CPD Practice: your physiotherapy career part 2

In the second in a series of five articles on career development, CSP professional adviser Nina Paterson focuses on taking the first steps.

In the coming months, we’ll look at education, research, management, lateral career moves, returning to practice and career development for support workers. As always, the advice is applicable to members at all stages of their careers and we hope you enjoy the full series. I recommend keeping the articles together or adding a bookmark to the online versions as you may want to return to them later on in your career. After all, you never know when you might want to change direction.
In this article, we will look at first destinations and early career moves. 
Where to start? You’ll need to address the following points:
  • know why you are applying. 
  • identify your strengths and weaknesses.
  • find ways to address any gaps in your knowledge and skills, then …
  • be brave and apply for the job! 
If you are a student or a new graduate, you will have had great advice while at university about reflective practice. You will be familiar with the concept of SWOTs (identifying your strengths and weaknesses, and assessing any opportunities and threats). At this stage in your fledgling career, you will develop at a fast rate, so don’t forget to review and assess your achievements every now and again (see continuing professional development, or CPD, activity). 

Know why you are applying

I would like to share something a physiotherapist with about 25 years of management experience said to me recently. She had just taken up a new post and said the thought processes involved in preparing her application were identical to those in her first-ever job application. She knew why she was applying for the post, what she wanted to get out of it, where she thought it would take her next and what she could offer her employer. 
If you are applying for your first job, this might sound like an impossible ask. While you may not have your career trajectory mapped out for the next 40-something years you should know why you want this job.

The post might 

  • help you consolidate your clinical skills,
  • be in a setting you love, 
  • offer a diversity of settings, allowing you to explore different options. 
Whatever your reasons, be clear about them so that you can home in on positions that offer the opportunities you need. 
This will also help you to show your enthusiasm to potential employers. You may find that this process opens up options. We have employed new graduates here at the CSP who have used the positions to develop their ‘soft skills’, political awareness, understanding of good practice and healthcare systems. When these colleagues moved back into clinical roles, it was clear their time at the CSP was valuable – to themselves and their new employer.
By starting to ask questions such as what can I offer and what I can gain from this post, you will take your first steps along your personal career trajectory. And, remember to keep asking them throughout your career.  

Addressing gaps

Managers attending a recent London CSP regional network urged would-be job applicants to think beyond their physiotherapeutic skills. They were very clear that they want to see evidence of soft skills which can be overlooked by candidates. 
CSP student leader Luke Tobin offers some tips on displaying leadership in this edition of Frontline (see page 16). While you’re not about to leap into a leadership role immediately, weighing up positions and organisations based on the potential for you to grow into a leadership role is a good thing. It relates back to the point made earlier – know why you are applying. 
Remember that the leadership and managerial skills you have picked up can be fine-tuned in any role. It’s the same ‘soft’ skill set London managers want new physiotherapy graduates to exhibit – the ability to communicate, develop relationships, work as a team, be proactive and take the initiative, problem solve, and understand and improve the systems and cultures at work. 

Applying the lessons

You need to have a realistic understanding of your own level of competence, but don’t be unduly harsh – you’re in the early stages of your career and so may not meet all the criteria. There is no point in ‘blagging’ – patients depend on you using your professional judgement to work within your scope of practice, so present potential employers with a grounded appraisal of your abilities. Remember that experienced managers will have a good understanding of what you can do. 
On occasion, I have been unable to shortlist a physiotherapist, even though I knew they had the transferable skills needed for the post. This is because the applicant failed to match their skills to the items in the job description. 
Transfer your thinking from point 1 in the box above into your application – let employers see all you have to offer. fl

CPD activities

The four activities are designed to help you work through the key points in this article. 
Know why you are applying for the post.

1 Make time to consider why you want the job, and ask

  • what will I bring to it?
  • what will I get out of it? 
If you want to record your thoughts, templates are available here.
Address your strengths and weaknesses, and identify any gaps.

2 Assess your abilities in an objective way. 

Look back through your reflections while on placement. Review the feedback you received from practice educators, personal tutors, lecturers, appraisals (if you’re in your first post). Use SWOT or other tools at your disposal to do this (again, you’ll find templates by clicking the link above).

3 Think beyond your physiotherapeutic skills.

  • Is there anything you could do to start focusing on these under-developed areas at work or outside? 
  • Applying for the job.

4 Get feedback from someone from outside the profession.

  • Ask them to review your supporting statements, CV or application form. Their insights could be invaluable.

Nina Paterson CSP professional adviser

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