Introducing our very first interview-style blog post! OT Unfiltered has teamed up with MOT student and SOTA Officer, Emily C., to discuss some VERY critical grad school interview pointers. Emily’s three favorite occupations are hiking, reading, and swimming in the ocean. She provides us with some VERY insightful answers, YOU won’t want to miss this!
Scenario: What to do if you just found out you have received an invitation to interview for an OT graduate program
1. What to expect?
Interviews with occupational therapy program directors or staff are done in order to learn more about you as a student and see what you may be able to contribute to the school. They want to see what your personality is like and want to also give you additional information about the program itself. How exciting?! You get the opportunity to sit down with the program director and give a little crash course about who you are.
Interviews differ from school to school. Some of them can be on campus, and sometimes they can be online. I was interviewed on campus at my college during a visit that I scheduled. If you have the option to be interviewed, I would definitely recommend going for it. Interviewing is always a benefit to you as a student. It’s a chance to sit down one on one with the program director and show them that you have an interest in the program. It can also give you a chance to learn about the school and ask questions. This will help you to decide if the program is the right fit for you!
2. What to do?
Before the interview, I always recommend doing your research on the program that you’re going to be interviewing for. This is a big thing that interviewers look for. Check out the program’s website and read about it. Some key things to look for include: what type of program is it, what is the typical class size, is it a hybrid program (online and in-person), does it offer a weekend program? Doing this will not only give you peace of mind, but it will also give you ideas of questions that you can ask later in the interview.
Another thing that you can do to prepare yourself for interviews is to practice! Research some common interview questions that you can expect (I’ll leave a few ideas below!) and have someone ask you the questions. This was my favorite way to prepare for interviews for occupational therapy school because it helped me calm my nerves. I remember my mom asking me questions on the car ride to the interviews to help comfort me and prepare me with some answers ahead of time. If you aren’t comfortable with that just yet, write down the answers to the questions and read through them.
3. Interview etiquette?
Some general tips that I have for interview etiquette are as follows:
- Arrive 10 - 15 minutes early! Doing this ensures that you make it to the right place on time, and it gives you time to relax. Rushing will only make you nervous.
- Walk with confidence, give a firm handshake, and SMILE!!! You’re going to do great, and there is nothing to be afraid of. Every occupational therapist and occupational therapy assistant has had to go through interviews. Program directors have too. They understand that you’re going to be nervous, so don’t worry if you have some jitters at first!
- Sit up straight, speak clearly and concisely, and maintain good eye contact!
- Always thank the interviewer when it's over, I usually go for an extra handshake.
4. What to wear?
Whenever you’re going in for an interview, make sure you wear professional attire, but also something that makes you feel confident! The last thing that you want to do is wear something that is uncomfortable. You do not have to spend a lot of money to look professional. It’s all about how you pair some basic pieces! For the ladies, you can’t go wrong with a blouse and some dress pants. When preparing for interviews, I purchased a pair of grey dress pants from Old Navy and a few simple blouses to wear. I tried to get plain colors and simple patterns that would match with anything. Some people like to wear dresses to interviews, and I think that’s perfectly fine too! Make sure they are an appropriate length and aren’t too revealing. For the guys, I would give the same general advice. A nice button-down shirt with dress pants will go a long way! Some general tips for choosing an outfit include:
- Comfortable shoes are key! Flats, close-toed heels, and dress shoes tend to work best. Make sure your socks match! If you’re doing a tour with your interview, you want to be comfortable while walking around!
- Avoid excessive accessories, they can be distracting! Stick to simple jewelry. If you have tattoos or piercings, I would suggest covering them up or removing them. Some interviewers are sticklers about them, and again, better to play it safe.
- As for hair, style it in a way that’s professional and hassle free. I know some people like to opt for a sleek ponytail to keep their hair away from their face. I’ve also had friends who slick their shorter hair back with gel. Do whatever makes you feel comfortable and confident!
5. What to bring?
The most important thing to bring is yourself! But another thing I would suggest is to bring a folder with you with items that you may want to show to the interviewer. Some examples of items that you may want to bring with you are: your resume, a copy of your observation hours, and some references. Some interviewers may require these items, and others may not. If you’re unsure of whether to bring them or not, better to be prepared with them!
6. How to avoid nerves?
I’m going to let everyone in on a trick that we learned in my program that has helped me with interview anxiety, testing anxiety, and presentation anxiety. POWER POSES. High power poses are open and relaxed, and studies have shown that high power poses increase testosterone by 20% which in turn made people feel more confident. Crazy right!!
Try the Women Woman power pose. Stand tall with your chest out and your hands on your hips. Do this pose in the bathroom before the interview for two minutes. Close your eyes and take deep breaths. It sounds a little weird, but I swear it works! I’ve done this before every interview, presentation, and exam that I take and it helps me to feel confident in what I’m about to do!!
7. How to stand out?
Standing out in an interview may seem impossible, I know it did for me at first. But there are so many things that make you unique! What makes you… well, YOU? Think to yourself…
- What makes me stand out as a person?
- Have I had an experience that has changed my life or my worldview?
- Why do I want to be an OT?
Those are great places to start. If you’re still stumped on something to talk about, talk about your observation experiences. Interviewers love to hear about the experiences you’ve had in the occupational therapy field and like to see what motivates you. For example, I did almost all of my observation hours at schools for children with disabilities. I shared stories (HIPAA compliant of course) and talked about how they changed my worldview.
8. What questions to ask?
Here are some of my go-to interview questions to ask the program director or admissions department:
● What are the classes like? How many students tend to be in them? What is the daily schedule like?
● What are the program’s values?
● What is your favorite part about ______ College / University?
● What makes this program stand out from others?
● What is your program acceptance rate?
● Is there a minimum GPA requirement?
● What is the NBCOT passing rate? (may be offered online, check before asking!)
● What is the graduation passing rate? (may be offered online, check before asking!)
9. What type of questions might be asked?
Here is a list of some common college interview questions that you can use to prepare yourself for the big interview day and some tips on how to prepare to answer them:
● Tell me about yourself
○ Avoid cliques or descriptions that would be too common
○ Example: don’t say you’re hardworking. Talk about what motivates you and drives you to succeed. Talk about why that thing is important to you.
● Why are you interested in this college?
○ Prepare for this one! Know what you like about the program and talk about how your interests align with the program!
● Why do you want to be an Occupational therapist?
○ My FAVORITE question to answer!
○ Don’t talk about money. Talk about how OT inspires you and why you’re passionate about it. Think deeply about this. What fascinates you about OT? Have you had experiences that influence your interest?
● What are your strengths as a student?
○ Explain how you use your strengths to your advantage.
○ If you like to write, talk about how you use that to excel in school. Are you good at memorization? Talk about a time that has helped you in school.
● What are your weaknesses as a student?
○ This can be a scary one for people. But don’t worry, we can make this question positive.
○ If you have a weakness, talk about how you’ve been working to change that weakness. If you’re not very good at memorizing, talk about the different study techniques that you’ve used to retain information. If you’re terrified of public speaking, talk about how you avoid anxiety and practice!! Not all weaknesses are negative. Remember: weaknesses are opportunities to grow!
This list is just a few of the questions that may come up in an interview. If you’re still looking for practice questions, look online for resources! There are tons to choose from and there are so many people out there with good advice. If you’re ever nervous, don’t be afraid to talk to other occupational therapists, occupational therapy assistants, or occupational therapy students about them. Remember: we’ve all been there, and this community is here to support you!
WOW! Thank you so much, Emily! That is some amazing, very intuitive information to keep in mind if you are in this situation or even applying to new jobs. We hope this helps and if you have any further questions for us or Emily, please comment below!
OT Unfiltered Team & Emily C
P.S. If you have something you would like to contribute and for a chance to be featured in one of our blog posts, please contact OT Unfiltered.