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Making the Most of Your Physical Therapy Residency Interview - Part 1

by Shanon Fronek

So after reading my last post and submitting the perfect physical therapy residency application, you get the 2nd best call of your life – You’re invited to interview at your top choice physical therapy residency program. Congratulations! You’re one step closer to making the next big step forward in your career.

You’ve already beat out over 50 applicants. But now you’re up against the toughest competition for that -1- residency spot! Not too long ago when I was prepping for my physical therapy residency interviews I found several interview resources for med school, but ZERO physical therapy specific interview guides.

Luckily for you readers, my residency interview series will cover everything you need to know to make the most of your PHYSICAL THERAPY RESIDENCY INTERVIEW.

Continue to Part 2 of the interview series to find out how you can distinguish yourself against your toughest competition.

Interviewing Facts

  • People will not remember everything you say, but they will remember how they felt when you spoke!
  • Hiring decisions are made in the first 30 seconds of the interview – the balance of the time is used to justify the decision.
  • Finally, the most qualified person probably won’t get the offer if s/he interviews poorly.

General Tips


  1. Have a clear idea of who you are and what you want. You want them to write “focused, mature, energetic, enthusiastic.”
  2. Listen to questions asked and answer what is being asked. Articulate without adding too much loosely-related information.
  3. Smile!!! =)
  4. Always speak positively about your past experiences and interactions with others. Find a way to turn negative experiences into positive learning opportunities.
  5. Dress professionally. This is not the time to make a fashion statement.
  6. Take note of the impressions you make of the program and the people. Keep track of those feelings to assess how suitable the fit is between you and the program. You are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you.
  7. Google yourself and see what comes up.
  8. Watch your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, all SoMe pages. Take them down if necessary.


  1. Talk badly about other programs, companies, colleagues, faculty, or applicants.
  2. Spend money to go interview with a program if you are not going to do your best to make a good impression.
  3. Try to hide something that is in your record.
  4. Lie or overstate.
  5. Be rude to support staff, residents, or anyone you meet.
  6. Make excuses.
  7. Ask a faculty member too much information about another program they trained at because you really like that program.


1. Know yourself

TOP 5 PLAN – Go into each interview with 5 key things you want a program to know about you. These 5 things should answer the questions:

2. Research the program

  • Research the program as much as possible before your interview so that you will be able to target your questions for that program.
    • What qualities is that program looking for in a candidate? Programs have different priorities – sports experience, research, leadership, community involvement – know what that program values.
    • **Know what is unique about the program**
      • Review the Program Profile under the Directory of Residency Programs on the ABPTRFE website.
      • Review the Residency Program’s website and related content. For example, if a program is a part of a university setting, it would be wise to know basic information about the university.
    • Once you are informed of whom you will be interviewing with, write down their names with a brief line about their interests and research. Use the program’s website, Google, LinkedIn, etc. to find common ground to develop dialogue; key in on similar research interests.

3. Practice Interviewing

  • Practice will make you calmer, more organized and help you sound better during the real thing.
  • MOCK INTERVIEW – Ask an advisor, faculty member, and/or colleagues to conduct it.
    • Consider putting together a panel consisting of staff and department supervisors. Everyone has their own opinions, so bringing together a group of individuals with various roles and backgrounds will bring diverse perspective when they are giving you feedback.
    • Not everyone is going to be familiar with or needs to be familiar with physical therapy residency programs to be included on the panel. The panel should consist of a group of individuals that are open-minded and comfortable with providing you constructive criticism.
    • If you are putting together a panel for a mock interview, please take the time to provide them with the proper tools to help in your interview process. They are taking the time to help you, so the least you can do is be prepared and assist them in the preparation. A few days before the interview send out your resume as well as a list of sample questions.
  • Prepare as if it were a real interview – review your answers to specific questions.
  • Conduct the mock interview, but don’t forget to save time for feedback! Assess nervous habits, quality of answers, and the impression you left on the interviewers.

4. Prepare a list of questions

  • Everyone who applies for a physical therapy residency is seeking something different in a program and has their own list of priorities. Although there is no one list that will cover everything you need to know for your interview, it is imperative you develop a set of questions that will extract the information you need to assess the program. Remember, you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you.
  • Use the wants/needs list you outlined earlier to generate questions that must be answered during your visit.
  • A typical list of questions should be general and specific. General questions would be those questions you would ask at every interview. Specific questions would be those that are program specific.
  • Divide questions into those for appropriate personnel: Residency director, Clinic director, Current residents, Faculty, etc.
  • Demonstrate your knowledge of the specialty by formulating questions based on latest issues within the specialty, as well as advances in research.
  • Although it should not be the main focus of your interview, lifestyle is also important to inquire about. Ask questions that give you a sense of the work environment, community, and culture. Are you going to be in an environment where you are able to succeed? Can you afford to live in that area?
  • Don’t ask questions about information already on the residency program’s website. Instead start by talking about the website and ask a related question.

Planning your trip

1. Scheduling

  • Your physical therapy residency interview starts with your first phone call.
  • Respond to programs ASAP.

2. Canceling

  • Absolutely DO NOT no show or cancel the night before. Canceling should not be done less than a week away from interview date unless it is truly an emergency or you have accepted an offer from another program. This is a very small world and it will likely come back to haunt you at some point in the future.

3. Travel and Transportation

  • Prepare for travel delays and complications. Early morning flights are the most likely to be on time and leave you alternatives if problems arise.
  • Consider taking a carry-on only (or at least for your interview attire). No one likes to show up to interview day in casual clothes due to lost baggage.
  • If you have the time, plan to stay an extra day to get a feel for the community and potential areas of residence. Could you see yourself being able to live here?

4. What to Wear

  • A physical therapy residency interview is a JOB INTERVIEW. Failure to wear professional clothing might not cost you a placement, but it can distract the interviewer.
  • Look the part. Have the appearance of a successful, mature clinician, not a physical therapy student.
  • Men should wear – a suit.
  • Women should wear – a suit.

5. What to Pack

  • A suit.
  • Bring casual, but nice clothing for any other events. Although these events may not be a part of the formal interview process, your appearance, mannerisms, communication, and interactions are still being assessed.
  • Prepare for the unexpected. Bring an umbrella in case it rains; spot cleaner or an extra shirt in case you dirty your interview attire; mini sewing kit in case a seam rips.
  • If not already provided to you within a couple days from the interview, ask for a schedule, what the day will be like, and who you will meet.
  • A nice leather portfolio with the following contents:
    • Copies of resume/CV
    • List of questions
    • Business cards
    • Notepad and pen
    • Any other items or visual media that you may wish to elaborate on (ie. transcripts, research, presentations).
  • Interview Prep materials to review the night before or morning of such as, resume/CV, program information, research, presentations, information about admissions committee members, etc.
  • Directions and contact information. Believe it or not, not all areas have cell service, and not all cars have chargers. If you plan on renting a car, it couldn’t hurt to pack a GPS, paper map, and/or car charger.

Interview Day!!!

  1. Make sure you have good directions and know how long it will take to get there. If possible check it out the night before.
  2. Arrive at least 15 minutes early. Call if you’re going to be late. Your arrival to the area starts the interview. Be aware that you may encounter someone affiliated with the program anywhere within a couple of blocks.
  3. You are interviewing with EVERYONE whom you come in contact with.
  4. The First Impression
    1. Starts with a good handshake and eye contact, which demonstrates confidence. Look the interviewer in the eye, greet them by name, and offer your hand for a firm handshake.
    2. Smile =)
  5. During the Interview
    1. Remember the Four A’s while waiting to interview: Attention, Attitude, Action, Affect. If you spend all your free time talking to another applicant about a different program it will be noticed.
    2. Value the impressions you make of the program and the people. Keep track of those feelings to assess how suitable the fit is between you and the program.
    3. You are being assessed on three main areas – personality, communication skills and if you will fit in the residency program and be a good team player.
    4. Your body language and actions give away your personality. Your demeanor and facial expressions will influence their perception of you. Act professionally and exude maturity. Sit with confidence; back straight, no slouching. Make eye contact, keep smiling, and crack some jokes.
    5. Small Talk – This isn’t the time to just smile and nod. Whether the topic is weather, current events, or sports, you are expected to participate in the conversation.
      1. Spend the next couple of months getting up to date on current events (ie. watch the news, read the paper, watch ESPN). Have something to contribute during small talk.
  6. Conclusion
    1. This is the opportunity to make closing remarks. Touch on qualifications you did not get a chance to discuss. Express your excitement for the residency position.
    2. Tell them something interesting about why you want them or why they should want you.
    3. “My interests/qualities seem to match with this program.”
    4. Don’t forget to say thanks!

After The Interview

  1. If interviewing at several programs, you will eventually start forgetting what happened where. Immediately following each interview:
    1. Write down your impressions of the interview.
    2. Make a list of what you liked and didn’t like.
  2. Finally, follow up with a note of thanks.
    1. Send to everyone you interviewed with.
    2. Make notes personal and use key points to remind the interviewer of your time with him/her. While you still remember the conversation, types up emails when waiting at the airport after the interview.
    3. Make sure you sound genuinely interested.
    4. Check and recheck for errors before you send.

Continue reading to find out how to distinguish yourself against your toughest competition in Part 2 of the interview series – Making the Most of Your Physical Therapy Residency Interview.


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