Gotta Get Into Grad School Part VI: Gotta Have a Great Interview

There’s a lot to do before the interview! Check out the other posts in my Gotta Get Into Grad School Series to learn about the rest of the occupational therapy graduate program application process!
Part I: Basic Essay Writing Tips || Part II: Recommendations || Part III: Essays in Depth || Part IV: OTCAS Overview
// Part V: OTCAS & Academics


Whatever happens, at least you’ll be a better interviewee than this guy. (Especially if you read this post!)

It’s officially 2015, and that means many occupational therapy students are gearing up for interviews at OT schools across the country. I went through the interview process less than a year ago, and I hope this post will help prepare you (and calm your nerves) if you are about to go through the same thing.

There are three sections with advice on what to do before, during, and after your interview day that I hope will give you useful information about the occupational therapy graduate school interview process!

BEFORE THE INTERVIEW

  • Visit the school the day before, if you can. Familiarizing yourself with the traffic patterns, roads and campus can go a long way towards making your actual interview day go smoothly. If you can do a walk-through of the route you’ll take to the interview location, that’s even better! Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help if you get lost.
  • Prepare questions in advance. Even if (like I did) you’ve spent the past few months poring over a program’s website and faculty pages, take time to do the research and create at least 6-8 SPECIFIC questions about the program that cannot be answered with a cursory glance at the website or program materials. For example, ask where recent graduates have found work, about a professor’s recent award or the faculty’s attendance at professional conferences rather than about class size or program length (although these questions are generally OK to ask too!). Your interviewer will be impressed that you’ve done your research, and you’ll stand out as a thoroughly invested candidate.
  • Prepare answers in advance. There are hundreds of lists of common interview questions online – all the better to prepare yourself with! Review the questions and practice your answers, and you’ll feel more at ease during your actual interview. The following are some example questions you might be asked, and I’ve linked to more sample questions at the end of the post:
    • How do you describe occupational therapy to people who don’t know what it is?
    • Where do you see yourself five years after graduating from this program, if you are admitted?
    • Describe a time when you solved a problem creatively.
    • In what area of practice do you see yourself working (and why)?
    • Describe a time when you had to work with a team to accomplish a task.
    • Why are you choosing to study occupational therapy, instead of another healthcare profession?
  • Practice your interviewing skills. Take a little time before your interview day to practice what you are going to say with a friend or family member, and time your responses so you can practice keeping them concise. Many university career centers or alumni offices offer practice interviews with staff who can help you identify any weaknesses you have, such as speaking too quickly or answering questions vaguely. Some people also find it helpful to record themselves doing a 7-10 minute interview and then analyze their performance.
  • Plan to make the most of your time in the area.
    • Sit in on a class. When I learned that I had an interview at one of the programs I applied to, I emailed the admissions director and asked if I could observe class the day before my interview. By observing the class session at the same time that I was in town for the interview, I was able to get an even better feel for the program’s professors, students, and overall vibe without investing time or money into visiting at another time. I think that it was also a great way to build rapport, demonstrate my interest in the program, and help interviewers and admissions team members create a positive memory of me.
    • Explore the campus and surrounding area. If you have time, spend a little while exploring the area where you could be living and going to school. Check out the school’s campus, downtown areas, or surrounding apartment complexes and housing areas where you might live. While it’s true that school will take up much of your time, it’s important that you ensure that you will be comfortable living wherever you decide to go.
    • Chat with current students. If it is not a scheduled part of your interview day, consider trying to get some informal time with a program’s current students. Ask them to meet with you over coffee or lunch to talk more about the program.
      • Contact your undergraduate institution’s career services or alumni offices to see if they can help put you in contact with alumni who are current students at the program you are applying to. I emailed with several of my school’s alumni at programs all over the country throughout the interview process, asking questions about writing essays, attending classes, and program strengths (and weaknesses) to get the all-important student perspective.
      • If you have a LinkedIn profile, use the search tools to find students at the OT program who are alumni of schools or other programs you attended.
      • Contact the program’s admissions director and ask to be put in touch with a current student.

If you are intimidated by contacting a current student, try to find recent program graduates who can tell you about their experiences with the program. Search using LinkedIn, Google, and even program newsletters that describe graduate accomplishments to find new grads or current practitioners who can provide you with information.



INTERVIEW DAY!

  • Dress for success.
    • Wear clothes (and hairstyles) you are comfortable in. Interview day is not the day to debut a fancy new hairstyle or 3-inch heels that you bought the day before. Choose clothing that is comfortable and professional, and have somebody look over your outfit before you leave, if possible.
    • Dress in layers. Have a sweater or jacket you can remove or don as the temperatures between the outdoors and the interview space – and even inside the building – can vary greatly and being comfortable will help you relax and have a great interview.
  • Allow extra time for travel – a half hour, at least. It’s better to arrive first and sit around waiting than arriving a half hour late, sweating from a brief sprint and making a questionable first impression.
    • True Story: I left my house for an interview in a place that was 20 minutes away, planning to arrive 20 minutes early. On my way down the road, my older model GPS took me down a wrong road and got me very turned around. By the time I figured out what was happening and finally got to the campus, I was a nervous wreck. I ended up fast-walking around a confusing campus in 30 degree weather, in heels, carrying my car’s GPS in a desperate race to get to the interview check-in on time! Fortunately, the rest of the day went well and I ultimately ended up going to that school! So now I have another couple years to figure out the roads, traverse the campus (in flats) and perhaps even buy a new GPS!
  • Be positive with your fellow interviewees and current students. Don’t act like you’re a competitor in the Hunger Games who’s out to get everybody else – be polite and friendly with everyone! After all, these people are your potential classmates or future mentors. And it’s just easier to be nice and be relaxed during what can be a very stressful time for everybody in attendance!
  • During your interview, make connections between your experience and the program’s offerings. Describe how your academic background, previous studies, or shadowing experiences are relevant to the program’s identified objectives or coursework, or the profession in general. For example, during my interview I described how my degree in psychology was a great foundation for future practice or study of occupational therapy in mental health settings (a current “hot button” topic) and how my minor in TESOL prepared me to work with people from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds.


AFTER THE INTERVIEW

  • Send handwritten thank you notes. It makes you stand out from the many faces the interviewing staff sees and shows that you genuinely care about earning a place in their program. Keep it short and concise, but mention a specific instance that you connected with the person to whom you are sending it. For example, “Dear X, Thanks for interviewing me” is not as meaningful as “Dear X, Thank you for talking to me about your research with XYZ. It was an engaging conversation, and…”
  • Treat yourself! You’ve made it this far, and that’s something worth celebrating! Treat yourself to a delicious dessert, cup of coffee, movie, or drink to reward yourself for being such an awesome person. You’ve you made it past another step on the road to becoming an occupational therapist, and your journey is just beginning! There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and now there’s nothing to do but wait for all of your acceptances to start rolling in. J

Additional Information

The following are links to information and articles about interviewing that I found helpful.

Note: Not all of the articles are about interviewing for OT programs specifically, but they still offer a lot of great advice!

This video from Youtube vlogger “itsmyot” also has helpful OT school interview tips!

 

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12 thoughts on “Gotta Get Into Grad School Part VI: Gotta Have a Great Interview

  1. Lisa January 7, 2015 at 10:53 pm Reply

    This could not come at a more perfect time… I have my first interview at the end of this month! Wonderful tips. Thank you so much for sharing!!

    • lej1123 February 23, 2015 at 9:09 pm Reply

      Thanks for reading, Lisa! I hope you had a great interview!

  2. […] Be ready to give a quality occupational therapy elevator speech during any upcoming OT school interviews you have! It’s a common question, and one you should definitely be prepared to […]

  3. Jill February 23, 2015 at 7:10 pm Reply

    Thanks for the helpful information! I have an interview at the end of this week and this is the best advice I have found thus far. Do you recommend asking for a business card from your interviewer so you have an address to send the handwritten thank-you notes? How would you suggest going about it? Trying to find an address on the schools website perhaps?

    Thanks,
    Jill

    • lej1123 February 23, 2015 at 9:09 pm Reply

      Hi Jill, thanks for reading! I’m glad you found it helpful. I think asking for a business card is a great idea, or most school’s faculty members have their mailing address listed at their program’s website. As long as you include the program’s full address (Ex: Ms. Jane Smith, Jones Hall, Suite 1234, Columbus, OH 67890), your cards should get there OK! I hope this helps!

      Good luck with your interview – I’m sure you’ll do great!

      • Jill February 23, 2015 at 9:52 pm

        Thanks!! I appreciate the speedy response!

      • lej1123 February 23, 2015 at 10:03 pm

        Glad I can help! Best of luck!

  4. kaa416 November 11, 2015 at 8:01 pm Reply

    I have an interview at the end of next week and I’ve been using your helpful information to prepare! I was wondering if you have any tips on a writing interview or on site writing sample. I haven’t found much information on what it would be about, and I want to be prepared the best that I can!

    Also, how long should each interview answer be? For example, if they ask the question “why are you interested in this school’s program?”, should I give 1-2 responses or 3-4 points. The reason I asked is because I researched the program and found many reasons why I chose this school.

    Thank you again for your help!

    • lej1123 November 11, 2015 at 9:18 pm Reply

      Congrats on getting an interview, I’m you’re going to do great! Unfortunately, I don’t have any experience with providing on-site writing samples during interviews. However, from what I was able to learn online, it seems that the main goal is to have you provide a well-reasoned response or opinion to a topic/question in 20-30 minutes. People in other graduate programs who have done it state that it is similar to the GRE in that the goal is to determine whether or not you can write a logical, clearly organized, coherent short essay on a topic, as a reflection of your writing skills in general. So if you just focus on the basics of quality essay writing, I’m sure you’ll be fine!

    • downonwildwood November 11, 2015 at 9:25 pm Reply

      I only have experience with an on site writing sample for one school, but I thought I’d contribute anyways! We were given a simple research design and then we had to pick out the things that were wrong with it plus explain what we would do to change it. I think they were just wanting to see that you have reasoning and analytical skills. This was for just one school though, so others are probably different!

      • lej1123 November 11, 2015 at 9:54 pm

        Thanks for sharing!

  5. kaa416 November 12, 2015 at 10:14 am Reply

    Thank you both! Although it may not be the same school, it is reassuring to read about possible questions for the writing sample. Thanks for your help.

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