In your rewarding career as an occupational therapist (OT), you will help people get back to doing the activities that give their lives meaning. With a wide range of occupational therapy specialties, job opportunities span a variety of work environments. And it’s a thriving profession, with 16% growth projected from 2019 to 2029. ((Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, “Occupational Therapists,” last modified Sept. 1, 2020: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/occupational-therapists.htm))
When you interview for your first OT position, you will need to describe your education, clinical experience, and skills. Interviews can be nerve-wracking, so it’s important to prepare well. In this article, we walk you through common occupational therapy job interview questions, and we offer tips to help you answer them with confidence. And for those who are applying to entry-level graduate programs in OT, we’ve included questions that admissions staff might ask in the interview.
How to Prepare for Your OT Interview
Whether you are applying for a job position, promotion, or pursuing a degree program, preparation is key. Be sure to ask about the interview format—will it be one-on-one or panel style? This will give you an idea of the conversational structure. Consider making a list of key points to express during your interview.
Although occupational therapists work with patients across a range of demographics and conditions, focus on the qualities and skills you have that best align with the patients you would serve in this position. Ask a friend or colleague to role-play interview questions and answers with you. Performing a mock interview beforehand can help you relax and practice answering the questions with clear, strong responses.
General Occupational Therapy Job Interview Questions ((AOTA Staff, “Best Answers to the 11 Most Difficult Interview Questions,” American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), 2021, https://www.aota.org/Education-Careers/Students/Pulse/Archive/job-search/interview.aspx))
While most job interviews consist of standard questions about character and work ethic, it’s a good idea to research the types of questions you might encounter for OT positions. Here are the most common questions to expect in an OT job interview, plus sample answers and tips for talking points.
1. Why are you interested in pursuing a career in OT?
Your interviewer will most likely ask this question to determine your level of seriousness and commitment to this particular position. An OT candidate may ultimately envision a creative career in the industry and may see the immediate position as just a stepping stone.
When answering, explain what you most enjoy about occupational therapy and describe the emotional connection that draws you to the field. Recount an experience that shows your desire to help others—one that also showcases the skills, knowledge, and professionalism you bring to the role.
2. What qualities and skills do you possess that will make you a good occupational therapist?
Since you probably will have listed your skills on your resume and cover letter, managers will ask this question to gain more insight. A good rule of thumb is to tailor your response to the requirements in the job description.
For example, if you would be working with people with disabilities, you might share an experience in which you improvised an assistive device for a patient. This would show the hiring manager your creative problem-solving abilities. Or if your clients will be children, you might share an experience that showcases your capacity to communicate with and engage young people.
3. How would you handle a situation with a difficult patient (or their family member)?
Once you’re hired, you will represent your employer. First, reassure the hiring manager that you will follow the facility’s training and guidelines.
Then, try to frame your response in positive terms. Explain how you would handle the situation, such as:
- Assessing the patient’s emotional and physical state
- Maintaining clear communication and relaxed body language
- Sharing your willingness to help the patient
- Encouraging conversation to help diffuse the situation
4. How do you deal with an overwhelming workload?
In this case, the interviewer will want to see how you manage a high patient caseload or a hectic day on the job.
When answering, assure the interviewer that you can remain professional and calm during stressful situations. Give examples of times when you’ve handled heavy workloads, such as taking on the work of an absent colleague, and your coping mechanisms for stress during busy days.
5. Tell me about a time you needed to advocate for occupational therapy.
This question will help the interviewer see your passion for the profession and enthusiasm for the position.
There are many ways to advocate for occupational therapy. For example, during your clinical rotations, you may have encountered a patient who was receiving physical therapy to help them regain mobility following an injury—but who also needed occupational therapy interventions to help them resume the activities that give their life meaning. If you recommended OT in this or a similar situation, that is advocacy.
6. Tell us about a time you feel you made a difference in someone’s life.
This is another OT interview question managers ask to get a sense of your passion for the job. Having empathy for patients is an important aspect of the OT profession, and your response can exude that quality.
In your answer, reflect upon a patient or colleague with whom you made a strong personal connection or who left a lasting impression on you.
7. What is your greatest strength—and your greatest weakness?
When interviewers ask this question, they want to see your transparency and your openness to growth and improvement. Discussing a weakness may take some thought, as you don’t want to dissuade the interviewer against hiring you.
Your response is an opportunity to highlight your achievements as an OT and how you’ll be an asset to the team. You can frame your weakness in terms of certain clinical skills you would like to further develop, such as skills you would need to practice occupational therapy in acute care or in the setting relevant to this job.
8. What is your experience in the “X” setting?
With this question, the employer wants to gauge your ability to hit the ground running in their work environment.
In your answer, demonstrate your readiness to perform in that setting and your willingness to adapt. You can list examples of when and how you worked in similar settings. Also consider related experiences that highlight your capabilities, such as volunteering or caregiving.
9. How would you establish goals for a patient?
Interviewers may ask this question to explore how you will set goals for each patient and monitor their progress.
Explain the steps you would take to set appropriate treatment goals, offer support when needed, and keep the patient engaged.
10. Tell me about a time when you felt proud to be an OT.
This is another question your interviewer may ask to gauge your passion for the profession.
Tell the interviewer about a situation that gave you a sense of accomplishment, such as a time when you advocated for occupational therapy, created an adaptive device, or helped a patient overcome a challenge.
11. Do you have any questions for us?
This is a common interview question that gives you a chance to learn more about the position and show your desire to be a team member.
It’s a good idea to prepare at least a few questions to ask the interviewer, so you can make sure the job aligns with your OT career goals.
Occupational Therapy Graduate School Interview Questions ((EduMed Staff, “Getting into Grad School: How to Ace Your Occupational Therapy Program Admissions Interview,” EduMed, 8 August 2020, https://www.edumed.org/online-schools/occupational-therapy-programs/ace-the-admissions-interview/))
If you’re applying to an OT graduate program, such as a Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT) or Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) degree program, interview preparation is equally important. (You should also know how to write a statement of purpose, as this is one element of the application process.) Below are questions you can expect faculty and staff to ask during your interview.
12. How would you define “occupational therapy” to someone who has never heard of it before?
Program directors may ask this question to gauge your basic knowledge of a field that is often misunderstood.
In your answer, consider using examples of how OTs can help patients return to the activities that are meaningful to them and that are necessary for independent living. Convey the value you see in the profession.
13. What are your most meaningful occupations?
The interview may ask this as a follow-up question to make sure you can define “occupation.”
Talk about hobbies, art practices, sports, and other activities that are important to you. Consider mentioning activities of daily living (ADLs) that are meaningful to you, as well.
14. What is the difference between occupational and physical therapy?
While some skills and responsibilities overlap, there are distinct differences between the job descriptions of physical therapists and occupational therapists.
In your answer, you can describe the types of patient problems that each professional works with, the interventions they provide, and the differing treatment goals they have. Be sure to explain why OT best aligns with your personal interests and career aspirations.
15. Do you have any experience with OT fieldwork yet? If so, what did you learn?
Some candidates may have completed fieldwork in an associate or bachelor’s degree program in OT. If you have fieldwork experience, recount a story about helping a client or learning from a mentor or peer.
16. What is your biggest accomplishment?
The interviewer may ask this question to get a sense of your personality and values.
Your answer is an opportunity to showcase your discipline, perseverance, and dedication to your goals. Graduate school is challenging, and you want to show the program director that you can excel.
17. Why have you chosen this school/program?
Many interviewers check to see if candidates have researched the school and OT program. If the program has a limited number of seats, they want to make sure they’re filling spots with students who are genuinely interested in the school and earnest about attending.
Think about what sets this OT program apart from others. Consider mentioning a few facts you’ve learned about the program throughout the interview and what most impresses you.
Additional Interview Tips + Resources
Now that you’re familiar with common OT interview questions, consider the following tips:
- Study the interview questions and rehearse your responses with a friend or trusted colleague who can provide honest feedback.
- Prepare professional attire for the interview. You can check with the recruiter about the company dress code to help plan your outfit in advance.
- Arrive at the interview location a half-hour early to compensate for any traffic delays. Try to relax and get adjusted to the environment.
- Send a thank-you email to your interviewer within 24 hours after the interview. Mention insightful talking points and reiterate your interest in the position.
You can also check out career advice websites like the Muse and Indeed for additional tips on interview preparation and job resources.
Occupational therapy is a rewarding profession where you can make a positive impact on patients of all ages. For more information about launching your career in OT, explore our occupational therapy degree programs.
The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) offers hands-on Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT) and Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) degrees. Join a collaborative cohort of peers who learn under the mentorship of expert faculty-practitioners. Practice with mock patients in our state-of-the-art simulation centers and learn anatomy with our high-tech tools. Prepare for clinical practice with patients across the lifespan, as well as advanced roles in research, practice leadership, and policymaking. Residential (online coursework + in-person labs on weekdays) and Flex (online coursework + in-person labs on weekends) formats are available.