With occupational therapy school in your rear-view mirror, it’s time to start focusing on the next step in your career: getting your first job! One of the most critical aspects of job-hunting is having a solid resume that can help you get your foot in the door with prospective employers. After all, your resume is (typically) a hiring manager’s first impression of you. It gives them a high-level overview of who you are as a job candidate and whether you could be a good fit for their role. The ultimate goal of your resume should be to make yourself stand out so the hiring managers have no choice but to call you in for an interview.
That said, there are right ways to format a resume...and there are wrong ways. To help you start your job hunt on the right foot, we asked Elizabeth DeIuliis, OTD, MOT, OTR/L, CLA, assistant department chairperson, director of clinical and community education and academic fieldwork coordinator in the Department of Occupational Therapy at Duquesne University, to share her insights about how to craft the perfect OT resume.
General Tips for Writing an Excellent Resume
When you’re applying for entry-level OT positions — whether you’re a recent graduate or a young professional with little work experience — it’s typically expected that your resume will be one page long. In fact, it’s easier to read and keep organized when it is.
Another tip? Hiring managers expect to see your most recent achievements at the top of each section. Meaning, if you’re a new grad, you can put your education at the top. But once you’ve been hired as an OT, your work experience goes first and your education moves farther down the page. As for what to include within each position, list only a few points or accomplishments.
More bullets can be added for OT-related work.
How Do You Format an Occupational Therapist Resume?
No matter the specific profession, healthcare resumes typically follow a standard format. Below, we’ve provided a list of the different sections that every OT resume should include, as well as the order in which they typically appear:
- Contact Information
- Professional Summary
- Licenses & Certifications
- Clinical Experience
- Relevant Professional Experience
Now let’s dig into what you should include in each section.
Section 1: Your Contact Information
First thing’s first: You need to provide your personal information. This should always be listed clearly at the top of your resume. Here’s the kind of information that hiring managers expect to see:
- Your Full Name
- Mailing Address
- Phone Number
- Email Address
For consistency’s sake, make sure to list the same exact contact information on your resume and cover letter. Also, be sure that you have a professional-sounding email address so that prospective employers take you seriously. (Believe us: As much as you might’ve once loved mermaids and unicorns, chances are that an email address like email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org won’t make the best first impression.) Don’t have an address that you feel comfortable using? No problem. You can easily create a brand new Gmail account and designate it for professional use only.
If you’ve already graduated and are licensed, be sure to list any credentials after your name (e.g., OTD, MOT, OTA) because they indicate competence, value, and accreditation. If you aren’t licensed or credentialed yet, you shouldn’t include anything after your name in the contact information section.
If you have a professional portfolio that you’re proud to share, you can include a link to it at the top of your resume, too. Some people also choose to include a link to their personal website or LinkedIn profile, as well.
For example, try this:
And avoid this:
Section 2: Professional Summary
Before delving into their clinical experience, many seasoned OTs tend to include a brief summary of their professional background toward the top of the resume. But if you’re just coming out of OT school, you may find that you don’t have much work experience to highlight. That’s OK! Instead, focus on describing the various skills, strengths, and experiences that you feel set you apart as a job candidate. This is also where you can mention any unique skills you have that could help you stand out from the rest of the entry-level applicants. Do you have special training or proficiency in a foreign language? Those types of extra skills and training could help you catch the eye of the hiring manager reviewing your resume.
Keep in mind that this section should not read like a “want ad” or state an objective about the job you’re seeking. Instead, it should sound more like a third-person bio about you, highlighting your best professional qualities.
Section 3: Education
This section of your resume should be brief and straightforward. Simply list the degrees you earned, the schools you attended, and the year in which you graduated. It’s best to include this information as snippets, rather than within a paragraph of text; it’ll make it easier for hiring managers to quickly scan for the information that they want to know about you. Also, be sure to list your education history in reverse chronological order.
It's worth noting that the placement of the Education section will change as you gain more professional experience. When you're a new grad looking for your first job, it's fine to have the Education section higher up on your resume - ideally, it should come right after the Professional Summary. However, once you have one or two jobs under your belt, consider moving the Education section toward the bottom of your resume so your work experience can more easily catch the hiring manager's attention.
Section 4: Licenses & Certifications
This is a short but necessary section to include within your resume because this is where you’ll list all your license and credentialing information. If you aren’t licensed or credentialed yet, you can indicate when you intend to apply for your license or sit for your board exam.
Section 5: Clinical Experience
It’s important to describe the highlights of your fieldwork during OT school because this can give the hiring manager a better understanding of your knowledge, skills, and areas of expertise. The best way to format your experience is by using bullets, which makes it easier for hiring managers to quickly scan so they can find out what they want to know about you. List your fieldwork in reverse chronological order, and use each bullet to describe tasks or skills that you acquired as a result of that experience.
It’s expected that you list hard skills here, but you can also list soft skills that help you look marketable to (most) employers’ needs -- these can include skills like self-management, being timely in documentation, and meeting productivity in caseloads. Keep in mind that when we say “marketable,” we’re talking about skills you have that could make an employer’s life easier, such as the ones mentioned above. It’s not worthwhile to mention things like “pays attention to detail” or “enthusiastic learner.” While they’re certainly positives, they don’t directly solve an employer’s problem.
Be sure to use powerful action verbs to explain what you did. This will help prevent you from speaking in the passive voice. And don’t include chunky paragraphs instead of quick-to-read bullet points; the important details about your experience may be overlooked if they’re buried within text.
Section 6: Relevant Professional Experience
Here, you should list, in reverse chronological order, any volunteer or paid positions that are relevant to occupational therapy, with bullets to describe what you did on the job. Even some outside positions that you’ve held may be worth highlighting, as long as they’re relevant to the job you’re applying for. For example, if you were a lifeguard during your summer break for the past few years, you can list that, along with your CPR and first aid certifications. These experiences will help demonstrate your sense of responsibility and may set you apart from other applicants. If you’ve worked your way through school in retail, it’s commendable but not worth mentioning on your OT resume.
Section 7: Skills
Hiring managers will expect you to tease out some of your most marketable skills within a short, bulleted section. This will help them get a clear picture of what you believe are your most notable strengths. When you create this list, consider what a hiring manager would want in a new employee. An easy way to do this is by looking at the role’s job description and see what skills they’re looking for. Then, identify the ones that you know you have and highlight them on your resume. Make sure to tailor this section to each job you’re applying to, and to the specific skills each employer is looking for.
It goes without saying, but you should also NEVER claim to have a particular skill that you don't have. Yes, if a prospective employer is looking for bilingual OTs, saying you’re fluent in Spanish probably could boost your chances of getting an interview. But if you’re not actually fluent — or, worse, have never even taken a class — you could find yourself in a very awkward situation if the interviewer starts asking you questions in Spanish. (That would be no bueno.)
Section 8: Affiliations
Within this short, list-style section, include any affiliations that you have, whether they’re professional memberships, volunteer opportunities, or leadership roles that you’ve taken on during OT school. Listing these details can show a hiring manager that you have leadership skills and the ability to work as part of a team. You also could consider including details about your academic research here, particularly if you presented details about it at your university or at a conference. This piece of information shows a real commitment to your profession, and hiring managers love to see that in potential job candidates.
Your Occupational Therapy Resume: The Finished Product
Your completed resume should look something like this:
Before You Hit 'Send': 6 Questions to Ask Yourself
After you create a first draft of your resume, ask yourself the following questions while you tweak the details so you end up with an impressive documentation of your educational and work history:
Have I highlighted my achievements and described my experience accurately?
Is my resume focused so that hiring managers will see that my skill set is right for the job?
Did I include descriptive verbs and phrases in my write-ups for each position?
Are there bulleted sections on my resume to help the hiring manager find information quickly?
Have I spell-checked and proofread the resume more than once?
Is my resume one page long?