Wednesday, May 13, 2015

OT Student Corner | Common Interview Questions

Graduation season is upon us and that means many occupational therapy students will soon be applying for their first job! This is a very exciting time, but as someone who has recently relocated and gone through the interview process, I understand that it can also be a stressful time. I have moved and changed jobs five times in my eight year career, so I'll let you guess how many times I have interviewed :)

Over the years, I've discovered that the key to interviewing is to have stories to tell. Each question that is asked of you is an opportunity to tell a story about your experience and your values. In most instances the interviewer just wants to get to know you (just as you probably want to get to know more about the potential employer). In the OT world, rarely is the interviewer trying to trick you or catch you off guard. With that said, below are some common interview questions for OT positions. I recommend practicing your answers (or stories) for each of these questions out loud prior to your interview.

Note: There will always be a question or questions that you are not prepared for. That's okay. As long as you are prepared for some common questions and have some stories prepared, you should be able to handle the unexpected questions.

Common Interview Questions for Occupational Therapy Jobs:

  • Why did you decide to become an OT? This is almost a guaranteed question. Be prepared to answer it concisely. This is not the time to go on a long monologue about why you chose OT as a career and how you think OT is the greatest career ever (even though it is).
  • Why do you want to work here? Do your research before you show up for your interview. Know why you want to work at this specific school/facility/hospital. Your answer should not be because you want a job. You have to show them that you want this job.
  • Tell me about your work / fieldwork experiences. What population did you work with? What assessments are you familiar with? This is a straightforward question, but be prepared to answer it concisely. The interviewee doesn't want to know every last detail of your work or fieldwork experience, but they do want to know what makes you qualified for this job. Highlight your experiences that are most applicable to the job you are interviewing for. Be prepared to share ages and diagnoses of clients you have experience with, as well as assessments and practice frames of reference that you used.
  • What qualities do you bring to a team? You can also think of this one as, "What are your strengths?" Be prepared to answer this in one way or another. The interviewer may directly ask you what your strengths are, but I've found that it tends to get asked in a more general "What do you bring to the team?" kind of way. This is a great opportunity to set yourself apart from other applicants. You may have had a unique experience that others have not had, so this is your chance to speak up and share it!
  • What do you think your references will tell us are areas in which you could improve? This is  a sneaky way of finding out what you think your weaknesses are. It's okay, no one is perfect and everyone has areas to improve. The tricky part is to be aware of your weaknesses and have an explanation for what you are doing to improve them. It's also good to have a story about how you overcame one of your "weaknesses."
  • What would be your ideal OT department? This question is asking you what your values as an OT are. Reflect on your experiences and think about what you liked or disliked about each. This will help you figure out what an ideal OT department would look like for you.
  • Tell me about a time you have had to advocate for occupational therapy. I don't know if this is a common question, but I was recently asked this question and it caught me off guard a little bit, so I wanted to add it to the list, so you can be better prepared than I was. Unfortunately, in many work environments, OT is still not fully understood, so think about a time that you had to explain the value of OT in the work or fieldwork setting.
  • Tell me about a time that you went above and beyond. This one is always uncomfortable for me, because 1) I feel like I always go above and beyond and 2) I don't like to talk about how great I am, which is basically what this question is asking you to do. It's easiest for me if I have one particular story in my head that I am prepared to share if this question or a similar one comes up.
  • Tell me about a challenging situation and how you handled it. I've found that this is often a three part question: 1) a challenging situation with a co-worker, 2) a challenging client, and 3) a challenging family member. Again, have some stories ready to share.
  • Where do you see yourself in five years? The trick to this one is to be both clear and vague at the same time. Maybe you don't see yourself staying with this particular employer for five years, but now is not the time to say that. Share your career goals, which might include specialty training, gaining a leadership position, or participating in research. Do not say something like, "I hope to be a stay at home mom in five years" even if that is your goal. Make the interviewer feel like they fit into your five year plan.
  • Why should we hire you? This usually comes toward the end, so be ready to sell yourself. I know it can feel uncomfortable, but this is your opportunity to highlight all of your strengths, why you would be a good fit for this particular company, and you can also throw in anything else that you want to tell the interviewer that they didn't ask you.
  • Do you have any questions? This is almost always the last question at an interview. Don't ever answer this question with, "No." Always have questions. I like to go into an interview with a list of questions that I have. Many of my questions are the same from interview to interview, and these general questions often get answered during the interview process. You always want to show that you did your homework prior to the interview, so it's good to scour their website or social media pages to come up with some questions that are specific to the site. I'll cover specific questions to ask a potential employer next week.
  • What is your salary expectation? I've found that this question is not really asked all that frequently, but it's better to be prepared for it, rather than having no idea what to say. Do your homework prior to the interview using sites like or the Advance for OT Salary Survey results. You may get away with saying something general, like "a competitive salary" or "it's negotiable," but I've found that they employers that ask this question usually want a number, or at least a range. Salaries vary based on location, experience, and practice setting, so use the websites above to help get an idea of what can be expected in your area.

Fun questions:

I have mixed feelings on the use of "fun" questions in a an interview, but I guess overall they are harmless. The interviewee is just trying to get to know you a little bit and maybe see how well you think on your feet when thrown off guard. In my experience, I've been asked a "fun" question in about half of my interviews.

Here are a few examples of fun questions that I have been asked:
  • What is the most recent book you read? I read a LOT of books, so this should be an easy question for me, but I often blank whenever someone asks me this question, whether it's in an interview or just casually. Maybe because I read so many books (and so quickly) that I tend to forget the name of books? I actually nailed this question during one interview. I had recently read a Joyce Carol Oates book and one of the interviewers was a big fan of hers. I got lucky, because many people probably have no idea who that author is and if they do, it may make me look a bit odd due to the nature of the topics she writes about.
  • What would you bring to a staff potluck? This one totally caught me off guard, and I'm not sure why. OT departments always have potlucks. They just do, so consider it part of your new career. I guess we all love food. I usually use staff potlucks as an opportunity to make something I've been wanting to try, but haven't had a chance to do so.
  • What's your favorite Blizzard flavor? Nailed it! Pumpkin pie. And I taught the interviewers about a flavor they were not familiar with. (This question is obviously very regional, because I don't think Dairy Queen exists in all parts of the country.)
  • Are you a xx fan or xx fan? Maybe it's just me that gets this question because I've moved around so much. "Are you a Packers fan or a Broncos fan?" "Are you a Giants fan or a Patriots fan?" "Are you a Red Sox fan or Dodgers fan?" My response is usually along the lines of "Ummm...neither. I mean, I guess I'm a Red Sox fan. Yes, obviously I love the Red Sox. And the Patriots, too. And there's a hockey team here, right? Yeah, the Bruins. I love the Bruins." And then I tell them that I don't actually watch sports because I grew up in Iowa, where there are no professional sports teams, so my family just wasn't into sports. And then that usually turns into a conversation about how corn, not potatoes is grown in Iowa, and Iowa is located right in the middle of the country, you know, the flyover states, and so on.....
If these "fun" questions stress you out, don't worry. These are not worth losing sleep over. I think "fun" questions are a sign that you're doing well in the interview, and they just want to get to know you a little better in a less formal way. I've never not gotten a job offer because of my answer to the "fun" questions. In fact, I think I've always been offered a job at the interviews that asked one of these questions.

P.S. Tips for preparing for an interview.

Good luck with your interviews! Have any other common questions to add to the list? Please share in the comments below!

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