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Bomb Your PT interview in 7 Simple Steps

Physical therapists are generally a savvy bunch.

Not to fluff our collective plumage too much, but we tend to be deeply caring and compassionate, yet highly goal-oriented and ambitious. It’s a great combo, in my humble opinion 🙂

But when it’s time to apply for physical therapy jobs, we can sometimes really screw it up. We might spend tons of time crafting the perfect physical therapy resume, then buffing our physical therapy cover letter to a high sheen, but then we forget to prepare for the interview. A PT interview isn’t that different from any other interview, but there are a few ways that you can really screw it up that look especially bad in the healthcare field.

1. Don’t take the phone interview seriously.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of ways to botch a PT interview, starting with the phone portion. Seems simple, right? Simply pick up the phone at the right time and answer a few questions about yourself. But Murphy’s Law seems to rear its ugly head at all the wrong times. Want to screw up the phone interview? Here are a few ways!

  • Leave your phone on silent and miss the call. D’oh! This comes off as unprofessional and disorganized, even if you’re anything but.
  • Fail to plan out a quiet place where you can talk with the interviewer. A meowing cat in the background is (exceedingly) adorable for some people, but an interviewer might find it distracting.
  • Forget to prepare for the phone interview. Phone interviews can be super simple and quick, but this is not always the case. You might find yourself answering fairly detailed questions over the phone, so be prepared for anything!
  • Get pulled into an awkward meeting with your boss right when you’re expecting the call. If you’re a new grad, you’re probably not going to have this issue, but anyone employed full time might. Or, your patient could arrive and demand treatment in that moment. Be absolutely sure to block out time from your schedule in advance, or schedule the call during the middle of your lunch break.

2. Don’t practice for the PT interview.

Think you have excellent interviewing skills? Great! You’re confident. But you might still say “uh”, “like”, “you know” or “um” on a regular basis. That might not keep you from getting the job, but it certainly comes across as less confident as you’d like.

Here are some ways to practice effectively for a PT interview:

  • Practice clinical questions
  • Research interview questions on Glassdoor
Helpful hint: If you’re going for ortho jobs, check Glassdoor for company interview questions asked by chains, such as MotionPT and ATI. The larger the chain, the more interviews they’ve completed. If you’re going for inpatient or acute jobs, search for larger hospital systems. The questions might not be exactly what you’ll face, but you might get some good ideas.
  • Use a video camera.
  • Reread the job description.
  • Understand what the hiring manger is looking for and prepare to discuss how you’ll solve their problems.

But here are some ways that failing to practice can really screw you over:

  • You get asked a ton of tough clinical questions and have no answers.
  • You stumble and mumble through basic interview questions, such as “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”
  • You come across as unprepared. It’s obvious when you are.
  • You can’t answer basic questions about the company, nor can you demonstrate enough enthusiasm about the position to seem genuine.


3. Show up late for the interview.

You might be the most punctual PT this side of the Mississippi, but, again, Murphy’s Law. It seems that the most ridiculous comedies of error occur on the day that you have an important interview.

Here are some ways to ensure that you’ll show up late for your interview.

  • Leave your interior car light (or headlights, or dashboard light, etc.) on the night before.
  • Forget to set a backup alarm in the morning.
  • Fail to take into consideration transportation issues, like rush-hour traffic, holiday traffic, lack of parking at the facility, or needing cash to pay for the garage.
  • Tell yourself that you’ll get gas on the way to the interview

4. Be irritable, bland, or otherwise unpleasant.

You might not roll into work as a ray of fricking sunshine every single day, but if you have an interview, you’re going to have to pretend that you do. Interviewers take attitude very seriously, and if you’re grimacing or have an irritable vibe, it might not cost you the job, but a more friendly applicant might easily beat you out. A few ways that you could be unpleasant without even realizing it include:

  • Cutting off the interviewer mid-sentence.
  • Talking about yourself in terms of accomplishments, even when the question didn’t ask for them.
  • Getting visibly frustrated by tough questions. Rather than getting flustered or defensive, buy yourself some time by say something like, “That’s a really good question. Let me take a moment to think about it.” If you truly don’t know the answer to the question, you can say something like, “I’m honestly drawing a bit of a blank. In this case, I’d take a moment to consult my notes/textbook or ask a colleague for insight, depending on the circumstances.”
  • Forgetting to smile. Smiling puts people at ease. It comes to some people more easily than others. If you have a bad case of “You-Know-What Resting Face,” practice smiling as you talk in the mirror until it feels natural.

Interviewers like to see a sense of humor and easygoing personality.

What they don’t like to see is arrogance or a dismissive attitude. Try to strike a healthy balance of pleasant, knowledgeable, and slightly funny. Just don’t overdo the humor. If you’re cracking jokes the entire time, you could come across as too lackadaisical or disinterested in the position. Use humor sparingly and effectively in interviews.

5. Ask about salary, vacation days, or other perks too soon.

Want to screw up your interview immediately? Start asking questions about salary, vacation days, 401k, retirement saving, paying off student loans, and all that fun stuff!

Why is this an issue? Because it conveys an assumption that you got the position, AND it conveys that you’re all about yourself. I can’t lie; I’m all about pay, vacation, and retirement savings. But a job is more than its perks, and if your interviewer senses that your top priorities are all about you and your compensation, they might be a bit turned off. And you know what they say about ASSuming!

That said, if a hiring manager does ask you about salary expectations, don’t be caught off guard.

This question can be stealthily slipped into an interview to make an interviewee get nervous and blab too much about pay before they get to do market research. If someone asks you about salary, know a baseline number of what someone with your experience should earn, then say something along the lines of, “My research indicates that PTs with ___ experience earn roughly ____. But the right match and overall benefits package are very important to me. If you choose to offer me the position, I am happy to discuss salary in more depth.” It shows you’ve done your homework and know how to handle tough questions with grace.

6. Forget to ask questions.

This is huge. Don’t forget that you’re there to interview a company as much as they are there to interview you. When I was first interviewing, I was so desperate to impress, I forgot to ask key questions that would have told me more about the position.

If you want to really understand the position to its fullest, consider asking these questions: 

  • What is a typical patient mix for this position?
  • To whom will I report?
  • What are the biggest challenges of this role and how have you addressed them in the past?
  • How is success measured in this position?
  • What is your ideal candidate?
  • Do I have documentation time throughout the day? If so, when, and for how long?
  • What is the typical patient load for this position? It’s wise to save this one for the end, so you don’t sound like you’re jumping to the negatives right away.
  • What do you like best about this job?
Asking an interviewer about himself/herself is a wonderful way to learn about the company and your future colleague. Plus, people love to talk about themselves, so you’ll automatically look better just by asking someone questions about his/her life.

7. Assume it’s in the bag when you’re done.

I’m not going to preach about this next point because we’re all adults and capable of deciding how we want to have a good time. Plus, I live in California 🙂

Just…please don’t fail your drug test. I know someone who did this, and he lost out on an incredible opportunity at a big, prestigious hospital here in San Diego. He’s a phenomenal clinician and person, but he failed his drug test and he was forced to take a sub-par job, and can never work at said prestigious hospital.

So, I can’t really offer you options on how to pass your drug test (other than the obvious one of laying off the drugs), but I can tell you that references and the drug test are the last gatekeepers between you and a good PT job. Make sure you ask your references in advance and have up to date phone numbers and emails for them.

And PLEASE…pass your damn drug test.

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About Meredith Victor Castin

Meredith Victor Castin
Meredith is the co-founder of NewGradPhysicalTherapy.com and the founder of The Non-Clinical PT. She is originally from Tyler, TX and attended UPenn for undergrad, before graduating with her DPT from USA (San Diego) in 2010. She has worked in outpatient ortho, inpatient rehab, acute care, and home health. She loves spending time with her husband and 3 cats, and enjoys creating art and weird music.

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