Hey y’all! For my first post in a while, I’m bringing to you an interview series compiled into one post about getting your first job. I interviewed a few new graduate OTs who share their experiences finding their first job and what the job market looks like out there! I will also be sharing my experience with finding my first job.
The formatting of this blog will be a little bit different than anything I’ve done before since I’ll be combining 4 interviews into one post, but bear with me and let me know what y’all think!
The purpose of this blog is to give a glimpse into what applying to jobs as a new grad can look like, how timelines may differ from person to person, and what to expect during interviews and negotiations if you choose to!
First I’ll be introducing each of our interviewees (and myself), and then we will get into the interview questions!
First up, we have Emily!
Emily graduated December of 2020 from UW-Madison with her Masters in OT. She currently works part-time in outpatient pediatrics, part-time in inpatient psych, and PRN acute care (all in the same hospital system).
Pay: For both the IP Psych and OP Peds jobs, she earns $32.5/hour and gets time and a half for any overtime beyond her weekly 40 hours. Her PRN acute job pays $50/hour. In both settings, she gets around a 3% yearly raise.
Location: She works in Wisconsin, and notes that her 2-bedroom apartment costs $620 a month, to get an idea of the cost of living.
Next, we have Nadia!
Nadia graduated this year, 2022, from CSUDH with her Masters of Science in Occupational Therapy. She currently works on outpatient pediatrics.
Pay: Around 70k
Then, we have Haley!
Haley graduated in 2021 from TTUHSC with her Masters of Occupational Therapy. She currently works in inpatient rehab.
And lastly, we’ve got me 🙂
I graduated in October of 2020 with my Masters of Occupational Therapy from the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (St. Augustine, FL campus). I currently work part-time in outpatient pediatrics with a mix of adult patients with TBI, stroke, and head and neck cancer.
Location: North Central Florida
Pay: $40/hour (this is part-time pay). And I’ll also note that my 3 bedroom house (that I rent with 2 other roommates) costs $1,600/month to get an idea of the cost of living.
1. What was your timeline for finishing school, studying for and taking the NBCOT, applying for jobs and finally acquiring your first job?
Emily: “I finished school in December 2020 and took off through the holidays. I started studying after new year’s day for about 7 weeks (while working part time), and then took the NBCOT mid-February 2021 and passed. (I have the study guide I created and used in my bio on Instagram!) I interviewed and got hired at the end of February 2021. It then took me until mid-April 2021 to get my license from the state and be able to officially start which was very frustrating.”
Nadia: “My program was 2.5 years, began Jan 2020 (before COVID) and ended May 2022. I studied after my last FW II rotation in April and took the NBCOT in early July. I actually applied to my job I’m at now in June as well as another job. I actually used to volunteer back in 2018 at my current job, so this felt like a sign to apply! I originally planned to take the exam and THEN apply to jobs.”
Haley: “I applied to an open position while on my FW II in August 2021, interviewed and received the job offer in September 2021, graduated in December 2021 and started January 2022!”
Caroline: “I graduated October of 2020, and began studying for the NBCOT in November, and took it in December. During that time I would randomly look for jobs but wasn’t sure where I wanted to live. After receiving my passing score, I started looking more intensely into jobs, and got a good idea of where I wanted to live. I started applying to jobs in January, and finally accepted a job in May/June of 2021.”
2. What websites or resources did you use to apply to jobs? And which ones would you recommend/not recommend?
Emily: I used indeed or went to the hospital/clinic/school’s website to find the direct applications! I would recommend either of these options.
Nadia: I used glassdoor, google, and my OT alumni page which was so helpful. I don’t necessarily dislike or like one over the other.
Haley: My program had places all over the state frequently reach out during our FWs, so when I heard about it, I reached out directly to the DOR.
Caroline: Glassdoor, Linkedin, Indeed, or directly through a clinic’s/hospital’s website.
3. How many jobs did you apply to? And how many sought interviews?
Emily: I applied to 3 jobs. 2 I interviewed for 2 (both of the .5s I have now combined into 1.0 FTE) and the third job was for a SNF and they said they wanted someone with experience who could immediately jump in and therefore my “new grad application” was not considered.
Nadia: I applied to a county job and then the job I’m currently in which gave me an interview. The reason I did not get an interview for the county was that I was not yet licensed and my application was denied
Haley: One and one.
Caroline: I applied to 3 jobs and got interviews for all 3, which I took!
4. How many jobs did you seriously consider offers from?
Nadia: I tried my best to weigh the options of these specific jobs I applied to. I would consider all of them and write down all the pros and cons if I could!
Caroline: All of them!
5. What made you take the job you are at currently?
Emily: They let me combine 2 jobs in the same hospital system to create a 1.0, they offer extensive continuing education funds (2,000 a year), and then you can get even more than that through grants (I got a 5000 dollar grant this year to complete an in person week long trauma certification in Louisiana). I loved the idea of being able to be in 2 opposite settings, and I still love it now as it gives me a chance to reset halfway through the day.
Nadia: It was first, the fact that this company and staff recognized my name as their volunteer. It was nice to know that they remembered me and my work ethics. And second, the mentorship and the incentives to get special certifications and in turn getting a pay raise. It’s also less than 20 minutes from my home which I felt I couldn’t find anywhere else at the moment. I also still get paid even if a kiddo cancels which I’ve seen can be hard to find. I can also opt for 4, 10-hour days which is unheard of (at least to me).
Haley: It was a setting that I wanted to work at and knew this place prior was highly recommended for a neurological setting. I enjoyed the interview with the DOR, COO, and OT Lead and the importance they placed on mentorship and crafting skills as a new graduate.
Caroline: I feel like I was in kind of a unique situation, that I won’t go full detail into lol, but I decided between a big hospital outpatient peds clinic with great pay, benefits, mentorship, etc. and a tiny private speech therapy clinic with no benefits, and I would be the only OT (as a new-grad at that). I chose the private practice for multiple reasons, including the ability to build the OT department into something new and what I wanted it to be, to gain experience working in a private practice and learning how to run a business, and to have the security of knowing that I’m not just another employee on payroll that can easily be chucked. My boss and I have a great rapport, and even though she’s a speech therapist she is an amazing mentor to me clinically, and business-wise!
6. What were the most important things to consider when you were applying to jobs? (pay, location, setting, benefits, mentorship, etc.)
Emily: How close I am to the location is important to me as I would not want to commute over 30 minutes (including traffic!). Pay was not my top priority as I was really seeking more opportunities for growth, experience, and learning through my coworkers and continuing education opportunities. My next job will have pay as a higher priority. PTO is important too, my current job gives 15 days of PTO/year starting in addition to all holidays off and paid, and I am never required to work any weekends. Mentorship options were also important, I just wanted to make sure I would be able to talk with coworkers when I had questions or concerns which I was able to do.
Nadia: Pay was something I really kept my eye on, and I said I wouldn’t offer anything less than 75. However my boss was very detailed and personable about the reasons for my pay, and when I got my offer letter, the mentorship and benefits replaced the lower pay. Location was also a factor because I knew I’d feel more stressed and less “me” time when coming home from work.
Haley: Population was super important to me, as I see myself working with some degree of neuro for the rest of my career. I also considered location preferences and was not too picky regarding pay. I wanted to feel supported and have mentorship, especially if it was in an area or setting I had no experience in, such as IPR.
Caroline: Something important to me was the ability to learn and grow with the practice. Like I said, I started as the only OT in a small speech therapy clinic (with only 2 other speech therapists and no front office staff lol). We have grown so much in the past year+ and I have expanded my practice from only working in early intervention and pediatrics, to adult oncology, neurology and orthopedics! I have had so many cool learning opportunities being around all speech therapists as well, I have even helped out with a FEES (fiberoptic endoscopic evaluation of swallowing)! I love that where I work, I’m not restricted to only one type of population of patients, but I now treat a wide range of adult and pediatric cases, and we are even considered the main feeding therapy clinic in the city!
7. During your interview, did you ask questions? What were they and were they helpful questions to ask?
Emily: 1. What does the training period look like and what mentorship is offered? 2. What type of funding there is for continuing education? 3. What are the main [diagnosis, patients, lengths of stays etc.] in this setting? 4. How is productivity measured and what happens if productivity is not met? 5. When can I expect to hear from you?” I found all of these questions helpful to ask to give me a better idea of what I was going to be doing daily.
I would now ask the following in addition: 1. How do you ensure that you are providing neuro-diversity affirming care? 2. How do you provide trauma-informed care? 3. How does you support work life balance for your employees? 4. How do you encourage evidence based practice?
Nadia: I had asked questions regarding documentation and workload, which I was able to ask the other therapists during my second round of interviews which was great. It was helpful to know what their typical day looked like and how much time is spent documenting and if you have time blocked out for reports (because they can pile up!)
Haley: I asked regarding their mentorship and CEUs, as these were very important to me as a new graduate.
Caroline: I asked a butt-load of questions, including pay, hours, flexibility, growth, CEU compensation, what a typical caseload looked like, etc. I asked about mentorship, how conflicts are handled in the workplace between employees, what documentation system is used, and when documentation is expected to be completed. Everyone that I asked these questions to were very open about answering them!
8. What questions were you asked during your interviews?
Emily: 1. How do you relate to our companies mission statement? 2. What assessments do you know that are relevant to this setting? 3. What has your experience been with this population of patients? 4. What is a strength that you have being a new graduate that others in the field may not have? 5. When did you go above and beyond for a patient? 6. What’s an accomplishment you feel proud of? 7. How do you handle conflict with a patient or coworker (scenario provided)?
Nadia: I was asked if I felt I had any weak points and what my strong points were in pediatrics, as well as familiarity with the assessments. I’m sure there were other questions but I blanked out haha.
Haley: Setting experience during FW and why I wanted to work in IPR versus other settings. Times when I disagreed with a coworker and how I handled it. Most difficult patient I have worked with and why. Time with interprofessional communication and teamwork. If I was a leader or a follower.
Caroline: I was asked about my experiences on fieldwork, and I was also asked about what areas of practice I was interested in. Interestingly, at each place I interviewed they all asked whether I was interested in feeding therapy (this is a big need where I’m at). I was also asked about my toughest case experienced on fieldwork. I was asked about my strengths and weaknesses, you know, the typical interview questions.
9. Did you negotiate your pay? Why or why not?
Emily: I definitely tried to, but my company has a very strict pay that’s based on the amount of time that you have your license so hourly pay is not negotiable. However, I am now learning from others who I work with that a sign on bonus could have been negotiated/requested. If I could go back, I would have tried for this.
Nadia: I did it initially on paper before the interview because it never hurts to try! But after discussion about it I no longer pursued negotiating
Haley: I did not. I was very happy with my pay in comparison to other companies within the area and with regards to the cost of living, it seemed fair.
Caroline: I did not negotiate pay with any of the companies. For one of the companies, pay was based on years of experience and it was pretty much set. For the job I accepted, I went into it knowing I probably wouldn’t be getting a lot of money since this was a small clinic and I was starting with no clients.
10. Did you negotiate benefits?
Emily: No, I’m happy with my benefits as is/not sure what I would ask to change.
Nadia: I did not negotiate benefits because I felt that the benefits I was being offered was really great in terms of healthcare benefits, pay raise opportunities, CEU reimbursement, etc
Haley: I did not.
Caroline: The only thing I “negotiated” was my work week. From the get-go I asked if I could do 4 10-hour days, instead of a 5-day work week. After about 7 or 8 months, I was getting burnt out, and my boss suggested that I drop a day and go down to a 3-day work week (she recommended this because she knows I have this business as well).
11. Do you feel supported in your current setting? What supports does your job have in place for your success?
Emily: I feel reasonably supported. I am able to reach out to my managers at any time with my concerns. I recently reached out to my manager about feeling overwhelmed with the number of patients I see back-to-back in outpatient which left no time during working hours for documentation. We were able to come up with a solution to implement some time slots in the week for documentation so I didn’t need to stay for overtime so frequently. Both settings also encourage continuing education and use of PTO. I am never made to feel bad about requesting time off or requesting continuing education compensation!
Nadia: I feel so supported in my current setting. I have about 10 other OTs, plus PTs and STs to discuss and collaborate and I never hesitate to ask questions because it’s an open discussion environment. We have all the supplies and toys and gym equipment we need to better serve our kiddos and their families. We also have a happiness coordinator which plans little lunch events in our break room or outside events for us which really makes my job a friendly, positive culture. We have pre-made templates for all our documentation which has immensely helped with efficiency. Our volunteers are also so helpful in helping clean and organize our supplies which we can never thank them enough!
Haley: Despite a very bumpy begin due to my health, I have very much appreciated the flexibility and willingness to work with my during this adjustment period and exploratory period with my health. I appreciate leadership taking time to co-treat with me and give me better understanding on how I can increase my skills as well. I feel that I have been slow to the races but feel that it’s the beginning of the great start to my neuro career.
Caroline: I feel so supported by my boss and my coworkers, we are all there for each other, and all jump in when we each need help. My boss has even offered to give me her car when my car was acting up. While I was the only OT at the practice for a while, my boss always made sure to check in with me and support me as well as she could. Now there is another OT at the practice who has years of experience and who I can bounce ideas around with all the time. The great thing about being in a small practice is that I have easy access to the clinic coordinator and my boss, and they are always open to hearing my concerns or about any needs I have.
12. Do you have mentorship? If so, what does that look like? And if not, how do you go about making sure you are serving your clients well and with research-based interventions?
Emily: I don’t have traditional mentorship. I do have other coworkers who are occupational therapists who I could brainstorm with. I also collaborate with my colleagues from other disciplines like PT and Speech for their ideas, suggestions, and expertise. I like to look up evidence- based research on different intervention and treatment styles and find continuing education opportunities to dive deeper. I make it a priority of mine to listen to individuals with lived experience of a diagnosis/condition/etc. on what is most important to them! In both settings it is crucial that I have a neuro-diversity affirming and trauma informed treatment approach.
Nadia: I have weekly meetings with my OT manager and have been shadowed during initial evaluations with standardized assessments. We go over the scoring together and collaborate on goals, and I will get feedback on my reports before sending them in. I am always able to ask questions even outside my meetings which is helpful.
Caroline: I did not have direct OT mentorship for a while, but my boss was and is my mentor, despite being a speech therapist, especially when it comes to feeding. During my time without direct OT mentorship, I became a part of every OT forum, Facebook group, took as many CEUs as I could and was always reading. This helped out a TON during those initial months. Now there is another OT at the practice that I can talk with, and I also use ‘Your OT Mentor‘ for my complex and adult patients!
13. If you could change 3 things about your current job, what would they be?
- In pediatrics I can (at most) have 5 back-to-back 45-minute sessions in 4 hours which leaves me with only 15 minutes of “free time” during my working hours. This isn’t enough to clean, document, plan, etc. I would like more built-in blocks which I have discussed with my supervisor and will be able to implement soon.
- More funding for supplies in both settings. I frequently find myself buying the things that I want for tx because we don’t have too much room in our spending budget. Me spending my own money is never an expectation, but I find my sessions to be so much more enjoyable when I have tools I really enjoy! Plus- I’ll take everything I buy with me for future use.
- It would be great to have a journal club in both settings. In psych we get research articles sent to us monthly with the expectation that they are read but there is no discussion following them. I think having a journal club/research as a higher priority would help improve patient care and support an evidence-based practice for our patients.
Nadia: Being 2 months in, I don’t think I find anything I would change. I may not feel like that for a while just because I feel like my setting is somewhere I’m blessed to be at and a positive atmosphere to work in.
Caroline: I think a change that I would make would be to have some built-in time for documentation during the work day. It usually works out that I have a cancellation and can document, but on the days that I don’t, it is ROUGH.
14. What is some advice you would give to a new grad applying to their first job?
Emily: Remember that you are helping your company by being their employee just as they are helping you as your employer. You don’t have to accept the first offer that’s thrown at you or feel bad for declining. You have worth! Go after what you want. I would also recommend giving a setting you might not have initially thought was for you a chance. I never saw myself in peds in any way shape or form, but I love it now and couldn’t imagine not meeting all of these kids! Finally, you are NEVER stuck in a job. I have had plenty of friends who left their first job because it wasn’t a good fit, wasn’t supportive, etc. If you hate the first job, you have and there isn’t a way to find solutions…start looking for a new one! Your mental health is most important and staying in a job you don’t like is a fast road to burnout.
Nadia: Shoot your shot in any job you feel you want to be at. The worst feeling is not applying and never knowing! Ask all the questions you need to feel secure and confident in your decisions. Go into the interviews with a smile (even if under a mask) and be your authentic self. If you see an opportunity, jump at it even if you don’t feel ready..truth is we will never feel ready and need to make that jump. You know more than you think you do!
Haley: I would tell a new graduate to do something you really enjoy! The healthcare field is a hard one, mentally and physically, and you’re going to come home everyday fulfilled and drained all in one. Don’t burn yourself for money or extravagance but do what makes your heart happy with population or setting. Lean to your mentors, work or not, and ask for help when you need it. You are more capable than you know.
Caroline: Be open to anything! Definitely search for jobs that you are interested in, but you may find that a job in an area that you didn’t expect may lead to some amazing opportunities! Also, don’t be afraid to be picky. If a job has a super high productivity and you see a high turnover rate – run. If they are constantly looking for people to fill in positions, there is a reason people are leaving…
I hope this interview series help someone out there! Do you have more questions? Interested in learning about our experiences more in-depth? Feel free to reach out on Instagram!