complete guide first OT job interview

The Complete Guide To Your First OT Job Interview

This post was originally published on April 1, 2016 and updated on August 26, 2019.

Hooray! You finally got a call back from your dream occupational therapy position after sending out what feels like a hundred resumes and are ready for your first OT job interview! This is great news since the company is definitely interested in you if they’re taking the time to set up an interview. So now what?

Interviewing for your first (or fifth!) OT job can be stressful, so we want to make sure you’re fully prepared for it. So without further ado, here is your complete guide to your first OT job interview.

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There are the 6 key aspects to preparing for an interview that you have to consider. Each of them is covered in detail in this post.

Mindset Is Everything

When you get called in for your interview, thoughts will be racing through your head about how you hope you get the job, you hope you can think of good answers to impress them, you don’t know how many people you will interview with, you hope they won’t ask you things about OT that you don’t have a clue, and so on…

Just remain calm and – ironically – accept the fact that those things could very well happen.

First OT job interview.
Maybe you won’t have the “perfect” interview. But, that’s OK.

You need to accept that anything might happen. If they ask you something you don’t know, be honest and tell them what you would do to figure it out.

If you get flustered and can’t think of something to say, just tell them that you’re thinking for a moment. Don’t be afraid to crack a joke. Don’t be afraid to be a real person!

When I walked into my first OT job interview, I was surprised to see a panel of 4 interviewers. Whoa! This totally caught me off guard. So I said something like “Wow, this many people interviewing me reminds me of my thesis defense!” and got a few laughs.

So the worst case scenario is that you don’t interview well and they don’t hire you.

It is possible that this could happen.

Don’t expect it to happen; just know how you’ll handle it if it does.

This way you’ll take the pressure off yourself. This is important because it will allow you to be more relaxed and confident when the day-of rolls around.

The good news is you will at least have the interviewing practice under your belt and can improve for next time. Remember the questions they asked and write them down right when you walk out.

If this happens, you will ace the next one!

The absolute best way to take the worry off your mind is to do everything you can to prepare.

Seriously Prepare for Your Interview

For job interviews when you were younger (likely at a retail store or restaurant), you could walk in and totally wing it and be fine. And probably even get the job.

But this is the big leagues. You absolutely MUST prepare for your interview.

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” -Benjamin Franklin

A few weeks prior to your first interview, come up with an exhaustive list of questions that will be likely to be asked. The list down below is a good start.

Write out in detail what your answers would be. It doesn’t have to be word for word, but definitely make bullets of each answer to help you better remember the main points.

First OT job interview
Save the document down so that you can study it on your phone whenever you have a chance. The easiest way to do this is to email the document to yourself, open the email in your phone and download it locally.

Then you can access it from your phone’s document folder: instructions for iPhone and Android.

Know Who You Are Talking To

Always research the company you are going to interview with. Google the company name and read everything you can on their site about them. See if you can determine how big the company is, who the leaders are, how many employees they have, how long they have been around, etc. Glassdoor and Indeed are both good options for reading employee reviews.

You might even want to do a Google News search to see if any announcements have come out recently. If it is a big hospital or large organization, include “occupational therapy” with your search to see if anything pops up.

Also, try to get the names of the people you will be interviewing with. Don’t be afraid to look them up on LinkedIn and find out about their background.

You might discover you went to the same school or are from the same small town! It’s best to wait for the right opportunity to casually bring this up.

Keep Your Answers Short

The most important thing to remember is to be concise!

In the heat of the interview, people sometimes get going talking and then just can’t turn it off. At some point, remind yourself to say something that indicates you are finishing your answer and then just…stop talking.

It might feel awkward for a second, but that’s OK. The interviewer is probably taking notes and thinking of the next question.

Don’t feel like you have to keep talking to fill the space.

How Will THEY Benefit From Hiring YOU?

Probably the most important thing to keep in mind is how you should be positioning yourself to the interviewers.

They do not necessarily care about how much you want the job or how hard you worked in school or how much you studied for the boards to become an OT.

Everyone wants a job and everyone works hard.

First OT job interview.The way you answer questions should focus on your skills/expertise and how THE EMPLOYER will benefit from your skills/expertise.

A good example comes from the question “Why should we hire you?”

A typical answer might be “Because I am a hard worker and I will do the best job” or “I am a quick learner” or “I was the top of my class in school.”

But this doesn’t exactly answer the question. These are your skills, yes, and employers want people with talent and smarts.

But what makes you different from other applicants?

The fact that you can connect your skills to help better their company or organization.

A manager wants great employees that will make his/her life easier. Managers want someone who is loyal that can eventually train other new OTs.

Likewise, your skills will allow you to provide the best care to patients which will improve the overall client satisfaction for the organization. This improves the reputation of the company and allows them to be more efficient and effective and grow as an organization.

You want to be part of a team that will contribute to the growth of the organization.

They should hire you because you will make the interviewer look like a genius for hiring you!

Remember that for them, it’s all about the benefit THEY get for hiring you. Do remember that in the back of your mind though, that you should ensure that the job is a good fit for you, first and foremost, before accepting the position.

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Common OT Interview Questions

These are the most common questions I encountered. Remember to write down answers to them and study them ahead of time so that you won’t be fumbling for thoughts come interview time.

“Tell me about yourself.”

This is a purposefully open ended question. The interviewer wants to see if you are able to provide relevant information about your skills and talents for the job. Keep it to this format: Present / Past / Future.

Present: Normally, you would talk about your current position and what you do. Since you are probably in between school and your first job, simply state this fact. Talk about relevant things you are doing to prepare for your job as an occupational therapist. Or if you volunteer, talk about that and how the skills you’re developing apply to being an OT.

Past: Talk briefly about why you wanted to become an occupational therapist and something profound you got out of school. Include any relevant skills from previous jobs that will transfer to your role as an OT. For example, if you worked in a hospital setting or therapy clinic before school, how will this help you be a better OT?

Future: Talk about where you see yourself in the next year or two from a work perspective. You don’t have to go out as far as 5 years unless they ask you.

This may seem like a lot of information for a simple question. But, it is critical to setting the stage for the interview. It is important to touch on these points in under 2-3 minutes.

“Why did you choose this field?”

Be honest, but don’t just say you want to help people. This is something they hear all the time. If you have a unique and interesting story about how you discovered OT, share it with the interviewer. How does OT fit in with your values and purpose in life?

Show that you were thoughtful when considering becoming an OT and how you knew the challenge was right for you. Focus on the positives (except for compensation).

Stay away from negatives – like things you dislike about other careers and aspects of other jobs you are trying to avoid. A bad example would be “Occupational therapy sounded great because I don’t want to work in a cubicle,” or “I did it because I couldn’t get into medical school.”

“Why are you choosing to interview with our company?”

Make sure you do plenty of research on the company so you have some good talking points. If the hospital or company has a mission statement, know it and don’t be afraid to work in specific language or buzzwords they use.

For example, Emory Hospital says in their About Us that “Emory Healthcare is committed to providing patients and families with better, more collaborative care for all of their medical needs.” So weave in how important it is to you to be part of a collaborative team. (Hopefully it is!)

“What do you do to improve your career?”

Talk about the resources you use to stay up to date. This might be things like AOTA publications, text books, websites, or OT blogs. Pick one or two resources and share something you read recently that you found to be interesting and why. This may even lead to an impromptu discussion.

As well, if you have friends already in the field, talk about how often you stay in touch and what you learn from them when you get together. It’s also OK to state the fact that you are actively seeking employment so you can truly begin your OT adventure.

“What are your strengths?”

The best thing you can do to answer this question well is to KNOW ahead of time what exactly your biggest strengths are. If you’re not sure what you can say that would be relevant and impressive to an interviewer, ask your friends or family. Better yet, ask your past clinical instructors. You may not even realize yet what it is that you’re awesome at when it comes to being an OT.

What’s also important is to not be afraid to really brag about yourself. Now’s your chance! What do you do extremely well that is exactly the thing that applies to being a great OT?

And please, try not to don’t pick something boring like “I’m pretty organized” or “I’m a hard worker” or “I’m on time.” These should be a given. Talk about something profound that is unique to you and makes the interviewer want you on their team.

“What are your weaknesses?”

This is a classic question that you need to know how to answer. You are going to have to admit to a weakness, and you shouldn’t say, “I don’t have a weakness.” Either pick a weakness that can easily be spun into a positive or pick something that isn’t all that relevant to your job as an OT.

An example would be “I’ve been told I can sometimes be very critical of myself and my work.” While it can be a bad thing to beat yourself up all the time, it shows that you are concerned with your performance.

Whatever you say, always talk about what you have done or plan to do to correct/counter the weakness. In this example, you might say “At the end of every day I plan to write down 3 things I did really well to reinforce my positive thinking and self-confidence.”

“Tell me about a difficult patient.”

I’ve been asked this every time! Always tell a story for situational questions – questions that ask about “a specific time when something happened and how you handled it.”

For these kinds of questions, I like to use the S.T.A.R. method. It makes things easier to remember in a nervous interview setting. Remember this outline and strong answers will come more easily.

S = Situation – Briefly set the stage for your story. Who were the key players in this situation, where was it, and what were the circumstances of the patient.

T = Task – Talk about the task you were supposed to be accomplishing with the patient and why. Describe the challenge you faced and why it was difficult and complex.

A = Action – Given the difficult situation you’ve described, what specific action did you take and why? What precisely was it that you did and why did you feel that this was the best course of action?

R = Result – Thanks to your brilliant handling of the difficult client, how did everything turn out for the best? What crisis was avoided and what benefits did the patient receive?

“Talk about a time that you encountered a problem with a co-worker?”

Another great situational question to use the S.T.A.R. method. Tell a compelling story that shows you are a team player. With this question, it is important to show that you are diplomatic. Never talk about somebody – a coworker, colleague, subordinate, or manager – in a disparaging or derogatory manner. Always show respect for the “difficult” person and reinforce that you acknowledge they had their reasons for seeing the situation they way they did.

A team player would never talk badly about co-worker, but would always express their thoughts and opinions in an honest and constructive way.

This is your chance to show that you have a high level of emotional intelligence and can work with any kind of person in any kind of difficult situation – and never lose your cool.

“Where do you see yourself in five years?”

I am not a huge fan of this question because I really think it’s just unrealistic to know exactly what you’ll be doing in 2 years, let alone 5 years. An interviewer is mainly asking this to see if you’re invested in staying with their organization for the long haul, not just 6-12 months…or until you find something better.

Talk about your strategy to continually improve as an OT and potentially move into a managerial role teaching and leading other occupational therapists (if this is something you’re interested in). This goes back to the question about “How will THEY benefit from hiring YOU?” You want to show that you would be dedicated to being an integral part of the company’s long-term growth and sustainability.

Companies do NOT want to have to be constantly finding and training new people. The longer you’ll be a committed team member, the better.

“Why should we hire you?”

Be honest and let your enthusiasm and passion shine through. Because you’re going to be an amazing OT!

Pick 3 specific reasons that you are the BEST candidate. Keep in mind the candidate that this company is looking for. If they want someone with at least 3 years of experience, then “experience” is not going to be a reason they’d hire a new grad. Write these 3 reasons down in bullet format and memorize the bullets (not a scripted answer). This will pull from answers to other questions like “How will THEY benefit from hiring YOU?” and “What are your strengths?”

Don’t be afraid to include the fact that you think the company is a great fit for you based on their mission and core values. You see yourself with the organization long-term.

“When have you had to advocate for OT?”

This is an important one to think of a good answer for since in your career you will always be advocating for OT. It may be with patients and their families or doctors that don’t know a thing about it and don’t think it’s necessary to prescribe for their patients (ugh!). Know exactly why OT is important for patients.

Keep a story on hand for a time that someone was dismissive, but after speaking to them they had a change of heart. It could be small interaction, but can certainly still demonstrate that you’re a strong advocate for the occupational therapy profession.

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Ask THEM Questions

Don’t forget that you should be interviewing them as well. Always have questions in your back pocket to ask them.

Some important questions I made a point to ask were:

  • Will I have other OTs around me to ask questions/get ideas from?
  • Will it be possible to have a mentor?
  • What are the typical types of patients seen?
  • What are the productivity requirements?
  • What assessments are typically used?

As far as productivity requirements, my advice would be to be wary of greater than 80%. 85% is pushing it, and run away from anything higher than that.

Lastly, it’s generally commonplace to wait to ask questions about salary or benefits until after you get an offer. This helps you avoid looking too “pushy.”

The biggest thing to remember is to PREPARE. This is the absolute best thing you can do to land that job.

Best of luck to you! 

Additional Readings to Check Out

Why Is It So Hard To Find an OT Job As a New Grad? (My OT Spot)

Best Answers to the 11 Most Difficult Interview Questions (AOTA)

Nail Your Occupational Therapy Job Interview (OT Potential)

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