Crafting the Perfect Occupational Therapy Resume
Have you just finished up your occupational therapy schooling and fieldwork and received your passing NBCOT® scores? If so, you’re more than ready to start the job search process! Once you find your ideal OT job, though, you won’t have a strong application without an official occupational therapy resume that makes you stand out from the crowd of applicants.
With many applicants fighting over one position, you need to do everything in your power to make yourself stand out!
But what exactly are employers looking for in an occupational therapist resume? What should you be sure to include? What can you do to make your resume really pop? We will be diving into this topic in depth in this article.
What Should You Include in Your Occupational Therapy Resume?
When writing your resume, make sure to include all relevant information that has a direct bearing on why this company should hire you over someone else.
On the other hand, you also want your resume to be brief and succinct (one to two pages for a resume is optimal). This can be a tough balance to strike. If you have been already been working in the field, you must include all relevant work experience in occupational therapy since you’ve graduated from your OT program.
Any noticeable gaps in work should be accounted for and explained. When you apply for your first job after school, you don’t have any actual work experience in the field to draw on.
Instead, really focus on fieldwork experience that is relevant to the job. If you had any outstanding academic achievements, such as making the Dean’s List, throw that in as well.
Remember, for the most part, experience in one treatment setting has little bearing on a different treatment setting. That said, 10 years of experience in the school system will not go unnoticed to the director of an inpatient rehab facility.
But someone with the same qualifications but only 5 years of experience may trump the more experienced therapist if this applicant has worked in a similar facility for those 5 years.
Include Hard Skills and Soft Skills
Aside from actual work experience, you will also want to include any specific skills you have. These skills can be categorized into two groups, known as “hard” skills and “soft” skills.
Hard skills can be proved firmly, with evidence. For example, if you know another language that you may use on the job, that is a hard skill. Any additional specialties, certifications or qualifications would also typically be hard skills. For example, being certified in Driving and Community Mobility.
Soft skills are more difficult to define and prove. This is going to include things like empathy, patience, being good at multitasking, and time management skills. It is important to balance your hard skills and soft skills on a resume so your employer sees how much you bring to the table.
What Experiences Will Help You Stand Out?
Make sure you also include any past experience that may contribute to your field if you are able to prove that it will really help. Did you work as an activities director or therapy tech while you were in school? Include that! Explain what exactly you did and how it will make you a better OT practitioner.
Did you work in a restaurant or retail store? While there are many skills that will likely carryover, employers may see you including this as a reach, essentially telling them that you don’t have solid experience or confidence in your skills as an OT. As with many things, this is going to be a personal call to make.
Layout of Your Resume
When it comes to layout, there are a number of schools of thought. One common layout for resumes sorts information chronologically. This is useful way to show most recent experiences first, highlighting continued employment and experience.
On the other hand, sometimes your most recent job experience is not what you want to highlight. Instead, perhaps you are switching back from one setting to another you had worked in previously. In this case, we would want to highlight the most relevant information first.
Remember, the most pertinent information should always be presented first and foremost to show why you are the best candidate for the job. Once you’ve highlighted your most relevant and outstanding skills, you can fill in the rest.
What Are Employers Looking For?
The most important thing to think about when filling out a resume is what the employer is looking for. There are a couple of ways you can figure out the answer.
One easy way to get answers is by asking around. Do you have friends that have already gotten jobs in this specific setting or area? They may have some interesting insights into what you should include.
For example, they may tell you that the facility that you’re applying to uses a specific electronic documentation system, such as Casamba or Rehab Optima. If you add to your resume any relevant experience using that specific documentation software, your potential employer will see that you will be able to get up to speed faster when it comes to documentation.
If a company has a specific productivity requirement, putting that you have experience working with a specific productivity percentage will show the employer that you have what it takes to meet their standards.
When a facility has additional services, like physical agent modalities, they will need people certified to operate the equipment.
Another way you can find out what they need is by doing research. When looking around, you will find that making a resume as an occupational therapist is very similar to making a resume for any type of job. Certain skills and verbiage will change, but the layout, quality, and even soft skills will likely stay the same.
Ask your friends and former co-workers or employers what skills make you a good worker. Ask your former classmates, professors or fieldwork educators what you excelled at that would look good on a resume. Sometimes, there can be a skill that we have that we don’t even know about.
What if Your Resume is Not Getting Noticed?
What if you’ve already applied for a job and gotten rejected? What can you do to make yourself more appealing to potential employers?
There are a few things you can do to stand out. The first thing is to look at your layout and design of the resume.
According to some sources, employers may only look at your resume for 6 seconds. If your OT resume is cluttered and hard to read, the average manager won’t bother looking through all of the information. Instead, they’ll just toss it to the side and look at the next one.
Keep your information brief and to the point. Pare down the information so only the relevant writing is shown. A small change, such as using quality paper or simple, elegant graphics can make your resume stand out from the rest of the stack.
It may not seem like much, but an easy to read font that is large enough can make all the difference. Hand delivering your resume (while being professionally dressed and groomed, of course) can also go a long way in making a good first impression.
This can also help get you past the automated applicant tracking systems that can weed out resumes in online applications if they don’t target the “right” job keywords.
If you are worried about this being an issue, here are some tips to help get your resume past the automated tracking system:
- Identify key terms from the job description and add them into your resume. These systems scan for relevant keywords, so using language to the specific OT position is crucial.
- Customize your resume for each job application. Highlight the skills and experiences that align with the specific requirements of the job.
- Choose the right format: Use standard fonts and keep the layout simple. Avoid using images or graphics that may not be compatible with ATS.
How Can You Improve Your Skills?
Next, you need to make sure you have the skills that it takes to stand out. Getting additional certifications or qualifications is one straightforward way you can make your resume stand out.
This includes pursuing training in a specific treatment approach, becoming a lymphedema specialist, or getting certified in a treatment modality. The more specialized your resume becomes, the more likely that you will get hired where you want to work.
Also look into those soft skills mentioned above. Maybe you have heard that a facility has a reputation for having compassionate therapists only. Adding that quality of compassion might help them to see what a good addition to the team you will make. Learning as much as you can about the company for which you want to work will help you to tailor your resume to their wants and needs.
Get Help From a Mentor
It can be difficult to know what exactly you should highlight on your resume. If you apply for a job and don’t get hired, you’re not usually in a position to ask the manager what you could change to make it look better.
On the other hand, if you do get the job and ask your new employer what you could do to make your resume look better, they might take that to mean that you don’t intend to stay very long.
This is one of many important reasons to have a mentor in the field. A helpful mentor will be able to provide you guidance and direction with what you need to specifically change in your resume. They might be able to help you more accurately describe your skill set as well as look for new, more marketable skills.
Always Be Specific
Writing a resume can be a long, involved process that can be tedious. However, you will want to make sure that each resume is custom made for each job for which you apply.
Interviewers can easily tell when someone has sent in a generic resume. You might want to add the specific title you are applying for, as well as selecting which skills you include.
Putting that you have familiarity with a documentation software that the company does not use won’t make you stand out all that much. Priding yourself on meeting a specific productivity standard doesn’t mean as much when the facility you apply for doesn’t track productivity in that way.
Even worse, stating that you are comfortable treating at a certain productivity percentage doesn’t look so good when the job for which you are applying requires a higher percentage.
Being familiar with the caseload and treatment modalities available will help you to parse down the unnecessary information and provide a sleek but meaningful resume.
Don’t Forget the Basics – Spelling and Grammar!
Regardless of how qualified we are and how outstanding our resume is, spelling and grammar errors will undo all of the hard work we’ve put forth. Make sure that you’ve followed all of the basic rules of English, such as capitalization and punctuation.
So much of therapy nowadays revolves around documentation and language skills. Billing for services will be denied if there are gross errors in documentation.
Many preventable medical errors are the result of poor documentation and oversight. Writing home exercise programs for clients that is easy to understand is essential. Communicating needs to other facility personnel will require understandable language and simple formatting, which should be clearly seen in your resume as well.
Letters of Recommendation
Different regions of the U.S. and the world tend to have its own customs when it comes to making a resume. As much as you can benefit from online research, few things will be as important as talking to people in your community.
They may have interesting insights when it comes to what skills to include, what qualities to highlight, and what experiences to emphasize. Due to the close knit nature of the OT community, letters of reference can make a big impact on your resume for a highly competitive job.
A well chosen fieldwork experience can potentially give you multiple people to ask about resumes and letters of recommendation. However, you’ll have to be judicious in whose letters you use and when. If it is not the custom in your area to submit a letter of recommendation along with your resume, it might be unbecoming and leave a bad taste.
Including a Cover Letter
While some employers may not explicitly require a cover letter, submitting one can offer several advantages, allowing you to add a personal touch to your application as well as add anything that is not included in your resume. It can also help to explain any unique situations in your employment and will differentiate you from applicants that did not submit one.
If you choose include a cover letter with your job application and need tips on how to write one, be sure to check out our companion article, How To Write a Great Occupational Therapy Cover Letter (with Template).
Ultimately, your occupational therapy resume just might be the most important paper you will ever complete. Unlike in school, there will be no opportunities for you to revise and resubmit your work, no opportunities for extra credit, and this makes up 100% of your grade.
So, it is vitally important that you put effort into making your resume show exactly what you offer and why you should be hired.
How do you keep your resume looking good? Do you have any tips that we missed? Tell us about them in the comments.
Additional Occupational Therapy Resume Resources
This post was co-written by Michel Moninger, COTA/L and Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L. It was originally published on August 2019 and updated on November 12, 2023.