Whether you’re a new grad or a seasoned physical therapist, job searching can be downright stressful. There’s a ton of pressure to find the perfect role—one where you’ll enjoy that elusive combination of fulfilling work, a healthy work-life balance, and fair pay coupled with growth potential.
But, there are ways to strategically navigate your way through the thousands of available jobs in physical therapy—and increase your chances of successfully landing your dream PT job. Here are some tips to help ensure you end up in the role that’s perfect you!
1) Know what you want.
This sounds simple, right? Of course you’ll apply for a job that sounds great! But many of us pursue jobs based on what we think we want, not what we really want. Whether you’re attracted to a certain patient population, location, setting, or pay rate, it’s important to know what you really want—not what you think you should want.
For example, if you’re an achievement-driven type who values growth and recognition, don’t pursue a role where raises are rare, bonuses are unheard of, and nobody thinks to celebrate Physical Therapy Month.
If you’re driven to innovate, and perhaps hoping to dabble in telehealth physical therapy, don’t be tempted to accept an offer from a clinic that seems like perfect fit—yet is full of computers that look like they’re from 2005.
Pro tip: Be sure to note your absolute deal-breakers before you start the job-search process. A great example is commute time. You might find what seems to be your dream job—with great pay, room for advancement, and a reasonable schedule—but it’s located 45 miles away. Unless you can find a way to take a train or bus to work, you might find that sitting in traffic for two-plus hours each day turns that dream job into more of a nightmare. So, think carefully about what you’re willing to take on in terms of commute, patient volume, pay, and other factors that will impact your happiness and well-being.
Once you’ve identified what, exactly, defines your dream job, be sure to network: it’s your best bet at landing that job you want so badly.
Think about it: if you owned a business, would you rather hire candidate A based on her resume, or would you prefer to hire candidate B because a trusted colleague or friend vouched for her? You’d likely pick candidate B. That’s a simple example of the power of networking, but keep in mind that the more attractive the job overall, the more likely the hiring manager is to rely on word-of-mouth recommendations to fill the role. (Why spend the money to advertise a job or use a recruiter if you know there are qualified candidates waiting in the wings?)
Networking is especially important when you are pursuing non-traditional physical therapy jobs—such as clinical liaison, healthcare recruiter, or content writer roles—so don’t be shy about lining up informational interviews with people whose careers intrigue you. Every person you interview becomes a connection who might think of you in the future when an interesting role opens.
Here are just a few ways to network your way into your dream PT job:
- Join job-seekers’ groups on Facebook and LinkedIn;
- Reach out to former classmates and coworkers;
- Get in touch with former clinical instructors and professors; and
- Attend company-specific hiring events with your resume in hand.
3) Look in the right places.
While networking is always the best way to land your dream PT job, there are plenty of other places you can look. Here are some of my favorites:
LinkedIn is a professional networking platform (sort of like Facebook for the professional world), but it also has a very robust job-searching platform. LinkedIn also has an app you can download specifically to search jobs, and you can use the main LinkedIn platform to:
- follow companies so you can learn more about them, and
- connect with hiring managers and employees from those companies.
When you do see a job that appeals to you, LinkedIn also tells you if you have any mutual connections, which can be helpful when it comes to learning more about the role itself—and possibly even landing the job!
Glassdoor is a job search engine with tons of extra features, such as the ability to delve deep into the details about the many companies that are listed on the platform. You can read about their culture, benefits, interview practices, and even salaries and wages before you decide to invest time in applying for a role. Employees can also anonymously review employers, and those reviews can help you learn more about whether you’re walking into a patient mill.
Indeed is one of the largest job search engines out there. It has a really robust sorting feature that allows you to sort job results by date or relevance, as well as by distance from where you’re located and estimated pay. If you live in a rural area, Indeed will likely be your best source to identify a high volume of jobs to pick from. The drawback is that because so many people use Indeed, your resume is more likely to get lost in the shuffle here than it is on other sites.
4) Create a great resume and cover letter.
Regardless of whether you have a connection you can leverage, you’ll want a great resume and cover letter that work together to showcase your skills.
Most companies use an applicant tracking system (ATS) to screen resumes before they ever reach a hiring manager’s eyes, so be sure to:
- use keywords from the job listing throughout your resume, and
- mention the job title and name of the company in your summary section, if possible.
While private practice clinics often skip the ATS step, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. So, be sure to save your resume in a .doc or non-image .PDF format to ensure the ATS can read it. Also, avoid fancy charts, tables, or wingdings and webdings, because those can trip up an ATS.
Also, I know you’ll want to throw tomatoes at me for saying this, but it’s always wise to tailor your resume to a specific job. If the job requires certain skills, certifications, or accomplishments, take the time to make a version of your resume that highlights the areas where you fit the bill.
If the idea of making a new resume for every job gives you the chills, there are plenty of online resources that can help you build your application materials without losing your mind in the process.
When it comes to your cover letter, keep it short and sweet—no longer than three paragraphs. Be sure to explain why you’re applying for the job, what attracts you to that specific organization, and how your unique background will make you a great fit for the role. And don’t fall prey to the temptation to apply for a job without a cover letter. If you do, I can pretty much guarantee that you won’t get a call!
5) Nail the interview.
Interviews can be oh-so-stressful, but if you’ve adequately prepared, they can also be—dare I say it?—fun! A good rule of thumb is to dress professionally, even if you know for a fact that the company is casual. If staff members usually wear scrubs, business casual should be fine, but if they typically wear slacks and polos, you will want to step it up a bit more and wear a suit. Just make sure the suit allows you to move around and express yourself, and that it’s not too stuffy-looking (no need to waltz in looking like Pee Wee Herman if everyone else is in khakis and t-shirts). If you’re not digging the formal three-piece suit look, a blazer or sport coat with slacks or a skirt is a great compromise.
Research the company beforehand.
If you research the company in advance, you’ll be able to field the vast majority of the screening questions they throw at you, as well as express genuine excitement about this role, specifically. Remember, you want to convey that you want this job at this company, not just any old PT job.
Be prepared to answer big questions.
Obviously, you won’t know every question in advance, but you can definitely prepare yourself to deliver polished answers to some of the most common interview questions, such as:
- What are your biggest strength and weakness?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- Why do you want this job?
- What do you know about our organization?
- What is your treatment style?
- How do you stay on top of the most current evidence?
For clinical roles, you might also face clinically specific questions about treatment modalities.
Ask the right questions.
Interviewers expect you to ask questions, and they’ll be unnerved if you fail to do so. Asking questions shows that you understand the nature of the role—or at least want to learn more about it—and that you are truly trying to find the right fit, not just take the first offer that comes your way.
Here are some great questions to ask:
- What are some of the ways you build a culture of camaraderie?
- To whom will I report directly, and what is his or her management style?
- What are some of the ways you measure success here?
- What is your idea of a dream candidate?
- What is the management style in this department?
- How much does the team collaborate with other departments?
- What are some of the ways staff members engage in professional development?
Follow up professionally.
If you really want to make a good impression, take business cards from everyone you meet; then, follow up with individual thank-you notes for each person after the interview.
These are just a few of our tips for landing your dream PT job. Surely some of you have your own words of wisdom! Please feel free to share them in the comment section below.
Meredith Castin, PT, DPT, is the founder of The Non-Clinical PT, a career development resource designed to help physical, occupational, and speech therapy professionals leverage their degrees in non-clinical ways.