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5 Simple Tips to Land Your First Physical Therapy Job

by Steve Thompson, MPT

The first impression is the most important step in forming a relationship.  Whether that is the first impression an employer gets of a new candidate, the first impression you make when you meet a doctor for the first time, or when you are trying to network yourself in a new area.  This also goes for when you start dating or any relationship.  What makes a good first impression?

Most people think the first impression is when you make eye contact for the first time.  Rarely is that the case.  When you are a new graduate starting the job search and sending out resumes, you might be surprised that the first impression you make could be one of five things.

1.  Your initial email

Many new grads start by scouring the job sites like Indeed, Covalent Careers, Monster, Glass Door, and many others.  When an ad catches your eye and you decide to respond to the ad, that initial email is the first point of contact with that employer.  Do not take this for granted.  Being an owner who has reviewed several thousands of emails and resumes, I will tell you that I can tell who is a good candidate by the initial email and the cover letter, not the resume.

When you send that initial email signaling your interest in the position, make sure you have researched the clinic that you are contacting.  An employer will be able to tell if you are just sending out a blanket email or not by the content of your email.  Here are some suggestions:

  • Cite specifics about the job ad that caught your eye.
  • Mention how your values relate to the what it appears the clinic values are
  • Talk about specific aspects of the clinic that match your passions
  • Don’t over-emphasize your accomplishments right away.  Invite the owner to discuss how you feel you would be a great team member and how you can help to build their business.
  • After writing your initial email, re-read it and ask yourself this – does my email sound like I am interested and excited about this position, or does it sounds blah, boring, and academic.

2.  Watch your social media

Believe it or not, owners do their own research on every candidate.  What does your Facebook page look like?  Does it have a lot of pictures of you and your college buddies with drinks in your hands and always oriented around parties?  Or, does it show a variety of pictures of you doing things you love to do?

One giant turn-off for an employer is to look up a Facebook page and see that every picture is of a party.  The first impression is that this candidate is not serious and committed.

Do you have a LinkedIn page and who are you connected to?  Do you post articles that relate to your profession or your passions?  I know that many new grads are just starting out and don’t really have a professional background, but create a profile and associate yourself with like-minded professionals and professional groups.

3.  Communicate!!

This one seems obvious, but I am constantly surprised at how poorly written some emails are and how slow some candidates are to respond to emails.  Quick responses indicate a high level of interest and willingness to engage.  It also gives the employer a preview of how well you may interact with other team members.  When you write an email, have someone else review it for you for grammar and misspelled words.  Also, ask your reviewer if it comes across as if you are interested.

Quick response is so critical in today’s employment market.  Jobs and candidates are being hired at an incredible speed that the timeliness of your responses can make or break whether you get the job.  Here are two examples – one good and one not so good.  First, I recently hired a young new grad who was proactive enough to look on our website, send me an unsolicited email about the job, and open the engagement with me first.  Great first impression!  From his first point of contact to the date of hire was less than a week.  Every response to my emails was almost instantaneous which indicates a motivated, caring, and responsive candidate and the end story – a phenomenal employee!

Now the not-so-good response.  In a conversation with a young college senior was bemoaning the future of having to find a job in her area of specialty (not PT).  I offered to introduce her via email to someone I knew in her area of study and she was appreciative of my action.  I did an email introduction that night and my colleague responded the next day with a communication of introduction and indication that there would be more emails to come shortly.  I did not hear anything about this process for a few days, so I decided to check in.  I asked my colleague if he had made contact and he had said he sent an email but no response.  I asked the college senior (via text) if she had responded to any emails from my colleague.  Her response (via text) was that she was away on family vacation and would do so when she got back.  To me, this indicates that she is not really motivated and not engaged and most likely, it will not go anywhere.  Morale of the story, if someone engages you, respond as quickly as possible.

4.  The cover letter

I am surprised at how often when we receive resumes, how few have cover letters and a very brief resume, or if there is a cover letter, how generic it is.  To me, that resume goes in the garbage!  Much like the initial email discussed above, you should take time and script an original cover letter that goes deeper into what you are looking for in your first job, how that specific clinic would be a good match for your goals and passions, and avoid spewing out the “I did this, and I did that” report of what you have done.  To an employer, the “I” wording indicates the candidate is all about them and really doesn’t care much about anything else.  Use the cover letter as a way to propel yourself to the top of the list by using action and emotion-based words, such as “excited” and “passionate” and “engaged”.

5.  Body language

Ok, so let’s say you make a good first impression and are able to set up an interview.  In today’s technologically advanced world, some interviews are conducted via Skype or Google Hangouts, others are actually in-person.  Either way, how you posture yourself during that interview, and basically, your body language can give the interviewer a less-than-favorable first impression.  I always tend to look at the candidates from a distance prior to introducing myself to see how their body language is.  Do they have their heads buried in their phones and social media or are they engaging with the front desk?  Are they slouched in the chair and looking bored, or are they sitting up straight and living the words we tell all of our patients – sit up straight!

Non-verbal communication is one of the more under-appreciated aspects of communication and conversations.  How you look at someone during the interview can give signals of boredom, disinterest or enthusiasm.  Many of my staff who also do interviews comment after an interview such things as “they never looked me in the eye when answering question” or “they just slouched back in the chair and didn’t seem to be interested in being here.”  Those are definite “NO’s” in my book.

Be aware of your posture, your eye contact, and be prepared to ask questions about the practice.  If you consider all of these, you will launch yourself up the list of top choices for an employer.  Good Luck!!


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