The Hard-Ass Guide to Getting and Succeeding at a Great Chiropractic Associate Job

Every year I get to review about 20-50 applications for associate positions. Having co-run a sports and rehab clinic for 5 years and now co-running a pregnancy and pediatrics practice (my wife’s), it became part of the weekly routine. You would think details would be different between the two hiring processes (sports vs peds), but they are more similar than different. The specifics are different, but the attributes and principle are the same.

It never ceases to amaze me, and maybe this is a generational thing, how every applicant perceives themselves to be highly qualified for whatever job they want. WHATEVER JOB THEY WANT. The spark that ignited my desire to write this post was an interview I got finished about 3 hours ago. In this interview, I asked one of the most obvious questions there is to ask in these scenarios, “Why?” I wanted to know why she was interested in this particular job, as it is very niche, very restrictive in nature, and generally very few people do it very well. The person sitting in front of me had no meaningful answer whatsoever. In essence, the answer was “because I think it looks cool.” We did not hire her. 

Just as easily it could have been “Why pediatrics and pregnancy” or “Why sports practice” or “Why functional neurology” or “Why family practice” or “Why CBP” or “Why Kelowna?” It is not about the content of the question, but how it is answered. There were a large list of acceptable answers to the above question, relative to the niche pediatric practice we have, including

  • I have always been great with kids and think I would shine as a pediatric practitioner. I want to do something I am uniquely good at and I think peds/preggers could be it. I would like to test that hypothesis and this is the best place to do that. 
  • I was introduced to this style of practice by one of my profs and I’ve been into it ever since. It’s only been about 6 months, but I have taken X course and it verified for me that this is the path I want to go down, at least for the next 5 years.
  • My best friend struggled through all three of her pregnancies and I saw the toll it took on her life. I felt helpless to help her, so I have been trying to figure out how to help people like her ever since. 
  • Honestly, it’s not my first choice, but I care more about where I live and who I learn form than how I practice. I love this town, I love this office, and I really want to learn from the best in the business and I think you’re one of them. I am here to learn and I want to learn form you specifically. 

Now let me be clear, similar to a skilled and thorough physical assessment, no one question or answer or test is in itself a complete process. It takes a battery of provocations and assessments to develop a working idea according to which one will act. Similarly, in an interview, there is a process. Each step of the process is not as simple as checking the boxes. Each question should inherently be a clarification or natural outflow of the preceding answer and conversation. One does not do all of the orthopedic or special tests on every single client, and neither should interview questions simply cover a wide basis if they aim to get to the useful information.

And yet, most people we interview seem to show up with a premade “list” in their heads of all the boxes that could be checked to meet the bare minimum requirements.

Got a degree? Yup.

Getting a license? Check.

Want to work here? You bet.

And that’s about where it stops with most candidates’ self relfection on why someone would want to hire them. It’s as if they are thinking to themselves, “I got the degree, I never even failed a class, I showed I am interested, and I really want this job…that’s most of the work done already” Well, this is why I write this article. There is a LOT more to know, a LOT you could be doing to prepare, and a LOT of differences between the jobs you could be applying for. So, in no particular order, here are the things you should be doing to move to the top of the pile before and during an interview for a great chiropractic associate job:

Get experienced

I am defining “experience” very loosely here. It could be shadowing, it could be volunteer jobs, it could be in the profession or out, and it could be in a related field. Preferably you’ll do all of them. During school I shadowed about 30 different practices of all styles all across North America. You’ll regularly interact with “normal people”, as oppose to the bubble that is chiropractic college, where distorted views of reality pervade every hallway. You should show up to your time in student clinic having already been witness to dozens, if not hundreds of patient interactions from a variety of practitioners.

Secondarily, it will show you what kind of practice you want to be in and why. Successful practices look awesome no matter the location or niche. So you need to experience the full spectrum to tease out the niche and location in which you really want to go. Then when the time comes, you’ll have better answers to the question above. 

Get certified (not just experienced) (Part 1)

You’re welcome to disagree with me, ’cause frankly I don’t give two licks of a banana. Knowing (of) the base tenets being taught in a system is NOT the same as going through the weekend course, reading the books, attending the classes, or writing the test. I have literally been LIED TO (the stupidest possible thing you can do) in an interview because most people inherently know what I am saying here to be true. I once interviewed, hired, and grew to absolutely cringe at the sight of, a chiropractic associate who told me in an interview that he was certified in Graston Technique, RockTape, ART, and SFMA. Now, regardless of how you feel about those certifications, when a student goes out of their way to grab certifications at their own expense on their own time before they graduate, this reflects well on their intent to be a phenomenal practitioner. It indicates that they’ll go above and beyond. But here’s the thing, it only took abut a month on the job before the truth came out and became an immediate point of contention, not purely because I immediately knew that trustworthiness was not strong with this one, but also because I felt like my patients were getting a Scion in Range Rover clothing. I hired a Range Rover, or so I thought.

Anecdote aside, the people who are the most well prepared straight out of school have pre-scoped their unique weaknesses — their educational blindspots, so to speak — and filled them early through sacrificing their own resources. They see what the “best” (contextually defined) in their field are doing and start doing it before they “have to” to fulfill CE credits. If you show up to an interview with a list of seminars, certifications, and books to your name, you’re FAR ahead of the average joe schmoe graduating with you. 

Since I love beating this dead horse…going to the club at school is great, but do you think learning the cliff notes version from another student is the same as learning it from the proprietor who has seen thousands of cases in the real world? Do BOTH when you can, but please don’t look for a job on the bases of club activity. If you tell me you are a “kettlebell guy” you better have paid for a course and showed up to 2-4 straight days of learning from someone who has done this for a while. 

Know the difference between a Certification and a Title (Part 2)

I have seen people advertise like this: “I’m a chiropractor, strength coach, functional movement specialist, nutrition specialist, kettlebell specialist, educator, business coach, and entrepreneur.”

I exaggerate not when I tell you that I literally verbalize the words “Unfollow” to myself as I do just that on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or email. Let me perfectly clear on this one, in case this is somehow vague to you. Here is an example:

CSCS: You’re not a strength coach. You have a credential…as do a bunch of other people who are good at writing tests but have never trained an individual in their life. It’s admirable that you have this knowledge set…but it doesn’t mean you have experience as a coach. You’re only a strength coach if you coach other people as a large part of your professional activities. Heck, I don’t tell people I am a strength coach any more and I have literally instructed 8 group exercises in the last 48 hours. For clarification, I have a CSCS and I think it’s worth while…but it doesn’t make me a strength coach. Neither does not having CSCS on the resume preclude me from being one. A certification leading to a credential does not a title make. The job does.

(Bonus Rant!!! You’re not an entrepreneur until you’ve risked something, you’re not an educator because people follow you on Instagram, and you’re not a specialist at anything until you’ve devoted one helluva lot more than a weekend certification to it).

You’re not going for a Slashie Award, so just chill and get good at your job.

Be brutally honest (self)

I had a colleague reach out to me recently about this exact website on which you read this blog. He asked me what I did with the PGA Tour, since my “about me” page shows that I have worked with them. A more immature version of me would manage to make it sound like a glorious occasion. I mean, I’m sure Tiger Woods would have booked in to see me, but I was just too busy with other players. #eyeroll Here are the EXACT words I used to reply in that email:

“I have worked at three tour events, doing therapy on site. As expected, most of my time was spent with lesser known players who don’t have their own private therapists who travel with them (many guys on the tour are dirt poor, relying on sponsors and family to keep them going).”

Now you’ve got to understand that I would NOT have written it that way early in my career, because I wanted really badly to seem important or experienced. But you will learn quickly that communicating the appropriate (and most accurate) version of your experience will allow you MUCH greater opportunity for long-term growth than pretending you’ve already arrived. What if I had told this guy a complete mockery of a story, beating around the bush of reality, pumping my own professional tires? What if I took my 2007 Ford Escape and dressed it up like a Hummer?

Likely nothing. BUT, for all I know, he could have some meaningful connection in golf and make an over-the-top request of me, something to the tone of, “Wow, you’re perfect for this thing I’ve got going on! How would you feel about becoming the full time travelling advisor to the richest star in the PGA right now?” 

*gulp* <– That’s the gulp of the imposter, right there.

Believe me when I say, you WANT to have your opportunities be matched to your skill set and current realities. If you show up in Junior High directly from Kindergarten, YOU FAIL. You break promises, you disappoint, and you go nowhere. For your sake and the person who may be hiring you, be brutally honest when you are asked about experiences, as getting in over your head is poison to your career. Or better yet, do such an amazing job at preparing yourself for the world that you can be brutally honest and it still blows people away. That’s where the real win comes from. 

Be brutally honest (your future)

Our profession has a cannibalistic streak. We eat our own. Business owners screw over associates with insanely restrictive contracts. Associates screw over clinic owners by starting up across the street afterwards. It is in everyone’s best interest that you are up front with your entrepreneurial desires, timelines, locations and so on. If you want to work for someone just to build up a client base then move across town, tell them that. Want to show up as an associate and NEVER think about the other 90% of your job when you own a clinic? Just say that. If you don’t know which way you’ll go, say that. 

Instead, what happens most of the time is this:

Owner: Here’s a legally-binding contract with an iron-clad non-compete and non-solicitation clause (Thinking to self that she’s been screwed over enough times that she’ll scare anyone else out of doing that to her again.)

Candidate: Looks good to me! (Thinking to self that they never hold up in court and “I can do whatever I want” anyway). 

This sh*t right here has got to stop. Tell me your true desires and then let me decide if I am willing to deal with them. Anxieties go down when “bad” news emerges, because we can all start to build trust now. I would rather hire someone with whom I build trust quickly but has a less impressive resume. 

Here’s a more definite list of things you should be prepared to answer openly:

  • Are you interested in this job primarily because you think it will pay better than others?
  • Are you committed to this specific area of speciality, or dabbling and hoping to figure it out later? (Dudes, I am talking sports, girls, I am talking pregnancy and pediatrics) *A moderate interest does not a qualified specialist make*
  • What are the odds of you screwing this place over in the next 1-3 years?
  • What are you willing to bring to the table if you get this job? Don’t answer with qualifications or corny truisms.

In all these answer, honesty trumps content. 

Ask the hard questions

This is not the time to be a hard-ass yourself, but rather the time to show you’ve done your homework. These kinds of questions let a prospective employer you that you plan on living in the real world, leaving the fantasy land of school behind you. 

  • What kind of numbers am I expected to pull in? Am I producing all of my own client base?
  • Am I expected to be in office all day, or out in the community doing stuff, or other?
  • What constitutes the best case scenario if I get this job? What does that look like and how can I make it happen?
  • If things don’t go as expected for either me or you, is there a policy on renegotiation of our contract?
  • What happens at the end of this contract?
  • Have you had previous associates? What happened there? May I speak with them?

Make the requests you can/should be making

There are things that are FREE to the owner that can massively benefit everyone. Not only does this show some positive intent on your behalf, but it will help you to grow your practice quicker. 

  • If you have any unique cases I could learn from, can you make a point of calling me into the room? I’d love to see them. 
  • Do I have liberty to give away a few free or discounted initial exams per month? I know I am going to run into some community linchpins and I’d love to be able to walk them thru these doors as soon as I meet them. 
  • Can I post to the clinic’s social media accounts?
  • If someone calls in last minute and can’t get in to see you, can they see me?
  • During your vacations, can I treat your patients? 
  • Do we have any promo materials I can take to do talks and events in the community?
  • Can I use the office after hours for events?
  • Do you have any big referral sources in the community you could take the time to introduce me to?

Be ready to work

When I say work, I don’t mean simply showing up to the office. If that’s your definition of work, you’re not in a great starting place. When you’re new into practice, there are so many aspects that you should be working on that you should have your days scheduled out from a minimum of 8 am to 8 pm, Mon-Fri, preferably also including weekends. The work that you can and should be doing includes:

  • Going to events
  • Hosting events
  • Speaking at events
  • Sitting on boards, councils, and group leads
  • Public Speaking Lessons
  • Joining teams, groups, gyms, clubs, and other gatherings
  • Reading books
    • Self Development
    • Business
    • Clinical/Applied
  • Going to Courses
    • Self Development
    • Business
    • Clinical/Applied
  • Exploring your immediate neighbourhood
    • You should meet every single business owner and/or HR department in a 1 mile radius in the first six months.
  • Having meetings
  • Researching your target market and demographic.
  • Reading, calling, and understanding insurance companies. 
  • Making follow-up phone calls
  • Writing referral letters, thank you letters and random because-it’s-a-cool-thing-to-do letters

If you’re not willing to do all of these things, you’re not willing to work, you’re willing to wait for work. 

Take the advice!

Ok, one last anecdote. I once had two associates of similar age and experience and career desires. I was giving them some ideas on where to go and what to do in a mid-week meeting, when one of them stopped me and said, “Man, you’ve already completely tapped the fitness market. You know all the gym owners, all the personal trainers, and all the coaches. It seems kind of unfair that you’re giving me advice on how to do this when I am just competing with you. Everywhere I go, people bring up your name! That market is tapped!”

I wanted to slap him immediately. I refrained, and chose to cock one eyebrow instead. Yeah, that’ll show him. 

It was about as mad as I get. Why? The very basis of how this guy operated was to feel threatened. If it wasn’t his idea, clearly it couldn’t work. Everything was an injustice to this guy who eventually left to go start his practice in a town with no competition. I went to my laptop, and within 1 hour I had a list of 100+ trainers, gym owners, coaches, or other fitness enthusiasts that I had never met and all lived within a 20 minute drive. And you’ll never guess what he did with that list when I gave it to him the next day?


If you want to work for someone else and you are not naturally going to go do everything in your own power to become successful, you must listen to the advice that is handed to you. Inaction is not an option. Follow your own advice or someone else’s, but get up and do something if you expect to get clients through the door and land yourself a pay cheque someday. 

Wrap up

Very few people NEED a chiropractic associate. Most clinic owners want you around to make their life easier, so they can take vacations, call in sick, or make a few more bucks for their 60 hour work week. This does not make them bad people; it makes them humans who simply want the same things you want. By following the ideas outlined above, you’ll do a much better job of convincing someone that you’re worth the hire. Even if you’re not looking for a job currently, following these steps will help you become more successful in your own practice as well.

No go ye into the world and smash those vitality reducing subluxations.

Bahahaha, wouldn’t that be hilarious?

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