Negotiation Tips For Travel Nurses

Negotiation Research Travel Nurses Ought To Know About

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As a travel nurse, you’ll find yourself in a position to negotiate compensation packages much more often than the average professional. In fact, all travel nursing contracts, including extension contracts, present the opportunity to negotiate. Unfortunately, many people view negotiating as a daunting and undesirable task. So in this blog post, we’ll take a look at some applicable research on the subject in an effort to help us gain greater confidence with the process.

Travel Nurses, Women, and Negotiation

Let’s begin with the 800 pound gorilla in the room. According to U.S. Census Bureau, over 90% of registered nurses are women. Meanwhile, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that male registered nurses make more money than their female counterparts across most settings, specialty areas and positions. There is much debate over why such disparities in salary exist between men and women, but a wide body of research indicates that women have a more difficult time negotiating pay.

Why are we pointing this out? Negotiation experts seem to be in unanimous agreement that men and women approach negotiating differently. The vast majority of experts also agree that women are perceived differently during negotiations. Therefore, it would be a disservice to our readers to avoid research on the subject. We’ll let our readers judge the merit of the research.

We’re pointing this out because this blog post will reference research focusing on both the general population and women specifically. However, don’t worry guys! Most of the findings we’ll discuss are applicable to both genders. Moreover, it’s beneficial for male travel nurses to know about this research considering the fact that many travel nursing recruiters are female and knowing as much as possible about your negotiating partners is important to successful negotiations.

Why Should Travel Nurses Negotiate?

There are three primary reasons that travel nurses should negotiate every contract. First, travelers are signing a contract that has tons of different clauses. These clauses include the guaranteed hours clause, missed shift penalties, cancellation penalties, non-compete clauses and many others. So, for travel nurses, negotiating is about more than just money.

Second, negotiating salary results in higher pay. Researchers from George Mason University and Temple University interviewed 149 professionals about their wage negotiations for their current positions. Subjects were questioned about their attitudes toward negotiation, their strategies, and the outcomes. The researchers controlled for “power” which was measured by experience, other job offers, and knowledge of the organizations past salary offers.

Based on the information they received, the researchers categorized the subjects into 5 negotiating strategies: collaborating (problem solving to reach the best outcome for both parties), competing (maximizing individual gain), accommodating (putting the other party’s needs first), compromising (finding middle ground), and avoidance (zero negotiating).

Regardless of the “power” level, the subject’s negotiating strategy was a critical factor in the size of the salary increase they negotiated. Those who avoided negotiation ended up with an average starting pay of $5000 less than those who employed competitive and collaborative strategies. Meanwhile, the compromising and accommodating strategies were not linked to significant increases. (To discover more about competitive and collaborating negotiation strategies, check out our free eBook on travel nurse compensation negotiation).

This makes the third reason that travel nurses should negotiate very important. Pay ranges for travel nursing jobs vary dramatically. There can be a difference of $30 per hour between jobs that pay standard rates and those that have crisis rates associated with them. Moreover, when the travel nursing job market is hot, like it is in 2016, rates are on the rise so not negotiating can be very costly.

Avoid the Pitfalls of Jealousy

Robert Campeau was a wealthy Canadian financier and real estate investor in the 1980s when he leveraged his empire with junk bonds to purchase Allied Stores and Federated Department stores. These companies owned popular department stores like Bloomingdale’s and Jordan Marsh. By 1989, the companies were in bankruptcy which was the largest retail bankruptcy in US history.

Why is this important? In a book on the subject, John Rothchild argues that “status concerns” drove Campeau to enter the retail market in an effort to beat R.H. Macy, the owner of Macy’s. “Status concern” is a politically correct way of saying jealousy.

Research indicates that status concerns have a negative impact on negotiations. In fact, a majority of people are less likely to accept an offer if they know that a peer got a better offer. This is even true if the offer is substantially better than their current situation.

What does this mean for travel nurses? Travelers talk to one another about their pay packages. We’ve always maintained that this is a good thing and, as we’ll discuss below, research supports this contention.

However, travelers must be careful not to let these discussions lead to jealousy because doing so can cloud your judgement during negotiations. You might approach negotiations with unrealistic expectations and alienate your negotiating partners. You might pass on an offer over $1 or $2 per hour and miss a week or two of work waiting for the next assignment, which can be much more costly over the long-term.

Knowing Salary Ranges Can Help with Travel Nursing Negotiations

While knowing what your peers make can lead to jealousy, which can cloud your judgement, research finds that it’s beneficial to know about salary ranges when negotiating nonetheless. This is especially true for women. Research has found that differences between genders in the economic outcomes of negotiating are far less when the parties are provided with salary range information prior to negotiating simulations.

The problem for travel nurses is that there really isn’t much in the way of reliable information on salary ranges. Moreover, the huge disparities in bill rates result in useless ranges. How can travelers address this issue?

Travelers can compare offers between agencies for the same job. This is one of the few advantages that travelers have over their permanent counterparts when it comes to salary negotiation. Many agencies typically have access to the same jobs.

Travelers can attempt to compare offers during the negotiation process or after the negotiation process as a way to ensure that they received a fair deal from their current agency. However, there are many reasons that pay packages can vary between agencies for the same job, so be sure to give agencies the benefit of the doubt and a chance to explain before writing them off.

Travelers can also compare pay packages with other travelers, but it’s important to make sure that you compare every last detail of both packages in order to make a fair comparison. Finally, be cautious with stories about pay that seem to good to be true as they sometimes aren’t true.

Leverage Social Proof for Travel Nursing Negotiations

In the book Negotiation Genius, Harvard Professors Deeepak Malhotra and Max Bazerman discuss ways that negotiators can generate “social proof” in order to increase their negotiating power. The idea is that things increase in value when people perceive that other people are interested in them.

For example, real estate agents can schedule an open house on Saturday for only 1 hour as opposed to an entire afternoon. This way, anyone who wants to attend will have to come during the one hour window which will increase the chances that attendees will experience what appears to be a crowed house. Seeing other people interested gives attendees social proof that the house is desirable.

How can travel nurses benefit from this? Let your recruiters know that there are tons of opportunities out there. Put them on hold for incoming calls. But remember, treat your recruiters with respect in order to maintain their confidence and ensure they work hard for you.

Should Travel Nurses Discuss Competing Offers?

Of course, the next step beyond social proof is to discuss competing offers with your recruiters. Or, you may even attempt to get recruiters to bid against one another for the same jobs. We advocate this within certain parameters in our eBook on travel nurse compensation negotiation and I’ll discuss why in a moment. However, it’s also important to note that there is some debate over this approach among negotiation experts.

For example, Chris Voss, a former FBI negotiator and current adjunct professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, cautions against competing offers and competitive bidding. He says that you never want the other side to feel like you’re taking them hostage and competing offers can do just that, especially when the other side isn’t capable of matching the offer. He argues that this can make the other side feel manipulated and resentful.

Meanwhile, negotiation research suggests that aggressive negotiating tactics have a stronger tendency to backfire when implemented by women. It’s believed that this is because assertive approaches are contrary to traits traditionally perceived as feminine. Discussing competing offers and getting into bidding wars are pretty much as aggressive as it gets when it comes to negotiating.

So, why do we recommend it in our eBook? Well, for starters, seeing competing offers always worked on me as a recruiter! Plus, as mentioned previously, there is debate on this issue, so there are plenty of studies and experts who recommend this approach. For example, Dartmouth college asserts that having competing offers can be useful in getting organizations to come up a little bit with their offers.

When it comes to women, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg famously advised that women should be assertive but combine it with smiles, friendly gestures, and other non-threatening and traditionally feminine behavior in her book Lean In. And that’s the point, the success of discussing competing offers during negotiations really depends on how you frame your approach. And this is true for both men and women.

For example, renowned career coach Donald Asher recommends discussing competing offers in a positive light. You might say, “Hey, I have a competing offer of X, but I really like your organization better. Is there anything we can do?”

When it comes to travel nursing, it’s important to remember that you can receive competing offers without letting any of your negotiating partners know the specifics of the offers. Again, the great and unique thing about travel nursing is that you can often obtain competing offers for the same job! There is no need to create a bidding war; simply go with the highest offer. Or, if you like one organization better than the one offering more money, then try Donald Asher’s advice above.

Finally, it’s important to remember that one of the big knocks on discussing competing offers is that the employer may rescind an offer on the table. Here again, travel nursing is unique. Given that there is a customer aspect to the relationship between traveler and agency, this is unlikely to occur in travel healthcare. So, the main concern for travel nurses is with damaging your relationship with the recruiter.

But remember, discussing competing offers and bidding wars are not the same as creating social proof. You always want your recruiters to know you’re working with others. It’s good for your negotiating position and fair to them. However, whether or not you decide to discuss the details of competing offers is up to you.

Be Flexible

In his acclaimed book on negotiation titled The Art of Negotiation: How to Improvise Agreement in a Chaotic World, Harvard Professor Michael Wheeler argues that negotiators should avoid rigid approaches. Negotiation is dynamic and it can’t be scripted. Your negotiating partner may not be as cooperative as you expect.

Therefore, you should have a plan A, B and C whenever possible. Be prepared in advance to alter your position or find opportunities for win-win agreements. Also, he points out that it’s easy to draw false conclusions from negotiating experiences because we don’t have all the information from the other side. However, writing things down both before and after negotiations can be greatly beneficial. Write down what you know as well as your assumptions about the other side before and after in order to improve your skills.

To discover more about how to create win-win agreements with travel nursing agencies, check out our free eBook. The book includes tons of information on this topic; far too much to include in this post.

Practice Makes Perfect

Research indicates that negotiating skills can be greatly enhanced by practicing. You can practice with a friend or a neutral party to achieve results. Interestingly, women gained much more from practicing than their male counterparts.

Women Perform Better as Agents

Studies have found that women negotiate much more assertively when negotiating for someone else than they do when negotiating for themselves. Researchers believe that this is because negotiating for others is a more communal endeavor which is more consistent with traditional roles. So, try approaching your negotiations as a representative of your family or posterity.

Objective Measures More Impactful for Women

Research indicates that women need to legitimize their salary requests during negotiations more often than men in order to be successful. Experts recommend that women use objective performance measures to accomplish this. They also recommend to use inclusive pronouns and phrases like “we” instead of I. We discuss specific ways that travel nurses can accomplish both of these objectives in our free eBook on negotiation.

It Doesn’t Matter Who Women Negotiate With

Katherine Milkman of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania lead a team of researchers who sent emails to 6,500 university professors across all disciplines. The emails were posed as being sent from doctoral students of different genders and racial backgrounds requesting a 10 minute meeting to discuss the possibility of conducting research with the professors.

The researchers found the professors ignored women and minorities at a higher rate than Caucasian males. The rate of discrimination varied widely among fields, but women and minorities were ignored 30% more even in the least discriminatory field. Perhaps more importantly, the researchers found that female and minority professors were also less likely to respond to inquiries from women and minorities.

So, working with a female travel nursing recruiter isn’t necessarily an advantage for female travel nurses when it comes to perceptions during negotiation.

Jokes Are Good For More Than Laughter

Travel nursing recruiters always want to know what pay rate their travel nurses are looking for. They’ll say they don’t want to waste your time or theirs with offers that don’t meet your expectations. This might be partly true.

However, the real benefit of getting the travel nurse to throw out the first number is that it gives the recruiter a leg up in negotiations. Negotiation experts are in nearly unanimous agreement that tossing out the first number is a no-no. However, should you toss out no number at all?

Todd Thorsteinson, Professor of Psychology at the University of Idaho, says not necessarily. In his study, a hypothetical applicant was instructed to provide a number of standard answers to the question, “How much do want to make?” In some cases, the applicant was instructed to jokingly reply, “Well, I’d like to make a million dollars, but really I just want what’s fair.”

The average salary offer was $32,500 when the applicant declined to offer a number. When the applicant replied with the “million dollar” joke answer, the average salary offer was $36,200. Try it out!

We hope you found this information useful! As always, we’d love to hear your experiences with this topic and look forward to your questions and comments. Simply post them in the comments section below!

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3 replies
  1. JeniFa says:

    I can count on AMN for a wide range of contracts but I work with 2 and have added another located in SC because I thought being local they could get me jobs in that State. I don’t know that it’s been that good of an idea because the recruiter appears to not care about what my needs for shifts and specialty. I am being pitched a float nurse position and I have no idea why by this recruiter?!

  2. JeniFa says:

    Great info! Although AMN doesn’t have the most competitive salaries compared to some other agencies, I find myself going back time and time again because of my experienced recruiter. He has over 13 years with the company and pays me the most he can.


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