As graduation looms, the prospect of getting your first job as a physical therapist can be exciting. You know your resume must be in order, but your job hunt success will also depend on a strong cover letter. Hiring managers look at both documents when deciding which candidates to call for interviews, and each document contains different things.
Why do you need a stellar cover letter? It’s a conversational introduction that can help the hiring manager learn about the highlights of your education and related work experience. You can also use the letter to share insights into your personality, which the hiring manager wouldn’t learn when only perusing your resume. Ideally, your cover letter will offer such a favorable first impression that the hiring manager will want to contact you for an interview immediately.
We spoke with Donna Lampke, PT, DPT, CPRW, ACRW, a practicing physical therapist, certified career coach, and founder of DIY Career Documents, about what to include or what to leave out of your cover letter to get the attention of hiring managers.
What Do You Include in a Physical Therapy Cover Letter?
Always be sure to craft your cover letter to the specific job for which you’re applying. Follow this format to be sure you’re including all of the most important details:
- Your Contact Information
- Date You’re Sending the Letter
- Contact Information for the Hiring Manager
- A Salutation
- Paragraph #1: Introduction
- Paragraph #2: Why You're Interested
- __Paragraph #3: Thank You & Call To Action
- A Closing
A cover letter is not the place to get creative or think outside the box when it comes to the layout. The hiring manager will expect your letter to look similar to this outline. It’s important that the hiring manager’s first impression of you lets her know you’re a rule-follower, because it will give her the confidence that you’ll be able to follow the rules if you’re hired. You can still let your personality and creativity shine through in your words while following the proper format.
Below, we'll explain what you should provide for each section of the cover letter.
Your Contact Information
Your goal is to make your contact information visible up top so the reader — or hiring manager — can contact you right away. Always include your email address and your phone number, even if you’re also including all the same information on your resume. The documents sometimes get separated, and having your details in both places will increase your chances of getting a call.
Make sure your email address sounds professional and doesn’t say something cutesy, like “PTdiva” or “TherapyDude.” Consider getting a new Gmail account when you graduate, because your “.edu” email address may not work anymore, and choose a straightforward name that incorporates your full name or your initials.
You can also include the URL for your LinkedIn page or your own website (if you have one) within your contact information, so hiring managers can learn more about you there.
Date You're Sending the Letter
Be sure to include the date you sent the letter because it helps hiring managers remember when you applied for the position.
Hiring Manager’s Contact Information
Because you’re following a formal business letter format, it’s crucial to include details about the hiring manager within your cover letter. Not only is it a respectful gesture to name the person you’re addressing, it also demonstrates that you’re following the rules. You should include the full name of the hiring manager, their title, and even the name of their department. If you have their email address and/or phone number, feel free to include those, as well. Including all of this information will help ensure your cover letter reaches the right person.
Occasionally, no one is named as the point person on a job listing. In that case, you can address the letter to the “Hiring Manager.”
Refer to the hiring manager as “Mr.,” “Ms.,” or “Dr.” at the start of your letter, rather than calling them by their first name. Hiring managers consider it a red flag when you address them so informally, because it shows you’re not following the proper format. Using a formal title shows respect for the person’s authority and the hiring process. To be formal, use “Dear,” along with the person’s name, rather than something more familiar, like “To.”
“Dear Ms. Johnson:”
NOTE: Notice the use of a colon here and not a comma. Create a professional tone with the use of a colon after their name.
NOTE: This will convey a lack of respect or formality.
Or try this:
“Dear Hiring Manager:”
But avoid this:
“To whom this may concern:”
NOTE: It’s very generic and sounds like a form letter.
Paragraph #1: An Introduction That Explains Why You’re Writing
It’s important to be clear in your cover letter that you’re applying for a specific job for a specific reason. Look at the job posting you’re interested in, and let the hiring manager/owner know you have what she’s seeking in a job candidate. List the exact job title to avoid confusion on the hiring manager’s part.
If you’re applying for the job, you’re probably a good match for the position, and you need to let the hiring manager know that. Notice the qualities the job ad is seeking in an employee. Some people may have the exact qualities a hiring manager is seeking, but they don’t spell it out in the cover letter and aren’t called in for an interview. If they’re seeking someone with x, y, and z and you fit the bill, explain in your introductory paragraph that you’re interested in the position and you think you’d be a good fit because you possess x, y, and z.
If you’re applying for a position with a referral from a friend or colleague, you’ll want to mention that at the beginning of the first paragraph. Including your referral’s name helps the hiring manager have some context about you and helps you connect a little more deeply to her practice, which you can relay in your cover letter.
Although it’s never a guarantee, it can often help your application jump to the head of the line if you know someone, and that increases your chance of scoring an interview. Just make sure you don’t start off your introductory paragraph with someone else’s name. Instead, lead with a quick pleasantry that can help you set a positive tone for the rest of the letter.
“Hello! I hope this letter finds you well. My friend, Donna Lampke, has referred me to you for the Staff Physical Therapist position (#PT54321) at your medical center. Next month, I will receive my DPT degree from X University, and I’d like to be considered for the position. My clinical instructor said I’d be a great fit for a position working with athletes recovering from surgery because of the confidence and expertise I demonstrated during clinicals. I believe my experience, education, and dedication to my work will make me an integral part of your team.”
“My friend and fellow X College alumna, Donna Lampke, suggested I contact you directly about the Staff Physical Therapist position (#PT54321) at ABC Therapy. She speaks so highly of you and feels I could be a great addition to your team. When I heard more about your facility and practices, I felt it would be a great fit for my focus in neurological physical therapy. Next month, I will receive my DPT degree… ”
“I’ll be graduating from X University next month, and I’m hoping to get a job with my friend, Donna Lampke, as a physical therapist at your medical center. I did well with my studies, and I interacted nicely with patients during clinicals. Please keep me in mind for any vacancies that may arise.”
Paragraph #2: Why You’re Interested in the Position & Your Appeal as a Candidate
This isn’t the time to be subtle or modest. It’s helpful if you can spell out for the hiring manager why you’re a good fit for the position and why it’s in her best interest to bring you in for an interview. Demonstrating that you have some of the qualities the job advertisement lists as requirements can work in your favor.
For example, let the hiring manager know if you’re enthusiastic about the type of work the job would have you do because of your previous experiences. Sounding passionate about physical therapy and the work you do — as long as you maintain a formal, professional tone — can help you exude a sense of excitement that will show you’re an appealing job candidate.
This paragraph can be a good time to mention something impressive that a professor or clinical instructor said about your work ethic or your attention to detail and to explain why you would be an asset to the team. You can also highlight some of your personal qualities that would make you an ideal employee. The idea is to describe some of your strengths without repeating information verbatim from your resume. What you say should be conversational and personalized to grab your reader’s attention.
“During PT school, I worked with a variety of patients facing a number of challenges, but I connected best with student athletes who were rehabbing after knee surgery or other procedures. This was probably because I was once that injured student, and I was inspired to become a PT after a positive rehab experience. I’ve helped many patients improve their range of motion and flexibility, but I also offered them insights into the recovery process, having experienced it myself. My clinical instructor told me that my approach helps me gain my patients’ trust in a way she hadn’t seen before. I’m enthusiastic, dedicated, and eager to take on new responsibilities and challenges.”
“I had the chance to work with patients who had all types of injuries during clinicals at school, so whichever department you think would be a good fit for me, I’ll have seen patients with those issues. It doesn’t matter to me if they’re young or old; I get along with everyone. The many skills I picked up during clinicals will surely help me at your facility.”
Paragraph #3: A Thank You & Call To Action
To conclude your cover letter, summarize why you think you’re the right person for the job, and be sure to thank the hiring manager for considering you for the position. You can ask her to get in touch with you, but you don’t have to be heavy-handed. Your contact information is at the top of the letter, so the hiring manager can contact you if she’s interested.
Instead of summarizing what you’ve already said about your education and experience making you a good fit for the position, you can grab the attention of the hiring manager by saying something that leaves the impression you’re passionate about the position. If it has always been your dream to work in a level 1 trauma center, say so. If you know anything about the culture of the organization you’re applying to, share some details to demonstrate you’ve done your research and would be a good fit. Above all, be confident, and let your enthusiasm shine through!
“I’m enthusiastically applying for this position, because I feel I’ll be able to make a difference in the lives of patients on a daily basis. I’m confident that my passion for PT will grow because of the opportunities you provide for your employees. I’m excited to learn more about the opportunity and to share more details about how I would be a great fit for your organization. If I’m offered this position, I’ll be ready to hit the ground running and exceed your expectations for success. Thank you for your consideration!”
“Thank you for considering me for any PT positions at your location. I know I’ll do a good job, and I’ll start to fit in after I learn the ropes. Please interview me, because I want to hear more about your opportunities in person. I can follow up with you in a week or two in case you don’t have the time to reach out to me before then.”
Above your signature, write “Regards,” or “Sincerely,” to end your cover letter. These are typical sign-offs within business letters, and they’ll make your letter sound professional.
Final Tips for Writing Your Cover Letter
Your cover letter helps to create a first impression of you when you’re apply for a job. Make sure you proofread your letter thoroughly, ensuring there aren’t any typos or other glaring errors. The letter should fit onto one page and follow the proper format. It also helps if the font and contact information are identical on your resume and cover letter, which will demonstrate your professionalism and attention to detail.
Also, consider these three tips:
Tip #1: Strike the right tone in your letter.
A cover letter is a formal document in which you’re trying to start a professional conversation with the hiring manager. You can be much more conversational than within your resume, but you shouldn’t be cracking jokes or poking fun at what PTs do. It’s OK to be creative with your words, but try to use a serious tone throughout the letter so you represent yourself as a professional.
Tip #2: Mirror the job posting.
If the ad says they’re seeking someone detail-oriented and who has worked with older adults, you should spell out these details within your cover letter, using the same phrases that appear in the job posting. Don’t leave anything to chance, and let the hiring manager know you’re an exact fit for the job if you are.
Tip #3: Consider your social media presence.
Most hiring managers will look you up on social media after they’ve received your contact information, so Google yourself to see what they’ll find. Look at the photos you’ve posted, and ask yourself whether or not they create a professional identity. Then, remove anything from your profile that doesn’t conform to that image. When you do this, turn on “Incognito mode” - this will allow you to browse privately so your previous search history doesn’t influence the results you find here (just in case you’ve ever gotten curious and Googled yourself in the past). By doing this, you’ll be able to see exactly what would pop up about you if your hiring manager Googled you.