Expert Job Hunting Advice for New Therapists

I have come across many questions posed by new therapists on the various social media sites. It seems that the majority of responses to these questions are from recruiters providing no help other than saying, “I have a job for you.”  In response to the lack of helpful information, I thought I would share a few tips to point new physical and occupational therapists in the right direction.

  1. Reality is that it is hard to break into the field as new therapy graduate.
    There are jobs out there but employers want experienced therapists. I have had requests for experienced therapists with a minimum of one, two, five and ten years. Depending on the position, most times I find this ludicrous. I can say that the one consistent thing I have seen remains true: Once you obtain 1+ years of experience, things change and you are now considered valuable to employers. So, how do you gain at least one year of experience? By tempering expectations and accepting what you can get at the time with the understanding that it is not forever. After you have some experience under your belt, you then have more negotiating value and can apply for better jobs, making more money in the locations that you want.
  2. All geographical locations are not the same.
    For example, positions in Dallas, TX are monumentally different than positions in Jasper, TX. You need to have an understanding of your location. The pay in Jasper might be higher but finding a job could be difficult since it’s very rural. Alternatively, you may not have a problem finding work in Dallas but the pay may not be so great. (Note: Pay varies greatly. I find the two major items that alter pay are one, experience, and two, urgency of position.)
  3. Do not limit yourself to 1-2 settings.
    As I mentioned in number one, employers want experience, so as a new graduate you need to gain experience in any way that you can which means not limiting yourself to a position in only one or two types of settings. I would suggest considering travel work. Working as a travel therapist gives you the flexibility to experience different settings without burning any bridges. You need to try different settings in a real world situation first, because there IS a difference between working in a clinical setting as a student and working with a productivity expectation. Not to mention, travel work pays more than full-time positions and per diem. Additionally, you have the luxury of visiting different areas of the country or different areas of your home state.
  4. Word of mouth/networking is important.
    This is probably the most underused aspect of finding a job. As a new therapist, you are on even ground with all other new grads. Volunteer! Join groups either socially or with a focus or backing from medical facilities that interest you. Despite what anyone will tell you, people hire who they like. Therefore, your personality makes a big difference when looking for work. You are working with patients and if you come off as passionate and caring, it will make a difference! (Note: Keep in touch with your educators. They get calls all the time from employers because employers look to schools for employees.)
  5. Understand that your industry is moved by patient care AND profit.
    This is the hardest to swallow but you need to have an understanding of the big picture. The main reason any company exists is to turn a profit. I am not suggesting you should sacrifice your passion of patient care so you can squeeze in one more patient. What I am suggesting is to have an open mind and understand that business is not personal so don’t take it personally. I receive phone calls all of the time complaining about areas within patient care and not understanding that it is a business and therefore there is an expectation of profit.  Have an idea of the big picture on both sides of patient care.
  6. Smaller is not necessarily “better.”
    I hear from many therapists that they would like to work in “a small, private practice”. This isn’t a bad idea if you do your due diligence on the company; however shenanigans seem to happen more with smaller, “mom and pop” facilities than large hospital systems. I had a therapist call me two weeks ago and tell me she left a lucrative position and moved to Texas from another state. Once she got there, the owner of the facility decided to change everything: pay, benefits, etc. His reasoning was that he needed to ensure he could maintain profitability with hiring a therapist. This is not 100 percent the fault of the facility as the therapist may not have done their due diligence fully. In today’s healthcare market, they are squeezing the smaller facilities more so than ever before and so they have to make hard choices they’ve never have had to before, which is a shame.
  7. Do your homework on the company you interview with.
    Aside from being a great approach for an interview, the therapy world is a tight group. It seems that everyone knows everyone. Get an idea of the environment of the facility as well as turnover rate, etc. Keep in mind, at times you have to take it with a grain of salt should you come across a disgruntled employee or patient. Some companies are famous, some are infamous.
  8. The right recruiter is important.
    If you work with a staffing agency, find a recruiter that best identifies with your wants and needs and is not afraid to give you genuine advice instead of  telling you what you want to hear. Being aggressive and being pushy are two different things. For the most part, you want an aggressive recruiter that is going to work their tail off to get you in front of the line. However, you do not want a recruiter that pressures you or tries to push you in a direction you are not keen on. Do not let anyone blindly submit you to a job without knowing details, i.e., pay, setting, company info, etc. Trust me; if they have the job, they know what it pays.

In closing, all the examples I have used are just that — examples. Outpatient is a great setting and Dallas and Jasper Texas are great places to work. You are in an amazing field and your career is going to revolve around making lives better. Wishing you have the best of luck as a new occupational therapist!

About the Author: Joel Heifferon is a healthcare recruiter for Cirrus Medical Staffing. With over 20 years in the recruitment business, he has seen it all. From the early days owning his own recruiting firm to working for a great company like Cirrus, his principals have not changed: Integrity and a true love for fitting the right puzzle pieces together known as the recruiting process.

If you have questions for Joel he can be reached at: [email protected].