Learning how to interview for a physical therapy job will not only help you land the job you desire, but will also provide you benefits when it comes to communicating in general. For those of you looking for your first job as a new grad, I hope you will find this encouraging and helpful.
My experience interviewing for jobs after physical therapy school.
Before going into all the tips and tricks for job interviews, I'd like to relate my experience to you. I believe that understanding what I experienced will help add context to the tips at the end. I began looking for a job a few weeks before I graduated. The process had to be but on pause, however, for graduation and a celebratory trip to Thailand. When I came home, I was suffering from travelers’ diarrhea, withdrawals, and pressure from myself to find a job, and fast.
As most people know, an interview is not hard to come by in the physical therapy world. If you are like me, however; particular, ambitious, and unsure of where you want to devote your skills, it can be quite difficult to figure out where and in what setting you'd like to begin your career.
Deciding where to interview for jobs.
Throughout my school years, and after talks with many of my friends and colleagues, I found myself not fitting the mold of a "typical therapist". During my rotations, I discovered the things I am passionate about. I learned that I loved cardiac acute care, movement science, and working with Parkinsons patients. Although I knew what I was passionate about, I still did not have clarity as to where I wanted to work, and if I needed to start in a setting where I could pursue my passion for cardiac acute care, movement science, and working with Parkinsons patients. I figured that my clinical experience was just the tip of the iceberg and if I remained open, I may discover something new that I enjoyed.
Thus, I applied to any setting who would take a PTLA because that’s how open I was. With all my applications I also received dozens of interviews. Interview after interview I was reminded what my strengths and passions are and provided steps towards discovering which direction I want to go.
What I learned from all my interviews was that you don’t need to know exactly what you want to do today. There are endless opportunities for physical therapists. You can always choose a setting today and then make a change if you burn out or want to try something know, so don’t be afraid to make a decision.
Now, let's get to the part that you're reading this article for:
How to interview for a physical therapy job.
Look up the hospital/ clinic you are interviewing for!
Doing the research before my first few interviews was something I over looked - a definite rookie mistake! Coming prepared with information about the specific setting will help you have a sophisticated dialog with the interviewer and arm you with answers to tough questions that may come your way. If you find yourself in a situation where you don't know the answer to a question, don't be alarmed. Try to re-frame their question into a question of your own. Here's an example
Your response: That's an excellent question ( use this phrase to "stroke the ego" of the interviewer and also to buy yourself time to think for a second). I noticed that your practice was one that I resonated with. What do you believe makes your practice stand out from all the other, similar practices in the area?
Notice how you briefly address the interviewer's question with a generalized answer and then immediately change the frame into one where they will be answering a "power question" from you.
Be true to yourself.
PTs are extremely relatable people and empathetic which is why most of us went into the profession in the first place. When asked: “What was the worst part of your rotation experience?” I brought up a time when I had difficult CI. My interviewer, to my surprise, was very understanding and said he experienced the same thing. It made me more relatable. Many of my friends told me to answer in a different way that was not genuine, but I went with my gut which always tells me to answer honestly.
Don’t be afraid to be different.
Was asked if there was anything I wanted to specialize in during an outpatient orthopedic interview, I began stumbling on my answer and suggested a running program. Right after I blurted this reply out, I realized how I loved Parkinsons patients and started sharing my passion for it. The interviewer could see my genuine enthusiasm for the subject and was impressed with my answer. There are some questions that you will not be able to prepare for, and you will have to come quickly to an answer. Don't rush it. Take your time.
Practice makes confidence.
Learning how to interview for a physical therapy job is as much about practice and confidence as it is about preparation and specific skills. I’m not naturally a confident person. It takes me a while to become comfortable with a skill, especially in a public setting or in front of others. What I learned through my interviews was that practice makes confidence. Your first few interviews may not feel so great. You may walk out and think that you didn't do so well. Don't get discouraged. Every time you show up to an interview, it is a success because you are now that much more prepared for the next one. No one is perfect. The employer isn’t looking for someone perfect; they are looking for someone they can work with and is open to feedback.
Key lesson: Start interviewing for jobs you DONT WANT. Interviewing for physical therapy jobs you don't want will allow you to go in with no pressure related to an outcome. Get a few of these under your belt so that when you arrive at the interview for the job you really want, you will nail it!
Accept the surprises and go with the flow.
In one of my interviews, there were 6 or 7 people from the rehab department, in the room. It ended up being one of the most fun interviews I had. In interviews, as in patient care, there will be surprises. With a strong foundation and a confident presence, you will learn to manage any situation that comes your way. My final piece of advice is to practice - a lot... like all the time. One of the best things to do is practice in front of a camera, with a friend, and critique yourself. Take note of your posture, the tone, and inflection of your voice, and any other subtleties you can notice. Self-reflection and study are the fastest ways to getting better at interviews. If you can become a master interviewer, you can land ANY job you want.
It took me 1 month without any interruptions to find a job, so if it takes you a while, it’s fine. Good things come to those who wait.
If you really want to be a pro start early with informational interviews. Learning about informational interviews will get you way ahead of the competition!
Other great resources for starting your career
The ultimate guide to writing a physical therapy cover letter (comes with a free downloadable template!!)