Graduation has passed and now you are studying for your board exam and stressing about finding a job as a new Occupational Therapist. Can you relate? If so, I have good news! Read on for some helpful tips for finding your first job as a new OT grad, from therapist Derek Fenwick of Infinity Rehab.
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Credit for original photo: Jason Bache via Flickr CC
Your first job after graduation as an occupational therapist will arguably be the most important one of your career. It’s the time when you find out if all that education you put yourself through was worth it. Your first post-grad position will set the tone for your next few years as a professional. And most importantly, it’s now time to start paying back your student loans!
WHAT SHOULD I LOOK FOR IN MY FIRST POSITION?
There are so many variables to take into consideration. However, when it comes down to it, there are three things you should weigh the most before making a decision.
- Mentorship: Make sure you have access to an on-site mentor! Companies will try to sell you on the great mentorship they provide and all the resources you could ever imagine. As a candidate, you need to know the name of your mentor, what specific programs they have for new grads, and what kinds of educational tools are accessible – don’t be afraid to ask very specific questions, such as “Do you have a written mentorship program and can I see it?”. You should request to speak with your mentor as a part of your interview process. This will allow you to gauge your comfort level with the person who will essentially be your first teacher post-graduation.
- Clinical Education: A solid therapy company has a resource center for educational materials; such as instructional DVDs, pamphlets, and books to check out. Ask to visit the resource center during your interview. However, some larger therapy companies have a central clinical resource library located at the home office, which has items available for you to check out at your leisure. You should also know if the company you are applying for offers any continuing education classes and/or provides a continuing education stipend.
- Growth: We would imagine many of you want an opportunity to grow within an organization. Inquire about the chance to relocate, or switch to a new specialty such as acute care, sub-acute care, home health or outpatient. Ask about potential opportunities to move into a management or director position. Some companies offer variations of “Management Trainee” programs, so be sure you explore those options. It’s never too early to express your interest in being a leader.
WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO SEARCH FOR A JOB?
As an occupational therapist, the job market will treat you better than most occupations. The trick to finding the job that fits you best is to stay up-to-date with company openings.
- Attend all job/career fairs your school or community provides. Association conferences – APTA, AOTA, ASHA – or continuing education events will typically host representatives from multiple companies for you to speak with. Network with as many vendors as you can while at these events. And grab as much information as you can! After the fair, do some research on the companies that stuck out the most to you. Did they provide a benefits guide? Does their website convey a culture and environment you want to be a part of? If so, connect with them on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter. These social media sites will offer more in-depth information about the organization.
- It is strongly encouraged that you become a registered member of the official national association that represents your practice area. Active members of groups like AOTA have thousands of seasoned therapists at their disposal to network job opportunities with. We also suggest checking APTA, AOTA, and ASHA websites for career opportunities as well.
- Stay in touch with your Clinical Instructor. Your C.I. has an inside track to the company they work for. It’s important to build a good relationship as that may be your tie to the company.
AS A NEW GRAD, WHAT IS GOING TO BE THE BEST FIT FOR YOU?
It’s very important to compare each offer for employment you receive and dig into the fine print of any contract. Take as much time as you need to decide whether a prospective job offer is actually the right fit for you. It is strongly advised that you stay with your first employer for AT LEAST ONE YEAR.
- Determine where you want to live: Do you have a significant other who may end up with a job in another state? Remember, your job is more transferable than most. If you take a position and know you’ll relocate, make sure you find a company with multiple locations or facilities so you can easily transfer. Some therapy companies even have sister companies that specialize in travel placement.
- Know which clinical setting best fits you: Look at the clinical rotations you have done, and think about what you enjoyed most and what you excelled in. If you didn’t do a pediatric clinical rotation, don’t take a job in pediatrics – you may not know what you’re getting yourself into.
- Write down your goals: Do you want to be a manager? Do you want to own an outpatient clinic? Different clinical settings have different paths, so it is important to identify what you want to do in your therapy career and put yourself in the best opportunity to do so.
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Derek Fenwick, PT, MBA, GCS is a physical therapist and board-certified geriatric clinical specialist. He develops leaders in healthcare as the Director of Professional Development at Infinity Rehab. Find him on LinkedIn and on Twitter @DerekFenwickPT.
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