Wednesday, May 20, 2015

OT Student Corner | Questions YOU Should Ask at an Interview

Interviewing is more than just answering questions. You want to be prepared to ask questions, too! Remember, the interviewer is trying to figure out if you are a good fit for the position, but you are also trying to figure out if the position is a good fit for you.

Ideally, many of these questions will be answered during the interview, but just in case they're not, these are things you'll probably want to know about a potential job.

  • How many OTs work here? Is it a big team? Will you be the only OT? Are there OTs with more experience or specialty practice areas that you can learn from?
  • How long have you been working here? I always like to find out what the staff turnover is like. Generally, places that have low staff turnover are very proud of it and will start to rattle off how long each person in the department has been there. That's a sign that it's a good place to work. Higher turnover isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's just something to be aware of.
  • Who will I report to? This will give you an idea of how the company is structured and how much supervision you can expect.
  • What is a typical caseload size? This is just good information to have. If they give you an unclear answer, that may be a red flag.
  • What does a typical day look like? As we know, there is no such thing as a "typical" day in OT. But, they should be able to tell you the hours of the job, approximate number of clients seen in a day, number of treatments vs evaluations, meetings, etc.
  • What is the population that is served? This might seem obvious based on the setting and the homework you did prior to showing up for the interview, but it's helpful to ask about age ranges and specific diagnoses. It might turn out that the population served is much more specific (or general) than you anticipated.
  • What assessment and evaluation tools are used? It's good to know what is used and this is also an opportunity to share your familiarity with the tools used by this site.
  • How is documentation completed? This includes both written vs computerized, as well as all at once (at the end of the day) vs after each client. You can also ask about progress reports, re-evaluations, and discharge notes to find out how frequently you will be required to do those.

Always, always, always do your research before your interview! Check out the company's website, Facebook page, etc. Be sure to ask a question that is specific to your interests, as well as a question that is specific to the company.

Here are a few that I usually ask:

  • I noticed on your website that you have a program in XXX. What is the role of OT in this program?
  • Do you accept fieldwork students?
  • How do you support career growth?
  • How do you support continuing education requirements?

P.S. Common interview questions.

Do you have any questions you would add to this list? Please share in the comments below!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Tips for choosing the best OT or OTA school for you

To become an occupational therapy practitioner, you must attend an accredited occupational therapy school to be eligible to sit for the NBCOT exam. Accredited just means that the school meets the educational standards put in place by AOTA’s Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE). There are currently 326 occupational therapy and occupational therapy assistant educational programs in the United States and its territories! You can find a list of all of the accredited schools by visiting AOTA’s website.

A few things to keep in mind when choosing the best school for you

First of all, you need to find a school that is the right fit for you. What might be the best fit for your friend or neighbor or cousin, won’t necessarily be the right fit for you. There are a lot of schools to choose from and every individual has different needs and requirements.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when looking for an occupational therapy program that is the best match for you:

·         Do you want to (or need to) stay close to home?

·         What are the admissions requirements?

·         What are the prerequisites?

·         What is the cost of the program?

·         What makes the program unique?

·         What are the requirements for graduation? (e.g. completion of a Master’s thesis or project)

If at all possible, visit the programs you are interested in attending and meet with an admissions counselor. Often you will get an intuitive feel about whether a program is the right fit for you just by visiting. Be sure to check out the strengths of the programs in which you are interested. Maybe an OT program has a student-run clinic or a research center that matches your interests. Some schools offer specialty certifications, combined bachelor’s/master’s programs, or specific fieldwork requirements, just to give a few examples of things that may set a school apart. These are all worth looking into when checking out a potential occupational therapy program.

Last, but not least, you need to consider expenses. Private schools are much more expensive than public schools, and out of state tuition can be very high for non-residents. Be sure to take your own financial situation into consideration when choosing an OT school, and it is always worth looking into the financial aid that each school offers to see if you might qualify for any assistance.

Click HERE or on the image above to get your own copy of the free e-book! Help other prospective students by sharing the link on your social media using #OTguide. 

P.S. Tips for deciding between OT and OTA.

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!

Friday, May 8, 2015

OT Approved Toy | Rush Hour Shift

I love games by ThinkFun and the original Rush Hour board game has long been my favorite of all of the ThinkFun games! Rush Hour is actually how I first discovered ThinkFun and all of their great games! When ThinkFun recently contacted me to see if I'd be interested in checking out their new Rush Hour Shift board game, I knew I had to see what they had come up with.

Rush Hour Shift is a two player version of the popular Rush Hour board game. In my opinion, this game is much more difficult than the original Rush Hour game, but that doesn't mean that it's not a great game. I just want you to be aware that this game is more difficult. With that said, if you are a fan of the Rush Hour game or logic games in general, then you will probably enjoy this game, as well!

To play Rush Hour Shift, you first set up the game board based on one of the provided configurations. This alone is a great visual perceptual challenge for kids! After that, each player is dealt four cards, and then they take turns making a move using their cards. This is where it differs from the original Rush Hour game in a few ways: 1) Rush Hour Shift is 2 player, and 2) the board game actually shifts! Depending on the cards that are played, the board may shift, suddenly changing the route you were planning to take to get out of the traffic jam. Just like the original game, the goal is to get your car out of the traffic jam, but in this game you need to do it before the other player does!

If you are a fan of Rush Hour and looking for either a 2 player game or an additional challenge, I would recommend Rush Hour Shift.

Best for ages: 8 and up

Skills addressed: 

  • fine motor
  • visual perceptual
  • visual spatial
  • problem solving  
  • turn taking


Other ThinkFun Games I love:

Like I said, I'm a fan of all ThinkFun games, but couple of my favorites are Shape by Shape and Bug Trails.

Did you know ThinkFun also has great apps for kids? You can check out a review I did of the Rush Hour and Chocolate Fix apps by clicking HERE.

Where to buy:

You can find Rush Hour Shift at most stores that sell toys, including Toys R Us, Barnes & Noble, and Target. You can also purchase Rush Hour Shift on Amazon.

For more OT Approved Toys, be sure to stop by my Toy Page.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary Rush Hour Shift game from Think Fun in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not compensated for this post and all writing and opinions are my own. Links to Amazon are affiliate links

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

OT Student Corner | Preparing for an Interview

Yay! It's graduation season! That means OT students all over the country are preparing for their first interviews. How exciting! Over the next few weeks, I'm going to share some tips for successfully navigating the interview process.

First up, preparing for an interview.

In advance:

  • Do your homework. Research the potential employer and learn what makes them unique or different from other places you are interviewing. This is important for you to find a job that is the best fit for you, and also to be able to ask good questions of your potential employer.
  • Prepare for potential interview questions. Practice your answers! Next week I'll cover common interview questions and how to prepare for them.
  • Questions for the employer. Always be prepared to ask questions at your interview. It's not just them interviewing you, you are also interviewing them to make sure it's a good fit for you.
  • Research salary. Salary varies based on experience, geographic location, and practice setting. Do your research prior to the interview to know what to expect, as well as to be ready to answer the sometimes uncomfortable, "what is your salary expectation for this job?" question. I recommend checking out and the Advance for OT Salary Survey results.
  • Make sure you know how to get there. I usually ask if there is somewhere specific I am supposed to park and where I should report when I arrive. This reduces my anxiety around not knowing what to expect, because at least I know where to park and where to go in the building. Also, I recommend checking out how long it will take to get there and don't forget to take into consideration the time of day you will be going and if traffic may delay you. Do a drive by if necessary a day or two before to really make sure you know where you are going.
  • Decide what to wear. Dress professionally and choose your clothes prior to the day of the interview. If you pick out your clothes in advance, it's one less thing to think about on the interview day.

The day of:

  • Arrive on time! Give yourself plenty of time to get to your interview, including time to find parking and get to where you are supposed to be. You can always sit in your car and review your notes if you arrive too early. It's much harder to make up for arriving late.
  • Dress appropriately. Hopefully you've already decided ahead of time what you will wear, so this is just a matter of putting those clothes on! Remember, dress professionally!
  • Bring everything you need. This might include extra copies of your resume, your OT license, CPR certification, a list of references, a list of previous employers and previous addresses. You probably already filled out an application online when you submitted your resume, but often employers have a paper application that you must fill out when you arrive. Information that is often required is dates of when you were in school, dates and addresses for previous jobs, and previous home addresses (going back seven years) for a background check.
  • Relax and be yourself. The interviewer just wants to get to know you, and hear about your skills and experiences, so relax and show them who you really are!

The day after:

  • Follow up. Once you complete the interview, you still have work to do! It's always good to follow up the next day (usually by email) to thank the interviewer for interviewing you, to reiterate your interest in the position, and to highlight your qualifications for the job. Keep it short and sweet. This is not the time to write an essay. Remember, just three things: 1) thank you, 2) your interest in the job, 3) your qualifications for the job. Bonus points if you are able to tie in something the interviewer shared in the interview!

Good luck preparing for your interviews! Be sure to stop back next week for common interview questions!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Six tips for deciding between becoming an OT or OTA

It has been a great OT Month here on my blog! I cannot express how thankful I am for all of the occupational therapists who stopped by this month to share a peek into a typical day in their life as an OT. I often receive emails from readers asking me what it's like to be an OT, so I hope the "day in the life" series helps answer some of those questions.

I also frequently receive emails about how to become an occupational therapist and what exactly is the difference between an occupational therapist (OT) and an occupational therapy assistant (OTA). Today I'd like to help clarify the difference and also give you some tips on how to decide which one is the best for you, if you have decided to pursue a career in occupational therapy.

Let's start with the definitions.

An OT is an occupational therapist. An OT works independently and can do all aspects of occupational therapy treatment, including completing evaluations, writing reports, writing goals, treatment planning, implementing treatment, discharging clients, and supervising OTAs and OT/OTA students.

An OTA is an occupational therapy assistant. An OTA must work under the supervision of an occupational therapist and can do many aspects of occupational therapy treatment, including implementing treatment, contributing to the evaluation process by completing delegated assessments after competency has been demonstrated, and supervising OTA students.

Both occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants can serve as leaders for the profession of occupational therapy in state, national, and international OT associations.

Educational Requirements to Become an OT

To become an OT, you must obtain either a master’s degree or an entry level doctorate in occupational therapy from an accredited college or university. Currently, a doctorate is not required for entry into the profession, but it may be in the future. Some educational programs offer a combined bachelor’s/master’s degree program in occupational therapy, which allows for faster completion of the educational requirements if you do not yet have an undergraduate degree. The change to an entry level doctoral degree for point of entry by 2025 is currently under consideration by the American Occupational Therapy Association.

How Long Will it Take to Become an OT?

Entry level OT degree programs vary in length. The length of the program will ultimately depend on your chosen school’s requirements, but here is a general guideline for how long you can expect a degree program to take (based on full-time student status):
  • Master’s program: 2-3 years
  • Doctoral program (OTD): 2-4 years
  • Combined bachelor’s/master’s program: 5-6 years

Educational Requirements to Become an OTA

To become an OTA, you must obtain an associate’s degree from an accredited college. An associate’s degree in occupational therapy is the only point of entry for occupational therapy assistants.

How Long Will it Take to Become an OTA?

 An associate’s degree in occupational therapy typically takes two years to complete (assuming full time student status).

What do “OTR” and “COTA” mean?
OTR and COTA are registered trademarks of the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT).

  • An OTR is a registered occupational therapist.
  • A COTA is a certified occupational therapy assistant.

Upon completion of an OT or OTA degree program, you must take and pass the national NBCOT exam to certify your degree prior to gaining employment. Depending on the state that you practice in, you may be required to maintain your NBCOT certification throughout your career.

Tips for Deciding Between OT and OTA

So now that you know the difference between OT and OTA, how do you decide which career path is right for you? Here are a few things to take into consideration when deciding between OT and OTA:
  • Cost of education: It is important to reflect on your own personal financial situation before deciding which educational path to choose. An associate’s degree will cost significantly less than a master’s degree and will also take much less time to complete. Questions to ask yourself: How much time and money do I have to commit to this career path?
  • Educational level: For some people, their level of education is very important. For others, it is less important. Some people love school, and other people don’t. Questions to ask yourself: Is it important to me to have a master’s degree? Would I be satisfied with an associate’s degree? Do I want to commit to a master’s program?
  • Pay: While OTs do have a higher salary than OTAs, the amount of money an OT or OTA makes can vary significantly by geographic location and practice area. Questions to ask yourself: How much money do I expect/need to make? What are the average salaries for OTs and OTAs where I live or plan to live?
  • Job responsibilities: OTs typically have more job responsibilities than OTAs in terms of supervision requirements, completion of evaluations, and documentation. For some people, more responsibilities = more stress, while for others more responsibilities = more satisfaction. It’s important to figure out which group you fall into. Questions to ask yourself: How do I handle stress? Do I want to complete evaluations? Do I want additional job responsibilities? Will I get bored with limited job responsibilities?
  • Job demands: Along with the difference in job responsibilities, there can also be a difference in job demands. Since OTAs do not typically complete evaluations or complete as much paperwork, the OTA’s job can be more physically demanding, as they often spend more time treating clients than OTs do. Questions to ask yourself: Can I physically keep up with the demands of the job? How do I feel about doing lots of paperwork? Do I want more hands-on treatment time?
  • Opportunities for growth: There are certainly opportunities for career growth for both OTAs and OTs, but those opportunities may come more easily to OTs due to the supervisory role that comes with being an OT. Questions to ask yourself: What are my long-term career goals? Where do I see myself in 5, 10, or 20 years?  

This post is an adapted excerpt from my new FREE e-book I co-authored with Christie Kiley, entitled The Most Important Things You Need to Know about Becoming an Occupational Therapy Practitioner: A Guide for Prospective Students

Click HERE or on the image above to get your own copy of the free e-book! Help other prospective students by sharing the link on your social media using #OTguide.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A Day in the Life | OTD Student

To wrap up the "Day in the Life" series here on my blog, I am so excited to have Karen Dobyns of Miss Awesomeness stopping by! Karen is currently back in school, working toward her clinical doctorate in occupational therapy (also known as an OTD). If are currently an OT and considering going down this path, then you'll definitely want to keep reading!


A Day in the Life of A Post-Professional OTD student (a clinical doctorate in occupational therapy for those who are already practitioners and have gone back for an extra dose of scholarly learning).

Here is a typical “unit” of 1-2 weeks for a post-professional OTD student (this post is technically supposed to be a DAY in the Life of, so imagine breaking these assignments down into smaller components and tacking a little each day!)

First of all: Most therapists are working full-time, and juggling a family, and spending 1-3 hours most days on homework, with more on weekends. How much time depends on how fast you read, write, and process information (and how familiar you are with technology and how much you care about getting As).

If I break down hours of studying within my own program (REMEMBER THIS IS 1-2 WEEKS OF ASSIGNMENTS) it would be:

  • Work for Analysis and Evidence of Participation: I read several chapters and multiple articles on methodology or with specific methodologies that pertain to qualitative clinical inquiries. I write up an assigned forum post, writing on our message board, using multiple sources of high-quality evidence, pertaining to that specific assignment. For example, based on the readings, what is a clinical question I have that could be answered using a qualitative approach? (That’s an extremely simplistic example – it goes into a lot more detail than that). I also do some research on topic for a 5-7 page paper coming up.
  • Measuring the Impact of Participation in Occupation: I read several articles on occupation-based performance measures, and then write a forum post on the importance of staying occupation-based in the schools, and how. I work briefly on an upcoming paper about a specific assessment I’m researching in depth.
  • Educating in Occupational Therapy: I read several articles on literacy levels, and then post a hand-out in the forums, one I’ve used in the past. I analyze its possible literacy level and how I could make it more appropriate to its audience. I work briefly on an upcoming assignment of planning out my own workshop.
  • Administration and Practice Management course: I read several chapters on human resources and employment law, then write on the forums regarding potential discrimination in hiring/firing/training. I work briefly on a short paper analyzing an article on employment law that is applicable to OT.

Connect with Karen:
(Click “About Me” to learn about the name!)
Email: karen [AT] missawesomeness [dot] com
*I am most active on FB and Twitter these days!

About Karen:
 I’m Karen and I have roughly 5 years experience as a practitioner, with most of that time in elementary
schools. I am about to start my third semester of my post-professional OTD program. I started my own business last year, focusing on my passion of empowerment of children, families, and corporations within the emerging niche area of healthcare and wellness for the general population. However, my business is on the back burner for now, partially due to this program! I’ve blogged and kept an OT presence on social media since my first semester in OT school back in January of 2006. I love reading, writing, anything at all to do with OT (I never get tired of it), hula hoop dancing, slacklining, rock balancing/stacking, mixed media, walking on the beach, and much more.

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