In your quest to become a travel nurse, you may have gotten the impression that you will just need to accept whatever contracts your travel nurse agency brings you. Not so! With a little knowledge and forethought, you can negotiate your travel nurse contracts. Here are the top things to know when negotiating a travel nurse contract and some tips and tricks to help you with your negotiations.
What are Travel Nurse Contracts?
A travel nurse contract is a legally binding agreement between a nurse and a travel nursing agency. The contract spells out the terms and conditions of the travel nurse assignment, including the nurse’s job responsibilities, pay and benefits, and other important information. It is important for travel nurses to review the contract carefully, ask questions if anything is unclear, and have a full understanding of the contract before signing it.
Why Negotiate Travel Nurse Contracts?
As a travel nurse, negotiating can be difficult because it requires you to ask for what you want. However, the benefits are worth the effort.
The key to success in negotiating is to find out how much your employer values you. You do that by asking questions such as “What does my job contribute to the organization?”, “How many people report to me?”, “What type of compensation package am I offered?”. Once you know how much value your employer places on you, you can use that information to determine whether or not you should ask for more money.
In addition to getting more money in your paycheck, negotiating allows you to increase your earning potential. If you’re one of the lucky few who gets hired on full-time, you’ll likely receive a base wage plus commission. Commission rates vary widely depending on the industry and size of the company. In some cases, companies even give bonuses based on performance reviews.
When you negotiate salary, you demonstrate initiative and leadership. Both qualities are highly valued in today’s workplace. When you negotiate salary, you show yourself to be proactive, confident, and willing to take charge. These characteristics make you a great candidate for future promotions.
When Should You Start Negotiating Travel Nurse Pay
You should start negotiating your pay package before you even talk to a potential employer. Your first contact should be with a recruiter. You should ask about the compensation offered, how many interviews you will receive, what type of contract you will sign, and whether the agency pays for housing and relocation expenses.
Once you have had several interactions with recruiters, you should start discussing your desired pay package. Be prepared to negotiate. Make sure you know everything about the job responsibilities and duties. Do not accept anything less than what you want.
Remember, you do not have to take the lowest offer. You can always counter-offer.
4 Tips for Negotiating Travel Nurse Contracts
1. Be Knowledgeable
Right off the bat, it’s crucial that you understand how travel nursing contracts work. What details are normally included? What items are negotiable? What additional reimbursements or benefits are possible? As you’re beginning your travel nursing contract negotiations, consider asking for a sample contract so you can see what’s included.
Next, figure out the true rate of pay being offered. Since travel nursing pay rates often include things beyond just the hourly rate, make sure the travel nurse contract is clear about the true rate. For example, health benefits will usually come out of your overall pay, reducing your hourly rate.
Does the contract cover real travel expenses? For example, the contract might offer a $500 relocation stipend, but traveling from California to New York would cost far more than $500. Knowing this up front can help you decide if this travel nurse contract would cost you more than it would pay.
Are there contract extension bonuses? Some agencies will offer a one-time signing bonus for extending a travel nurse contract, while others may increase the hourly pay ($1 per hour might be reasonable). And some do not offer such extension bonuses at all. Be sure you understand these options up front, before signing.
Perhaps your travel nurse agency offers other reimbursements, such as mass transit passes (for those locations where available), additional licensing fees, or healthcare benefits if you choose to carry your own health insurance. Ask in advance if these are potentially part of a travel nurse contract, and negotiate for those that fit your needs.
2. Remember Your Value
One of your strongest negotiating points is your value as a travel nurse. When discussing a travel nurse contract with your travel nurse recruiter, it puts you on solid ground if you can claim how valuable you are as an employee:
- Your attendance record is impeccable.You arrive on time, and you never leave early. Any shifts that must be missed for whatever reason are reported as far in advance as possible, and made up quickly.
- You follow all hospital and facility protocols.You learn the ropes quickly, and you follow them to a T.
- You are pleasant at work.This isn’t to say that you’re not a strong advocate for your patients (often a selling point for hospitals), but that you’re a team player who works well with others.
- You do what is asked of you.Assignments are fully completed in a timely and excellent manner.
- You work extra shifts …IF you have a good rate of pay for extra shifts.
- You are prompt with your time reporting.Never make hospital personnel hunt you down for your time cards. Turn them in ASAP!
- You complete every contract you start.
- You are something of a “brand ambassador” for your agency.Speaking well of, and recruiting others for your travel nurse staffing agency can go a long way in how your travel agency views you. Travel nurse staffing agencies often depend on word-of-mouth referrals, and will likely reward your loyalty.
3. Be Flexible
Negotiating travel nurse contracts is just that: negotiating. It involves give and take–it involves collaboration. Understanding that you and your travel staffing agency are on the same page, that both of you want the best situation possible for you and the hospital, can help you stay open as you are working on an agreement. You may discover that one option has a lower rate of pay but offers better travel nurse housing options; or you might decide that location is a higher priority than a signing bonus.
Part of flexibility, however, can mean that you choose to have more than one travel nurse staffing agency working for you. Different travel nurse agencies offer different pay packages and have different relationships with a variety of hospitals, keeping your options open. Be mindful of pitting one agency against another, however, as this could backfire. That’s not to say that you can’t use benefits at one agency to give you a strong negotiating position at another agency, but be careful of your language if you choose to go this route. Saying something like, “I’ve been offered X, but I’d prefer to work with you. What can we do?” can paint you in a stronger light than trying to strong-arm your recruiter.
4. Ask About Other Reimbursements
If asking for money isn’t your thing, don’t sweat it. Many agencies these days are very open about what they pay and how much they are willing to spend. Some will even let you know upfront whether you qualify for free housing or health insurance. This transparency makes it easier to negotiate a better salary package.
Many agencies also offer additional perks such as reimbursement for transportation or childcare expenses. With the cost of living rising across the country, it’s important to ask about these kinds of payments. You never know when you might want to move somewhere else.
5. Know Your Extension Bonus Options
If you are thinking about extending your current job, make sure you know what your options are. Some hospitals give employees a bonus if they extend their contract, others don’t. Sometimes there is no additional money involved; sometimes it’s just a few weeks off. You might be surprised how much this could affect your decision.
I have also been in a position where my employer gave me an extension bonus. They told me that I had to pay half of the cost upfront and then the other half upon completion of my extended period of employment. This way, they didn’t lose anything if I left early.
6. Make Your Request As Specific As Possible
If there’s one thing we know about negotiating, it’s that taking a hardline position and demanding more money per unit of work isn’t necessarily the most effective way to negotiate. Sure, it might feel good to stand up for yourself, but it doesn’t always translate into getting what you want.
The same goes for salary negotiations. If you approach your boss with a list of demands and ask for everything on the table, you run the risk of coming across unprofessional. Instead, try approaching the conversation differently. Start out by asking about how much he makes now, explain why you deserve more, and then tell him exactly what you’re looking for. You might find that he actually agrees with you and wants to give you what you want.
You need to speak up for yourself. Don’t just sit there and wait for someone else to give you what you want. Take charge of your career. Demand what you deserve. Be prepared to walk away if necessary.
7. Don’t Be Afraid to Say No
Especially when you’re first starting out, it can be tempting to take the first offer given. But that offer may not be good for you, financially or otherwise. If the cost of traveling to the location overshadows your earnings when you finally get there, this travel nurse contract would not be a good option. Or if the true rate of pay isn’t commensurate with your experience and what the travel nurse job would entail, you might not want to take it. Be open to advocating for yourself and your needs, and not taking travel nurse contracts that don’t fit.
Many recruiters will ask you about your “bottom line”; be cautious in giving out that information. Of course this means you may be offered contracts below your bottom line, but it will mean that you will not consistently be offered contracts that sit right at your bottom line. You know what you need to make your travel nursing jobs tenable; hold to that line for yourself.
Now You’re Ready to Start Negotiating
Whatever travel nurse contract you end up signing, commit wholeheartedly to honoring it to the best of your ability. That will help ensure that next time you negotiate a contract, you’re in an even better position than you were this time!