Staffing agencies vs. internal staff recruiters — how do they compare?

Nurse recruiters work in a variety of roles and a wide range of environments. Some work for hospitals and skilled nursing facilities as internal staff recruiters, while others work for placement staffing agencies that partner with various healthcare facilities.

At the end of the day, both types of recruiters have a similar goal — filling nursing job requisitions.

Whether you work as an internal or external recruiter, both roles require similar tasks. Those include understanding key components of the job responsibilities, writing accurate job descriptions and upholding compliance regulations, according to the Society of Human Resource Management.

Internal recruiter perspective

Kurt Wenger is part of the nurse and advanced practice recruitment team for KidsPeace, a 180-bed child behavioral health facility in Orefield, Penn. Wenger said all nurse recruiting is done in-house and they no longer rely on agencies to find nursing candidates.

When asked to describe some differences between staffing agencies and internal staff recruiters, he said internal recruiters are bound by stricter rules around salary offerings with new hires. Credentials such as RN, BSN or MSN influence whether he can move nurses into more attractive salaries when he extends the job offer.

“The hospital pays by years of experience and nurse education, that’s the only way to be fair,” he said. “But an agency does not bill by experience, they bill by need.”

But do these pay differences create an unfair advantage?

Equity issues such as this are often debated, yet the answer is not cut and dry. It depends on other factors. Ultimately, a benefits package with health insurance can level the playing field and close pay gaps.

“If we compare apples to apples, what falls on side of hospitals is our PTO, vacation time and benefits, which is something that the agency cannot always provide,” Wenger said.

Granted, in some hot spots in the U.S. where nurses are in highest demand, the hourly rate for agency nurses has nearly doubled since the onset of COVID-19, according to Wenger.

Challenges of finding skilled workers

In a 2019 report from the Society of Human Resource Management, a lack of employee skills has had a notable impact the job market. The report indicates 83% of recruiters have expressed difficulty in finding good job candidates. Leading job sectors that feel the pinch over lackluster employee skills include jobs in data analysis, science and healthcare.

There is also a belief that educational institutions and employers can do more to fix this problem and close the skills gap, according to the SHRM report.

  • Did you know?
    Staffing agencies help place more than 16 million contract employees in jobs each year, according to the American Staffing Association. Job flexibility is one reason employees opt for contract placements, which equate to 20% of contract staff.

The average salary for a contract RN in the United States, according to the jobs platform Glassdoor, is $65,870. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the annual average salary of an RN at $73,300.

External staff recruiter perspective

Isaac Schild is the CEO of Scion Staffing, a medium-sized national staffing company based in Portland, Ore.

  • Size matters when it comes to staffing agencies and how they operate.

“The size of a staffing agency can dictate their approach,” he said. “Larger agencies are more about making money and they are more metric driven.”

In comparison, Schild said mid-size staffing agencies tend to be more focused on building a relationship with clients.

Building relationships with nursing candidates helps agencies such as Schild’s match a candidate based on their career goals and desired job.

“The win-win scenario is to give the hospital the type of nurse they need, while also placing a nurse in a position they really want to be in,” he said.

The advantage staffing agencies have over internal recruiters is they are willing to give more time to job applicants as they are building that relationship, according to Schild.

“Time is the biggest difference between working with a recruitment house compared to an internal HR department. (Internal recruiters) only spend 30 minutes on a call with a nurse candidate,” he said.

When internal recruiters are strapped for time, external staff recruiters can step in and provide services that free up some of their time, Schild added.

External recruiters can help with the onboarding process, such as helping new hires obtain ID cards, figure out parking arrangements or give them the rundown on best times to take lunch breaks.

“We also tell (new hires) about the management style for who they will be working with, their pet peeves and what things to watch out for, or pitfalls,” Schild said.

As the nursing shortage continues, both internal and external recruiters will both play a vital role in finding and placing nurses in hard-to-fill positions.