10 Common Physiotherapy Resume Pitfalls

Getting the job you want as a physiotherapist hinges on your specific skills and experience, your interview and your resume.
Aside from your skills and experience your resume is the most important component in the job search process. Without a good one, your chances of getting an interview are greatly diminished.
In a previous article, we talked about some high level strategies to help create a great physical therapy job resume. In this article we’re diving into 10 common physiotherapy resume blunders that we’ve come across. We’ve analyzed various resumes, and spoken with physiotherapy and rehab hiring managers to get the low down on what works and what doesn’t in helping you stand out from the crowd.
Whether you’re a new grad, a physiotherapy student, an internationally trained physiotherapist or a seasoned clinician we trust that you’ll find some key nuggets that will help you in your resume writing.

1. Grammatical & Spelling Errors

Let’s get the major offenders out of the way right away. A resume is a hiring manager’s initial window into your personality, professionalism and expertise. Having any grammatical or spelling errors send a message… and not a good one. It gives an indication, accurate or not, that you are lacking in attention to detail and that your communication skills are not up to scratch. The advent of computers and sophisticated word processors such as Word and Pages have made spell checking much easier, but it goes much deeper than this. You need to use clear words and phrasing.
Here is an excerpt from one of the resumes we reviewed. It’s a great example of common grammatical and spelling errors made when resume writing:
“During the program I have got extensive exposure of the Canadian Healthcare System, work ethics and client centered care. I have also been trained in doing the assessment, treatment and documentation of ortho, cardio and neuro patients in various hospitals.”
In this example several grammatical errors have occurred. Make sure that verbs are conjugated correctly, words are used appropriately, capitalization of letters is correct and that terms are not abbreviated. This can lend to creating a very informal tone in your resume. An improved version of the above statement may be:
During the program, I gained exposure to the Canadian healthcare system, work ethic and the concept of client centered care. I have been trained to perform assessments, treatments and documentation in orthopaedic, cardiorespiratory and neurology populations in various hospitals.
Here are some very practical ways to help you avoid this common pitfall:

  • Top down. Edit in a top down manner. This means that you simply start at the beginning and work your way through the resume.
  • Initial quick scan. When starting your proofreading, consider starting with a quick review of the whole document. This will highlight any glaringly obvious errors right off the bat.
  • Divide into sections. After a quick scan, complete a more scrutinizing and specific review of each section individually.
  • Use a second set of eyes. Have a friend or colleague review your resume to check for errors you may have missed.
  • Read out loud. Sometimes reading your sentences out loud allows you to correctly identify where editing is needed.

2. Language Choice

Next we need to look at an equally important area of language and phrasing. How you structure your sentences and bullet point descriptions is what we’re talking about. This will be very important to review in your cover letter, but also in your resume highlight section (if you have one) and your job description details.
An example of poor sentence structure and language choice is:
“Performed individualized therapeutic massage treatments and managed pain and tension headaches by using techniques as deep-tissue and trigger point release, performed lymphatic drainage, sports, relaxation, pregnancy and infant massage treatments.”
This is a great example of how too many ideas can be crammed into only one sentence. Sentence organization and flow is also quite poor. An improved version of this statement with correct sentence structure may be:
Performed individualized therapeutic massage treatments to manage pain and tension headaches in sport, pregnant and infant populations. Proficient in lymphatic drainage, deep tissue and trigger point release techniques.
Here are some very practical way to help you avoid this common pitfall:

  • Avoid run on sentences. When in doubt include only 1-2 ideas per sentence. More than this can come across as rambling and unorganized.
  • Use relevant terminology. When appropriate use physiotherapy specific language as you are not writing for the layman.
  • No acronyms. Including acronyms in your resume and/or cover letter can be tricky business. As a general rule, use the full word first and follow with the acronym. If you continue to use this word frequently throughout the rest of your resume, it’s okay to use the acronym once it has been defined.

3. Giving Incorrect Information

Let’s be honest, we want to make ourselves look good on our resumes. But we have to make sure that our desire to look good doesn’t overpower the responsibility to be accurate in the information we provide.
Here are a list of the big no-nos:

  • False information. Lying is always a bad idea. Whether in your interview or when your references are checked, the truth will always come out.
  • Exaggeration. Avoid exaggerating your roles and responsibilities at previous positions. Instead of trying to make it look like you did and were responsible for more, provide detail of the projects you did do and try to explain your experiences in a way that shows they will benefit you in the position you’re applying for.
  • Double check contact information. Make sure that the contact information provided for yourself and your references is up to date. If incorrect, employers won’t be able to get in touch with you. They won’t go searching for your information; they’ll simply move along to the next candidate.

4. Having Only One Resume

Let’s be honest, putting together a finely polished resume is hard work. Once you have a strong draft, we tend to think, “Great! Now I can just re-send this resume to every job I apply for.” This strategy may work if you’re applying for exactly the same type of job every time, but it can also get you into trouble.
When applying for a job, your resume should be a reflection of that unique position. It should convey why your previous work, volunteering and life experiences make you the best possible candidate. Before applying, you should start by first stepping back and asking yourself if your current resume speaks directly to that job.

  1. Does it highlight your experiences directly applicable to this position?
  2. Does it include important qualifications detailed in the job description?
  3. Ultimately, does your highlight paragraph, job history and experience support your application?

If you answer no to any of the above questions, you’re better off customizing your resume! Simple as that.


5. Over or Under-stylizing Your Resume

Let’s remember one thing: hiring managers often have a number of resumes to go through. When they’re scanning through a stack of resumes, they’re only initially spending seconds on each. This means that how you visually present your resume is huge. You want to stand out and make a good first impression.
The presentation of your resume should look to address a few different things:

a. Visual structure

At first glance your resume must look professional, visually pleasing and organized. An easy way to convey organization is through the use of headings, as these divide your resume into important sections.
Commonly used headings include:

  • Summary of qualifications
  • Education
  • Certifications
  • Clinical experience
  • Continuing education

Ensure all indents and spacing are consistent throughout the resume, and use large or bold fonts to highlight important headings and sections.

b. Readability

It should be easy for a hiring manager to consume the information you’re presenting. This means looking at the fonts you\’re using and the use of white space on the page.

  • Make sure font sizes are standardized: font size 12 is arguably the most popular and easy to read.
  • Using bullets and list formatting allows information to be easily digestible and avoids creating heavy text blocks which can turn hiring managers away .

6. Being Vague

Writing a great physical therapy resume is a balancing act: you want to be brief and succinct, yet give enough detail to help the reader get a clear picture of your value and competence. What we’ve found in our review of physiotherapy resumes is that it’s much more common for resumes to be too vague.
For a physiotherapy resume, you need to include specific skills that you’ve gained, how you’ve gained them, the populations you’ve worked with and the specific responsibilities you’ve had. To help make this clearer we’ve put together a common example with suggestions to make it more descriptive.
Example:
“Assessed, planned and implemented treatment protocols including therapeutic exercise, mobilization, electro-therapeutic modality and mechanical equipment.”
This statement is true of any physiotherapist in all settings. It does nothing to describe your past experiences and skill set. Instead try…
Independently assessed fall risk in geriatric population as member of multidisciplinary home care team, implemented individualized balance interventions supported by the Otago balance program and tracked progress using the Tinetti outcome measure.
Another area of vagueness found in physiotherapy resumes is your current registration status. If you’re a new grad or an international physiotherapist, you’ll want to be very clear around your licensing status. Do you hold a provisional license and require mentorship to practice? Are you fully licensed and practicing independently? Providing clarity around this area is important as it helps the employer know your exact status and means one less area to research before asking you for an interview.


7. Highlighting Your Skills Without Connecting to Experience

Skill development as a physiotherapist is important. We’re a profession that is dedicated to continually improving our skill set to help our patients and communities live better lives. In a resume, it’s tempting to just provide a list of your skills in a nice bullet point list.
Here are a few examples:

  • Great communicator
  • Excellent collaborator in multidisciplinary team
  • Self-motivated
  • Excellent manual therapy skills

Resist this urge as there’s no substance to these statements! Remembering our previous discussion regarding vagueness, it’s important that you give more information about how you gained these skills or how they were tested in your experience. Providing context to your skills helps paint a picture of why you would be a valuable addition to an employer\’s team.


8. Too Short, Too Long, Just Right

On a related note, the length of your resume is important. There are rules of thumb that you’ll hear from different sources. Some people say that your resume should be no longer than 1 page and others will say that 2 pages is OK. Who do you believe? The underlying principle you should remember is that your resume should be as long as it needs to be. Having a two page resume is fine as long as it’s necessary.
Remember your cover letter is an important component to this stage of the hiring process as together with your resume it gives insight into who you are as a clinician. A cover letter should be only 1 page long.


9. Missing Dates & Timelines

Sometimes life can throw us curve balls and things happen. We end up having a job that is a bad fit and we quit after 6 months. We can be without work for a period of time or have to redo a course. When this happens we like to hide the fact, but you should be cautious about concealing any information. Rather see how you can position yourself more effectively.
If you’re using a chronological resume style, you’ll want to avoid having big gaps in your work experience. This can be a red flag for clinic and hospital employers as they may worry about your dependability. When reviewing your resume, specifically go through your resume and evaluate it for chronological flow. This will help you to identify any changes you need to make to your resume.If you find that you have limited experience or gaps in employment, you may find a functional or combination style resume preferable.
Unlike a chronological resume, a functional resume does not rely so heavily on timelines. With a functional resume, areas of work experience and skills gained throughout your areas of experience are emphasized. This style works well for individuals who have significant and frequent gaps in their past employment history. A combination style resume combines the best parts of chronological and functional resumes together. Typically, work experiences and skills are summarized first, followed by a list of relevant work and volunteer experiences organized most to least recent.
Here are some examples of when you should choose one style over another.

Chronological:
  • You have a strong and consistent work history
  • The majority of your past experience is in the same field as the position you’re applying for
Functional:
  • You\’re attempting a career change
  • You’re a recent graduate
  • You have little experience in the field of interest
Combination:
  • You have both a consistent work history and a solid skill set

10. Using a Resume Objective Statement

It’s not uncommon to see an objective statement in a resume like:
“Seeking a physiotherapist position”
But this is a bad idea. And let me explain why. Objective statements are centered around what you want as a physiotherapist but it says nothing about what you can offer a potential employer. And more often than not, people don’t change their objective statement leading to very vague statements that do little to set you apart.

We hope that this article helped guide you in writing or revising your physical therapy resumes! For ease of application let\’s recap…
 

About the Author:

Andrew Koppejan, PT

Andrew Koppejan, PT

As a physiotherapist with more than thirteen years of clinical experience, I’ve travelled a unique path of self-discovery and clinical experiences that has brought me to a place of clinical flow. I help movement clinicians move from a place of frustration to flow in their clinical practice.

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