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Landing Your First Job, From A to Z

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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.