PT Classroom - Graduated? Licensed? HIRED! ׀ by Ben Fung PT, DPT

Dr. Ben Fung, PT, DPT is a licensed Physical Therapist in the state of California who earned his Doctor of Physical Therapy degree with honors. His thesis on kettlebell exercise was presented and published by the American College of Sports Medicine in 2010. In addition to lecturing at national health conferences on the science of kettlebell exercise, Dr. Fung founded “Kettlebell and Physiokinetic Fitness” which went on to become a San Diego 2011 “Best Alternative Exercise Studio” Finalist in its opening year. In addition, he also founded Kettlebell Therapy™ as a gateway to network with clients, patients, and enthusiasts. In becoming a Doctor of Physical Therapy, he received advanced clinical training in the differential diagnosis of multiple systems to prescribe Physical Therapy rehabilitation, prevention, and fitness/health/wellness programs by utilizing skills and education including: physical diagnosis of musculoskeletal, neuromuscular, integumentary, and cardiopulmonary systems, clinical pharmacology, diagnostic imaging, anatomy, cellular histology, neuroscience, kinesiology, physiology, exercise physiology, pathology, psycho-social factors, and evidenced based practice.


Graduated? Licensed? HIRED!

It's that time of year again... the season's eve of graduation. Many physical therapy programs are nearing that point when the are ready to confer professional degrees upon their student and have them take on the challenge of attaining licensure. And, after? The job market. Hopefully, opportunities will present themselves; offering professional development, clinical challenges, earning power to pay off those loans, and enough financial momentum to support a healthy lifestyle. So what gets a student from graduated to licensed, and finally hired? This article aims to answer these concerns.

Patterns Of Hiring:
First, let's talk patterns. So very many new grad physical therapists get their first jobs at a place where they did affiliations, internships, and/or rotations. The other large group for which new grads land their first job is via peer referral. Nevertheless, I find that the biggest chunk of successful job placements come from new grads already knowing a firm, owner, or department prior to the application. This isn't necessarily good or bad, however, there are some elements by which new grad should watch out for -- both positive and negative.

Okay... the bad news first: working at a place where you were a student on affiliation, internships, and/or rotations poses a significant issue that I've seen commonly experienced in all settings. Peer acceptance. Not so much that the new grad is socially ostracized; it is more that once viewed as a student, it is difficult for these new grads to be identified as anything else. The same goes for new grads that go back to clinics where they were once a rehab aide. This isn't entirely a deal breaker for me, personally; it just means that as a new grad seeking a job where you were once "less" than a physical therapist, depending on the culture of the organization, it can pose its own peer to peer challenges.

And, for the good news! Finding jobs where you were once a student (or a rehab aide) is one of the best ways to get the jump on a position compared to all the other applicants. The physical therapy profession is a culture of trust; we like who we know, prefer who we have shared experiences with, and we honor the relationships we have. This is why so very often, when applications come with in-house-staff or trusted networked recommendations, the deal is pretty much done. I can't tell you how many departments I've seen comprised almost entirely of people who were once students of the department, or, were once coworkers of those who were already in the department -- of course, this could just be a facet of the fact that PT is such a small world, nevertheless, it is a pattern to consider even if the causation escapes us.

The Application:
Unless preemptively recommended or introduced, the application is a manager's first exposure to your personage. Each manager is typically pressured to hire quickly and correctly to fill positions under financial pressures. However, they still must consider each applicant under the lense of company needs, goals, and values. If you are applying to a company which is publicly traded, lean, and very much interested in the bottom line, your application should communicate that you are fast, efficient, easy to train, and a low-cost-asset. If you are applying to a firm which is interested in the service brand and market share, your posture should exude your added value due to your high level of quality care, your ability/willingness to be a resource in the future (once properly oriented to the job and company), and your prior experiences in customer satisfaction/service recovery. Finally, if you are interested in a job which offers a long term, stable market position, you should demonstrate yourself as a humble learner; one who likes to be a team player, help for the greater good, keep your head low, and causes no trouble. First impressions matter. Make sure you do something with that app which makes your profile stand out - AND - makes your shape as the missing piece of the puzzle to which they wish the position to be filled.

The Interview:
I've made a few suggestions on my post, "Top 5 Interview Tips" to which I feel compelled to add a few more critical elements. I must first say that interviews must go both ways. Any sit down that reveals itself to be nothing more than a one way information dig means it'd be best if the stand-up occurs as soon (and respectfully) as possible - there is nothing here of true value.

Also, feel welcome to be open about numbers, especially if you already have other offers. Good managers stick around good companies/ departments - and - want to make sure they hire you at the best point possible. They want a fair compensation to you, to consider your value added to the department, and the best fit to the puzzle as a whole. And, for the many applicants who are in the midst of considering between their top two picks, some managers will already give a number -- maybe even a hire-on-bonus. Good managers will help you make an educated decision about joining a firm. I've personally done this, and, know of other managers who also do this -- if you already have an offer on the table from someone else, I'm more than willing to talk numbers if you're ready. If I can do better and I REALLY want you, I will give you a better offer. If I am held back by company guidelines and there is no way I can do better, I'll let you know & leave the ball in your court.

Also, take a good second look at how the interview went in hindsight. Usually, interviews are a strain for both parties. It's never a truly comfortable experience; it's meant to be a test. As such, the interview experience should be a discernment for both parties as to the best-fit-match of applicant to position, which includes the culture of the potential organization. Some hints as to what may be going on in the background is time spent and quality of interaction toward the applicant prior to the interview itself. Also, long interviews aren't always a good sign... neither are they bad. Look for the amount of respect you're given coming into to the interview by the staff you meet along the way - this is a good reflection of how much a firm respects its own employees. If they don't value you, they won't consider your presence with respect or courtesy. Also, if the offer is strangely out of order (ie. way too high, too many conditions, or, near-insultingly-low) red flags should be waving. I can tell you about a basic principle, however: new grads who get low balled by companies are interviewing with companies that simply do NOT value the new grads. Unless this position offers some significant learning or fringe benefits, I'd run.

Oh, yes... one last thing. Remember, the person who is interviewing you is very likely going to be your direct supervisor. Make sure you get along. Make sure you actually like this person. *wink*

So Let's Talk Money!
The compensation package actually tells you a lot about what you're about to hire into. Most companies I've surveyed tend to fall into four categories:
1) High pay, Low benefits
2) Low pay, High benefits
3) Weighted pay, Average benefits
4) High pay, High benefits

For situations #1 & #2, these are simply the way for which a company tries to financially balance out its compensation package as it affects their position in the market. The high pay, low benefits company tends to be aggressive, profit oriented, and may have a higher rate of turnover than average. The low pay, high benefits environment is VERY stable. This type of environment usually pays well for those who stay long; the value in the employee is longevity. The opportunity for promotion isn't the attraction here; the value that this situation offers is both work life & personal life stability.

Situation #3: Weighted pay, average benefits situation is very common amongst contract, agency, and home health settings. You get paid for what you do, your benefits are fair enough, nevertheless the situation is as you make it. Opportunities are a little bit difficult to take hold of when it comes to promotions since the busyness employees experience circulates upon keeping yourself busy to make productivity, keep benefits, and stay in good standing. This tends to offer better overall pay than situations #1 or 2 -- you just have to work hard to earn it.

Finally, situation #4: High pay, high benefits... get ready for an awful job. I mean, just awful... so awful that it's one of those situations where very likely, the company is flirting with ethical if not legal boundaries. Just run. RUN!

Decisions. Decisions. Decisions....
So now that you've graduated, got your license (or licensed applicant status), and, you've applied, interviewed, and have been offered a job... now *you* get to choose!

You must ask yourself: What is it about this job that I value? Is it the location of the job? The place itself? Are you learning from this job? Is it a stepping stone? Is this a place to hang your hat? Maybe there are people here you wish to work with. Perhaps, you need the benefits. Or, it is that you're considering the amount of compensation to pay off loans?

Whatever questions you ask, be sure that the questions circulate around the fact that you will be LIVING AT WORK. Sometimes, the compensation just isn't worth it. Other times, what is more valuable is the fact that you would be joining an organization of virtue - that you'd become part of something greater. Whatever answers present themselves to make your ultimate decision, I can't stress enough to consider work-life-balance. Burnout amongst PT's are getting higher and higher.. especially as a new grad, it's important to protect that aspect of your personage which drives passion as it does now. If you need more guidance here, consider reading "Lessons From My 6 Week Sabbatical"

Closing Thoughts:
I hope that this article has been helpful to your entry into the PT job market. Perhaps it has helped those of you who are considering a change of pace in your career path. In any case, I feel that when considering jobs, it is best to first identify your point of perfect balance. How much career opportunity am I willing to give for poor work-life-balance? How much work-life-balance do I need for which I'm willing to give up pay? Are the benefits worth the pay cut? Is the pay worth the lacking benefits?

Balance is key. Find that balance and you will find an amazing first job experience!

Last revised: April 13, 2014
by Ben Fung, PT, DPT

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