Whether you are still in OT school, studying for the NBCOT exam, or going through the interview process, it is never too early to start thinking about how to land a job that is the right fit for you. After all, finding a job where you can make an impact and feel successful is important, especially as a new practitioner starting off in the field. But where do you begin? Here are step-by-step tips and considerations to guide you through choosing the best practice setting, applying for jobs, acing the interview, and landing the OT job you’ve always wanted.
Step 1: Narrowing down your employment options
How do you feel about the practice setting?
- Does it make you feel good about what you are doing?
- Do you feel as though you are making a difference?
- Do you feel excited about the possibilities?
What kind of support do you need to succeed?
- Do you need or want a mentor?
- Are you competent and comfortable enough to work alone?
- Do you need opportunities to bounce ideas off of other OT practitioners?
- Do you need reinforcement and encouragement to gain confidence?
Is the work environment the right fit for you?
- Do the environment and setting match your skills and interests?
- Does the workplace mission align with your values, interests, and skills?
- Does the workplace support teamwork and mentorship?
- Does the workplace offer opportunities for growth and continued clinical education?
- Does the setting allow for work, life, and play balance?
What are your personal priorities?
- Are you looking for something that is comfortable, or a new adventure?
- Do you prefer a large department or a smaller setting?
- Are you ready to move to a new place or do you prefer to stay close to home?
- Do the pay and benefits outweigh other considerations?
Step 2: Applying for the job
Where do you search for job opportunities?
- Search for job listings in OT Practice, OTJobLink, your state association website, and other online job portals
- Attend job fairs and national and state conferences to establish connections
- Reach out to your network of therapists and students; utilize email and social media
- Contact your former fieldwork site about opportunities
How do you best present yourself in your application?
Cover Letter 101:
- Be brief—do not tell your life story or regurgitate your résumé
- Use spelling and grammar check and proofread several times
- Items to include in a cover letter:
- State your objective
- State a specific reason why you are interested in that particular job
- Explain why are you are the best candidate for the job and how you can benefit the company or team
- Describe your unique qualifications and strengths that relate to the requirements of the job
- Your résumé should be no more than 2 pages
- Tailor your résumé to each job you apply for
- Communicate your experience and skill set in concise, thoughtful terms
- If you have little to no occupational therapy work experience, expand your definition of experience to include other jobs, community service projects, leadership experience, organizational involvement, advocacy activities, etc.
- Be specific about what you have done and quantify when possible
- Sections to include on a résumé
- Education and degrees earned
- Fieldwork experiences including advanced learning experiences, skill sets gained, and any specific standardized assessments utilized
- Prior work experience as it applies to the job (do not list every babysitting job you ever had)
- Special skills (i.e., foreign language, ASL)
- Awards or publications
- Leadership experience
- Participation in professional organizations
Step 3: Acing the Interview
Do your homework before the interview:
Present your most confident, best self during the interview:
- Do your research and be prepared to articulate your familiarity with the facility or setting during the interview
- Brush up on specific interventions, clients, and diagnoses relative to the setting
- Be prepared to share experiences from fieldwork and school
- Create a list of questions to ask and take them with you during the interview
- What does a typical day look like?
- What is the caseload?
- What are productivity expectations?
- What assessments and equipment are available?
- Can you observe or shadow before accepting an offer?
- What does the orientation process consist of?
- Are there growth opportunities?
- Is there mentorship available?
- Does the company support or reimburse for CEUs? AOTA or state association membership?
- Practice mock interview questions with family or friends. Start with this list:
- What are your strengths and areas for improvement?
- What are your special skills?
- What are your personal and professional goals?
- What is your learning style?
- What will you bring to this job?
- Why should I hire you?
Make a lasting impression post-interview:
- Bring necessary items including your application, résumé, and cover letter
- Dress professionally, but be true to yourself
- Be early (15 minutes), but not too early (30 minutes)
- Turn off your cell phone, and don’t chew gum
- Treat it like a conversation
- Keep it professional:
- Maintain good posture and eye contact
- Be engaging and smile
- Be friendly and positive with all staff members
- Articulate your interest in the position and your passion for occupational therapy
- Express your skills and strengths along with what makes you stand out from other candidates
- Be specific when responding to questions
- Highlight the nontraditional experiences
- Ask questions; remember you are interviewing them as well!
- Treat each interview as important as the next
- Be sure to send a hand written thank, even if you know that this is not the job for you
Step 4: Making your decision
Do you accept or decline? Consider this:
- What is a typical day in the setting?
- What are the productivity expectations?
- Did other practitioners appear professional and collegial?
- Is there room for some fun in the setting?
- What did client–therapist interactions look like?
- Did you develop a good rapport with the interviewer or supervisor?
- Did you observe occupation-based interventions in the setting?
- Do practitioners use evidence in their everyday practice?
- What are the salary and benefits (i.e., health care, retirement plan, vacation time)? Do they meet your needs?
- Does the facility or setting align with your values?
- Begin the process early. Start to explore job opportunities and connections when you begin your fieldwork.
- Be open to different practice areas. You might have always wanted to work in pediatrics but come across a great opportunity with mentorship working with adults.
- Do your research. Be sure to compare different companies and what they have to offer as far as benefits, leadership opportunities, and mentorship.
- Go on many interviews. Each interview will help prepare you for next. You never know what you might come across.
It may take a few tries, but eventually you will find a job that is the right fit for you. You are at the beginning of an exciting, rewarding, life-long career–anything is possible!
Read more on the OT Job Search.
Kylie O’Connell, MS, OTR/L adapted this article from the PowerPoint presentation, “How to Land Your First Job—A to Z” by Maureen Peterson, MS, OT/L, FAOTA. Kylie is an AOTA Emerging Leader working in a skilled nursing facility in Denver, CO.