Six months prior to graduating from McGill University in October 2016 with an Applied Master of Science in Physical Therapy, every student in my cohort, including myself, was asking themselves whether or not they would be able to secure a job before they graduated. It was a year in which the market was fairly saturated and employers weren’t particularly active. As a result, job hunting became all the more competitive. After lots of hard work and perseverance, I secured a job four months prior to graduating. How did I accomplish that? You’ll find out soon enough. I’m here to take my honest personal experience and share it with you so you can learn from it.
1. How Are You Different?
This is the most important question you need to ask yourself. Whether you like it or not, you will have to compete against the graduating cohort of physical therapy students at your university, as well as graduating physical therapy cohorts from other universities within your province. So you need to ask yourself, “How am I different? What experience do I have that other don’t? What makes ME the right candidate for the job?”
Let’s be honest, everyone will graduate with a degree. You’ll need more than that to secure a job. You need to build a solid CV to stand out from the crowd. Here are some ideas to consider:
Volunteering at a hospital, rehabilitation center or private clinic is a great way to gain exposure to your potential future job. Not only does this help guide your decision as to where and what area of physiotherapy you would like to work in, but this will help build your social skills. I can’t stress how important this is. You can thrive academically, but if you cannot build therapeutic alliance or rapport with your patients, you will not be successful as a physiotherapist. Volunteering in these rehabilitation settings will allow you to interact with patients. It will expose you to different conditions (musculoskeletal, cardiorespiratory, neurological, etc.), and provide insight into both how they are assessed and treated. It is an incredible learning experience. Some settings even allow volunteers to shadow with their healthcare professionals, allowing you to have a more personalized experience. Last but not least, depending on the setting, you may even be paid for your assistance, so this will ease the financial stress a little (trust me, I’ve been there).
Collaborating with researchers is another amazing way to gain professional experience. I have to say that this one in particular had to be the game-changer for me. Throughout my schooling at McGill University, I was fortunate enough to collaborate with a professor at McGill University on numerous occasions, conducting two research studies examining gait biomechanics in patients with knee osteoarthritis. This led to one publication in a peer-reviewed journal, with a second up and coming, as well as several poster presentations at provincial, national and international conferences. These experiences have changed my life in ways I cannot even explain. If you have an interest for research and evidence-based practice, reach out to your professors and ask them if they need help in their research labs. This typically tends to be volunteer work, but it’s important to mention that there are usually bursaries available for students to conduct summer research projects that are available, either through your respective university or other research organizations. Trust me on this one, you won’t be disappointed.
Getting involved with student organizations at your university or provincial/national organizations is a great way to network and develop professional skills. This type of involvement typically requires you to collaborate with students at your university or even with other physical therapy students across Canada, depending on which organization you are working with. This will test your communication and time management skills. This will push the boundaries of your creativity. Personally, I found that my experience volunteering locally with the student organization at the School of Physical and Occupational Therapy at McGill University, as well as nationally with the National Student Assembly, Leadership Division and Orthopaedic Division of the Canadian Physiotherapy Association were incredible experiences for professional development. The networking is endless. The learning is endless. The beauty of it all is that you are collaborating toward a common goal: advancing the profession of physiotherapy across Canada.
2. Social Media Is A Must
The reality of our era is that the capacity of social media is expanding at an exponential rate. So how can you use this to your advantage? Here’s how:
Evaluate your online profile: Google yourself and see what comes up. Remember, if it was that easy for you to look yourself up, it’s just as easy for your future employer to do so. Remove all inappropriate and potentially detrimental content from your social media profiles (Facebook posts, tweets, pictures, etc.).
Get on LinkedIn: If you do not already have a LinkedIn profile, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? LinkedIn is your professional identity. It is your way of making your CV accessible to potential future employers online. This increases the chances of JOBS FINDING YOU. Some basics to building an absolute bombshell of a LinkedIn profile are the following: professional and high-quality headshot (no, a selfie does not count) and an interesting and unique summary of yourself. The rest of your profile will depend on your experience (i.e. education, work and professional experience, volunteer work, awards, accomplishments, etc.). That being said, do not hold back from mentioning your accomplishments. Every experience that is relevant for your future job is relevant to your future employer. Just to put this into perspective, a good portion of my job offers were, and still are, from employers reaching out to me through LinkedIn, so building a LinkedIn profile is definitely not optional if you want to maximize your shot at landing a job before your graduate.
3. Don’t Be Afraid To Introduce Yourself
This one is crucial. If you are the kind of person who is fairly reserved and prefers to remain in the background, then you will have a hard time securing a job before you graduate. You need to move past that. You need to get out of your comfort zone. Here are some dos and don’ts to ensure you make a long-lasting first impression!
Go to your career fair! Most universities will host a career fair prior to graduation so that students can hand out their CVs and connect with potential future employers. The difficult part with the career fairs is that the employer or representative for the hospital, private clinic franchise or rehabilitation center is currently swamped by eager students wondering what they have to offer so they drop their CV onto the employer’s table and walk away because they think, “what’s the point, right?” WRONG! That’s a huge mistake people make. Make your rounds and head back to the employers that interest you most when their tables are less crowded so that you can get some one-on-one time with them. Ask them what working for their company is like? What kind of benefits do they offer? What kind of funding do they provide for continuing education? What do they enjoy most about their job? What is their ideal candidate? Establish a professional relationship with the employer. Talk about your experience and accomplishments. Your passion needs to be contagious! This will decrease the chances that your CV will be just another paper in their massive pile. If you make a great first impression, they will flag your CV for future reference, giving you the upper hand. Trust me, that five minutes you took to connect with the employer will be well worth your while.
DO NOT, and I repeat, DO NOT, mass email your CV to all the potential places you would like to work. Once again, your CV will end up in a massive pile of papers that will likely be long forgotten. Along the same lines as the last point, show up in person to where you would like to work, with your CV and cover letter in hand, and ask to speak with the owner or director. If the owner or director is unavailable, ask when you can come back to speak with them. Mention that you would simply like five minutes of his or her time to introduce yourself and hand in your CV and cover letter. It will allow the employer to put a face to the name, and establish familiarity. If you made a great first impression, then you’re already more likely to be chosen over a stranger who sent them their CV via email. This extra effort will pay dividends!
For this point in particular, the importance of body language and listening cannot be overstated. Your first impression is everything. If you don’t impress them, then your CV likely won’t help much. Be aware of your body language. Avoid things like constantly looking at your watch and crossing your arms. Maintain eye contact and for God’s sake, LISTEN! Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions, whether it be about the company or the position you are applying for.
4. Do Not Forget To Follow Up
If you assume employers will contact you when they’re ready, you’re making a big mistake. The truth is that employers and recruiters are incredibly busy, let alone overwhelmed by the sheer number of CVs they receive each year. That being said, they may have actually forgotten. It happens, they are only human. If you haven’t heard back from them after a couple of weeks, follow up with the employer or recruiter. Providing a friendly reminder in a professional manner is not pushy, as some students assume it to be. It actually shows them how dedicated you are and how interested you are in working for them.
To conclude, there are four key factors to make sure you land a job before you graduate: differentiating yourself from the pack, cleaning up and building your social media profile, getting your foot in the door, and following up once you do. I hope you learned a thing or two from having shared my personal experiences. Take this advice and apply it to the fullest. Sky is the limit. So what are you waiting for? Go get em’ tiger!
Anthony Teoli MScPT
If you have any questions regarding the content of this article or if you would like to connect with me to discuss this topic further, you may contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also communicate with me through the InfoPhysiotherapy Facebook page as well as on Twitter @InfoPhysioPT. I would love to hear from you!
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