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Checking References: Part 5 of a series on Personal Care Assistants: A Guide to Hiring, Training, and Firing

Updated on August 12, 2010

Why Check?

Checking references is arguably the longest and most important part of hiring anyone.  It is astounding to me the number of people who skip this step altogether.  You are inviting someone to come into your home to become privy to the intimate relationships in your household as well as potential access to your identity and financial records.  Even if the PCA has no direct contact with your money, you can't watch them every minute.  Things can go missing and not noticed for weeks or even months.  At the very least, you need to make sure this person is who they say they are. Trust me, I learned this the hard way.

Start by Sorting

Immediately after doing interviews I go through all the job applications.  I eliminate anyone I am positive I will not hire.  As I mentioned in the last article, I follow my instincts.  If someone seems off or gives me an odd feeling then I will not consider them.  In the past, I have hired folks I was unsure about due to a lack of applicants.  It has almost always been a mistake.

I had a bad feeling about the one who turned out to be a “febe." (This is a person who is completely incompetent.  They appear to be willing to learn but really aren't interested in actually DOING anything.)

I never checked references on the one that turned out to be a thief.  There was only one applicant and I needed someone immediately. I didn't figure out that my earrings had gone missing until after I had let her go for other reasons.

I was ill at ease about the one with the intense religious beliefs.  It turned out that our personalities were totally unsuited for one another.  Our belief systems were so completely opposed that even simple everyday tasks became a clash of wills.  She disliked me as much as I did her.  She lasted about two weeks and weren't we both relieved when we called it quits.

If I had checked references on any of these women, I probably would have gained some insight into how unsuitable they were going to be.  It's not infallible.  Sometimes family members and friends will lie like dogs.

Generally, however, it is amazing what perfect strangers will tell you about a loved one.

On the job application I ask the applicant to list the names and telephone numbers of their references.  I also request a "best time to call."  This tends to cut down on telephone tag.  I ask for both personal and professional references.  Over the years, some ladies have only had one or the other due to a variety of circumstances.  Young women don't always have other job references.  Housewives and the newly divorced are often in the same boat.

What to Say

Checking references is a lot like telemarketing.  You have to quickly explain who you are and why you're calling without sounding like you're selling something. Perky works well here.

Not without reason, many people are suspicious of callers asking personal questions.  It also helps if the applicant has warned their references that I might be calling.  Many don't.

The people you talk to may not know or understand what your disability is by just giving them its name.  It helps to briefly describe what the PCA would be doing.  For example:

My name is Georzetta Ratcliffe and I am calling about Sue Smith. She listed you as a reference on a job application.   I am severely disabled and she applied to work with me as a personal care assistant. I am paralyzed and can do very little for myself.  She would be helping me get dressed, run errands, pay bills, and other things like housework and dishes.  Would you have a few minutes to speak with me about her?

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What to Ask

You must be very careful when talking with a business. They are legally limited to what they can and cannot say. Some businesses have been sued for giving a bad reference. They can

  • confirm a person worked or works for them
  • confirm the dates of employment
  • confirm the job title
  • tell you if they would hire that person again. If they say no- red flag!

After speaking with the head of personnel or whoever does the hiring and asking the questions listed above, I always ask if there is any reason why I should not hire the applicant. This can engender an enthusiastic recommendation or a carefully worded warning. I had one employer tell me that he couldn't tell me why but he thought I should not hire the person I called about.

You can be a little more casual with personal references. Ask the same type of questions but make them more open ended. I have had parents and best friends give me a rundown of the applicant's police record. At the end of the conversation, if the reference has been positive, I always confirm that by saying, "Then you wouldn't have any trouble recommending Sue Smith for this job?" Some people will backtrack at this point. Red flag!

Done Deal -- Maybe

I take notes during all the phone conversations. If I call a number and leave a message then I note that too. I usually figure around a week to check references. If someone hasn't called me back within that time then I let that reference go. I have called the applicant and asked for additional references if I felt I didn't have enough information.

At the end of this process, I usually have a pretty good idea who I am going to hire. I call that person first to confirm that they still want the job and then I notify the other applicants that the position is filled. I always keep the top four or five applications in case my first selection doesn't work out. Several times the runner-up has turned out to be a much better choice.

I hope you found this helpful. Please check out my other hubs. Part six will cover training a PCA.

How Do You Do It?

Please let me know if this information is helpful or if you do it a different way.  I'd love to learn how other folks manage.


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