Beginning the search to find a nanny can feel daunting at first. The good news: through old-fashioned community networking or using a professional agency, most parents are able to find a nanny who is the right fit for their family. You won’t likely find your Mary Poppins overnight—but with a little research and patience, you’ll hopefully have a person in your life who cares deeply about your kids, who you can trust implicitly, and who becomes a natural extension of your family unit.

...with a little research and patience, you’ll hopefully have a person in your life who cares deeply about your kids.

Work Your Network

How to find a nanny? The best place to begin your nanny search is to tap into your own network. After all, there’s no better reference than that of someone you know and trust. “Have friends and family let their contacts know you’re looking for help—personal references can be the most reassuring,” notes BabyCenter. It can be helpful to think of people in your community whose skills naturally lend themselves to caregiving. You never know who could potentially be effective caregivers, and open to a nannying position—or know someone who is. 

Places to Look

  • Family and friends

  • Neighbors

  • Playgroups or support groups for new moms

  • Preschool teachers

  • Gymnastics or swim instructors

  • Daycare staff at your health club or gym

  • Recent high school or college graduates

  • Recent empty nesters

It never hurts to put a feeler out – and usually, your network stretches wider than you think. Mom and creator of the website Mommybites, Laura Deutsch, recalls searching for a nanny when her daughter was six months old. She sent an email to her mom friends, and sure enough, she got a response. “Low and behold, a woman from my playgroup told me her college friend was looking to find her nanny a new job since her kids were older. A few weeks later she became my full-time nanny and I have had her now for over five years!” Deutsch writes. 

Leave It to the Experts

If you’ve exhausted your “internal” search for a nanny and aren’t finding any viable candidates within your web of family and friends, it’s time to consider your next-best option: using a reputable agency that will help match you to potential caregivers. Most agencies handle the search process for you, so you don’t have to spend precious time sifting through the hundreds of applications you might get if you posted an ad on Craigslist, or a site like Sittercity. While you may very well be able to find a good nanny using the DIY approach, it could take weeks or even months to screen, interview, and do a background check on potential candidates.

An agency hand selects a small pool of candidates for you to choose from. “Agencies can provide many services, from verifying education experience, making sure references and experience are real and accurate, conducting a variety of background checks, and helping you develop a job description and work agreement,” says Carolyn Stolov, a family life expert at And while there are no government standards for the childcare placement industry, and nannies aren’t generally required to go through a formal training—many coming from agencies have some extra education under their belt. 

“Every agency is different,” notes, “but in general nannies need to be certified in infant/child CPR and first aid, and may have had some training in things like child development, safety, communication and planning activities.”

One of the major benefits of using an agency is that they do the sifting for you, and have the time and resources to find that “just-right” person who can meet your family’s specific needs. Whether you have infant twins, a child with special needs, or active older children needing to be shuffled back and forth to activities—an agency is the best way to hone in on a candidate’s specific skill set and experience, and bring them to your doorstep. “Working with a nanny agency is a more personal process, as you will work with a placement counselor who will get to know you and find out what is uniquely important to your family,” Sharon Graff-Radell of TLC for Kids, an agency in St. Louis, Mo., says. As with any perk though, it will cost you. Depending on where you live, you’ll pay anywhere from $800 to $8,000—or possibly more, according to BabyCenter. So while convenient, keep in mind that using a service is a financial commitment. 

Buyer Beware

A nanny search isn’t the time to cut corners. After all, this person will be in your home taking care of your babies, so you want to make sure you screen her thoroughly. “Remember, you are hiring a new person to join your parenting team, to look after, engage, and keep your children safe. Use your intuition and be sure to do a thorough vetting process,” says Tiny Treasures NYC, a nanny agency based in New York City.  

It can be tempting to hire a nanny on-the-spot who seems pleasant and aces the interview—especially if you’re under a tight timeline with returning to work. But it’s essential to take the time to ask her a list of questions, observe how she interacts with your children, check her references, and do a background check, warns Caroline Malkin, co-owner of Trusting Connections, a nanny agency in Tucson, Ariz. 

Mom Kimberly DeMucha Kalil shared her nanny nightmare take with Parenting, describing how she rushed to hire Holly, a nanny with no references she found in a crunch on Craiglist. Holly ended up having a criminal past, and disappeared one day with the family’s keys and garage door opener. It’s because of situations like this that Malkin suggests hiring a private investigator, which usually costs between $40 and $100, depending on where you live. “Because there’s no single, national database to look at when hiring childcare, a private investigator can scour local, county, state and national records to see what your potential nanny has been up to,” notes Kalil. 

The Mary Poppins Test

While it’s true that there’s no one-size-fits all nanny, there is a certain set of attributes that all successful caregivers possess. During the initial screening and face-to-face interview, pay close attention to your candidate, suggests BabyCenter. Take note of how warmly and genuinely she interacts with your children—and if something seems “off,” it probably is. Trust your gut.

There are some universal qualities all nannies should possess, BabyCenter contends. She should have a genuine love for children; dedicated to supporting your child’s emotional, social and intellectual development; have excellent problem-solving skills and initiative; and lastly, be imaginative, communicative, and flexible.

It’s these qualities that make for a good nanny—but for some families, it’s that “je ne de quoi” factor that makes for a great one. “For us, it’s become more about the immeasurable attributes than the measurable,” says Nicola Premock, a mom of three young children in Sudbury, Mass. “Of course, we need a nanny to be trustworthy, dependable, honest to a fault, and always reliable…but it’s the intangibles that really make or break the nanny relationship. It’s the unique connection to the family that grows stronger and stronger over time, the ‘go the extra mile’ mentality to make life easier for mom, and the fiercely protective bond which that individual has with your kids, that sets them apart.”

Interviewing a Nanny