How to find an agency? Answered!

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    Finding a travel nurse agency perplexes many nurses who have never traveled. Key points: *The agency brand doesn't matter. And there is no best agency (if there was, there would be only one agency). *Your relationship with your recruiter(s) is the most important factor in the success of a new traveler by far. *You have to do a lot of work to find recruiters that are good for you specifically. There are no good shortcuts.

    How to find an agency? Answered!

    The question of how to find an agency comes up a lot on this forum and a nurse recently private messaged me with this question. I prefer answering questions on the open forum for the benefit of many, not just one person. That is the real value of forums: sharing information publicly for the entire community.

    Finding a travel nurse agency perplexes many nurses who have never traveled.

    Key Points

    1 ) The agency brand doesn't matter. And there is no best agency (if there was, there would be only one agency)

    2 ) Your relationship with your recruiter(s) is the most important factor in the success of a new traveler.

    3 ) You have to do a lot of work to find recruiters that are good for you specifically. There are no good shortcuts.

    Anyone who reads here regularly will know much of what I'm about to say (I repeat it a lot as the question is asked almost weekly), but I'll expand on the topic for those new readers who are really lost on how to begin.

    There are almost 400 agencies. Yup, that is a daunting fact.

    There are incredibly large agencies, and some super small ones, and there are new ones every year. But you know what? The agency brand is almost irrelevant. What is important, especially for new travelers, is the kind of business relationship you have with your recruiter(s). A good recruiter at a "bad" agency is a far better situation for you than a bad recruiter at a "good" agency.

    How do you find good recruiters? Fundamentally, it is like dating.

    You might get lucky with your first one, but the reality is you have to talk to many recruiters before you find a couple of good ones. Even then, divorce is common. Lots and lots of working the phones until you find good recruiters that are a good fit for you.

    What makes for a good recruiter?

    One you "click" with and communicate well with - if you cannot communicate well with someone, what is the point? You need recruiters who fit your communication style. No one can tell you if you will do well with a specific recruiter so you will have to interview every potential recruiter personally.

    A good business relationship is like any other good relationship, there has to be trust.

    My recommendation is to talk to a dozen or so recruiters and pick the best three to five to work further with. After talking to so many recruiters, you will learn which ones are making stuff up, and who is being honest with you. A good recruiter will not just ask you a bunch of qualifying questions (a sales thing) but allow you to ask questions and become comfortable. Really, you are interviewing them for the job as your recruiter, not them interviewing you.

    A good question to ask recruiter candidates is...

    How long they have been a recruiter - more experienced recruiters are like more experienced nurses, they are usually better at their job and retain their travelers longer. Another one is how long they have been at their agency. It is a real pain to have to train a new recruiter when your recruiter changes agencies - in this they are not unlike many nurse travelers that hop around to different agencies. For both travelers and recruiters, changing agencies often benefit themselves personally, but not the other party. So you don't want a "one night affair" who leaves you in the middle of an assignment.

    Skip recruiters (even though they seem nice) who will not share information about real and open travel assignments in your specialty, where their assignments are located, and what the actual compensation package looks like.

    This may sound beyond question, but you will talk to a lot of recruiters who will insist you do all the paperwork to sign up (which is a lot of work) before they will share this with you. Sign up, and they may not have anything in your specialty, nor where you want to travel to. Drop them! (a kind of shortcut) It is just not worth it, believe me. Plenty of recruiters who will tell you what you need to know before doing all the paperwork. 400 agencies!

    Keep notes.

    During most conversations (especially early in the process), questions will be raised in your mind. Ask the next recruiter you talk to about the unresolved issue.

    It will also help to do some reading about the basics of travel nursing.

    Informed questions are better than completely ignorant ones and will help shorten the interview process. Most travel company sites have some information, all positive and glowing. For online unbiased information about travel nursing, I recommend PanTravelers, a non-profit site unaffiliated with any agency and without advertising. Sign up for the free membership level, no need to have a premium membership to get a wealth of information.

    If you prefer reading a book about travelers experience, there are quite a few on Amazon. Most will have real life anecdotes about life on the road, the good and bad. So they tend to be inspiring as well as a good reality check.

    OK, you might say to yourself at this point: "Now I know how to interview potential recruiters, where the heck are their phone numbers?"

    So the nurse that messaged me and triggered this article specifically asked me how to find lists of agencies. You can do a Google search for "best travel nurse agencies" and locate a number of lists. That could be a good starting point, but keep in mind exactly how these lists were composed. All of them have a bias, and all of them (that I know of) have a financial incentive to have those lists. Generally, all such lists are composed of larger agencies.

    Nothing wrong with large agencies, in fact they are pretty good for most first time travelers.

    They tend to have better benefits and resources. They also tend to pay less than smaller agencies as they have to pay stockholders, and do a lot of advertising to keep acquiring travelers. Large, midsized, and small agencies each have their charms and downsides, and you could consider a mix, especially as you gain experience.

    The way I might suggest finding phone numbers is, surprise, Google!

    "Travel nurse agencies". Half of the first page of results will be advertisements. Agencies with more advertising pay less generally.

    By the way, your goal on a first assignment is to have a successful first assignment to put on a work history, not to land a real high paying assignment. In fact, wonder hard why anyone would offer a high paying assignment to a first time traveler. ???Why wouldn't a traveler with experience be chosen over you? Could be an assignment from hell and if so, it will be your last assignment likely! Work up to the high paying assignments after you learn about your abilities to adapt from "easy" and traveler friendly assignments well within your clinical abilities. The path to such a first assignment is again, a good recruiter that wants you to succeed. If you succeed, your are more likely to stay with said recruiter, and the money will automatically get better in later assignments.

    I would skip altogether the first page of Google results. Call some agencies on the second page for larger agencies, skip another page for midsize agencies, and skip as many pages as you like to find smaller agencies. There is your list of agencies to call. Pretty random right? But that is how to find recruiters you like. Remember again that the agency brand is unimportant (a little more about that in a minute).

    This method will give you control of the entire process. You might consider using caller ID blocking - simply dial *67 before dialing the agency number. I once called several agencies from my parent's phone number ten years ago without doing so. They are still getting calls from those agencies! I never gave them any call back number. Once your info is out there, it is out there forever. Making sure you want to talk to them again before they have your number will save you a lot of hassles (sometimes for years).

    Similarly, DO NOT sign up with any of those enticing sites that promise with one application you will have all the best agencies calling you. NOT!!!

    Calls will be made by every crappy agency that is willing to pay $35 to $100 to get your phone number. That is how much you are worth as simply a prospect. It is better to control the process yourself. Same goes for job boards like Indeed. Keep control over your contact information and choose who you want to call, not have someone else decide.

    You can look (Google) agency reviews, but take them all with a grain of salt.

    Most agencies will have negative reviews, it is simply human nature. The bigger agencies will have more negative reviews - because they have more travelers! It is that simple.

    If you can find a referral for a specific recruiter from a traveler, it is fine to try that recruiter.

    But same recommendations above apply. You have to be able to communicate with that recruiter for things to go well. Just because someone's boyfriend or girlfriend works for them doesn't mean that you will establish a great relationship.

    Also bear in mind that generally the referring traveler will get a $500 to $2,000 referral bonus if you complete an assignment with that recruiter or agency. This can certainly distort the referral process, and indeed even your compensation (as the agency would be able to pay you more if they don't pay a referral bonus).

    This was a long post but even so I may have overlooked something. Feel free to add information, or ask questions.
    Last edit by Joe V on Jun 14, '18
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  2. Visit NedRN profile page

    About NedRN Pro

    25 year operating room nurse, 22 years traveling. CVOR specialty but scrub and circulate most services. Still learning new stuff.

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  3. by   Surfandnurse
    Great post Ned! Thank you, I always enjoy reading the great information you share in regards to travel nursing. Kudos and mahalos for sharing!
  4. by   wildnursebrendan
    This is my favorite thread! Thanks a bunch for making the intimidating jump to travelling easier for everyone.
  5. by   Gary Mendoza
    *** The agency brand doesn't matter. And there is no best agency (if there was, there would be only one agency)

    Disagree, I know a few agencies that have very good policies in place that make them preferable. And I disagree there are no 'best agencies'. There are some with a long and bad history of treating travelers poorly, while there others that have a long and good history of treating travelers fairly. There are always going to be a few travelers that have bad experiences even with the best of agencies, but you have to consider the majority treatment, not just the rare/occasional mishap. We all make mistakes, even agencies, but there are two agencies that come to mind that are exceptionally good in the industry, but I will not name them here.

    *** Your relationship with your recruiter(s) is the most important factor in the success of a new traveler.

    Disagree. While your relationship with your recruiter is important, your attitude on your assignments is more important in my opinion.

    *** You have to do a lot of work to find recruiters that are good for you specifically. There are no good shortcuts.

    Agree and disagree. Sometimes you have to go through a many recruiters to find one that fits you well, other times you get lucky and find a good match quickly. I suggest you ask around and find out what recruiters have lots of good references, if they are good to others they are likely going to be good to you too. I went through about 8 recruiters before finding two that treated me fairly, but I have known others that found their good recruiters on their first or second try.

    However, GREAT article Ned. You've always been very helpful and full of very useful knowledge for travelers and I applaud you for everything you've done for the industry and for educating travelers.

    Much respect,
  6. by   NedRN
    Quote from Gary Mendoza
    *** Your relationship with your recruiter(s) is the most important factor in the success of a new traveler.

    Disagree. While your relationship with your recruiter is important, your attitude on your assignments is more important in my opinion.
    Professional behavior on assignment is a different topic completely.

    Back on point, notice "success of a new traveler" was the caveat in this article for those who have never traveled. Experienced travelers do not need this information, they have already figured out their path generally. In fact, even bad agencies and recruiters will work out OK for an experienced traveler, but of those two, I'd much rather a good recruiter at a bad agency after 22 years of traveling.
  7. by   jroberts7
    NedRN, I cant private message. Is there anyway we can chat?
  8. by   NedRN
    I cannot quite picture a question so sensitive that it cannot be answered on the open forum. That said, your screen name appears to be your real name. Sign up again making up something so that no one can guess it is you and pose your query. No, NedRN is not my real name!

    Sometimes there is a situation so unique that anyone associated with the hospital or agency in question will easily recognize the poster. If it is a question of your license, job, or a lawsuit, for those (very rare) situations where you cannot disguise the situation or your identity, then it shouldn't be discussed publicly.

    Anything related to this thread topic does not fall into that rare situation category. You've been submitted to a hospital by an agency you no longer want to work with? Dead common. Can't figure out if an offer is fair? Dead common. By the way, these two issues are directly related to a failure to shop around before signing up with an agency, or being submitted to a particular hospital.

    So get a new screen name and post your question!
  9. by   NedRN
    I just skimmed the article and realized I left off an important point. After shopping around for good recruiters, I prefer not putting all my eggs in one basket. Interview a dozen or so recruiters, and pick the best three to five to work further with. Sign up fully with at least three. Now you have a lot of benefits. You can compare compensation (with luck, at the exact same assignment, or at least the same general area), have a Plan B if Plan A doesn't work out, and have access to a wider range of assignments and industry information. Be honest with your recruiters and let them know you are working with other recruiters. If they fuss about this, they are not professionals you want to keep anyway.

    This is not the only possible strategy, but I personally think it makes a lot of sense. I stuck with one agency almost five years and did well until we parted badly, and ended up wishing I had shopped around years before. But there are travelers out there who have made it work with one recruiter or agency for 20 years and have done well. Quite lucky in my opinion. Business relationships are even more fleeting than personal relationships generally, but easier to handle. It will be natural though, even if you follow my suggestion to have several agencies on boarded, to whittle them down to just one or two favorites over time. But it is just a question of when usually, not if, that relationship ends and you may lose a month or two of employment while you expand your options again. So ideally, you always want options ready to go, especially if you live on the edge financially.

    For comparing compensation packages (always difficult as different agencies quote so differently), a good tool is the Travelers Calculator found on PanTravelers (free membership required). That will boil everything down to a couple of easily comparable numbers - working with several agencies also means you can find out who really pays the best!