How do I know which PT job to pick? Differentiating average from awesome


When it came to deciding on which residency to attend, I took tours and sat in interview after interview.  Sometimes it felt like I was comparing the exact same program only in different locations and other times it felt like the variations made them impossible to compare. I also questioned whether the interviews and tours accurately represented the program or if I was only getting to see what they wanted me to see.  At the time, I had no idea how to use the experience to help me determine what was the right choice for me.

Whether this is your first PT job or your next job, finding the right fit and deciding whether or not to take a job can leave you full of uncertainty.  We all experience the doubt and hesitation that comes with wanting to make the right choice.  So, how do we choose?  Part of it comes from gathering the right information during the application process and part of it comes from understanding what is important to you.  There are 5 main things we want to explore that can improve our decision-making process: culture, learning opportunities, personal fit, salary and assets.


One of the hardest factors to gauge is what the culture is like at the place you’re looking to work. How do you differentiate what is the true culture of the workplace and what is a front? Every place you interview is going to put on a good face during the process, but there are questions you can ask during the interview that can help you determine the true status.

Can I see the schedule for today?  This is an important question as it will allow you to decipher whether they truly don’t double patients or if they do reserve the entire time they promise for an evaluation.  It will also give you an idea of how many patients are seen in a day.

Why do you like working here? Ask the other employees what they enjoy about their job.  Beware of euphemisms.  Does “the company is thriving” actually mean they are understaffed or overworked?

What would you change about working here?  Offer an opportunity for employees to share frustrations.  Look for patterns here among workers.

How will you know if I am successful in this role? This is a great question to determine if the company has even thought about what it means to be a successful employee. Also it can identify what they focus on as a company (e.g. patient volume versus patient loyalty). Craig Pfifer of the Private Practice Rebellion goes into this very well in this post.

Learning Opportunities

One of the most underrated aspects of a job is often the capacity for learning.  Salary matters, time off matters, but what if the job doesn’t have a culture of learning?  You can feel stuck if you are in a place surrounded by people just going through the motions.  You can get a good idea of the learning culture by gathering information during the interview.

Do you offer mentoring opportunities?

Do you bring in any continuing education?

Do you do inservices or lunch and learn?

Do therapists have interests in different areas?

Do therapists frequently ask each other patient care questions and problem solve together?

Personal Fit

This determination obviously varies person to person.  The most important part of finding a job is finding the one that works best for you.  Don’t choose the job that has the higher salary but is an hour commute if you value time with family more than you value a higher paycheck.  A large part of that decision comes from ranking all of the information you gathered (which we will discuss further in the next post).  

Do you want a big or small clinic?

Do you want a certain population?

What do you value the most? (salary, flexibility, growth, etc)

What do you find exciting about your current day that you want to be sure you have in the new position?

What do you want to be sure to avoid that you don’t like about your current circumstance?


Salary is important, and so is assertive negotiation, but salary is not everything. Multiple variables affect the final offer.  Benefits, time off, and other considerations may affect the number offered. 

You also need to consider why the salary is where it is. A high salary may be the result of a rural area or could be the product of poor staff retention due to poor culture.  A higher salary will help with student loans, but that may not be able to offset the negativity of a culture. 

Also, health insurance and retirement contributions can affect the financial end result quite a bit. A 4% retirement match on a 70k salary is almost an extra 3k. Having a good health insurance option or not having it at all may sway things by 5-10k in premiums alone.

Consider the following questions to gain a comprehensive look at salary:

Is the salary competitive? How does it compare to other offers in the area?  Is it representative for the role you’re applying, the experience you bring, and the setting/location?  

Are there opportunities to share in success? Are there profit-sharing options that add to a low base salary?  Is there an extensive bonus structure that benefits therapists?

What are the other benefits? What is allocated for retirement and health insurance? Given my specific health circumstance or future health circumstances, what would my out of pocket expenses be for a typical year?


Assets (or job benefits) are important when it comes to where you work, but some should be valued lower than others.  Some assets truly affect your life in a meaningful way.  Maybe the company offers workouts on lunch that would allow you to have more time with your family in the evening.   But other things may sound good on paper, but don’t make much of a difference on a day-to-day basis.  Sure, continuing education money is great, but $2000 once a year is not going to make you love a job.  

How much paid time off is there?

Do they offer continuing education benefits?

Do they match student loan payments?

Are there opportunities to make money in other capacities?  (strength coach, weekend hours, community programs)

While these categories (and others that are important to you) provide you the information you need to evaluate your job, what may be even more challenging is how to determine the relative weight of each. In the next post, we will look at a decision making process to dig deeper into job selection. 

If you are looking to find out what your PT salary should be for your specific location, setting, and years of experience, use the PT Salary Calculator.



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