Demand for occupational therapists and COTAs is on the rise. But while it might be fairly simple to get a job, you still need a great resume for the best occupational therapy jobs.
Let me share some of the most distinctive elements you can use to make your resume more attractive. I've looked at 100 OT resumes to write the Resume Hacking e-book for Occupational Therapists, and in this article, I'll reveal some of the best stuff I’ve found. Quite often, the advice will prove useful to COTAs as well.
A bright future for occupational therapists and COTAs
Occupational therapists seem to have great opportunities on the horizon. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, from 2014 to 2024, the number of occupational therapy jobs in the U.S. will grow by a staggering 27%, almost 4 times as much as the average of 7% for all occupations! The growth is even more impressive for occupational therapy assistants: 40% over the same time period.
Great. But what does it mean concretely?
Well, since you’re sought after, you have the privilege of being selective. For example, instead of saying yes as soon as you get an offer, take the time to evaluate it. Is it well located? How’s your future boss? And how’s the pay? Does it align with your clinical interests and career goals?
The most interesting jobs will still require that you differentiate yourself from serious competition. And it won’t be easy. (Any job search can be surprisingly frustrating, even for professionals with a bright future.) That’s why having a strong resume is in order.
The ordinary OT resume
How can your resume stand out from all the other OT (or COTA) resumes? First, you have to realize that most resumes will have a lot in common. Here are a few examples of roles and responsibilities that you're likely to see on a majority of your peers’ resumes.
- Roles and responsibilities for occupational therapists
- Examined and diagnosed the patients' physical condition.
- Respected and maintained the privacy and confidentiality of all patients.
- Performed daily bedside ADL assessments and formulated intervention plans with functional outcomes.
- Quarterly screening of long-term residents.
- Evaluated acute care patients.
- Evaluated clients for custom seating and wheelchair needs.
Obviously, while these things aren’t surprising or especially strong, you’ll still need some on your resume. But don't overdo it – ordinary OT resumes are filled with that stuff.
The extraordinary OT resume
To show what makes you special, you need to highlight things that you've done which go above and beyond a typical job description. And write about it in a way that emphasizes value for your employer or your patients. What I'm talking about is called resume accomplishments.
In a few words, an accomplishment is something for which you deserve a bonus. (Whether you actually received a bonus or not is an entirely different matter!) Your accomplishments often substantiate less technical, but highly valuable skills: leadership, initiative, problem-solving, process improvement, etc.
When I researched OT resumes, I found that very few had many accomplishments. Which wasn’t really a surprise, since that’s the most common weakness on resumes in general. So if you want a resume that packs a punch, add as many accomplishments as you can.
Here are solid examples to get you started.
Accomplishments to make your resume shine among occupational therapists
- Supervised and educated Level I and Level II occupational therapy students.
Any sort of training, coaching or leadership is very valuable to highlight. It demonstrates management skills as well as people skills.
- Entrusted with research, design and equipment set up of facility's first sensory gym, which was ready one week ahead of schedule.
The word I like the most here is “first”, since it demonstrates a sense of initiative and innovation. You've done things that hadn't been done before.
- Actively participated in new process mapping for reorganization of the service and development of new integrated online system. Following this effort, our assignments became more efficient, allowing the unit to see 2-3 more patients daily.
In this example, the value for the organization is very clear. More patients seen every day means more revenue for the business and/or shorter waiting lists. Both are positive from the employer's perspective.
- Provided numerous specialized equipment evaluations and prepared numerous justification reports to Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance companies, with a very good record of clients obtaining equipment.
Once again, notice the clear emphasis on value. This time it's about clients obtaining equipment. It's a concrete result, very helpful to the treatment process. It also shows that you care, as you go the extra mile for your patients.
- My personal interest in yoga has opened opportunities to use various techniques in my practice, which specifically elicit positive feedback.
In this example, we get a sense of creativity as well as clear results: positive patient feedback.
- Introduced checklists to OT team, which helped us achieve systematic documentation required for our long-term monitoring process.
From the perspective of the organization, the value here is a working process for long-term monitoring. While all the major pieces are in the original statement, the focus is on the checklists. It would have been better to flip things around, to emphasize where the value is: “Contributed to achieving systematic documentation required for our long-term monitoring process, by introducing checklists to OT team.”
Skills and specialties make great keywords
There are also specialties and technical skills that deserve your attention. These elements will reflect the patients you've had, the environments you've worked in and the tools that you've used. Since these will often be used as keywords by recruiters (searching for people like you), every relevant skill or specialty has to appear on your resume. Note that keywords score higher if they are used in context (within a real sentence), when resumes are processed by computers. For example:
- Primarily served autistic population in last three years.
- Education in assessment and treatment of swallowing disorders in conjunction with speech pathology.
- Comprehensive in use of online documentation systems: Ecare, Casamba, Sigma care.
Here are a few examples of keywords that I found by looking at job ads. (It’s very important to tailor each resume you send to the job ad you’re replying to.)
Specialties: musculoskeletal; neuromuscular; hand specialist; polytrauma; home-based primary care; post-acute rehabilitation, children, elderly, …
Equipment skills: blind/visual rehabilitation assistive technology; orthotics and adaptive/assistive equipment; Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC); low tech and high tech access options; alternative access tools (i.e. switches, joysticks, keyguards, specialty interfaces)…
Other skills: Basic Life Support (BLS) certification; CPR or First Aid training; other languages spoken…
When thinking about keywords, ask yourself what search terms would help you to find a good colleague. It’s doubtful that keywords like therapy plan, treatment program, dysfunction or impairment would narrow down your results, right?
Jobscan is a great tool to help you see how you should tailor your resume to match the keywords of a specific job ad. (You can try it for free five times, after which you’d need a paying subscription.)
Your accomplishments are the key to unlocking the best opportunities
With the above examples of accomplishments and skills, you'll be able to find some more on your own. And that’s the single most important step in building a resume that’s different. A resume that really tells your story.
If you can add 3 to 5 accomplishments to your resume, and at the same time try to remove redundant roles and responsibilities, you'll have a much crisper, hard-hitting document.
While accomplishments and skills are very important on your resume, they're also the key building blocks for your cover letters, interviews and networking efforts.
By having a clear mental picture of these elements that make you stand out, you’ll be much better equipped to apply for the better jobs. Instead of being an occupational therapist with eight years of experience, you’ll be the OT that has trained new members and sharpened processes for efficiency. Or the COTA who can bring in new trends and find creative ways to get the right equipment into her patient's hands.
And that will resonate powerfully with potential employers.
Richard Poulin is a resume writer focused on helping professionals stand out. He created Resume Hacking (www.resumehacking.com), a series of short books that provide tailored advice by profession.