Spring is here, which means hundreds of #FreshPTs are descending on the job market in pursuit of the perfect job. It’s an exciting time for employers looking to expand their teams—but when you’re a new grad vying for that perfect job, especially without much experience, the competition can feel intimidating. Even if you’ve been out of school for years, certain jobs simply attract scores of applicants, which can shake the confidence of even the most experienced and qualified PTs.
The good news is that there are plenty of ways to market yourself as the top candidate for your dream job. Whether your “special sauce” is credentials, experience, eagerness to learn, or a stellar personality, every therapist has qualities that can be marketed. Here’s how to stand out as a top PT job candidate when you know others are gunning for the same role!
1. Understand—and want—the job.
This might seem like a bizarre piece of advice, but hear me out. One PT’s dream job is another’s nightmare. The stability of a full-time role might feel stifling to someone who loves variety. There are tons of different settings and patient populations to explore—not to mention employment types, including PRN, full-time, permanent, and travel—so be true to yourself and pursue a job that will make you happy. In other words, know what you want—whether that’s high pay, flexibility, the opportunity to treat an underserved population, or a cutting-edge facility. If you truly understand what your specific dream job entails, your knowledge of (and enthusiasm for) the role will take you far.
Show genuine interest.
There is no substitute for raw enthusiasm when you’re applying for jobs. Many of us have been forced out of necessity to pursue jobs that don’t excite us, and our ambivalence toward these roles usually shows throughout the hiring process. Our résumés and cover letters are lackluster, and we fall flat in interviews. On the flipside, if you truly want a job, your excitement will shine through—and that makes you a more attractive hire.
Here are a few ways to learn more about a role than what’s posted in the job listing:
- Know about the company’s history: You can usually find this information on the company’s website.
- Understand the clinic’s culture: This might take a little asking around, but you can often find clues on the website, as well as from Glassdoor reviews.
- Learn about the facility’s clientele: It’s easier to be passionate about who you’ll be treating when you know who those patients are. New moms? Autistic children? If you know in advance who will fill your caseload, you can weave your enthusiasm for those patients into your interview responses.
Know your value.
If you know what you bring to the table, you’ll do a much better job of selling yourself during the application process. For example, if the job involves marketing to physicians and you worked in promotions before PT school, that adds to your value. Sarah Lyon, OTR/L, of OT Potential, recommends that you do plenty of research when considering that first physical therapy or occupational therapy job: “Not only do you want to know about the company and culture, but you also want to be confident in your own market value,” she explains. “If you think your dream job is outpatient sports, but find that it only pays half of what a home health job pays, you might need to reconsider whether this is your dream job at this particular time in your career.”
Ultimately, she says, “Both parties are looking for a win-win, and research will help you understand not only how the job will benefit you (think holistically here), but also the value you can bring to the company.”
2. Personalize your application materials.
You’d be amazed by how many people blindly blast out applications to every facility out there—and then wonder why nobody is calling them in for interviews. Donna Lampke, PT, DPT, CPRW, ACRW, of DIY Career Docs, recommends taking the time to understand the role and thinking about who the ideal candidate might be. “Ask yourself what makes a candidate ‘the’ person that hiring managers want to hire—then craft your application materials around presenting yourself as that person,” she says.
Tweak your résumé for the role in question.
Everything you need to create the perfect résumé is right there in the job posting. The role description explains who the ideal hire is; it’s your job to customize your résumé to frame yourself as the top candidate.
Here are a few tips for creating a résumé that makes you shine:
- Use a summary section: Don’t use an objective section on your résumé; it’s considered outdated. Instead write one or two sentences about yourself, your experience, and your key skills.
- Use keywords from the job posting in your résumé: Does the job posting refer to patients as clients? If so, be sure to use the word “clients” somewhere in your résumé. If the job requires a specific type of skill (such as manual therapy)—and the description mentions it numerous times—be sure to indicate that you have that skill (provided that you do).
- Mention the job title somewhere in your résumé: Résumé scanning software might be looking specifically for “physical therapist,” so be sure to use that phrase.
Pay attention to details.
While PTs aren’t expected to be master wordsmiths, a basic grasp on the English language is appreciated by most employers. You might be forgiven for mistaking a plural for a possessive in your daily notes, but don’t make that kind of rookie grammar error in your application materials.
Puja Charaipotra, PT, DPT, OCS, CMTPT, was the long-time owner of Pro Motion Physical Therapy, which she recently sold. Charaipotra has hired many therapists over the years and said grammatical errors were an immediate red flag; if someone didn’t take the time to proofread application materials, her team worried that the candidate lacked attention to detail.
Create a compelling cover letter.
Many job candidates send out generic cover letters that sound like they could be used for any company, but doing a poor job on your cover letter—or, worse, skipping it altogether—can put a huge hole in your efforts to land your dream job. Instead, create a cover letter that is tailored to the role as well as the company.
Charaipotra always looked at the initial email cover letter as a big clue on how interested the candidate was in the role. She asked:
- Was it a generic email that could have been sent to anyone?
- Was it personalized to her facility?
“Generally in our job descriptions, we would post that we’d like the applicant to look at our website and specifically mention something that interests them about our clinic,” she says. “This would be a good weeding out process on someone’s attention to detail.”
“Make sure you create a cover letter that succinctly tells the story of why you want to make a change and why you are the person for the job,” Lampke says, adding that you’re better off telling a story in the letter, rather than simply regurgitating information from your résumé.
Go the extra mile.
When you’re in a saturated or highly competitive job market, simply tailoring your résumé and cover letter might not be enough—at least not if you’re fairly green. Emily Kelly, PT, DPT, is an experienced PT at this point, but she still remembers when she was a new grad trying to land her dream job in a brand-new city known for its saturated PT market: Denver. She recalls that she tailored her cover letter in an email to the company, and she also applied very early so she was one of the first applicants.
But Kelly didn’t stop there, revealing, “I emailed the owner after one of the interviews to see if we could get together again so I could get a tour of one of their other locations. I was not sure if they were going to hire me, but I resolved to make it hard for them to forget about me! Finally, they offered me a job and I stayed with them for eight years.”
3. Highlight relevant experience and education.
Lampke also recommends highlighting your relevant experience and education in your résumé. So, if your dream employer is looking for someone with experience working with autistic children, be sure to highlight any experience you might have in pediatrics, working with mentally disabled patients, or treating in a creative or spontaneous setting. While Lampke explains that matching at least 85% of the advertised qualifications is ideal, you might not yet have the experience necessary to do so—or perhaps you’re trying to pivot your career into a new setting. Never fear: there are ways to gain additional experience and education.
Shadow or volunteer.
Lots of clinics allow guest PTs to come onsite and shadow so they can decide whether the setting and patient population are a good fit. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your dream company and inquire about shadowing opportunities. Bonus points if you offer to help tidy up the clinic after each day you’re there!
Take con-ed courses.
With tons of online continuing education sites out there offering low-cost unlimited CEUs, there’s no excuse not to pick up a few courses to add to your résumé before pursuing new roles. If you’re a new grad looking for a pelvic health role, but you weren’t lucky enough to land a clinical in that setting, you can still take some online or in-person continuing education courses to beef up your knowledge.
4. Work your network.
If you stayed in town following PT school, you likely have a built-in network, which can be very helpful when it’s time to land that dream job. But even if you’re relocating to a new city, you can still check out these additional in-person networking opportunities.
Research your networking options.
In-person networking events are a great way to let your personality shine and connect with like-minded therapists who share your values. Here are a few ways you can get involved:
- APTA events: From local chapter meetings to national conferences, APTA events are a great place to connect with the movers and shakers of the industry—including those with a lot of clout in the hiring world.
- PT Pub Night: PT Pub Night occurs every few months in major cities, and it’s a great way to meet local therapists and students in a laid-back (read: beer-fueled) setting.
- PT Day of Service: Each October, ambassadors across the nation put together events so PTs can give back to the community. These events provide a great opportunity to network with therapists in your locale.
Online Networking Groups
There are also plenty of online networking groups where you can connect with other physical therapists. Facebook and LinkedIn both offer tons of clinical and non-clinical networking opportunities. There are too many to list them all, but here are some of the most popular PT groups:
- Physical Therapy Practice Education and Networking
- Non-Clinical Networking for Rehab Professionals
- Physical Therapy Networking Forum
Network with friends and former colleagues.
Emily Kelly, PT, DPT, the former new-grad who went the extra mile to remain memorable to the hiring manager, eventually wound up leaving that clinic for a hospital-based job at Denver Health. When she was first looking for a change, a friend mentioned that there was going to be an opening in the Denver Health outpatient clinic soon and encouraged her to apply. After a few interviews, Kelly landed a new role that she loves. “It turns out that this clinic hires a lot of people based on recommendations from the staff, which is likely why I got an interview and even found out about the job in the first place,” she says.
However, before she made that move, Kelly was in a clinic manager position at her previous company. That clinic often hired PTs after having them as students or receiving recommendations from current staff. She recalled once meeting a PT at a health fair who went right up to her and handed her a business card. Kelly’s clinic hired her a couple months later when it needed another part-time PT.
“What I learned from my experience is that it pays to continue to network, open up to people about what you are looking for, and be patient while looking for jobs,” Kelly explains. “Even if someone is not hiring, they may know somebody hiring, or think of you in the future when they need somebody.”
5. Highlight relevant non-clinical skills and connections.
As with anything else in life, applying for a job is an exercise in knowing your audience. Some clinics are so well-known and established that they need no help attracting patients, while others provide incredible one-on-one care—but struggle to attract patients. Non-clinical skills and community connections can go a long way in marketing yourself as the ideal candidate.
If you’re active in the yoga community or you’re an avid rock climber, you can position yourself as a great source of potential patients for the right clinic. Are you excellent with social media, or do you run a blog as a hobby? These skills are highly valuable for certain facilities. Don’t be afraid to mention them in your cover letter, and be prepared to sell the ways they will benefit employers during the interview process.
6. Interview like a champ.
Some people dazzle in pretty much any interview, and you can be one of those people! Here are a few tips:
As I touched on earlier, enthusiasm goes a long way. Charaipotra agrees, saying,
“We hired several employees who didn’t have the experience on paper but had the right attitude and a desire to learn. Those have been our most successful hires.” As she looks back on the few people who didn’t work out at her clinic, she says they had one thing in common: they came in with complaints about prior work environments. “I’m a firm believer that no matter what the situation, you should never complain about past employers or experiences,” she explains.
Be prepared to field behavioral interview questions.
Behavioral interview questions are designed to evaluate how you think through problems—and how your temperament is affected when you need to think on your feet. These questions typically involve telling a story. For example: “Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your supervisor or professor.” As Charaipotra points out, these questions don’t seek the “perfect answer,” but instead they attempt to shed light on how an individual behaves under pressure. “We’re in the business of caring for people, so a positive attitude was necessary to the success of our business…it wasn’t about their answers. It was how they processed the questions,” she explains.
At the end of the day, everyone’s idea of a dream PT job is a little bit different. One person might love the idea of a fast-paced sports facility, while someone else dreams of a mellow home health role with plenty of solo time in the car. Whatever job you pursue, remember that you have something special to offer—and it’s all about how you market yourself to land that dream job!
What have you done to stand out from the rest of the pack? Let us know 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.