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University of Southern California
University of Southern California
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
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Stand Out During Your Interviews


November 20, 2020

Admissions Life Hacks

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Now that I have completed my OTD residency interviews, I want to reflect on that process and hopefully give some useful tips to those that are currently in an interview stage of their OT journey. This is not purely for residency interviews, but it is also applicable to job interviews and OT program interviews. In any interview, you want to put your best foot forward and show how much of an asset you are. But standing out is not about listing off all of your accomplishments. Despite the phrase of “standing out,” interviews are also about how well you fit in. From my personal experience with college interviews, job interviews, grad school interviews, and residency interviews, here are some important things to consider. 

Why do you want to be there?
Biggest, most important question to ask yourself. Before you begin answering their question of “why should you be here?” is the question of “why do you want to be there?” I mean, why put yourself through the stressful process of interviewing if you have no reason to? When answering this question, it cannot stop at “because it pays the most” or “because it’s the top program.” That will not elicit any passion in your responses (unless you’re a really great actor). This is likely a place that you will stay for years so why pretend to like it.

When choosing places of interest, I would often ask myself these questions: What about this organization appeals to you? Where do you see yourself in the future and does this job or program align with that? Do you share similar values? Do you feel like you will be supported?

Once you answer these questions for yourself, you either get more excited about the idea of studying/working/training at that organization OR you lose interest. If you were excited, the next step is to show that enthusiasm and excitement during your interview. Being able to talk about why you value this place shows that you did your research and that you are serious about the opportunity. You should always have background on the place that you are interviewing for. Reading over their mission statement is a great place to start but it should go deeper than that. Did they hold any events that spoke to you? Is there a faculty member there that has done tremendous work to advance the field? What is this organization known for and how did that come about? Knowing more about a place will never hurt; it actually puts you at an advantage over the other applicants.

What can you bring to the table and what do you need to work on?
The famous “Strengths and Weaknesses” question. You knew it was coming! This is definitely a question that you should be prepared to answer *even if it is not explicitly asked. Whenever it is appropriate to do so, talk about your strengths. The interviewer wants to hear about how strong of a candidate you are. Yes, we are socialized to be humble (and in most instances, you should be) but now is not the time. What are your accomplishments and how do they fit into this role that you are applying for? This is your time to tastefully brag. Big emphasis on “tastefully” because you do not want to seem boastful. Afterall, you still need to show that you are collaborative and a good team-member. OTs do a lot of collaborating, you know.

If you are unsure about your strengths and weaknesses, performance evaluations from past supervisors can help you to determine this. During check-ins with teachers and bosses, there are some common themes that come up for me. This gave me insight to where I truly shine.

Something that we all probably know by now, but it does not hurt to say it again – your weaknesses should not be actual weaknesses. Do not self-sabotage! Yes, these are things that you need to work on but think of it as a strength in disguise. For example, one of my weaknesses is that I have a hard time delegating to others. I have difficulty in this area because I want to maximize everything to my standard. I would explain this to the interviewer and while it is a “weakness,” it indirectly says that I produce high-quality work.

Be Yourself
You may be tired of hearing it. The idea of being yourself sounds so bleh. Like, is it really even a tip? But, it is! When you go into an interview, show your best SELF. Do not try to be someone else because it will become obvious. The only way to answer questions with authenticity, passion, and confidence is by being yourself and speaking to your OWN stories and experiences. Your values and what is meaningful to you should naturally pour out. They want to see your face light up when you talk about how you were introduced to OT, how your body language shifts when you discuss health disparities, or how your smile widens when you speak of your advocacy efforts. This is what they want to see. They want to see YOU—what matters to you, why are you the best addition to their team, what is special about you. You are very unique, and you bring your own unique skills. Make this known.

Multiple Offers?
We focus a lot on getting an offer but not as much on deciding between multiple. It is good to be prepared for that possibility. Even before hearing back, I think that it is useful to rank the places that you are applying to. It helps you to organize your thoughts and gain a better sense of what you are seeking from this experience. Maybe one residency pays more but it is also further away, and you have to factor in the transportation cost. Maybe one program is closer to home but the other has a faculty member that you would be interested in doing research with. There are several things to consider when weighing your options. Ultimately, you have to decide what is most important to you. It helps to write it out or talk it through with someone else. When I was deciding between two residency offers, I spoke to someone about it and she made me address questions that I had not even considered. Having someone else’s brain to help you sort out your list of pros and cons can truly help. After speaking with her, I received almost instant clarity and was able to make my decision.

A very special tip
About 10 minutes before an interview, I do this really corny thing where I stand in the mirror in a power pose and give myself a pep talk. It goes something like “Lamoni Lucas, you are so amazing! You are smart, dedicated, compassionate, etc. It shows because you did X,Y,Z. You are deserving of all great things! Don’t be nervous. This is an opportunity! An opportunity to show others how special you are.” I usually point at myself too. Words of affirmation is my love language, so this works especially well for me. If this is not enough and you need a daily reminder, you can write yourself a love letter and post it at your desk. Read it every morning or night. If your love language is physical touch, you can give yourself a big, tight hug. Maybe kiss the mirror. I don’t know. Whatever floats your boat, use it. Give yourself some extra love and remind yourself of how wonderful you are! Good luck to you all!