Travel nurses often get asked by recruiters how much they want to make. This question can be tricky, as revealing your bottom line could backfire.

Many travel nurse agencies contract with individual healthcare facilities to determine how much nurses will be paid. Agencies combine that amount with benefits and non-taxable reimbursements to create a blended rate.

Know What You Want

Knowing what you want before entering contract negotiations is essential whether you’re a new travel nurse or a seasoned professional. This means identifying your non-negotiables, researching the industry, and assessing your unique value. These pieces can help you confidently enter negotiations and increase your chances of achieving the desired outcome.

Travel nurse salary per state package includes base rate, overtime pay, housing stipend, and taxes. Consider these when negotiating with your agency and compare one travel nurse agency’s rate to another. You can find accurate information on agencies’ blended rates by searching online or using Facebook groups dedicated to travel nursing; however, make sure you understand how each agency determines their nurses’ “blended” rate before making comparisons.

Also, be aware of the extras you can negotiate, such as an extended assignment or a bonus for being a repeat traveler with the company. These bonuses can add up and significantly increase your take-home pay. It’s also helpful to have viable alternatives in case the job you’re negotiating for is not what you’re looking for, which can dramatically increase your bargaining power. This could include side hustling, accepting other jobs or contracts, or waiting to find the perfect job.

Know What You’re Worth

Travel nurses need to understand how much their pay package is worth. It’s also important to know what your non-negotiable items are. This will help you decide when negotiating your contract with an agency.

Most travel nurse agencies will have a standard breakdown of your salary in the form of “buckets.” The buckets consist of taxable wages and tax-free stipends. Travel nurses who only consider their hourly rate will miss much of their overall compensation. In most cases, travel nurses will work within a contracted number of hours and then receive time and a half of their contracted hourly rate plus tax-free stipends for additional hours worked.

Many travel nurses talk to one another about their salaries and pay packages, which is good! However, travelers must be careful not to become jealous, which can cloud their judgment during negotiations.

You also need to know what other traveling nurses are getting paid, which will help you set your goals for the next assignment. It is essential to keep in mind that benefits such as housing, medical coverage, and perks will affect your total pay package. Some agencies will provide a housing stipend, and others may find you an apartment or house. In either case, you must clearly outline the details in your contract before signing.

Be Flexible

Travel nurses need to remember that contract negotiations are just that: Negotiations. This means compromising and finding common ground for both sides to reach an agreement beneficial to everyone involved. While it’s great to be firm about what you need and want, you also have to be willing to accept that only some agencies or hospitals will be able to meet your bottom line.

Before deciding how much to negotiate, it’s best to understand how travel nurse wages are determined in the first place. Each agency has an established contract with the hospitals that dictates how much a nurse can get paid. The facility produces the agency a bill rate, and the agency then takes that amount, adds on taxable wages and tax-free stipends, and comes up with the “blended” rate.

Stan John, a Chicago travel nurse, advises that travelers should know this number to compare apples to apples when negotiating. He recommends compiling a complete wage picture, including overtime pay, housing credits, and taxes. This will allow you to see the bigger picture and determine if an offer is worth it. It’s also a good idea to talk with fellow travel nurses to learn what their experiences have been like negotiating their travel nursing contracts. But don’t gossip or create a bidding war; research indicates this can hurt your negotiating skills!

Be Honest

One way that you can increase your bargaining power is by providing social proof. For example, if you show that other travel nurses have gotten what they want at the same hospital simultaneously, your recruiter may be more inclined to listen and offer a better deal for you. This technique can be beneficial when negotiating for a higher housing stipend or other contract perks.

However, be careful about sharing too much information. Negotiation aims to get the best deal for yourself while maintaining trust with your recruiter and the agency. If you share too much information about your situation, the process can become adversarial, and you could take advantage of an opportunity to negotiate an excellent contract for yourself.

Finally, be honest about your bottom line. Many recruiters ask for a travel nurse’s bottom line during negotiations. While it is essential to have a bottom line, be cautious about giving it to your recruiter because the bottom-line approach will only work in certain situations. You will be offered contracts below your bottom line, but you will only sometimes be offered jobs that sit right at your bottom line.

Travel nursing is a unique career path, and it’s often difficult to find the “Goldilocks” assignment where your salary, benefits, and housing stipend are just right. By preparing before contract negotiations and being flexible, you can successfully converse with your recruiter and find the perfect job.