10 Steps to Get a Job in Ergonomics
This is a guest post from ergonomics occupational therapist Kirsten Beshay, OTR/L. We want to give a huge thanks to Kirsten for sharing her insight on how to get a job in ergonomics!
I’m an occupational therapy practitioner (OTP) who transitioned from working in an acute inpatient setting to a corporate ergonomics position. Making the switch was so confusing, since I didn’t know many therapists who worked in the practice area of ergonomics.
Now that I’m six years into ergonomic practice, I know that it’s a true hidden gem. The work means low stress, easy on my body, and reasonable hours (at least for me). Best of all, I was lucky enough to spend 5 years on the Google ergonomics team, which meant I got free food!
Now that I know this, I’d like to invite as many occupational therapy practitioners as I can into the practice area with me! Did you know that fewer than 2% of OTPs worked in ergonomics in 2020(1)? Not only that, but work as an ergonomic specialist doesn’t require a specific license or certification, meaning that we as occupational therapists are often very well-qualified compared to other applicants for these positions.
Before I dive in, are you wondering what ergonomics really is? Here’s my favorite definition:
Ergonomics is “the science of work: of the people who do it and the ways it is done; the tools and equipment they use, the places they work in, and the psychosocial aspects of the working situation.”(2)
1. Change your vocabulary
Sit down and list your clinical skills, then rephrase them in everyday terms that a non-clinician would understand. Here are a few examples of skills we use everyday in occupational therapy:
- Clinical observation
- Standardized assessment use (note: COTAs can use ergonomic assessments too!)
- Reporting and documentation
- Task analysis
- Client and family education
- Reliance on research for evidence-based practice
- Technical knowledge, including anatomy, kinesiology, and a variety of medical conditions
- Equipment recommendations and training
2. Update your LinkedIn profile (or Make One)
Using this language, update your job descriptions on social media. Talk about the number of clients you see in a day, the patient education you do, and the postural training and equipment recommendations you make. (Don’t have one? It’s not essential, but it might give you more visibility.)
If this is new for you, pull out your most recent resume and start by inputting your past jobs onto the platform, with 2-3 bullet points for each about tasks you accomplished. (It should look similar to your resume.)
Also, take the time to look at the LinkedIn profiles of others who work in ergonomics. Note their language and the skills they list; you likely have many of the same ones!
3. Create a new resume
Yes, it’s a bit of effort, but use your new descriptions from LinkedIn. Since many ergonomics managers won’t know what you studied in OT school, consider including a list of relevant courses (e.g., anatomy and physiology, motivational interviewing, or hand therapy).
If you’re creating a 1- or 2-page resume (the best idea for job submissions), cut any jobs where you didn’t stay long or that didn’t use any skills that would be relevant for a position in ergonomic practice.
For example, I had two jobs before OT school, one as a cashier and one doing front desk work with a little human resources work. Even though the desk job was temporary, I kept it and cut the cashier job. I could list my schedule management and communication skills!
4. Reach out to people who have the job you want.
This is where your LinkedIn profile will come in handy! Send messages to therapy practitioners who are working in ergonomics, and ask them your questions if they’re willing to chat.
Prefer a different platform? Try visiting different therapy Facebook groups and asking questions. There are thousands of occupational therapy practitioners out there, and we all love to help each other.
If you want to try some offline conversations, attend an event (such as AOTA’s annual conference, or your state OT conference) and bring business cards. Go to any presentations, workshops, or posters on ergonomics, and ask the presenters how they got into the practice area. You’ll hear a lot of interesting stories and different perspectives!
Do Your Research
5. Search job sites for the word “ergo” or “ergonomic.”
You’re ready to start looking! Unlike most occupational therapy jobs, working in ergonomics doesn’t require a specific background or license. This means that you’ll need to weed through the postings that come up with this search so that you don’t miss anything.
If you’re getting lost in the results, try searching “ergonomic specialist”. This was my role as a contractor on the Google ergonomics team for 5 years, and it’s where most OTPs start. The title of “ergonomist” is reserved for those who have gotten a specific certification, but it’s not required for an ergonomic specialist.
6. Research the practice settings of the company.
Congratulations, you got an interview! As an ergonomist, you could assess a laboratory, an office, or even an oil rig. Go on the company website and see if they mention any specific types of settings. This way you won’t be surprised in the interview and can ask more specific questions.
Nail the Interview
7. Prepare your talking points.
Again, pull up that resume or LinkedIn list and practice talking about your clinical skills in layman’s terms, out loud. Catch any therapy lingo and think about what you’ll say instead. Just do your best!
8. Be very professional.
Business casual dress and professional email exchanges often matter more in ergonomics than in other practice settings. Dress more formally than you think you need to (even for a video call!), and be sure to shake hands, make eye contact, and send a thank-you email.
9. Practice makes perfect.
If you don’t get the first job you apply for, don’t beat yourself up! Transitioning to any new practice area will take time, and now you have a set of tools that you can use for the next application. You’ve got this.
10. Build your community.
Whether you land a job in a flash or start looking slowly, here are some resources to help you create your support network:
- If you’re an AOTA member, join their Work & Industry special interest group.
- Join my Facebook group, “Ergonomics for OT & PT Practitioners”.
- Follow the Human Factors & Ergonomics Society, and the International Ergonomics Association, on social media.
While it might seem daunting to make the switch into a lesser known practice area, it can be so rewarding. I personally found that with some training before making the switch, I was able to learn on the go fairly easily.
If you’re interested in working in the practice area of ergonomics, you can visit my website, Thrive Ergonomics, for more tips and resources to guide you. Looking for more training on how to get a job in ergonomics? Check out my 4-hour online course, “Ergonomics for OT & PT Practitioners”!
Kirsten Beshay, OTD, MA, OTR/L, CIEE, CEAS I & III is a licensed occupational therapist and certified industrial ergonomic evaluator who recently released the online course “Ergonomics for OT and PT Practitioners”. She is an OT with 5 years of experience as a contractor for the Global Google Ergonomics Team. Kirsten is also a workplace ergonomic consultant and recently completed her Doctorate in Occupational Therapy (OTD) at Boston University with a focus on ergonomics, and she recently received a grant to study the ergonomics of working from home. Kirsten is also a part-time school-based OT who loves promoting ergonomics in the classroom.
- American Occupational Therapy Association. (2020). 2019 workforce & salary survey.
- Pheasant, S., & Haslegrave, C. M. (2005). Bodyspace: Anthropometry, ergonomics, and the design of work (3rd ed.). CRC Press.