. To find one near you, go to redcross.org.
6. Make sure she loves kids. It goes without saying that you want a sitter who is in the business because she adores children. But how do you know for sure? Listen to how she talks about kids she's cared for in the past. "Sometimes nannies bring photo albums they've made or describe how they still get holiday cards from the children," Cascio says. When you're close to making a decision, invite the candidate to spend a couple of hours with your kids. This isn't always an easy situation -- both parties can feel scrutinized and self-conscious, so take the awkwardness factor into consideration as you check out their interaction. One way to make it less forced is to give the encounter a little structure. If you have a baby, have the nanny give a bottle or feed her. With an older child, enlist him to give a house tour or suggest they play a favorite game. Then, without getting in the way (maybe do a little inconspicuous housework), pay attention to the overall vibe and try to pick up on some of the specifics: Does she seem engaged, interested, and confident? Does spending time with your children seem to make her happy? Do your kids seem to respond well to her?
7. Listen to your gut, kind of. When your intuition tells you not to hire someone, go with it. "If something doesn't feel right, then don't second-guess yourself," says Susan Tokayer, director of Family Helpers, a caregiver placement agency in Dobbs Ferry, New York. If you have a bad feeling, then the situation most likely won't work out anyway, even if the caregiver is, objectively speaking, perfectly qualified. But don't be tempted to hire someone you really like without conducting a thorough check -- even if your inner voice says, "She's fabulous."
8. You've got the pieces, now put them together. After all the interviewing, reference checking, and investigating, how do you finally decide on "the one"? What should you do if you don't have as many references as you'd like or you couldn't conduct an official background check? "Put together everything you know, look at it carefully, and then make an informed decision," says Cagnetta. If your first choice doesn't have a Social Security number and you can't check her background, look at her references extra carefully. Find out whether anyone you know well has worked with her or seen her on the job.
The bottom line is that even after you've hired someone -- no matter how much checking you've been able to do -- you need to be alert and make sure she's living up to her promise. Drop in unexpectedly, ask friends to keep an eye out. If all goes well (and it usually does) you'll soon be asking yourself, "How did my family ever live without this wonderful person?"