Nail Your Occupational Therapy Job Interview

Nail your OT job interview

Nobody likes job interviews. Your nerves are off the charts, your palms are sweaty, you suddenly feel unrehearsed (regardless of how long you took to prepare), and you’re terrified you’ll freeze when it matters most.

One of the reasons OT interviews are so stressful is that conveying your skillset, training, and passion in such a short time period feels incredibly daunting.

That’s why, as with anything else in life, preparation makes a HUGE difference.

Planning ahead is key to nailing that occupational therapy interview and landing your dream OT job or COTA job. Outfits should be planned a week ahead of time, cover letters and resumes should be updated, nails should be immaculate—the list goes on.

But, as important as external preparation may be, preparing for the interview questions themselves is the true key to success.

Before you dare step into that office to meet with a potential employer, be sure to explore some of the questions you’ll likely need to answer during the interview.

Questions about problem-solving

1. “How do you deal with a difficult patient (or family member)?”

This is probably the most frequently asked question—not just in OT interviews, but in all healthcare interviews.

Be sure to answer in a way that lets the hiring manager know that you’re capable of patiently allowing a distressed client to express his or her feelings as you calmly provide feedback. A relaxed patient is a happy patient. And the same goes for family members!

In some cases, you might not be able to get the family member to relinquish control, in which case, you might need to have some examples of how to gently ask him or her to stay quiet (or leave the room) during the treatment—or, perhaps, you can even get the family member involved in the treatment.

2. “Describe a situation where you did not agree with management—and how did you handle it?”

This question is hard because an ideal candidate probably would not be someone who could readily become confrontational with management directive :-)

However, the interviewer wants to know that you are able to stand up for what you know is right, but handle it in a positive way.

If you have any examples of a time that a manager’s choice wasn’t in the best interest of the facility or a patient, and you requested a private meeting to express that you hoped their decision would be reconsidered (with some facts to back up your argument), that should do the trick.

3. “Tell me about a difficult situation and how you handled it.”

Generally speaking, a question like this is meant to see how you approach problems and handle conflict.

A great example to discuss would be when two separate doctors gave conflicting orders and you had to figure out whose directions or protocol to follow.

The important thing to note is how you handled things without losing your cool, and your answer should prove that you were a stellar communicator in the process!

4. “What do you do when you get a patient who doesn’t speak English?”

Each facility likely has its own protocol for handling language barriers. Some facilities use those blue translation phones, while others use in-house translators or other solutions.

You can answer the question by explaining that you always adhere to the facility protocol, and if you feel that there’s any sort of “lost in translation” issues or confusion, you always err on the side of caution, rather than assuming you “sort of understand” what the patient means. Safety first!

5. “Have you ever had a time when your ethics felt challenged? How did you handle it?”

Unfortunately, you can probably think of numerous times when you faced questionable ethics in the workplace.

It’s best to have an example in your back pocket for this question, just in case it’s asked. If you’re not prepared, you might inadvertently put your foot in your mouth or come across as “throwing someone under the bus” when trying to answer.

When you’re answering a question like this, the important part is staying composed and professional as you answer; the hiring manager is looking for your ability to stay poised under pressure (and to see if you are the type to talk smack about your former employer).

Questions about you

6. “What do you like to do in your free time?”

After all that time we spend preparing for questions about the role or the organization, it’s kind of ridiculous that this question sometimes trips us up. But it does—surprisingly often!

Many of us have trouble thinking of something to say when placed on the spot, so have an answer prepared for this one in advance.

Don’t be too honest if you spend five hours a day on Facebook or Instagram, but don’t be a liar and say you volunteer at soup kitchens when really you did that once five years ago.

This question is meant to unearth what you’re like outside of your professional role, and to gain some insight about your personality.

Maybe you are an avid golfer, spend weekends in the garden, love hunting for antiques, or joyfully belt out karaoke every Friday night. Maybe you even wrote a rock opera about your cats! Think about it ahead of time and you’ll be fine.

7. “How would your friends describe you? How would your enemies describe you?”

This is a question that often pops up as “What is your biggest strength? and/or “What is your biggest weakness?”

It does require some preparation in advance. Obviously, your friends would eagerly list all your positive attributes. That one’s a no-brainer!

However, being able to take one of your biggest weaknesses and spin it into something beneficial is an art form. Here’s an example, though: maybe your enemy would say you are obsessive compulsive—when, in fact, you just truly have a divine eye for detail.

8. “Why did you go into occupational therapy?”

This question is meant to unearth your passion (or lack thereof) for your profession.

It’s no secret that productivity pushes and documentation woes are a sobering reality for therapists these days, and the hiring manager probably doesn’t want an embittered, burned-out therapist joining the team. If you’re able to muster up true passion and answer this question with a compelling answer, you’ll light up the room.

9. “Tell me about a time when you felt proud to be an OT practitioner.”

This is another one that gauges your passion for the profession, and it is a great example to show that you can advocate for OT on the job.

Try to have an example on hand when you were able to educate another staff member and/or a patient or family member who initially didn’t see the value of OT services.

10. “What is the last book you read?”

If you’re not a big reader, no judgment here!

But you should still take note of the last book you read, who wrote it, and why you liked it. While this question only occasionally pops up in a traditional (clinical) OT job interview, you will often face something along these lines in interviews for non-traditional OT jobs (such as utilization review or rehab liaison).

11. “Why should we hire you?”

This question is almost always asked in any interview, regardless of the field. This question is a bit of a meatball; it provides a terrific opportunity to sell yourself—as long as you are able to tell them you are easily adaptable to the team/culture, and that you not only can perform the job, but will do it with spectacular results.

Questions about them

Questions about the role and facility are bound to pop up, and they’re generally very easy to prepare for in advance.

Be sure you take some time before the interview to learn about the company, department, and management team.

12. “What interests you most about this job?”

Maybe you’re interested in hand therapy, and this role involves some mentorship under a CHT.

Maybe the patient population is your absolute favorite.

Whatever it is, be sure to think about what makes you most excited for the role before you’re put on the spot to come up with an answer.

Don’t make a rookie mistake like citing the high pay or flexible hours as reasons why you want the role. The interviewer wants to hear that you’re passionate about the work itself.

13. “Tell us about our hospital/facility/etc.”

Oh, Nellie! This is what we call a “weed-out question.”

It’s meant to help the manager quickly whittle down candidates by getting rid of the ones who didn’t take the time to learn about the company before an interview.

Before any interview, you should do your research, and keep in mind that flattery (without going overboard) will grant you some major brownie points.

For example, tell them you learned about them being named the number one rehabilitation facility in the region, and would be honored to join such a winning team. Or, share a personal story about a friend or family member who got top-notch treatment there (if you honestly have a story like this).

They’ll love the connection you feel with them. Just don’t lie or don’t kiss their butts too much or you will come off as insincere. There’s a fine line there.

14. “Do you have any questions for us?”

A job interview should never be one-sided, where you feel like you’re being grilled endlessly without any chance to do a little interviewing of your own.

Job interviews should always allow you, the candidate, to ask questions about the management team, facility, other therapists, patient population, and more. Here are some questions you can ask:

  • Can you describe a typical workday? If you leave an interview without having a good idea about what your day-to-day work responsibilities will look like, somebody dropped the ball!

  • What type of person is the ideal candidate for the role? This is a great way to find out what they want in a candidate and decide whether you’re a good match for the team.

  • What documentation system do you use? This is a great question to ask when you simply need to ask something :-)

  • What are some of the department’s biggest challenges, and what are you doing to solve them? This is a great way to get the manager to open up a bit about some of the struggles. If you really want to impress them, see if you have a suggestion at the time of the interview—or you can mention an idea in your follow-up thank-you note.

  • Why is this position open? I love to ask this one to find out why the last person left. Or maybe nobody left, and the department is simply growing! It’s another window into the department’s workings, which helps you determine whether you’re a good fit for the team.

I also have some setting-specific questions you can ask in your job interview:

Questions to ask in an acute care OT job interview:

Interview questions for acute care OT.

These are derived from my interview with the pictured acute care OT team.

  • What opportunities for growth exist?

  • What is the staff tenure?

  • Is there organizational-funded continuing education?

  • Are there productivity requirements?

  • How does the rehab department fit into the economy of the organization?

  • How is the OT team regarded and viewed professionally within the rehab department—and by the organization as a whole?

Additional questions to ask before you accept an offer:

  • How many major/minor holidays do you require?

  • Do you offer an incentive for working holidays?

  • Are there weekend/evening differentials? (You're asking how much more per hour you'd make for weekends.)

Questions to ask in a SNF OT job interview:

Questions for an SNF OT interview

These were suggested in my interview with Mandy Chamberlain, OTR/L.

  • Is the company providing OT services for an internal or an external company?

  • Do you encourage program development?

  • What are your work hours, and what happens if your census is low?

  • What type of documentation system do you use?

  • Will I be involved with care conferences with the patients and family members?

  • What is the percentage of long-term care residents versus short-term rehab residents?

  • What are the daily productivity standards? Is it possible to have a lower standard for the first few weeks until I’m familiar with the job?

Additional questions to ask before you accept an offer:

  • How much vacation time is offered?

  • Are there weekend/evening/holiday differentials?

Questions to ask in a home health OT job interview:

home health ot interview questions

These were suggested in my interview with Monika Lukasiewicz, OTR/L.

  • What are at least two qualities that make a home health OT successful in this company?

  • What would it look like for an OT to be successful in this position? Please describe what it would look like from a management or team perspective.

  • Why did past OTs leave this company?

  • Please describe the documentation system/process for an average day (or at least for an average visit and an evaluation).

  • Where do you hope the OT department of this company will be in five years? What are you doing to make that happen?

  • What, if any, areas of expertise are either already present on the team—or are wanted on the team (i.e. lymphedema, cognition, vision, neuro, ortho, motivational interviewing)?

Additional questions to ask before you accept an offer:

  • How many patients will I be expected to treat each day?

  • Approximately how much mileage will I be expected to drive each week/day?

  • Is mileage reimbursed?

Questions to ask in a traveling OT job interview:

Specific interview questions for home health OT.

These are derived from my interview with Emily Butler, OTD, OTR/L. Traveling interviews are a bit different, so these questions should be asked to the recruiter, rather than the hiring manager.

  • Is medical coverage free for every placement? Also, how does medical coverage work between placements? For example, if I want to take off a week between placements, would I still have medical coverage?

  • Is there any life insurance offered?

  • Is there a meals and incidentals stipend?

  • As part of the travel expense allowance: is there ever the opportunity for car rental when placements are farther away?

  • How much is the CEU annual allowance?

  • Is there any opportunity for student loan repayment?

  • Are there any opportunities for PTO?

  • The website mentioned completion and renewal bonuses… could you elaborate on this?

  • Another OT and I are hoping to travel together. Is it always possible to get placements in or near the same place?

Additional questions to ask before you accept an offer for a specific facility:

  • How many patients will I be expected to treat each day?

  • Is documentation time built into the day?

  • (If the role is for a home health OT travel job) Approximately how much mileage will I be expected to drive each week/day? Is mileage reimbursed?

Questions to ask at a school-based OT job interview

Specific interview questions for school-based OT jobs.

These were suggested by Lauren Jones of the blog Gotta Be OT.

  • What is the primary service delivery model in Example County Schools? (i.e. medical, educational, consultative, telehealth, etc.)

  • Is this position caseload-based or workload-based? (More information at AOTA website.)

  • What is the age range of students I will be serving?

  • What does the new employee training look like? (i.e., number of months/weeks, over the phone, in person, frequency of meetings, etc.)

  • How many therapists are employed by Example County Schools?

  • How can I consult or connect with other therapists in Example County Schools?

  • How many special education cases in Example County Schools have gone to due process within the past year?

Additional questions to ask before you accept an offer:

  • What is the radius I will be expected to cover?

  • Is there reimbursement for mileage?

  • What type of equipment is available to me?

  • What will I have to pay for out of pocket?

Questions to ask at a PRN occupational therapy job interview

  • Who will be available for me to contact if I have a question while filling in for someone?

  • How will I be brought up to speed on my caseload before seeing patients?

  • What training will be required throughout the year to maintain my PRN status?

  • How will I be updated of changes in the department's policies and procedures?

Additional questions to ask before you accept an offer:

  • What is the minimum number of shifts/month required to maintain PRN status?

  • What are the productivity standards for PRN staff?

  • Can I be notified of my projected caseload a day prior to working? (You need to protect your time. You don't want to plan for a full day if there are only one or two patients to be seen.)

  • If the facility cancels last minute, can I still be compensated for some of my time? (An example would be two hours of pay if the facility cancels within an hour of your shift.)

  • Can I require a minimum of hours to be scheduled? (For example, you would only accept a shift if it is a minimum of three hours.)

Conclusion

There’s no need to lose sleep over OT job interviews. With proper preparation, they can actually be a lot of fun!

Rather than approaching interviews as incredibly stressful experiences where we have very little agency over the process, it’s best to look at them like dating: interviews are a great way to find out whether you are truly a good match for a particular role.

After all, everyone’s idea of a dream OT job is a little bit different. If you take the time to prepare in advance, you’ll be able to answer questions with poise—and ask exactly what you need to determine if the job is right for you.

Happy interviewing!!


About the authors

This article is an update to the 2015 guide written by Caroline Hill and Sarah Lyon, OTR/L,

Caroline Hill is a digital marketing specialist for Track5Media, parent company to Allied Travel Careers. She has her bachelor’s of science in speech communication with a focus in public relations. In her free time she enjoys writing, spending time enjoying the great outdoors, indie music, and petting every dog she ever meets.

Sarah Lyon, OTR/L is the founder of OT Potential.