How Can I Find a Full-Time Job in Physical Therapy in a Challenging Market?

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Sally from Daytona State College asks:

“I graduated with honors in 2001 with an A.S. Degree as a Physical Therapist Assistant, I am currently employed PRN (pro re nata or “as needed”) with two companies locally and neither has work for me now.  Do you think the local market is flooded?  A local employment recruiter believes this to be the case.  Why is it so difficult for someone with 15 years of experience to find full-time or even part-time work in this area?  I have updated my resume and gone through a program at CareerSource Flagler/Volusia, and yet I rarely get interviews for the full-time positions.  Please help!”

Thanks for your question, Sally.  Obviously, you are highly experienced in your field with 15 years of experience under your belt.  It can be extremely disappointing and frustrating when your job search campaign is not netting the desired result.  The good news is that you only need one job, so continue to stay hyper-focused on achieving your goal and landing the job you desire.  Fuel your search with lots of effort each day.  Be consistent and recognize that more effort will likely net quicker successful outcomes.

If you follow the national unemployment statistics, you’ve probably heard that unemployment is at the lowest point in nearly two decades (4.3%).  This is great news, of course, as the job market continues to move in the right direction with more available jobs.  However, this statistic does not mean the job market is perfect or that it is easy to land a job.  In fact, today’s job market is ultra-competitive with over 250 resumes received on average for every corporate job opening.

Most job seekers at any level rely solely on one job search method (online job postings).  Additionally, many job seekers convince themselves that they are working hard at finding a job when in reality they have invested very little effort to accomplish their goal.  If you diversify your search to include several different job search methods AND work hard every day in your search, you’ll likely reach the finish line in your search more quickly.

Below you will find several suggested actionable tasks that will help you get better results in your current search.

Conduct Labor Market Information Research

Since you were a client of CareerSource Flagler/Volusia, I’m sure you are familiar with the State of Florida’s job search tool, Employ Florida.  Through this resource’s labor market research tool, you will find that Volusia County currently has nine Physical Therapy Assistant jobs posted as of August 23, 2017.  Furthermore, your county is one of the top ranking counties in terms of posted jobs within the state (top two counties:  Palm Beach (23) and Brevard (20)).  Based on this information, it seems like you are in a reasonably good area for your field.

Additionally, O-Net indicates that your occupation, Physical Therapy Assistant, is projected to grow much faster than the average growth for other occupations both nationally and in Florida. This is great news too!

Keep Your Foot in the Door

You are already doing this by working in your field on the employer’s terms at the present on an “as needed” basis.  While you desire to work on a full-time or more consistent basis, keep in mind that it is always easier to land a job with an employer once you are already a member of the team.  Both of your current employers will continue to experience your strong work ethic, excellent skills, and wonderful personality traits even though you are working on a limited basis.  Attempt to grow your relevance and internal network at each of these companies.  These connections can campaign on your behalf for future opportunity.  Most companies prefer to hire/promote from within, so you are well-positioned when new opportunity presents itself.  These are all factors that can help you land a job in the future with your two current employers.

Target Market to Prospective Employers & Other Job Search Methods

Most students targeting jobs, internships, or volunteer opportunities mistakenly assume employers post all jobs online through various job boards and company sites.  Employers are competing for talent similar to the way you are competing for jobs with other candidates.  Current data shows that many employers find employee referrals as a great way to fill job openings.  Recruitment by referrals is utilized for over 25 percent of openings according to recent research.

Jobs will not always be found through online job boards.  As a result, I suggest that you reverse this thinking by targeting employers, rather than waiting for an internship or job to be posted.  Develop a list of 25-50 prospective employers in your area that may have employment opportunity in line with your skills, experience, education, and interests.  Do some additional research and determine a decision maker to whom you will address your letter and resume.  Next, be proactive and send off your marketing letter and resume to the decision maker.  This is a great way to get your value proposition into the hands of the person with the power to start a dialogue and ultimately hire you.  Recognize that companies are always hiring.  The downside is that they may not always be hiring on your timeline.  Introduce yourself to the employer before everyone else.

Utilizing this strategy allows you to be proactive, rather than passively waiting for internships to be posted.  It can make all the difference in the world to landing an interview.  Remember, you only need one job.

Target marketing as described above can be very powerful.  Consider adding other job search methods including:

  • Networking – Engage your network to build your own marketing army filled with individuals who can potentially provide tips, leads, referrals, introductions, job placement, and more. Additionally, ask your employed network connections if their company has an employee incentive referral program.  If so, humbly ask if your connection would be willing to provide your resume to the decision making team.  Employers love to hire employee referrals as the candidates are pre-qualified initially by their own employees.
  • Job Leads Via Job Boards Using Double-Hit – After applying online, most go into hope and pray mode as they hope and pray an employer calls them in for an interview. Be proactive with employers by following up on all your applications.  Additionally, target market your value proposition to the hiring manager as well.  Research to determine who the decision maker is and craft a strong message to this individual highlighting how you can help them.  This is a great way to get your resume into the hands of the person who is making the hiring decision.  The first step is to apply through HR, then target the decision maker / hiring manager – the double-hit.  Utilizing this strategy allows you to be proactive, rather than passively waiting for a response.  It can make all the difference in the world to landing an interview.
  • Contact Your Professors – Make sure to get to know your professors, especially those teaching your healthcare and diagnostic sonography classes. These professors are likely to have connections within your desired field.  This is especially true at most community colleges as many adjuncts (and even professors or instructors) likely also still work other jobs too.  You likely won’t find any better individuals who can offer you meaningful guidance and assistance.  So, take advantage of their office hours by visiting occasionally as needed to ask for their advice and guidance.  If they get to know you, they might be willing to serve as a mentor, or at the very least, offer valuable insight and advice along with introductions that can be a springboard to landing an interview for the job or internship you desire.
  • Invest Significant Time in SearchInvest as much time as you can into your search. While you might not have 8+ hours a day to dedicate to this effort due to work and school commitments, make sure to fuel your effort with as much time as you possibly can.

Network, Network, Network!

People hire people, not computers.  We need the help of others to succeed both on the job and in life.  Networking (or engaging with people) is, was, and will always produce the best results in your job search.  Embrace saying hello to others, while reconnecting with people you already know.  One of the first things you should do is let all of your friends, family members, and connections know exactly what you are looking for and that you’d be grateful for any assistance that they can offer to you.  While many may not be able to help with a specific job lead, these individuals may be able to offer tips, leads, introductions, referrals, and more that can be a stepping stone to landing the internship or job.

Make sure to grow your circle of influence and network by attending community events, especially those hosted or sponsored by non-profit organizations.  Utilize LinkedIn to grow your virtual network, find posted internships and jobs, connect with recruiters, further your value proposition through skills endorsements and recommendations, and join industry related groups.

Visit Your College Career Center (& Continue Visiting Your Local Workforce Development Agency)

Most colleges and universities offer services to recent graduates for at least a year after graduation at no cost.  Simply put, you should leverage your career center, as it is a student resource.  College career centers are staffed with knowledgeable, skilled, and credentialed professionals who can provide assistance in a variety of areas including resume review, interview skills training, job search strategy, and more.  Furthermore, they likely have a job site exclusively for current students and recent alums featuring jobs posted with the institution.  Contact your campus career center to up an appointment at your earliest convenience.  Continue taking advantage of the no-cost re-employment services offered through CareerSource Flagler / Volusia too.

Join Physical Therapy Professional Associations

Another way to build your network, reputation, and circle of influence is to join a professional association in your industry.  There are a few physical therapy professional associations including the American Physical Therapy Association, Florida Physical Therapy Association, and others.  This is a great way to connect with leaders in your industry and learn of employment opportunity.  Most professional organizations post their available positions through the association’s website or possibly through word of mouth at meetings.  Don’t just become a member and do nothing either.  Get involved and volunteer for a board or steering committee.  This will provide you with the opportunity to highlight your skills and ability to produce results.

Conduct Informational Interviews

Identify individuals who are already doing the type of work you aspire to do and contact them to line up an informational interview.  Individuals, especially those working in physical therapy, are the greatest resource to help you advance your career.  Connecting with other established professionals in your field through an informational interview can allow you to get some great advice to help you build your career plan.  Who better to be talking to than someone doing what you’d like to do?

Informational interviews can be conducted in person, via telephone or Skype, via email, or anywhere someone can provide you with meaningful advice.  Develop a list of questions to gain the information / advice you are seeking, but let the conversation evolve through a relaxed, spontaneous discussion.  Be respectful to honor the time period the individual has allotted.  Lastly, send a thank you note after the information interview to thank them for their time and professional courtesy.

Expand Geographical Search Area

Consider diversifying your job search by expanding your search area.  Obviously, a broader search area will likely mean more opportunity.  For example, if you were considering job opportunities within a 30-minute drive from your home, then expand this to a 60-minute drive.  It may not be the desired location, but do what you have to do to land the job.  You would probably agree that it would be better for you to be working even if you have to drive 30 minutes more to get to the work site.

Putting It All Together

The job search can be frustrating, especially when you are highly experienced and very qualified for any available employment opportunities.  Having coached over 5,000 clients, I know that job search results rarely happen exactly when the client wants it.  That said, diversify your job search efforts to include the suggested action items and fuel your campaign with lots of effort on a consistent basis.  Don’t be like everyone else and rely only on the online job boards or posted jobs. If you follow these suggestions, I believe you’ll eventually find the opportunity you desire. I wish you the very best of luck!

Here’s to your success,

Bob Nealon


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About the Author

Robert Nealon

For almost 10 years, Bob Nealon has been a South Florida-based career coach, focused on training and coaching college students and professional-level clients to achieve success in their employment search campaign and careers. He has trained over 5,000 clients with strategies on how to best compete in today’s ultra-competitive market to land the job and advance their career. Currently, he is a career coach at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Sports Management from Indiana University, a master’s degree in Sports Administration from Indiana State University and is a multi-credentialed career coach holding industry certifications as a Certified Professional Career Coach, Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Certified Employment Interview Professional, Certified Empowerment and Motivational Coach, Global Career Development Facilitator, and Florida Certified Workforce Professional. He is an active member of Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches, Center for Credentialing and Education, Florida Association of Colleges and Employers, National Association of Colleges and Employers, and National Career Development Association. Connect with Bob via LinkedIn and Twitter.

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