How to Rock your School-Based OT Interview

No matter how prepared you are, interviews can be scary! And interviewing as a school-based OT can feel especially daunting, especially if you don’t yet have a ton of experience in this setting. As someone who has sat on both sides of the interview table, I want to share with you some of the common questions asked, how you should approach some of the trickier ones, and what you should be asking the district in return. 

Questions They’ll Ask You

The first part of preparing for your interview is becoming familiar with the types of questions that are asked. Now, as a travel therapist who has interviewed with six different school districts, I’m pretty familiar with the general structure of questions that are typically asked. In general, questions tend to focus on procedural knowledge of OT in the school system as well as your clinical reasoning and manner of handling challenging situations. 

Please give us a summary of your experience and education relevant to this role.

Do you have any school-based OT experience? Highlight it here, even if was just a fieldwork. You can also highlight any time you’ve spent working as an OT with the pediatric population in general. If you don’t yet have much pediatric OT experience, share any experience you have working with children or in a school setting. If you’re lacking in experience, you can also consider sharing what relevant CEU courses you’ve taken to prepare yourself for this setting. 

How do you manage students with challenging behaviors?

Describe a challenge that you‘ve had with a client or student and explain how you handled it.

In your opinion, what is the difference between school-based OT and medical model OT?

This is a good area to brush up on your elevator speech. In general, school-based OT helps support children with disabilities in accessing their education. Medical-model OT helps children with disabilities become more independent in general. There may be certain skills/activities that a clinic OT would address that a school-based OT wouldn’t because they are unrelated to a student’s educational progress. 

In your opinion, what is the function of a related service?

This is similar to the question above – review IDEA, the main law that governs school-based OT services, to become more familiar with the role of related services in the school system. 

What standardized assessments would you use in the school setting?

What’s a goal you would write for [this student]?

I’ve actually had this happen in an interview before, and it’s harder than you think to write goals on the spot, especially when you’re doing it out loud instead of writing on paper!

What’s your referral process and how would you evaluate students who may need OT services?

How would you determine that a student requires occupational therapy? 

How do you deal with someone disagreeing with your recommendation at an IEP meeting?

What service models such as push-in, pull-out, consultation, or collaboration are you familiar with? Which do you prefer?

How do you address children with sensory processing needs in schools?

How much experience do you have working with [autism, children with intellectual disabilities, other specific populations]?  

In your words, what does evidence-based practice mean to you?

school-based OT interview

What documentation systems do you use/are you familiar with?

What adaptive equipment are you familiar with?

What experience do you have with assistive technology? 

How do you manage your time when carrying a full caseload?

How do you collaborate with other professionals in the school system?

What are the top 3 qualities that you think a school-based OT needs to have in order to be successful and why?

Do you have any questions for us?

Your answer to this should always be yes! An interview is a two-way street. It’s important that you find out if the job is a good fit for you in the same way your interviewers are doing in reverse. 

Questions You Should Ask Them

There are many things you might want to know before working for a school district. And, as a travel therapist with some great and not-so-great experiences, I’ve narrowed down the kind of questions that can help you decide if a district will be a supportive and harmonious place to work vs a place with unreasonable workload expectations. 

I do want to preface this by saying if you asked all of these questions in the interview, you’d probably be there for hours! The good news is that a lot of this information can be found online before your interview. My suggestion would be taking this list, reviewing the school’s website and answering what you can, and then choosing the questions that are most important to you to ask at the interview. If you’re extended the job offer, you’ll also have a chance to ask additional questions then before accepting. 

Answers You Can Probably Find Online

Some school districts have more fleshed out websites than others – your mileage may vary.

How many schools are in the district? 

What percentage of students in the district are receiving special education services?

What percentage of students are ELL and what interpretation/translation services are available?

What is the salary range for this position?

This is one of the best things about working for the schools – transparent salaries. Public school districts are required to make their pay scales public information. The only way this can get a little wonky is figuring out what pay scale OTs fall into – sometimes it’s the teacher pay scale, sometimes it’s a professional services pay scale, and sometimes it’s a pay scale for OTs alone. 

Are OTs part of a union? Is it the Teachers’ Union, Paraprofessionals, or something else?

What are the details of the school calendar? When are the holidays and breaks?

How many other OTs work in the district? 

Does the district use COTAs? 

What other related service providers like PTs work in the district? 

Are there other certifications I’ll need besides my OT license?

Some states require that OTs have an additional educational credential beyond their OT license. 

During the Interview

What is the expected caseload size for this role? Are there caseload limits? 

This is an important one. While you can’t determine your full workload just from hearing a caseload number, it can give you a clue to how busy you’ll be. Some districts have a caseload limit that serves to protect you from getting overworked, though this is rarer.

How many schools will I be expected to cover? 

This is related to the last question – more schools will increase your workload, especially if you have to travel long distances between them. 

What age group(s) will I be working with? 

What system/program does the school use for IEPs?

What models of service (push in vs pullout, consultation) are most common in the district?

Does the district have a consistent handwriting curriculum? If so, which one?

If the answer is “no,” prepare for a lot of handwriting referrals…

What is the process of obtaining materials for therapy or for students that need specialized equipment?

Don’t fall into the trap of spending your own money on therapy materials. The district should be providing this. 

How does the district handle assistive technology?

What does ESY look like for this district?

What is the district’s protocol if the caseload/workload becomes unmanageable?

How are they handling/how did they handle distance learning?

This can give you a lot of insight into how the district operates under pressure.

Does the district bill Medicaid? What would my responsibilities be with this?

What would my responsibilities be with students being served on 504 plans?

What kind of mentorship is available?

Be prepared for this answer to effectively be “none.” Many school districts seek to hire OTs that can take over a full caseload right away without much support. It may be wise to make alternative plans for mentorship and guidance.

How does the district handle missed therapy visits? 

Are related service providers easily able to attend IEP meetings? 

What’s your favorite thing about your job? 

I love ending on this one to keep the interview from being too dry. This can also be a great clue into the culture of the workplace. 

After the Offer 

Am I expected to keep general working hours, or is my schedule flexible?

What are the benefits of the position?

Specifically, you’ll probably want to know about health insurance, sick leave, personal time, and if you’ll be paid for mileage between schools. 

Does the district offer reimbursement for CEUs, state licensure, or national licensure?

(If working as a contractor instead of a direct employee) Will I be compensated for all time spent working or just treatment time?

If you’re only getting compensated for treatment time, it’s a red flag. There are many other activities that are necessary to serve in this role effectively, such as documentation, treatment planning, RtI, consultation with teachers and parents, and attending IEP meetings. 

I hope these questions demystified the school-based OT interview process! It really is a wonderful setting to work, and being prepared in the interview can help you find a district that is a great match for you. If you have any questions about this, please feel free to join me in my Facebook group that’s all about being an effective school-based OT. 

Rocking your interview is only the first step. Once you’re offered the position, it’s time to get familiar with all of the nitty-gritty pieces to being an effective school-based OT! My course, The Dynamic School OT, is a comprehensive primer on working in the schools. You’ll learn everything from laws and guidelines, documentation, and evaluation processes to how to navigate difficult conversations with teachers, parents, and administration. Enroll today! 

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