OT School Interview Questions & Prep Tips
Preparing for Your OT School Interview
Occupational therapy programs are getting more and more competitive each year.
Many programs will get hundreds or even thousands of first-round applicants. According to Indiana University’s Health Professions and Prelaw Center, most programs interview 2-3 times the number of open spaces they have. In other words, programs might interview 80-120 people for 40 open spaces.
Interviews may take place at any time of the year since OT programs start year-round. As an example, if the program starts in the fall, your interview will probably be in the Spring.
If you’ve gotten past the first cuts and have an interview scheduled, you should feel great since your odds just improved greatly. Schools will interview people they truly believe are good candidates for their program.
That being said, it is critical to put in the necessary preparation for your interview. You want to know as much as you can about the school you’re interviewing with, and you want to be very familiar with the most likely OT school interview questions.
Things to Consider About OT School Interview Questions
While there is no way to tell exactly what questions you will be asked in an OT interview, you can be confident that they will fit a general theme. After all, they’re probably not going to be quizzing you on geography.
The questions listed below are a collection of interview questions from my interview, questions other occupational therapists have been asked, and questions found through my research. Again, not all schools ask these exact questions, but it will give you some good direction for what you are likely to encounter.
As you go through the list of questions, think about what your answer would be and keep in mind that your answer should tell them why you are a strong candidate and why they should accept you into their program.
Some questions will be phrased something like “Tell me about a time when…” For these questions, a great system to follow is the STAR method, which stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result. The STAR method helps you to remember the four important parts of an example or story that you may tell. If you do provide an example in your answer, remember to keep it brief and make sure it demonstrates why you would be a great OT and a good fit for their program.
OT School Interview Question Examples
- Tell us about yourself.
- In your own words, what is occupational therapy?
- Why do you want to become an occupational therapist?
- What characteristics do you think are required to be a great OT? Describe how you demonstrate these characteristics.
- What work experience do you have that is relevant to OT?
- Tell us about your shadowing experience. What did you learn? What interested you the most?
- What are some major trends in OT that you are following?
- What other schools have you applied to? What are you looking for in an OT program?
- How do you deal with stress and a large workload at work/school?
- Describe your code of ethics.
- If your manager told you to do something you didn’t agree with, how would you handle it?
- Describe a time when you were part of a team that had to achieve a goal. What was your role and what was the outcome?
- What areas of research interest you?
- How will you contribute to our program?
- What are your career goals for the short-term and long-term? What are your 5-year goals?
- Tell us about a time that you advocated for occupational therapy?
- Tell us about a time when you went above and beyond?
- Tell us about your biggest accomplishment.
- What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses?
- Tell us about a time when you had to deal with a conflict. How did you handle it and why?
- What questions do you have for us?
It is important to find out as much as you can from the recruiter about the interview format beforehand, since this can vary from school to school. Some will be half day, others will be a full day, and there will probably be a combination of interview formats. Knowing ahead of time what to expect will help you mentally prepare for the interview day.
Programs will usually do interviews in several common formats. You can expect the traditional 1-on-1 interview at some point. Also, there may be a group interview where you will be one of several applicants being interviewed at the same time. These group interviews can be with one interviewer or a panel of interviewers (mine was personally in a group with a panel).
Group interviews can be an intimidating format, so there are some things to know and remember. Sometimes, each interviewee will get a chance to answer the question. Sometimes, it will be more free form and everyone has the same opportunity to speak up. The University of Indiana offers some advice for free-form group interview formats: “…balance being polite with being congenially assertive. There is always a way to politely jump in… It’s probably best to err on the side of polite assertiveness rather than seeming unassertive or very demure, as this can be seen as a lack of confidence.”
One other possible interview format could include a group case study. Here, you would be grouped together with other interviewees and be asked to review a problem and organize a response as a team. You won’t be expected to necessarily know the right answer, but they are looking at your interpersonal skills and reasoning skills. Again, polite assertiveness is the best bet in these situations.
How To Manage Your Nerves
Unless you are an alien from another planet, you’re going to be nervous. And that’s okay! Almost everyone gets nervous for something like an interview or speech, and it’s a normal physiological process that we all experience.
What helps me to deal with my nerves is to first understand what is happening to me, and second to use several techniques to help deal with it.
Nervousness happens because your anxious thoughts trigger your brain to release adrenaline (in the adrenal gland). This causes a rapid heart rate, dilated pupils, and increased circulation in your muscles. This is part of the fight or flight response that has helped humans survive dangerous encounters for millennia.
The degrees of the response depend on the brain’s perceived threat level. The threat level of an interview might be relatively mild compared to a shark attack, but the physical symptoms are still present and very distracting.
So how can we deal with it?
Studies have shown that using positive imagery can help trigger the neurons in your brain that counteract the nervousness. This takes some practice, but it can be tough since it requires you to shift your mental focus, albeit while trying to conduct an interview.
One other great technique to use before your interview is something called power poses, which is something Amy Cuddy talks about in her popular TED Talk. She claims that in her study, she found that the way we stand and pose can actually change the way we think and feel and helps give us confidence in stressful situations. Although her study hasn’t been replicated, I think it’s still worth trying for yourself!
Remember that being a little nervous is normal. Don’t be afraid of the nerves – just embrace it and rely on your efforts you put in before the interview to prepare.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to each school to reiterate your interest in the program, and always remember to be 100% professional with every person you interact with. The most important part of the interview is the time you have before it even happens.
Take the time really think through your responses and even bullet point them out for the most common OT school interview questions so you know exactly what points you will hit depending on the question. Practice the stories you want might want to tell and make sure they are concise and to the point. Some people might think they will do better being spontaneous in the moment, but I have never done better for anything by preparing less. Being prepared is super important and can make or break your chances with a school.
How are you preparing for your OT school interview? If you’ve been through this process, what are some tips that you think people should remember?