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Occupational Therapist Interview Questions

Position Summary

Occupational therapists are responsible for assisting patients who are disabled through illness or injury to regain the skills needed in daily life. This care is typically long term and requires maintaining interpersonal relationships with patients. 

Occupational therapists must be able to assess both physical and psychological needs for patients and design treatment plans to fit those needs. An occupational therapist also provides the equipment necessary to assist the patient in their long-term recovery.


An occupational therapist’s responsibilities include:

  • Assessing a patient’s mental state
  • Determining a patient’s physical state and needs.
  • Planning programs for rehabilitation
  • Evaluating a patient’s progress
  • Communicating with a patient’s family and employers to facilitate rehabilitation


An occupational therapist’s skills include:

  • Interpersonal skills to maintain long-term client relationships
  • Experience working in physical therapy
  • Basic knowledge of psychology
  • Long-term planning skills
  • Basic IT skills to track multiple patients over long periods of time
  • Ability to communicate and work with teams of specialists toward a common goal


A position as an occupational therapist typically requires a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university. An applicant must also be nationally certified by the ACOTE (Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education) or the AOTA (American Occupational Therapy Association). Additionally, any applicant must be familiar with national and state regulatory guidelines and have several years of experience in employment or through internships. 


Salaries for occupational therapists range between $74K and $104K with the median being $88K. 

Factors impacting the salary you receive as an occupational therapist include:

  • Degrees (bachelor's, master's, ACOTE or AOTA certification)
  • Years of Experience and Internships
  • Location
  • Reporting Structure (seniority of the manager you report to and number of direct reports)
  • Level of Performance - exceeding expectations

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Occupational Therapist Interview Questions

Question: Can you describe your journey that resulted in you becoming an occupational therapist?

Explanation: This is a general opening question which the interviewer will ask to get you talking, learn more about your background, and collect information they can use throughout the interview.

Example: “My journey toward becoming an occupational therapist began when I was still a child. My father was injured in an auto accident and had to go through many months of therapy. I witnessed the benefits that the occupational therapist and the entire rehabilitation team provided, and I was inspired by the way they were able to get my father back to work. This ignited my initial interest in the profession which I confirmed by doing a great deal of research. By the time I entered college, I was convinced this would be the best profession for me. This prediction turned out to be accurate.”

Question: In your opinion, what characteristics should an excellent occupational therapist have?

Explanation: This is another general question meant to discover additional information about your background. Your answer will provide the interviewer with a summary of your skills and experience. Make sure these align with the job posting which you should have reviewed just before the interview.

Example: “I believe the essential characteristics an occupational therapist must possess include empathy, compassion, endurance, and patience. The therapist needs to understand the situation the patient is facing along with their frustrations, fears, and uncertainty. They must communicate positively and with a clear goal for therapy that the patient can relate to. They need to be tough when a patient isn’t and gentle when the patient needs support.”

Question: How do you go about determining realistic rehabilitation goals for your patients?

Explanation: This is an operational question which the interviewer is asking to learn more about how you approach this profession and go about doing your job. Operational questions are best responded to directly and concisely. The interviewer will ask follow-up questions if they need additional information or want to explore this topic in more depth.

Example: “Determining the rehabilitation goals for my patients is the most critical element of this job. The goals I establish need to be realistic in terms of where the patient needs to get to and their ability to achieve this. Appropriate goals result in therapy programs that are well suited for the patient, their families, and the workplace they will return to.”

Question: How do you go about establishing a rehabilitation plan for your patients?

Explanation: This is a follow-up to the previous question. Any time you provide an answer to an interviewer, you can anticipate a follow-up question. This indicates they need more information about the topic or have a particular interest in it and want to dig deeper. Continue to answer your questions succinctly and directly. The interviewer will ask as many follow-up questions as they need to understand your qualifications in this area thoroughly.

Example: “Once I have established the patient’s occupational therapy goals, I then need to develop a plan which will help them achieve their goal as quickly as possible. The plan has three phases which include the initial, advanced, and ongoing phases. The initial phase involves an introduction to therapy and checks to ensure that we’re doing the right activities. The advanced phase includes more challenging exercises and activities and a gradual narrowing of the scope to address the patient’s specific needs. The final phase designs a program the patient can continue after the formal therapy has been concluded.”

Question: What methods do you use to deal with difficult patients?

Explanation: This is another operational question which presents a scenario and asks you to respond by describing the method you use to accomplish this task. Keeping your answers brief and to the point will encourage the interviewer to move on to a new topic or ask follow-up questions if they need additional information. Long-winded and rambling answers do not provide this opportunity.

Example: “Unfortunately, the majority of patients become difficult at some phase of their therapy. This is due to the challenges therapy presents and the frustration patients feel by not being able to accomplish a task they were formerly able to perform. Recognizing this is the first step to dealing with it. When a patient becomes difficult, I back off on the therapy to give them a break. We then have a conversation about the challenges therapy presents and the rewards the patient will realize if they stick with it and continue to work hard. If I think it will be effective, I can become even more demanding and challenge the patient to do more.”

Question: How would you respond if you disagreed with an order from your manager?

Explanation: Workplace conflict and disagreements are common to any profession. Being able to deal with these is essential. The interviewer is asking this question to understand how you would go about doing this. The form of the question is behavioral. It presents you with a scenario and asks for your response. The best way to answer a behavioral question is by using the STAR framework. You restate the Situation, describe the Task you need to accomplish, discuss the Actions you would take, and then talk about the Results you hope to achieve.

Example: “If I disagreed with an order or directive provided by one of my managers and I knew my position was correct, I would take steps to resolve the disagreement. First, I would have a conversation with them to discuss the topic and see if we could come to an agreement about the necessary actions. I would keep an open mind and encourage them to do this as well. If we were not able to agree, I would then contact my manager’s boss and ask them to intervene and mediate between us. These actions normally result in the resolution of the issue.”

Question: What case are you most proud of, and why?

Explanation: By nature, people are reluctant to brag about themselves or their accomplishments. This is okay except in the case of an interview. This is the one occasion where you need to be bold about stating your achievements and describing why you are proud of them.  Nobody else is going to speak for you. Make sure you do not embellish your answer or spend too much time discussing your significant achievements. Allow the interviewer to ask a follow-up question if they want more information.

Example: “Without a doubt, the case I am most proud of involved a patient that other therapists had given up on. This patient was uncooperative and refused to do the exercises prescribed by the program. I took some time to understand why he was reacting like this and discovered something about his background which made him hesitant to participate in these types of programs. Once I addressed this, the patient became more enthusiastic about his therapy and eventually was able to return to the work he performed before becoming injured. I still hear from him from time to time, and he is continuing to succeed in his profession.”

Question: Have you ever introduced new technology to a client or the organization you worked with?

Explanation: An employer will hire you for one of three reasons: you will make them money, save them money, or save them time. This question seeks to understand how you contributed to an employer by either reducing the cost or the time required to perform a task using technology. If you don’t have an example of this, you can describe another way you contributed to an employer’s operational improvements.

Example: “In my last position, I discovered an online resource that would assist a patient’s therapy by tracking their progress and keeping them on schedule for their rehabilitation. I learned more about this product and did a trial test with one of my patients. The product worked as described. I then wrote a summary of the product features and benefits and a recommendation for the employer, including the return on investment they would realize by incorporating it into their operations. The employer agreed, and they now use the product for all of their patients.”

Question: Can you tell me about a time when your work resulted in a positive patient experience?

Explanation: Patient outcomes are how healthcare providers, insurance companies, and employers measure the effectiveness of an occupational therapy program. Being able to describe positive patient outcomes and pleasant patient experiences will be critical to you being considered qualified for the position. This is one question you can practice before the interview with complete confidence that you will be asked it. 

Example: “Without exaggeration, I can tell you about dozens of positive patient experiences I’ve created. One of the most significant ones was when a patient had lost both of their legs in an accident. When they arrived at therapy, they were despondent and reluctant to participate in the program. Through constant encouragement, empathy, and determination, I was able to ease them into the program and convince them to make the required effort. As their abilities increased, so did their attitude. Before long, I almost had to hold them back because they were so anxious to get back to full functioning. Because of the therapy and the prosthetics they were given, the patient now can do 90% of the activities they did before the accident.”

Question: How do you effectively manage risk when working with a client?

Explanation: This operational question is essential. Managing patient risk is a critical element of any therapy program. This is defined in the Hippocratic Oath, which states, "First, do no harm."  You should be able to describe how you effectively manage risk as an occupational therapist.

Example: “Paramount in my mind when designing an occupational therapy program for a patient is that I must minimize the risk the program presents. Even if taking a chance or cutting corners may accelerate the patient’s progress, I am reluctant to do this. I would rather take some additional time and effort to rehabilitate a patient rather than risk their health and cause a setback in their therapy.”

Additional Occupational Therapist Interview Questions

  • How would you begin assessing a new patient?

  • Describe the most difficult rehabilitation program you’ve planned. How did you help the patient through it?

  • Describe how you deal with difficult patients.

  • What steps do you take to ensure a strong bond between you and a patient?

  • What other medical professionals have you worked with in your time as an occupational therapist?

  • What keeps you motivated to continue helping your patients when treatment becomes difficult?

  • Do you have any experience working with children?

  • How did that experience differ from working with adult patients?

  • Do you have experience working in a patient’s home?

  • What new challenges do you expect to face later in your career?

A word of warning when using question lists.

Question lists offer a convenient way to start practicing for your interview. Unfortunately, they do little to recreate actual interview pressure. In a real interview you’ll never know what’s coming, and that’s what makes interviews so stressful.

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