Crafting Your Dream Job Starts With Knowing Your Crystal Balls
Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes
If you have never experienced the "Crystal Balls" talk by APTA President Sharon Dunn, you're truly missing out. It seems like at every conference Dr Dunn uses her slow, sultry, Louisiana drawl to lure you into story time. You can hear the faint whispers of jazz and taste the beignets, as Dr Dunn shares her experience with identifying the crystal balls in her life—the important things, if fumbled, would shatter and leave her world vastly different.
Crystal balls are different for everyone. The things that make each of us smile, grind, and repeat the struggle of school and full-time employment will vary from person-to-person. For reference, my personal crystal balls are listed below:
- Family, friends, and puppy: No explanation needed; relationships matter most and there are no substitutions.
- Escape into a fantasy novel: If it has a dragon in it, I'll read it. The escape from the stresses of the real world is crucial for me.
- Purposeful sweating: In Alabama we sweat a lot anyway, but purposeful sweating, aka exercise, is key to a happy vs grumpy Fred.
In addition to identifying your personal crystal balls, you should also identify your professional crystal balls. Before you begin to negotiate your contract, or even consider signing on with a company, interview your employer—you need to know your must-haves.
Must-haves are the things that will make the difference between burnout and workplace bliss. When I entered the job market 2 years ago (and as I now transition to new employment), these were the crystal balls for finding my professional home:
- Proximity to mentorship: Mentorship is the carrot that all employers will dangle to attract talented students. There is a difference, however, in guaranteed mentorship hours and proximity to your mentor. I found infinitely more value in the daily 5 minute education I received by having a desk next to my mentor, in comparison with the scheduled 3 hours a month. Understand what's more important to you and make time to ask.
- Extra personal time off (PTO) allotted for APTA and residency travel: My 5-year plan includes clinical and professional excellence. It has been crucial for my development in the NAIOMT Orthopedic Residency Program to have extra time off allotted for travel for education and conferences.
- Surrounding myself with people infinitely more talented than myself: As much as my ego would enjoy being "the go-to guy" from day 1 on a job, I want to surround myself with individuals with more skills and talent than myself. I can't grow if I'm not challenged.
- Support for expedited learning: I firmly believe that one learns the most in the first 5 years after physical therapy school. I want to work for an employer that supports and encourages this notion by allowing for growth, both inside and outside the clinic.
As I entered my contract negotiations as a new grad, I had these crystal balls identified as nonnegotiable. Everything else, from my standpoint, was on the table. This clarity of desires made discussions with my future employer much easier. Not only does this make it easier for your future boss to shape your offer to your individual needs, it also makes it much easier to say "no" to what seems like a good job offer.
Now for the nitty-gritty, practical job advice. As always, please remember this is my opinion developed from personal conversations and personal experiences.
Negotiations: Everything is negotiable (kind of).
We all go into contract negotiations expecting to ask for the moon regarding salary because we are fresh out of school with the latest and greatest knowledge. The sobering truth of the matter is that as a new grad, you don't have much leverage to negotiate your salary. You're entering the field at a relatively level-playing field, compared with everyone else.
You can, however, negotiate on your crystal balls. Need more time off for family or travel? Just ask. Want to go through a specific education track after school? Just ask. Salary is often more difficult to negotiate, but the rest is yours to shape. Remember, you can't receive what you don't ask for.
A general rule for negotiations that you can follow is the larger the company, the less you can negotiate; the smaller the company, the more you can negotiate. The beauty of a large system is the support and structure available in place; however, this also limits the ability to negotiate things like salary, PTO, and certifications.
Be willing to sacrifice.
This concept is much easier said than done. You will notice that my professional crystal balls did not include things like proximity to family, making mega-bucks, or getting off early, so I can enjoy my personal life.
My first job (and dream job) included a mentor 5 feet away, extra days off for education and conference travel, and 350+ continuing education hours in my first year and a half. It also included living 2 hours from family, a slightly diminished salary in exchange for upfront residency payment, and long hours in the clinic. But the kicker? I was happy. My professional crystal balls were met, and I was willing to sacrifice the rest to grow. Knowing yourself and your needs make crafting your dream job that much easier.
Nothing speaks louder to an employer than a candidate who shows legitimate interest in their company. Show up and be present when you shadow your potential future home. And do your research—nothing will impress them more than knowing their values, history, and about the individuals working there.
Also, remember that a 2-hour window will never tell you what you need to know about the employer; it's easy to cover up warts for 2 hours. Spend several days (spread out, of course) at the clinic to get a feel for the environment, your future coworkers, and the patient population you will be treating. Do they match your crystal balls? If yes, proceed; if not, move on.
Take your time and be comfortable with saying no.
Most of us graduate with that deep, dark cloud hanging over our heads called student debt. This forces most of us to make a rash decision on our first job just to pay the bills. Taking your time and finding the right job (based on your crystal balls) can make or break the direction of your career. There are plenty of jobs available, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says we will grow 25% from 2016-2020 (much faster than other occupations). Take your time, do your research, and make an informed decision.
Sometimes your "dream job" turns out to be more of a nightmare. This happens and this is okay, but you have to be comfortable with saying no and moving on. No one wants to jump from employer to employer in your first years. Taking your time will ensure that you are happy where you land and give you the opportunity to grow your roots to truly transform your clients' lives.
And finally, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
The late Cecelia Graham of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, gave the class of 2015 the best job advice that I can think of. If a company offers you the moon and the stars, there is probably a catch. Be wary of what might be expected in return of those offers that sound out of this world. Take your time and research the company, talk to the staff, and contact former employees as well. More often than not, too good to be true is exactly that.
Knowing yourself will make knowing your dream job that much easier. Take some time over the next few weeks to get to know yourself. And if you see me at CSM (the kid in a bow tie), please share your crystal balls and your job search journey!
Take a breath. Follow your crystal balls. Crush it.
Fred Gilbert, PT, DPT, is a practicing clinician based out of Virginia. Fred served as the 2014-2015 APTA Student Assembly Board President. Connect with Fred on Twitter at: @FredGilbert_DPT.