As an entry level physical therapist nearing the end of your academic career, one of the most overwhelming thoughts can be “What do I put on my resume?” Emotion and flashbacks race through your mind about the past three years and what you actually did.
What is relevant? How do I stand out more than just using a fancy, expensive piece of paper?
The good news is, you did a lot!
Here are some tips and tricks for resume writing to help individualize your application to score that dream position in the physical therapy setting of your dreams and impress your future employer. These have been developed over the course of my 12 years of resume writing and all its edits and agony.
You want to always make sure you have an easily readable resume.
Remember: readability is key. You're not going for a design job. You're an entry level physical therapist looking to get your feet wet and do a good job treating patients.
For this reason, you want your resume to read like a newspaper headline. You want an employer to be able to pick it up and quickly scan to the biggest points of emphasis and importance.
Lastly, structure the layout using clean columns, while trying to limit to no more than three: headline, content, dates.
Here’s where it can get a little crazy.
You want to make sure your potential employer is aware of all the amazing things you experienced in your time as a student. How can you possibly limit that to a few lines?
Try to hone in on the most unique aspect to include in your bullet and make it as concise as possible. Limit each bullet to 2 lines, MAX. You are looking to prompt someone to ask more questions about the bullet point, rather than write a novel explaining step by step your technique for how you made a clinic more efficient.
Try to keep within a range of 3-5 bullet points per experience, where the shorter experiences on the lower end and more in-depth experiences closer to that 5-point range.
Conversation and highlights
That brings me to my next tip to truly create a memorable entry level physical therapist resume: use that resume to create a need for conversation.
You want to give away intriguing bits of information in your bullet points to spark an increased desire for questioning. This makes you memorable! Your goal is to want your future employer to remember what you are saying and show them why its relevant.
The worst part about entry level physical therapist resumes is that we all have clinical experiences and academic work. Include what you feel to be the most impactful things about your clinical and work experience that shaped you to becoming the PT you are as your bullet points.
They are effectively saying the same thing, but one encourages the potential for more questions about how you were effective, who was on the interdisciplinary team, and what kind of patients were you seeing to need this type of communication.
Reverse chronological order
After all that work highlighting your experiences, the next tip is to make sure that they are in reverse chronological order.
This means organize your resume so your most recent experiences are in the spotlight for every section. Set your resume up to show the progression of your career thus far. This opens up the opportunity to elaborate in conversation, which if you followed the tips above should be no problem, go you!
Now, not only should the contents of each section be in order, but the entire resume should follow a set order, as well.
That brings me to my next tip – titles.
Group your experiences together for what suits your needs. The above list is NOT a one-size-fits-all approach. If you don’t have relevant leadership experience, do not include a leadership section.
Again, you're highlighting what makes you an individual, and we all have unique experiences that have shaped our PT careers. Yes, even when we're still very much entry level physical therapists.
One common characteristic we all have that makes us stand out it what we did for in-service projects while on rotation or presentations we completed in school. Definitely include the topics of these works. These are part of your individual accomplishments and are great conversation starters for your personal interests. You can opt to put them in their own section (as seen in the example above), or you can include them as individual bullet points within your clinical experience sections.
Many people overreach when composing their resume, trying to shake it up using superfluous speech sounding inherently ingenuous just to justify utilizing unique text.
Phew! See how wordy it can become?
You should use words that emphasize and focus on your individualization, without overreaching your own vocabulary.
Your resume is what you have completed and should be written as so. Use strong action words as appropriate.
- “Implemented strategies”
- “Assisted with”
- “Demonstrated initiative to/by”
The last thing I want to mention is the purpose/summary statement. It used to be called the "objective section" of a resume, but that's become a bit outdated. The sheer nature of the purpose or summary statement is to state that you are looking for a job.
Boring. So is everyone else!
You want to include briefly what you are looking to gain out of this job and hint at what you can bring to the table. Show that you did more than just Google search “PT Jobs” and then mass applied.
In order to write a compelling statement, you'll have to truly understand what your potential employer values, and is looking for in a new hire. Chances are, somewhere in that job description, you read a bit about the company. If you didn't, do some internet sleuthing.
If you see learn that the company is a "Busy outpatient orthopedic clinic seeking energetic physical therapist with experience working with an active geriatric population," that gives you something to work with. If they say, "new grads welcome to apply," even better!
Do they value community service? Is their marketing game strong? Weak? Use what you learn to your advantage!
It’s never too soon to start composing your resume. Start when you're still a physical therapy student. It should always be a work in progress, remember that.
These tips should help get you started on creating that stellar resume to set you down the path to apply for your first physical therapy job!