5 ways to be the kind of travel nurse no recruiters want to work with

Travel nursing. It’s an industry that sometimes has travelers feeling like little celebrities. Recruiters are calling us. Blowing up our email inboxes. DM’ing us on Instagram and Facebook. And every now and then we miiiiight accidentally get big heads from all this attention. We might kind of, sort of, turn into a bad travel nurse. Demanding, rude, unprofessional with our paperwork, canceling contracts, calling in sick, poor in our communication. We might develop a little amnesia to the fact that our recruiters are humans who work really hard too. Some of us become the kind of travel SLPs, OTs, and PTs that hospitals and recruiters don’t enjoy working with. The kind where our name coming up on a phone brings dread to recruiters everywhere.

We become what is known as the “oh my goodness please don’t make me work with that traveler” kind of travel nurse.

The downside of being a bad travel nurse:

  • Companies don’t pitch you their best jobs. They don’t want you representing their name at their top clients’ facilities. They don’t trust you.
  • You are a risk. You are not worth paying top dollar for if they could lose thousands when you cancel the contract.
  • You could get blacklisted from recruiters and also from whole hospital systems.
  • You are generally just bringing negativity to this little travel nursing industry when it’s not the best way to get what you need.

Entitled rather than empowered is what I call it. And usually, this is 100% unintentional. You might not even know you are being a bad traveler, so read on!

It comes from one of these things most of the time:

  • A lack of knowledge of the ins and outs of the travel nursing industry.
  • A lack of knowledge of the market and how in-demand your specialty happens to be.
  • A lack of understanding of a recruiter’s role and what is (and isn’t) fair to expect.
  • A history of having a bad experience with a past recruiter and feeling defensive against all recruiters now.
  • Hearing negative stories from other travelers and feeling scared of getting taken advantage of.
  • Listening to aggressive personalities on Facebook who have you believe that being a “shark” is the way to get more money and be paid fair in this industry.
  • Just flat out being burnt out of being a traveler.

Some travel nurses forget their recruiters are human and think of them as talking job boards.

“I cannot wait to get to work today! I just love the high pressure, the dependence on others to get my work done, and the daily rejection.”

Said no one ever. Oh wait, except our recruiters! (Well, they might love their jobs for other reasons 😉)

Travel nursing recruiters have a tough job, and many are still trying to escape that “used car salesman” reputation. And honestly, some recruiters have earned that. But let’s not let the few ruin it for the many. There are two sides to… just about everything! And working with a recruiter means entering a true partnership.

You may be raising red flags with your recruiter (where they don’t want to work with you) if you find yourself…

1. Requesting (unneeded) pay breakdowns

You know how we hate repetitive documentation with our patients? Like a lot?

Full pay package breakdowns (when not really needed) are like documentation for recruiters!
To be clear: Requesting a full pay package is good. But providing this info takes even the best recruiters’ time and effort (usually around 10 minutes per full pay package). A full pay package includes 10 or more items. When you think about the fact that good recruiters might have 30-125 other travel SLPs, OTs, and PTs they are working with. Those 10 minutes add up fast if you are not actually interested in that job.

So before you request this detailed info from your recruiter, ask yourself this about the job your recruiter just told you about: Am I just curious about jobs like this one -or- am I totally 100% serious about this job? (Hint: there’s no wrong answer, just two different courses of action.)

Just curious about jobs?

That’s great! Your curiosity is likely what made you become a travel nurse. But it’s not quite the reason to ask for a full pay package.

Here’s what to do instead: Ask your recruiter for one or two examples of less detailed basic pay packages for jobs in that area. And ask them “How is the job market for me there? Is it a good place to get a license and try to get a job at when I am ready?” Try to get a sense of the market and the average pay available for you. You can then use their answers to help you decide if you’ll seriously consider jobs there in the future.

Serious about the job?

Yesss! If that’s you, then ask away on that pay! Time for your recruiter to Break. It. Down!

However, don’t use the recruiter to give you their jobs and pay rates just to take them to another recruiter. For example: Taking that full pay package and just bringing it to another company saying “Do you have this job, too? Can you do higher pay than this?” That’s “bait and switch.” Respecting each recruiter’s time that you work with is key.

Please DO compare pay packages. Just don’t intentionally waste your recruiters’ time.

2. Assuming all recruiters are “screwing you over”

If you are going to assume anything, assume you don’t know everything. I’ve been intentionally learning everything about this industry for 10 years- I STILL don’t know everything. (and I never well- the industry keeps evolving!)

You and your recruiter work as a team but are really in two very different worlds. You might have three recruiters and they all pay overtime differently. Which one is correct?

Well, there are reasons recruiters say different things: Every recruiting company and every recruiter can work completely differently and still be honest.

  • Each company has to get their own legal and tax advice and decide how to interpret the law (which can impact pay).
  • Some recruiters have almost complete freedom to tailor pay packages to your different needs.
  • Other recruiters are not allowed to even touch the pay packages.
  • Some recruiters get deep training in how the travel healthcare world works from a traveler’s perspective.
  • Others only get trained on the sales and staffing side of the industry and are struggling to comprehend things like patient ratios, floating, what all the letters next to our name mean.
  • Some recruiters are allowed to share the bill rate, some will lose their job.
  • Some get exclusive contracts and some only work off of the VMS systems.

Honestly, I could go on and on. Recruiters are usually not being sneaky. (Most) are doing the best they can with the training and parameters they are given inside their particular company. Some are bad apples. Just learn the red flags of the bad ones so you don’t have to assume they all are bad.

“But Laura, my last recruiter was so horrible!”

Yes, sometimes we DO have a really bad experience with a recruiter. (Laura raises her hand) … it can make us become skeptical. And if that’s the case, it is understandable to be cautious at the beginning. But don’t start off assuming each recruiter you work with is just like the one who burned you in the past. We all know how well that goes in dating…

Instead: Be honest with your new recruiter from the start. Tell them the things you worry about and how you like to communicate and hear about opportunities.

Ask what is possible for them to tell you upfront (and what isn’t). Communicate your needs and listen to their responses. If you aren’t liking what you are hearing or they are raising red flags for you, it’s okay to kindly tell this recruiter you are choosing to move on or to work with someone else.

But at least give yourself (and your recruiter) the chance to know if this could be a good relationship before you make any assumptions for the worse.

And please by all means- don’t get your advice from Facebook to learn what is right and wrong. Make sure you are learning from people and places that took the time to deeply understand this industry. I peek in some of the Facebook groups and good-intentioned fellow travelers are handing out downright terrible advice like candy!

3. Not completing paperwork

You’ve gotten this far. You worked with a recruiter you can trust, found out there are job options for you, your recruiter wants to start submitting you, and…Poof! you’re gone!

So…what was the point of all this again?

Put yourself in the shoes of a good recruiter: Let’s imagine they’ve spent time with you, answered all your questions, explained how they run their desk, and how their company pays and works. They invested in this partnership with you. They are out there hustling and looking for the places and dreams you told them you have. And you said to them that you have chosen to work with them. So they are making you their priority and showing up.

Now, it’s your turn… Do your paperwork.

Resumé, Skills Checklists, Credentials and Licenses, References. Get it done! Great travelers who show their dependability stick in recruiters’ minds when jobs open up.

I once was asked, “Why do recruiters need my resumé to submit me?”

It made me see that some travelers don’t understand what submitting means.

Answer: Submitting with a company IS applying to a job. That is what you are doing. Submitting means your information is going to sit in front of the hiring manager to hopefully get you an interview. That hiring manager needs to see an impressive traveler in order to want to pick you. What do you expect your company to submit if not your skills checklist and your resumé?

Also- the company’s job is to screen us to make sure we really are licensed and qualified and good candidates. The hospital hired them as a recruitment agency to find qualified clinicians and to make it easy on them to select one of us. Part of their job is to check our references and make sure we are good to work if submitted. If they didn’t do that, hospitals would not want to work with them.

4. Social media spammers

Check yo’self before you wreck yo’self (on social media)!

Social media can be a powerful tool for shaming others publicly or for venting 0ur frustrations. It can spread lies and hurt someone’s reputation quickly and there is no undoing that.

Social media can be hard on our recruiters.

Recruiters are human, they make mistakes. Travelers, we are human. We make mistakes.
But we can first respond with empathy and kindness when things go wrong with our recruiters. We need to understand what is going on, act professionally, and give them a moment to correct things before we take things publicly to social media.

What we empowered travelers do if something goes wrong: We communicate and go up the chain of command at the recruiter’s company first. We private message our mentors to learn their advice. We don’t jump straight to one-star reviews and blasting them in groups.
Social media venting might get you “likes” – but in the end, it comes across as unprofessional to your future companies.

Imagine this:

You are a recruiter. Your job is to give your clients (the hospitals) professional nurses that you can trust to show up, not cancel, and be pleasant to work with. In comes a travel nurse to your system- they filled out a form online. You do some light FB stalking on them. As you search their name in groups, you see they have posted aggressively and unfairly about all their past recruiters. They told another traveler to walk out of an assignment for a petty reason. They posted in the cancelation database that they have been canceled twice and talked bad about their rehab director. They seem overall not pleasant to work with and impossible to please. They have jaded and unrealistic views about this industry and you can already feel your blood pressure increasing thinking about working with this person.

You for one don’t want to risk your name being the next recruiter raked through their mud, and you also don’t want to risk sending them to a hospital who trusts you to find good candidates.

And just like that the travel nurse is secretly blacklisted in their database with the words – “Social Media Spammer- too risky – stay away” The traveler has never even spoken to the company before.

To be clear:

This does not mean if a recruiter really messes up badly that you cannot leave a constructive review. Not at all. Feedback can be very important and helps us all learn and grow. So if you absolutely, positively must leave a public review, do this with grace and maturity- in a way that reflects back well on us as professionals. Be constructive, give examples. Take responsibility if you had any part in miscommunications. Have every intention to help this recruiter and company fix the problem… so at all costs, it does not happen to another traveler like you.

5. Working with too many companies or not ever finding recruiters you like

Working with three companies is a great way to travel empowered and know you’re seeing the best options for you. And maybe you add one more company sometimes to try and get to a specialized location.

But if you start seeing the number of companies and recruiters you work with approaching double digits (or are already in the double digits), this starts to raise some red flags. If it takes this many companies or recruiters to make you satisfied, maybe start thinking…perhaps it’s not them…but it’s me?

What happens when you work with too many companies:

  1. You risk not being taken seriously by recruiters: A traveler working with 10 companies jumps from company to company, recruiter to recruiter, often chasing that one extra dollar an hour from whoever can give it to them. (Or at the very least, that’s what some recruiters will assume is going on.) Many recruiters try to give you the best pay they can upfront. There is no magical pot of money they can always pull from to get you more money than what’s available. And some recruiters straight up cannot pay you more for that particular job. If they assume you’re just after an extra dollar wherever you can get it, they may prioritize more serious travelers over you.
  2. It becomes difficult for you to manage job submissions: Responsiveness and communication are the only way to keep your recruiter relationships going! Unless you are a superhuman who found the secret to dedicating quality time and attention to 10 different things at once, you’re likely going to forget what you’ve told each recruiter at each company. And worse, which jobs you’re going for at which company. Do yourself a favor and stick to two or three of your faves!
  3. You drop companies for petty reasons: “Laura, my recruiter did not call me back right away, I don’t think I can trust them. Can you give me a new one?” Yeah, I can. But are you sure? That company you are walking away from may have amazing exclusive jobs for you. Maybe that recruiter was out sick that day. Give it all some time and grace before you jump ship. Certain companies are really important for you to work with, in order to get to the locations you really want. Don’t let petty things get in front of your dream locations.

Be a nice Human. We’re all stuck in this weird, wild world together after all.

We travel. Man do we have amazing lives. And we ARE professionals. Let’s not forget that. Let’s do our part of this relationship and respond to our recruiters with respect and kindness. When we maintain this standard, we can expect our recruiters to do the same!

Cheers to the oh-so-patient recruiters as we learn to play as a team!

Laura Latimer

Laura Latimer

Travel OT and Founder of Nomadicare

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