Travel Nursing Recruiters – Finding the Best

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Chances are good that nurses will be able to find many travel nursing agencies that can meet their needs. So nurses will still be stuck figuring out which agencies to actually work with. Almost every travel nurse will mention how important it is to have a good travel nurse recruiter.

The travel nurse recruiter really can be the X Factor in choosing a agency. Recruiters can make bad agencies good and good agencies bad. It’s tough to come by a really good travel recruiter. My experience indicates that it’s a position with a fairly high turnover rate, so coming by a recruiter with more than 2 years experience can be tough. In addition, evaluating a recruiter can also be a difficult task.

Travel nurse recruiters that are “there for you”

Now, most of what you’ll read on the internet and in books written by travel nurses regarding what makes a good recruiter tends to focus on whether or not the recruiter is available to meet any need the you may have, at any time of the day, every day of the week. You’ll read stories about a recruiter who saved a traveler during a hurricane by coordinating travel plans and securing accommodations at 3am on a Tuesday morning. Or you may read the story about the recruiter who was always there when the nurse had a particularly rough day at work and needed someone to discuss it with at 8:30pm on a Thursday. While I believe that this type of accessibility is important, I also believe that expectations should be realistic, and that there are far more important considerations when evaluating a recruiter.

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that you should be able to build a good rapport with your recruiters. I’ve had travel nurses spend the holidays with my family. I’ve volunteered to watch their pets while they were on vacation. I’ve had them stay in my spare room for free while they were working a job with another agency no less! And there are many nurses that I’ve kept in touch with long after they stopped traveling. They’ve become some of my closest friends.

You should also be able to rely on your recruiter in time of need and in emergencies. However, this is where it gets a little gray. As mentioned previously, successful recruiters typically put in at least 50 hours per week just dealing with the main task at hand. Additionally, recruiters will need to have a minimum of 15 full time travelers working at all times in order to make the job worth while and in the vast majority of agencies, the minimum is more like 20.

That said, emergencies should be classified as emergencies only if they are genuine emergencies. A toaster that toasts bread unevenly is not an emergency that warrants a cell phone call at 5:30 am. A paycheck that’s $4 short of what it should have been is not an emergency that warrants a cell phone call on a Sunday. These are certainly valid concerns that should be addressed promptly. However, maintaining realistic expectations will ensure that you’re able to maintain a strong relationship with what may be an excellent recruiter.

The importance of honesty in a travel nursing recruiter

So what makes an excellent recruiter? In my opinion, honesty and experience are the two most important characteristics of a good  recruiter. I do believe that the vast majority of healthcare recruiters are honest individuals. However, as mentioned previously, recruiting is essentially a sales job. Recruiters are selling you on the services and products they have to offer.

It’s no secret that there are a lot of sales people out there who utilize disingenuous tactics to close a deal. Travel nurse recruiting is no different. I’ve heard so many stories from candidates who were misinformed I couldn’t even begin to describe them all here. I’ve heard from nurses who were told they would receive free medical benefits, only to later find that they were charged for them. I’ve heard from nurses whose pay ended up being dramatically less than what they were led to believe it would be.

Unfortunately, there’s no perfect method for determining whether or not a recruiter is being honest with you. However, you can improve your chances of finding an honest recruiter by determining whether or not they’re willing to provide you with both sides of the story. It’s pretty rare for something to have absolutely no downfalls. An honest recruiter should be willing to share the positive, as well as the negative.

There are negatives to almost every aspect of travel nursing, so there are plenty of opportunities for the recruiter to reveal their honesty. At the same time, sales people typically don’t provide such information, but you can tease it out of them by asking the right questions. For example: What’s the downside of taking tax free money? Or, you can just ask them point blank to provide you with some negative aspects of the industry in general, or a specific job that they are trying to sell you.

The importance of experience in a travel nursing recruiter

While honesty is important, experience is probably the most important variable to consider when determining the value of a recruiter. Recruiters must be highly knowledgeable in order to provide outstanding service. Additionally, there is a ton going on behind the scenes to ensure that you’re taken care of. It’s far too much for any individual to soak up in even the most comprehensive of training programs. Experience ensures that your recruiter has the knowledge and know-how necessary to guide you through a metaphorical minefield.

Recruiters must be very knowledgeable regarding all aspects of supplemental healthcare staffing requirements and expectations. This includes experience requirements, both general and facility specific. It includes compliance and credentialing requirements, both general and facility specific. It includes experience with your specific area or areas of expertise and specialties. It includes knowledge of trends and cycles in travel nursing, both nationally and regionally. It includes knowledge of the on-boarding processes and procedures of the facilities they work with, often times numbering in the thousands.

This may all seem rather unimportant, or perhaps a given. However, if the recruiter is not knowledgeable in all of these aspects, then he/she could end up getting you into a bind, or selling you on a job opportunity that will never come to fruition. I know this to be true from first hand experience.

When I was starting out, I submitted an ICU RN who had graduated from nursing school 15 months earlier for job. She had also worked at her current hospital for a little over 2 years. I submitted her for a Kaiser travel  nursing job in Redwood City, CA. At the time, Kaiser required 1 year of experience in the specialty being submitted for, so I figured all was well. However, I didn’t realize that they required that the nurse’s license needed to be active for more than 1 year. The nurse in question had obtained her RN license 6 months after graduating, giving her only 9 months of active licensing. As a result, she was disqualified at which time I learned about another of Kaiser’s policies. When someone is disqualified, they have to wait for 6 months to be considered again. Needless to say, I never heard from the nurse again, despite my impassioned apologies.

Shortly after this incident, an L&D nurse and I decided that we’d tell a facility that we already had her scheduled to take an AWHONN Advanced Fetal Heart Monitoring course in an effort to get her a job interview. She was highly experienced and of course got the interview and the job offer which we accepted. Then we both found out the hard way that getting this AWHONN certification wasn’t going to be as easy as getting a BLS certification. Despite the fact that she lived in Chicago, the second largest city in the United States, we were unable to locate a course. We were even unable to locate a course anywhere in time for the assignment’s start date.

Ultimately, my agency had to back out. While the nurse and I continued to work together for nearly 2 years, my agency was fined by the hospital per our contract with them, and while we can’t be certain, we believe the nurse was made a “DNU” (do not use) at this particular facility. So you can see that these things matter, and they matter a lot.

There are also things going on behind the scenes that the nurse may never really know about, but that are none the less extremely important. Your “submission profile” is one example. It’s fairly standard for hospitals to require that an agency provide an application, a skills checklist, and two references in order to allow a candidate to be submitted for an opening. Together, these items are commonly called a “submission profile.”

No offense to anyone out there, but candidates typically do a poor job at filling these out, which is understandable given the volume of paperwork that travelers are faced with. Therefore, an experienced recruiter will most certainly revise your submission profile to ensure that it’s professional and includes all the information that the facilities are seeking. In addition, they will take every opportunity to make that submission profile shine. The submission profile can make or break your chances at landing a job. There is ALWAYS competition for a job, and the submission profile is the first consideration in determining who will win. Knowing what to look for, how to present the information, and how to gloss over any negatives is the recruiter’s job and knowing how to do it comes from experience.

To determine a recruiter’s level of experience you should first ask them how long they’ve been a recruiter. Of course, they could provide you with false information, but you could always try to look them up on LinkedIn to see if you can find a profile which would most likely reveal the true nature of their experience. Short of that, you will most likely be able to tell by the speed with which they answer your questions. An experienced recruiter should be quick to respond and sound comfortable and confident during your discussion. They should be able to provide highly informative and thorough answers to any questions you may have. Also, you should be able to tell by the questions they ask you.  They should be asking you insightful and probing questions aimed at determining what type of experience you have, and what you’re looking for.

When you find an experienced, honest recruiter, you’re certain to be taken care of properly. They will know how to best navigate the job market given your unique experiences, background, and goals. They’ll be more effective and efficient. There are also actions that you can take to get the most out of your recruiter. Chances are, that if you maintain reasonable service expectations you’ll build a strong relationship that may even transcend travel nursing.

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