As school winds down, you’re getting poised to begin your job hunt for your first position as a practicting physical therapist. But don’t rush into the job market without making sure your resume is just right. Hiring managers only glance at each resume for a few seconds, scanning their eyes over the details to see if you have what they need. If you can’t impress them within those first few seconds, your resume will probably land in the “no” pile.
To help you make the most of your resume, we spoke with Donna Lampke, PT, DPT, CPRW, ACRW, a practicing physical therapist, certified career coach, and founder of DIY Career Documents. Below, she shares her insights on what skills, interests, experiences, and affiliations you should highlight to get hiring managers to notice you.
How Do You Structure a Physical Therapy Resume?
To attract the right kind of attention, you want your resume to stand out because of your experience, not because it doesn’t conform to the accepted guidelines. Although the job market is growing, so is the applicant pool, so the PT positions you’re looking at may be more competitive than you think. Hiring managers will expect your resume to include the following sections in this order:
- Your Contact Information
- Professional Summary
- Licenses & Certifications
- Clinical Experience
- Relevant Professional Experience
- Awards, Honors, & Professional Organizations
Without further ado, let's dive right into how you structure and fill out an entry-level physical therapy resume!
Section 1: Your Contact Information
You want hiring managers to know how to get in touch with you, so be sure to provide your contact information at the very top of your resume. List your full name and any credentials you may have, as well as your mailing address, phone number, and email address. (If you’re hesitant to include your street address, that’s OK. Just list your city/town, state, and zip code. More on this in a minute.) If you have a LinkedIn page or a professional website, you can include links to those, as well.
It can also be helpful to list the exact position for which you’re applying on your resume, in case your resume and cover letter are separated. (Use the same job title mentioned in the job posting.) This lets the hiring manager know exactly what you’re applying for. If you do this, don’t forget to customize each resume you send out.
Tip #1: Give a professional email address.
This goes without saying, but make sure you provide an email address that's professional and appropriate. The goal of your resume is to make a good first impression on the hiring manager and convince them that your experience, education, and skills are exactly what they're looking for. If you include an email address like "email@example.com" or "firstname.lastname@example.org," you run the risk of appearing unprofessional and immature -- and, consequently, you could turn off the hiring manager. If you don't have one, considering making one. Ideally, it'd contain some combination of your first and last names, and maybe some numbers if the address is already taken.
While you're at it, consider Googling yourself to make sure your Internet footprint looks professional because 90 percent of hiring managers will look you up. Same goes for social media: If there are incriminating photos of you stumbling home from bar crawls, you should remove them.
Tip #2: Be strategic about including your mailing address.
If you’re applying for a job online, keep in mind that many employers have started to use a special kind of software known as an applicant tracking system (ATS) that can screen the text in resumes before any human has a chance to read them. The software helps employers sift through all the resumes they receive and scan for certain keywords that the employer has designated as either a “red flag” or an indication of a quality candidate. In other words, it helps them automate the resume review process by weeding out the candidates who aren’t a good fit while highlighting those who are.
The reason why we mention this is because one of the details many hiring managers tend to watch out for is whether an applicant is local or not. In fact, they can set their ATS to disregard any resumes that have certain location keywords because that indicates that an applicant is too far away to be considered an ideal candidate. As you can imagine, this can be particularly tricky if someone is hoping to move to a new location but hasn’t found a place to live yet. If this is your situation, don’t include your address. In fact, it’s actually become increasingly common for applicants to only list their name, email, and phone numbers as contact information.
For example, try this:
Section 2: Professional Summary
A winning resume spells out the specific value you have to offer an employer. Use this section of your resume as a branding statement to let hiring managers know some of the highlights of your education and experience. If you’re just graduating, you most likely don’t have very much of a work background. However, you do still have marketable skills. Remember, your clinical experiences helped you gain competency in different skill areas. You can also include PT-related keywords within this summary to help your resume score higher on the ATS.
It helps if you personalize this section for each position for which you’re applying, tailoring it to mirror some of the details listed in the job posting. If you have the skills and experiences the hiring manager has advertised but you don’t spell it out, they’ll never know you’re right for the position. If you use some of the same language or phrases that were mentioned in the job posting, it can help increase your chances of getting an interview.
Section 3: Education
This section will be short, sweet, and straightforward. Simply list the name of the schools you’ve attended, the year(s) in which you graduated (or are planning to graduate), and the degrees you received. Everything should be in reverse chronological order. Don’t list your GPA unless it’s 3.5 or higher.
There’s no need to craft sentences to incorporate this information. Having some white space on your resume is a good thing because it helps the hiring manager’s eye land on the pertinent details, rather than having to scan through blocks of text to find out what they need to know.
And avoid this:
Section 4: Licenses & Certifications
Again, this will be a very short section, but it’s important to include. It’s where you’ll list all the certifications you’ve earned. For new grads, include the pending date of licensure.
Or try this:
Section 5: Clinical Experience
If you haven’t held a full-time position yet, you can highlight your clinical experience as a way to showcase your skills and strengths. Include bulleted information because it’ll be easier for hiring managers to scan quickly compared to dense paragraphs of text. Use strong verbs (e.g., collaborated, specialized, managed, assisted) and describe some of the most impressive, relevant things you achieved during your clinicals. Describe the patient population you worked with, the type of facility it was, and the volume of patients you saw. And, as with the Education section, make sure that all of your experiences are listed in descending chronological order so that the most recent appear first.
And avoid this:
Section 6: Relevant Professional Experience
Within this section, list any paid or volunteer jobs or internships you’ve held that are relevant to physical therapy, and briefly describe your milestones or accomplishments at each position. Don’t list jobs you held during school that are unrelated to physical therapy (e.g., working as a waitress or a receptionist), as the experience isn’t relevant to the position.
Section 7: Skills
It can help you stand out if you highlight some of your most marketable skills within a designated “Skills” section. Be sure everything is focused on a hiring manager’s needs, based on what they listed in the job posting. It’s easy to swap certain skills in and out of this section to personalize your resume for a particular position.
If you’d like, you can move this section up on your resume and place it directly beneath your professional summary. You have many skills when you graduate from PT school, but not as much experience as someone who’s been working for a while. So, if this information appears higher, it could help catch the eye of the hiring manager and keep them reading to learn more about you.
Section 8: Awards, Honors, & Professional Organizations
If you have any outstanding awards or honors to mention, you can list them at the bottom of your resume. This is also a good place to mention any memberships you may have with professional organizations. If you don’t have anything to list, you can leave this section off your resume.
Example of an Ideal Physical Therapy Resume (Plus Downloadable Template)
Your completed resume should look something like the sample below. Feel free to click on the image to see a larger PDF version of the document.
Like what you see? You can even download the Microsoft Word template we used to create our example of an ideal physical therapy resume!
Before You Hit 'Send': 6 Questions to Ask Yourself
As you’re creating your resume, ask yourself these questions, which should help you craft a memorable document that will serve you well throughout your job search:
- Does my resume accurately reflect my experience and highlight my achievements?
- Are there enough strong verbs and phrases to indicate I possess the right experience?
- Have I sprinkled in keywords from the job posting to show I’m qualified?
- Am I using bullets and leaving space to allow readers to scan for pertinent details?
- Have I made any grammatical errors by mistake?
- Does my resume fit on one page?