Landing Your First Job, From A to Z

OT Job Link

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

Ask yourself: 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?
Ask yourself: 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?
Ask yourself: 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?
Ask yourself: 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
Resume 101:

  • 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:

  • 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?
Present your most confident, best self during the 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
Make a lasting impression post-interview:

  • 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?

In conclusion:

  • 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.