This time last year, I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I turned off my NHS Jobs e-mail subscription. I accepted a fixed term post and quickly put the temporary nature of the job out of my mind. However, 9 months later, I turned the e-mail alerts back on as my contract neared its end. And all the uncertainty and anxiety involved in the job application process suddenly came flooding back. (I have been fortunate to secure another occupational therapy post relatively quickly – more about that another time, maybe).
All my interviews have been for mental health posts, and each interview has varied quite significantly in terms of questions. But – as I’ve recently noticed a lot of questions in Facebook groups about OT interviews (particularly about tests, group interviews, and question formats) – this seemed like the right time to share my recent experiences.
Universities have no doubt spent lots of time preparing students for job applications, so I’ll keep this part brief. Probably the most valuable advice I was given was:
- Tailor your application to the person specification and organisation that you are applying to. (It sounds obvious, but is easier said than done if you’re short of time!) This includes writing a paragraph about why you have applied for this particular job in this particular organisation.
- Submit your application as quickly as possible, but take the time to proofread. Many adverts close as soon as they’ve received a certain number of applications – and this could be in as little as a couple days, depending on the post.
It’s no secret that I’m very organised. Preparation for interviews is no exception – although I had far less time available for preparation when working. One week, I had three interviews in different parts of the country, which left me with little time/energy to prepare.
My “system” is as follows: I create a little file for each interview. I print out the person specification, and go through each item, preparing examples or looking up relevant information. For each, I also prepare a “why I want to work for this organisation, and why should you hire me” sheet. I put all my notes in the file with the person spec, and take it with me on the train to look through while I’m traveling. Fortunately, many person specifications cover similar topics, so I’m able to reuse much of the preparation.
However, I have a rule to never prepare on the day of the interview. Someone once told me that preparing for a test/interview on the day is ineffective because it raises your anxiety levels, and any new information stored in your short term (rather than long term) memory. Instead, I use my time to manage my pre-interview nerves, e.g. through breathing exercises, listening to music and going for a walk.
Most of the interviews I was invited to were individual interviews. The interview panels were usually made up of at least one occupational therapist, along with other professionals (nurses/psychologists) and service users.
At each interview, I was asked why I applied for the job and what skills/qualities I would bring to the post that would set me apart from other candidates, so I would highly recommend preparing for this question. Other questions were generally scenario-based and covered topics like:
- OT Core Skills/Role (e.g. “What are the core skills of an occupational therapist?”, “What unique contribution could an occupational therapist make to this team?”, “What do you understand the OT role to be in this setting?”, “A carer phones you. They ask what occupational therapy is and what you can do for their loved one. What do you say?”, “What are the components of effective occupational therapy? Please give an example of a time when you delivered effective OT”)
- Group Work (e.g. “Describe what you would need to consider before running a [Smoothie] group, and what you would be able to assess within this group?”, “Tell me about a successful group intervention you used. How did you know that it was successful, and what theory/evidence informed the intervention?”)
- Assessment (e.g. “Tell me about a standardised assessment you’ve used”)
- Risk management (e.g. “You’re running a group and notice that a pair of scissors has gone missing. What do you do?”, “Tell me about a situation where you managed risk effectively”)
- Therapeutic use of self (e.g. “How would you begin to develop a relationship with a service user who presents with bizarre and destructive behaviour?”, “How would you know if someone was distressed, and what would you do?”, “How would you respond to someone who was verbally hostile towards you?”, “A service user discloses abuse to you. How do you respond?”)
- Continuing professional development (e.g. “We value reflection in our team. Can you tell us about how you use reflection in your practice?”)
In posts that were condition-specific (e.g. personality disorder or eating disorder posts), I was asked what I knew about the condition. The first time I was asked this question, it completely threw me. I didn’t know where to start! However I learned my lesson for the next interview, and prepared an answer that demonstrated my understanding of the condition and how it can impact on occupational performance. I was also asked what the challenges are of working with particular client groups.
I was also asked more general/stereotypical interview questions, e.g. “where do you see yourself in five years’ time?”, “what are your strengths and weaknesses?”, “what do you know about this organisation”. And of course, each interview ended “Have you got any questions for us?”.
A couple interviews asked me to prepare a 10 minute presentation on a particular topic. I arrived at one interview to be told that they were having technical problems with the computer. Fortunately, I had printed handouts with my slides (have I mentioned that I’m ever so slightly organised?) and was able to use these to support my presentation. Another interview explicitly stated that we were to present without slides.
I’ve only had to do one test during an interview, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as I had expected! The questions were the same type of questions that I had been asked at other interviews. The difference was that the questions had to be answered in writing, and that I had to work out how to use the limited time available to answer all the questions (about 8 questions in 20 minutes).
I think it’s worth mentioning that if you have dyslexia, you can request additional time to complete written tests, but you need to do this when you confirm your interview.
I’ve had two group interviews, and was especially nervous about them because I didn’t know what to expect. Most people were friendly and supportive, and I enjoyed their company.
In both interviews, we were asked to plan a presentation on a particular topic – again, scenario based – and then present it back to the interview panel. We were observed throughout.
In one interview, each person was ‘guaranteed’ an individual interview, and the first question of the individual interview was about our reflections on the group dynamics and our performance within the group. In the other, the group interview was a filter system and only a certain number of people got individual interviews based on their performance.
Surprisingly, I found the group interviews helped with nerves as, once we got talking, I became focused on the conversation/task.
Finally, the Epic CPD Portfolio. I took my portfolio with me to each interview. Most did not ask to see it, but I used pieces of evidence to back up what I was saying (for example, in the “give me an example of a time when you…” questions, I would find a reflection on the relevant situation/skill. It was also very useful evidence in the “tell me about how you reflect” question!). However, in one interview, the panel asked to see my portfolio and looked through it from front to back. They asked questions about different pieces of evidence/reflection, and commented on the way that it was presented. So it’s definitely worth investing a bit of time in your CPD portfolio and making sure that you’re familiar with the layout, so you can access relevant evidence easily.
I would recommend checking out the OT New Graduates Facebook page. It’s a great place to find out about other people’s experiences of interviews, and to ask specific questions. Emerging2OT is another group that I’d recommend as a place to talk about the transition and just generally about interesting OT-related things.