We are very lucky in our field. The US department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook states jobs in both the fields of occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants are projected to grow much faster than average. While this helps to lay the foundation for a successful job search, it is important to set yourself up for success by having a well-written resume, mastering the art of networking, knowing where to find job openings and understanding how to interview and speak with employers.
Have a Well-Written Resume and Be Prepared
Make sure your resume does not have any misspellings. It needs to be simple and evenly spaced. Put education towards the top and make sure you email address is professional and easy to read (i.e. no firstname.lastname@example.org emails!). Employers’ websites filter through online applications and resumes based on key words. When compiling your resume, use diverse adjectives and descriptive sentences for work experience. Make sure to keep your resume current at all times, even when you have a job. You never know when you are going to need it. Control the phone number and voice mail given on your resume. When a potential employer calls, you need to have a professional greeting if they reach your voice mail.
When you get an interview, invest in a leather bound binder or folder. In that binder, bring at least three copies of your resume and three copies of your references. The list of references should have their name, your relationship (i.e. faculty, fieldwork educator) and their contact information. Prepare references with key words or topics to discuss before and after your interview. If you answered a question poorly in the interview, ask your reference to build you up in that category. On a side note, make sure you thank references for their efforts. Don’t take these people for granted!
As important as it is to look good on paper, it is equally (if not more) important to have connections and master the art of networking. In school, learn the content but don’t forget to form relationships and friendships with classmates and faculty. Seventy-five percent of job openings are never officially posted. These positions are either filled internally or current employees recommend outside friends. These people already have great, credible references- the current employees! Not like you, just some stranger from the street. That statistic alone should show how important networking is.
Ask for and keep all business cards of professors/faculty and guest speakers to contact later. Write a few bullet points on the back of the card like the date you met this person, how you met and something interesting they said or that both of you talked about. You can always send them an email when you are job searching to catch up (ask to go out for coffee) or to ask if they have heard of any openings in your desired setting. Keep in touch with your classmates as well, since they will soon be colleagues.
Know Where to Find Job Openings
Job openings are often found via word-of-mouth or from social networking such as Facebook or LinkedIn. Another side note, always keep your profile professional and monitor content because potential employers will look at these. Join your university’s alumni Facebook group (or create one), where prior classmates may post openings in their clinic. Go to career fairs hosted by your university. If nothing else, you will gain lots of interview experience in a short amount of time. Cold call and ask to shadow clinics or hospitals of interest. While shadowing, ask if they are hiring. You may get an impromptu interview, so bring your resume binder and be prepared. Search Career Builder and local hospital websites for their job postings. Your university often has a page for job postings; stop by or call your university’s career center and ask if you are unsure. Go to AOTA’s (American Occupational Therapy Association) website or your local state’s occupational therapy association website.
- Occupational Therapy Association in California: otaconline.org
- Virginia Occupational Therapy Association: vaota.org
Understanding How to Interview or Speak with Potential Employers
Be prepared for your interview by doing research on the organization or people interviewing you. The most common question asked in interviews is “tell me about yourself.” Have a short, two minute answer prepared. I have often found that looking up commonly asked questions on an internet search and writing down my answers is a great way to prepare for an interview. Do not wait until the night before to do this; you’ll want to get a good night’s sleep. Even if they don’t ask the exact same question you prepared, you will have fresh examples you can tweak on the spot to fit their questions.
Prior to the interview, ask yourself:
- Can you do the job? Be confident in who you are, with your occupational therapy assistant online degree, with your fieldwork or prior work experience, current skills/knowledge, accomplishments and learning potential. Think all this through and be prepared to sell yourself.
- Will you do the job? Do you have genuine interest in the position or company? Potential employers will pick up on your drive, work ethic and energy level.
- Do you fit in? This is often the most important. Employers know they can teach you the skills required to do the job. However, they can’t teach or alter your chemistry or likability. Communication skills, values, general interests, dress and appearance all play in to this category. It is important for you to like your employer as much as it is for them to like you. Often, the second interview is used to determine this. Were you polite? Can you strike up a conversation?
Remember, your first job will likely not be your last, especially if you are not completely satisfied. Don’t worry if you don’t get your dream job right out of school. Take advantage of the experience and the paycheck until you get what you need to under your belt to get that dream job!
Ready to start your dream career as an occupational therapy assistant? Take a look at St. Catherine’s online OTA program to see how you can start your career in just 16 months.