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What to Expect in a Typical Physical Therapy Job Interview

Congratulations! You’ve submitted an application for your physical therapy dream job; you’re eager to shine in your interview and prove that you’re the best candidate for the job. The best thing you can do to ensure you nail your PT interview is prepare in advance and know what to expect.

Here are some things to expect during the physical therapy interview process.

The phone interview
Do not blow off the phone interview, because it’s a simple—yet essential—hoop you’ll need to hop through before you can really shine in the in-person interview.

In some cases, you’ll get an email asking for the best times for a quick chat. In other cases, someone will call your phone directly, so be prepared to answer all of your calls professionally during your job search. If someone asks if it’s a good time to chat about the job, you’ll likely want to say you’re so happy to hear from them, but it’s not the best time. Then set something up for a time when you’re better prepared.

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If you do fall into agreeing to “Is now a good time to chat?” you risk sounding unprepared because, well, you are. Set yourself up for success and arrange a formal time to interview.

Make sure that you block off at least an hour for this call. Yes, you might have been told that the call would only be 15 minutes, but interviewers run late, and you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of time to get to a quiet spot with good reception and no distractions.

The phone interview can be unpredictable, as you may speak with the owner of a clinic if you applied for a small establishment. Conversely, you may speak with a general human resources (HR) representative or recruiter if you applied for a large hospital system. Try to do some research to understand who you’ll be speaking with, but if you can’t really tell, prepare for all sorts of questions.

Some questions you might be asked can include:

  • What do you know about our organization?
  • Why are you applying for this role?
  • What is your biggest strength/weakness?
  • Tell me about a time when you failed and what you did to make things right.
  • Who do you look up to and why?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
  • What is your favorite book and why?
  • Why did you apply for this job?
  • Why are you leaving your current job?
  • What can you bring to our team?
  • Why should we hire you?

If you’re being interviewed by a clinician or the owner of the facility, be prepared to answer clinical questions. They could be anything from questions about your experience to actual clinical cases.

Some clinical questions you might be asked can include:

  • What is your typical caseload at your current job?
  • How do you make sure that you complete your documentation on time?
  • What would you consider your treatment style?
  • Specific clinical questions, similar to what you would be asked in a practical.

Don’t forget to ask a few questions of your own during this interview. If you’re speaking with someone from HR, ask questions about the organization, but avoid asking anything too clinical. If you’re speaking with a clinician, feel free to choose from the list of questions in the section below.

Regardless of who leads your phone interview, it’s vital that you demonstrate confidence, gratitude, and excitement during the phone call. Be proactive and remember why they’re interviewing you: to see if you can help them and fill the need they have. Don’t talk too much about yourself and your experiences, but try to relate your experience to how you’ll be able to help the team you’ll be joining. for example, if you’re most proud of your positive attitude, be sure to say that you make a point to lift people’s spirits.

Ask questions about the organization and the type of employee that usually thrives in the role. Ask why the role is open and the type of candidate they’d like to hire. It’s vital to really listen to the answers, too. You might think you’re going for a dream job, but if you’re all about work-life balance, you might want to reconsider if the “perfect candidate” is willing to work unpredictable shifts and be on-call during slow times.

At the end of the phone interview, be sure to thank the interviewer and ask for his or her email address. Follow up with an email saying how much you appreciate the time they took to discuss the position with you and you hope to hear from them soon. Also, don’t be afraid to ask with whom you’ll be interviewing when you go in person. It will help you to research these folks in advance so you have some talking points—not to mention, a better understanding of what they are looking for in a candidate from their unique lenses.

The in-person interview:
Because you prepared for the phone interview so well, hopefully the in-person interview won’t feel quite as daunting. The main differences here are that you’ll be face-to-face with your interviewer(s) and you’ll need to think about your body language and overall appearance. You’ll also likely meet with a different interview team than the one that called you.

Again, if you’re applying for a smaller facility, this might not be the case, and you might wind up interviewing in person with the same person who called you on the phone.

Obviously, you’ll want to dress appropriately. While a full suit might not be necessary, it’s not a bad idea to overdress. That said, keep your employer’s culture in mind. A full-piece suit might work best for a major hospital system —especially if you’re applying for a non-clinical physical therapy job or other type of leadership role in the organization.

You may or may not get a tour of the facility during this interview. In most cases, you’ll be led to a room, where you’ll interview with some—or all—of the following people:
· Clinic director
· Rehab supervisor and/or rehab manager
· Lead PT
· PT you’re replacing

Try to understand each of these people and what they’re looking for a in a candidate. The clinic director is likely looking for punctuality, enthusiasm, clinical excellence, and flexibility. The lead PT is probably looking for someone who takes direction well, is adaptable, and is good with patients. The PT you’re replacing is likely concerned that you’ll fit in well with the team and be a pleasant person to work with.

Be prepared to sell yourself as all of these things to all of these people, and you’ll be set!

The panel interview:
In some cases, you may interview with all of the people above, plus a few others. In larger facilities, you may wind up facing as many as 10 people! This happened to me two of the three times that I interviewed with large hospital facilities. It was a bit nerve-wracking, but I survived and landed both jobs!

Don’t be overwhelmed by the panel interview. Remember, the whole reason they have you there is they have a hunch you might be an excellent solution to their problem: the need for a good PT to do a good job treating patients and generating income. Keep that in mind and answer questions in a way that always brings things back to that concept—you are the solution to their problem.

For example, if they ask you your biggest weakness, you can say whatever you want, but be sure to bring it around to something that will help the team. If you struggle with self-doubt, you can say something like “I tend to second-guess myself at times, but I feel it has helped me grow professionally because I tend to form collaborative relationships with my patients, my managers, and my colleagues. I find that patients trust me more when I involve them in my evaluations and creation of my plans of care.”

Panel interviews are a great opportunity to get your questions answered from the people who truly know the answers. Don’t be shy about asking plenty of questions, as long as you’re not taking away from answering what the panel needs to know from you.

With a panel interview, even though it might feel like overkill, try to ask for each and every interviewer’s card when you leave. Send an individual thank you note to each person. A few extra minutes of your time will make a huge difference.

Ask your own questions.
As mentioned above, it is absolutely essential to come to any interview prepared with questions of your own. Here are some of the most essential questions for any PT candidate to ask in an interview:

  • Why is this position open?
  • What does success look like in this role?
  • What is an ideal candidate?
  • What’s a typical day like in this role?
  • What is your productivity requirement, how is the productivity calculated, and what are the ramifications if productivity is not met?
  • What are the typical diagnoses—and caseload mix—of this role?
  • How collaborative is this team? Do clinicians ever co-treat or co-evaluate when patients will benefit from it?
  • Who would my direct supervisor. What is his/her management style?
  • What are the hours? Is any weekend or holiday coverage expected?

Anytime you ask these questions, show deference without appearing meek. You’ll obviously want to know if you’ll be working every Thanksgiving for the rest of your career, but there’s a polite way to ask about it. Don’t blurt out, “Do I have to work weekends and holidays?” Instead, ask something like, “Are there additional weekend or holiday expectations in this role?”

Every physical therapy interview will be a little different. Just remember to research the company in advance, understand what the role involves, be prepared to sell yourself as the solution to the organization’s problems, and send thank-you emails. Best of luck. You’ve got this!