The medical field offers a wide range of career paths, but occupational therapy is one of the most unique – and one of the most satisfying. Occupational therapists offer a holistic rehabilitation process to patients facing health challenges, tailoring their approach to each individual they work with. It’s a career that allows you to make direct and material positive changes to the lives of your patients, addressing both their mental and their physical health.
If you’re hoping to pursue a career as an occupational therapist, you can look forward to a substantial salary and plenty of job opportunities! The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports an average salary of $85,570 for occupational therapists, as well as an above-average job growth rate of 14%. But this level of opportunity means that competition for roles can be stiff, as more people aspire to this deeply rewarding career.
Luckily, you don’t have to prepare on your own. VisualCV has prepared a helpful guide to interviewing for occupational therapist roles, so you can make sure you’re ready on the big day. We’ve listed some of the most common interview questions for occupational therapists, as well as some example answers to help you develop your own ideas on how to respond.
In this article, we’ll cover the following points:
Occupational therapists deliver a form of rehabilitation that helps people with long-term illnesses, disabilities or health difficulties re-engage with day-to-day activities. Uniquely among health professionals, they have a high level of flexibility to develop tailored care plans for their patients. They can draw on a broad range of evidence-based interventions, as well as collaborative work with other health professionals, to deliver holistic and personalized care.
From day to day, occupational therapists work directly with their roster of patients to evaluate their needs, develop plans of care, and deliver interventions as needed. Because occupational therapy is so carefully tailored to the needs of each patient, this evaluative work forms the bulk of an occupational therapist’s working time. Occupational therapists also have to keep thorough and accurate records of each patient’s case, and liaise with other care providers to monitor patient progress.
Because occupational therapy blends so many different disciplines, it requires a broad range of skills. Therapists need to be both analytical and compassionate, and capable of listening and communicating effectively. They also need to be capable of collaboration and joined-up working, and strongly focused on best practices when it comes to safety.
Needless to say, this is a career that requires a high level of education and training. While a bachelor’s degree was considered sufficient training for occupational therapists in the past, new therapists are generally expected to have either a master’s or a doctoral degree via an accredited program. They also need to become licensed to practice in the state where they want to work by passing the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam.
That means a minimum of four years of undergraduate study, followed by a master’s degree and a licensing exam. It’s important to be prepared for the investment of both time and money that you will need to make in order to work as an occupational therapist! Once you are able to start working, your salary will skew high – but you may need to plan for the expense of getting the education you need, if you’re hoping to move into this career.
When you show up to interview for an occupational therapist role, keep in mind that interviewers will be looking for a particular type of person. They’re likely to ask questions that test your knowledge of your field, giving you an opportunity to put your extensive education to use. They will also ask behavioral and situational questions, designed to gauge how you will cope with situations commonly faced by occupational therapists at work.
If this all sounds daunting, don’t let it intimidate you! You can prepare for your interview by revisiting the job description, noting the qualities and skills it specifies, and thinking about your own experience of using those traits. Whether you’ve worked as an occupational therapist before, or whether you only have your studies behind you, you should get ready to interview by thinking about times when you have acted in ways that reflect you at your best.
We’ve compiled some of the most common interview questions faced by would-be occupational therapists. We’ve even written up some advice, including example answers, so you can see how hiring managers are hoping you’ll respond. Read on, and you’ll be ready to land that dream job in no time!
This question is trying to assess whether or not you understand the role you’re applying for. Do you understand what an occupational therapist actually does from day to day, or are you pursuing the career based on an idealized misunderstanding of the job?
Thanks to your extensive education and training, you should have some sense of the day-to-day work that goes into occupational therapy. You can also draw on the job description, which will list the skills and traits required for the particular role you’re applying for. Giving a good, thorough answer to this question will show your interviewer that you’re prepared to tackle all the challenges of occupational therapy, and that you’re aware of what you need in order to excel.
Don’t forget to mention that you have all the relevant skills, too! It’s perfectly fine to point out that you meet the criteria – don’t leave your interviewer wondering, and don’t be afraid of talking yourself up.
Example answer: “Occupational therapists need to be great communicators, first and foremost, capable of listening to patients as well as explaining complex situations to them and their families. We need to be compassionate, empathetic and patient, able to build strong bonds of trust with their patients. My experience has also been that flexibility and adaptability are crucial – the field is changing all the time, and we need to be able to keep up. And lastly, we need to be able to collaborate effectively with other care professionals, to ensure the best possible outcomes for our patients. I know these are all skills that I possess, and I’d be thrilled to apply them in this role.”
This question pertains to a vitally important part of an occupational therapist’s job. Therapists need to be able to assess patients’ needs, abilities and conditions. Without taking this important first step, it’s impossible for them to set meaningful goals and milestones for patients’ care and development.
Interviewers will want to know that you understand how this process works. They’ll want to hear evidence that you can evaluate patients accurately and efficiently, using all the evidence available to you. If you have past work experience as an occupational therapist, you can draw on that to support your answer; otherwise, you can refer back to your education and training.
The way you approach the evaluation process is also a factor here. You’ll need to show that you can be empathetic and patient as you work to establish goals for your patients. Remember, this process can be challenging and intimidating for them – it’s your job to keep them encouraged and engaged with their own recovery.
Example answer: “When assessing patients initially, I draw on all the sources of information that are available to me. I start by appraising the patient’s overall condition, factoring in their age and the nature of the challenges they face, before carrying out formal assessments in line with doctors’ recommendations. I make a practice of talking to their families and loved ones where possible, to get a sense for who each patient is and what they might respond to. Then I synthesize all that information to devise realistic, attainable goals and milestones for recovery – as well as a plan for how to get there that takes the patient’s emotional needs into account.”
Occupational therapy is a team project, and families and loved ones form a part of that team. Depending on a patient’s needs and circumstances, they may need to be actively involved in the care process. And even if that isn’t the case, they will typically provide enormous moral support for patients struggling to recover.
As a result, interviewers will want to ascertain how seriously you take families’ involvement in the process. If they have concerns or worries, will you be willing to listen? And how will you respond to them when they come to you with questions?
Use this opportunity to show that you take patients’ families’ seriously, and that you have the communication skills to keep them included in the process. This is also a great way to show that you can work collaboratively, even with stakeholders outside the medical field. Both are vital skills for occupational therapists, so make sure you call attention to your past experience with both!
Example answer: “I know that for many of our patients, families form a crucial part of the care team. I believe it’s vital not only to keep them in the loop, but to work with them for the patient’s benefit – just as we would collaborate with any other care provider. If a family member came to me with concerns, I would take them seriously. With the patient’s consent, I would review the patient’s care plan with the family member in question, to either alleviate their worries or consider better ways to proceed.”
Delivering bad news is one of the hardest parts of an occupational therapist’s job. Because occupational therapists commonly work with patients who have been injured or become disabled, they have to help patients manage some major changes to the way they live their lives. Part of the role involves determining, based on assessments, whether a patient will be able to return to their previous job after recovery.
It should go without saying that it can be difficult for patients to hear that they need to re-evaluate their previous life plans. Interviewers will want to see evidence that you can handle breaking this challenging news with the empathy and compassion it requires.
But the question goes beyond that, as does the responsibility that occupational therapists have in these situations. You should also think about how you would help patients to stay focused and motivated as they recover. Helping them to establish new, more attainable goals and manage their own expectations is a vital part of the job, and one you should consider when you answer this question.
Example answer: “In the first instance, I would keep my explanation professional, focusing on my assessment of the patient and the challenges they may face in returning to their previous role. I would try to leave space for the patient to react emotionally, as I know the news may be hard to hear; if they wanted a family member or loved one present to support them, I’d accommodate that. I’d follow up by suggesting new plans better suited to the patient’s new level of ability, and proposing recovery milestones to keep them encouraged and invested in the therapy process. Losing the ability to do a job can feel devastating, and it’s important to fill the gap left by that loss with new possibilities.”
On one hand, occupational therapists can work in very flexible ways; they have plenty of options if they want to work part-time, for example. But on the other hand, they also work closely and personally with patients facing serious health challenges. This can put real emotional strain on occupational therapists.
In general, employees remain in post for longer when they are equipped to manage stress and avoid burnout. Interviewers ask questions like this to gauge your resilience and your ability to manage your own wellbeing. It’s an important consideration – they will usually be aiming to hire someone who they expect will stay in the role for a long time, after all!
Think about your past experiences with stress, whether as a student or as a professional. Draw on that experience to explain how you cope with emotional challenges at work. Remember, if you can prove that you have done it before, interviewers will be more prepared to believe that you can do it again.
Example answer: “I know that occupational therapy can be a demanding job; we work every day with patients dealing with major life changes and health challenges, and they do sometimes take that stress out on us. Plus, the role usually demands some evening and weekend work. But I’ve always been very adept at managing stress and maintaining a mentally healthy lifestyle outside of work. In my previous role, I found that yoga helped me to center myself during stressful times, and gave me the tools to deliver the top tier of care to my patients.”