Travel Career Resources

Finding Your First Travel Nurse Job

The Trusted Team
October 1, 2019
Share On:
Jump to Unit

You’ve sent out tons of applications, but you’re still unable to land your first travel nursing job. We know that life doesn’t always go as planned, but what could be going wrong?

Well... we’ve got a few hunches. If you’re going through a dry-spell when it comes to pulling in those offers (especially if you’re early on in your travel nursing career), you may want to look into these frequent problem points below!

Your Dream Travel Nurse Job Isn’t out There... Yet

Sometimes, the issue may not lie in your professional qualifications as much as your expectations of the travel nurse assignments that are out there. As a new traveler looking to land your first travel nurse job, it’ll take some time to get a sense for the travel nursing “industry standard.”  


For example, your ideal total compensation (or even aspects of the package) may be unusually high for the specialty, location, and type of shift you’re looking for. While this can be great, it also sets skewed expectations from one location to another or from staffing to traveling. Before diving into travel nurse pay, make sure you're familiar with travel nurse tax homes.

If you're curious about compensation for travel nurses nationwide, check out the 2019 Travel Nurse Compensation Report.


On the other hand, maybe you have pretty strict scheduling expectations. While not impossible, it’s unlikely that your first travel nurse job won’t involve any floating, and that it will accommodate a certain days-on-days-off ratio, or offer PTO. 

It’s also important to keep the realities of seasonal trends in mind when first calibrating your expectations as a travel nurse. Looking to head to the sunny beaches of southern California or Hawaii in the middle of the winter? Chances are, so is everyone else. This means that competition for travel nurse assignments in those locations (and locations like it) will be pretty high.


Speaking of which, units in well-known and prestigious hospitals will also likely receive a far higher number of applicants, so be prepared!

All of this isn’t to say that you should resign yourself to settling for any assignment you come across for your first travel nurse job. After all, it’s important to understand (and prioritize) any preferences that are important to you both personally and professionally. But sometimes, especially as a new travel nurse gaining experience, you’ll need to be open to compromising on some of the less-important preferences in exchange for experience.

With more experience under your belt, you’ll be a stronger candidate for whenever that dream travel nurse assignment comes around... and trust us, it will!

travel nurse job in hawaii

Maybe you're a little too picky? How can you fix this and improve your chances for a successful travel nurse job search? Simple. Broaden your expectations and keep an open mind! 

We know, easier said than done. Keep in mind that the first travel nurse job that you accept may not have all the pieces you’re looking for in a travel nurse assignment but can still be an amazing and transformative experience. Before beginning the search, it's a good idea to sit down and list out all of your requirements for a future travel nurse job, then determine which you prioritize as must-haves versus nice-to-haves.

Having more flexibility while searching for your first travel nurse job allows you to cast a wider net when searching for open positions. By doing this, you capture previously overlooked opportunities, and you may even realize that you can do without certain qualities that were once “must-haves.” You can even reach out to fellow travel nurses for their advice. They’ll have more than a few tips and tricks to help cope with assignments that don’t come with all the perks and features that they’d hoped for!

Your Travel Nurse Resume Might Be Missing Key Information 

Your travel nurse resume (and its variety of contents) is the first impression that most people involved in evaluating your application will have of you. If your resume doesn’t make it crystal clear that you’re qualified for the role, you may be passing up opportunities to snag your dream assignment. 

Remember, the travel nurse recruiters, account managers, and hiring managers involved in reviewing your application can’t read your mind. They can only rely on the information that you’ve provided. And chances are, they’ll only use a few minutes to review that information.

What to Look at When Improving Your Travel Nurse Resume


Your resume may be missing important pieces of information. You're a registered nurse with a nursing license, great. But what about any additional nursing specialties or relevant work experience that the medical facility will want to confirm up front before considering you for the role? Remember, a travel nurse resume doesn’t have rules around length, so you should add as much relevant information about your nursing experience onto it as possible. 


If your resume isn’t formatted in a way that makes it easy for applicant tracking system (ATS) software to read, then you may be shooting yourself in the foot! ATS software is commonly used in the travel nursing industry as an early screening tool, and resumes that can’t be “read” may not even make the first cut! This means the format should be clear and simple, with bullet points preferable to paragraphs or long descriptions. What good is solid experience on your application if people won’t even see it?

Remember to watch out for both content and formatting when looking over your travel nurse resume!

You May Not Have Enough Experience Yet

Let’s get this out of the way up front: travel nursing as a new grad is incredibly rare, if not outright impossible, to do. The vast majority of travel nurse assignments require at least a year of experience (plenty even require two years), so keep in mind that your first travel nurse job can’t be your first ever job. 

If you’re a newly minted nurse who’s itching to travel, don’t be too discouraged though; this standard is in place for good reason! As a travel nurse, you’ll have to be self-reliant for the vast majority of your assignment. Nobody on staff at your new medical facility will be there to hold your hand, orientation is usually under a week long (usually just one day), and everyone hiring you assumes that you can hit the ground running on the job. 

That means that before you can become a travel nurse, you need to be a really good nurse.  

Once You Have Your Initial Nursing Experience

Alright, so you’ve gotten your year(s) of experience, your resume is now chock-full of perfectly formatted information about all the stuff you’ve done, and you're ready to become a traveling RN. You’re set, right?

Not quite. If your responsibilities, competencies, and expertise don’t match the needs or stated requests of the medical facility you're interested in, you likely won’t get the job. 

A medical facility considers many aspects of your experience when deciding whether your professional background makes you a good fit for their team.

They may look at:

  • Your specialty and the length of time you’ve worked within that specialty (still deciding on a specialty?)
  • Your certifications & licensure (which, except for compact states, can very by state)
  • The patient population(s) you’ve cared for
  • The types of software and charting methods you’ve utilized
  • Any procedures you’ve performed and medical equipment you’ve utilized

To have a better sense of what skills and knowledge the medical facility requires for a given position, reach out to your travel nurse recruiter and have them confirm the requirements needed for that job. Then, be sure to address each point (or as many as you possibly can!) on your resume―preferably as clearly as possible, so that you minimize the chances of a person or machine missing relevant pieces of your background. 

Your Travel Nurse Interviews Are Holding You Back

Breezing through the resume/application screen only to get stuck on the travel nurse interview? Unfortunately, interview skills alone can hold you back.

For starters, if you’re not preparing for the interviews, start doing so! Preparing in advance for your interviews (and workshopping answers tailored to each assignment) adds to your confidence, and that will carry through into your interview. Better yet, it allows you to put your best self forward and have many examples memorized to prove your readiness for the job. 

Preparing doesn’t simply mean having answers at the ready to common questions. It also means practicing the art of interviewing over the phone (because chances are, that’s how your interview will be conducted). Don’t assume that a knack for in-person interviews converts smoothly into phone interview skills; non-verbal cues that we’re used to relying on, like hand gestures and eye contact, aren’t available if you’re speaking over the phone. 

It’s super important to solicit feedback from mentors, fellow nurses, and others in the industry about the content and tone of your voice while answering questions. (Answering questions well is only one part of it, but you also need to ask the right ones!)

Your References Aren’t as Strong as They Could Be

References are VERY underrated. If you hear “reference” and assume any one of your past bosses will do, your references could be the weak link keeping you from your first travel nurse job!

While it’s true that the best reference comes from someone who has supervised your day-to-day work and seen your professional development up close, it’s also good to have someone in your corner who knows you well and can attest to your character. What we’re saying is, you need more than a reference. You need a mentor

If you don’t have a former boss you can call a mentor, it’s never too late to find one! Reach out to a former charge nurse or unit manager (if you’re in their general vicinity, you can even offer to take them out for coffee!) and explain your professional goals before asking for a reference. Also, make it clear that they should feel free to ask you any questions should they need more information from you to write a stronger reference letter. 

Finally, don’t just focus on asking for a reference: use them as a resource for career advice. Setting up your mentorship situation prior to starting your first travel nurse job can be ideal. There’s a reason that your references have gotten to where they are, and they no doubt have important insight and contacts based on their experiences in the nursing industry, so involve them in your next steps and earn their support!

When it comes to your professional development as a travel nurse, you need more than a reference. You need a mentor.

Your Travel Nurse Recruiter/Agency Isn’t Advocating for You

Unfortunately, not all travel nurse recruiters are made equal. Not all nurse staffing agencies are either. 

Your recruiter―and by extension, the agency they work for―should be your advocate as you navigate the industry in search of your first travel nurse job and beyond. If they’re not great advocates for you in the travel nurse job search, it shows. (And you shouldn't stand for it.)

If you don’t find a travel nurse recruiter who makes your professional journey a priority, then you’re selling yourself short in the process. (Or rather, you’re allowing them to sell you short.) You won’t be connected to competitive compensation packages. Your application submission may be delayed. The travel nurse agency you work for may not do the best job of securing the details you need to make a timely decision about an assignment (which in turn can affect what you put down on your resume and application). 

Even working with an inefficient party will cost you: low turnaround times means a higher chance that someone else with similar qualifications is moved further along the application process... and maybe even be offered the position before you. Maybe the recruiter/agency some red flags that are hindering you from your next 13-week trip

What's a Nurse to Do?

For one, determine whether the nurse staffing agency is the best one for you.

And secondly, we’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: don’t put all your eggs in one basket... especially not on your first travel nurse job! Make sure that you’re working with multiple nurse staffing agencies if you’re able to handle it. This way, if one (or more!) recruiters aren’t up to snuff, you can focus on working with your other options.

If two nurse staffing agencies are offering the same position, even better! Conduct a comparison between the two and determine who has a better track record with the unit and hospital in question. Give yourself options so that you can push for the travel nurse arrangement that’s best for you.

If travel nursing is truly something you want to try, don’t give up! Your initial job search may not land you the assignment of your dreams, but you’ll get there. And when you’re finally on that assignment, you’ll have the experience, the confidence, and the appreciation to make the most of it!

Ready to Find Your First Travel Nursing Job?

If you'd like help finding your first assignment, you can create a free Trusted profile, and we'll send you Matches based on your job preferences!

Thank you for subscribing!
Oops! Something went wrong. Please try again.