• Aisling van der Walt

Interview Tips for AHPs


Having prepared for many interviews over the years, I have gathered reams of paper with preparation questions, answering techniques, actual questions asked in my interviews and strategies for effectively preparing for interview. If not to just clear out my filing cabinet, I thought it could help some of you preparing for interview if I summarised what I have learned in a blog post. I am a highly specialist occupational therapist in neurorehabiltation so in recent years my preparation of clinical questions has been more focused on neurology. That said, many of the questions I have been asked in interview could apply across clinical areas and across disciplines so may still be helpful if you are not an occupational therapist. Anyone who has experience conducting an interview will agree that it helps you to understand what the interviewer is looking for in an answer, and is invaluable experience when preparing for your own interview! Hope this is of some help and please comment with any other tips and ideas.

10 Interview Tips

1. Do your research.

Read up on the job, the hospital/ clinic, their key values and their specialist interests. I print out the job description and person specification and use them to prepare my interview questions.

2. Write out practice interview questions based on the job description.

Most job descriptions state how a criteria will be tested (application, interview or test), for example ‘teaching and presentation skills’ might be tested in both the application and the interview. I make sure I have a question and answer prepared for each criteria that will be tested in the interview. I structure my questions under clinical (case examples and knowledge based) and non-clinical (supervision, management, research, article) sections and tick off on the job description as I go. For example, if the job description states ‘desirable to have splinting experience’ I will prepare a case example about splinting under ‘clinical’ questions.

3. Use the STAR technique.

A colleague of mine introduced me to the STAR technique which helps structure answers about case examples.

S: Situation: Describe the specific situation and the background of the event. What was the context?

T: Describe your responsibility in that situation and the task before you. What was expected of you?

A: Action: Describe what steps you took to address the situation. Speak about what you did specifically, rather than what others did.

R: Result/ Reflect: Describe the outcome. What did you accomplish? What did you learn on reflection?

Example of STAR applied to an interview question:

Describe an occasion when you advocated for a patient.

Situation: I worked with a patient in an acute stroke ward who presented in a low awareness state. She was not engaging in rehabilitation, making no progress in physiotherapy and the plan was to discharge her to a nursing home. However, she was showing some participation and slight improvements in occupational therapy.

Task: I needed to assess if she had any rehab potential and to measure the improvements I had seen to communicate it to the MDT.

Action: I used the Wessex Head Injury Matrix Scale (WHIM) to assess her cognition and involved her family to motivate and engage her during functional tasks. She began to participate in some functional activities and interacting with her family. I relayed the WHIM and functional gains in the MDT meeting and she was given a further 2 weeks to demonstrate rehab potential.

Result: The therapy team developed SMART goals with her and she demonstrated enough potential to be referred to slow stream rehabilitation. I learned the importance of using outcome measures to advocate for a patient to the MDT.

4. Case examples.

Prioritize the questions more likely to be asked and learn the answers and case examples well. I usually prepare approx 5 ‘meaty’ case examples that could apply to any number of questions commonly asked - how you handled a complex patient, how you prioritise under pressure, how you advocated for a patient, describe a complex discharge. Try to use at least one case example in each answer, even if it is brief. For example: ‘how do you communicate effectively with patients with aphasia’ - you might give some general responses such as using gesture/ images and liaising with SLT, but adding a short example of when you did this would strengthen your response.

5. Know the evidence.

Read 1-2 recent pieces of evidence relating to the job or clinical area and be able to discuss them, including critique of one article. There is usually at least one question relating to evidence (how does evidence influence your practice/ describe an article that changed your practice)

6. Practice your questions and answers with a friend / colleague or using flashcards on your own.

7. Day of interview.

I bring in a piece of paper and write down max 5 key points that I want to get across in the interview (eg my involvement in research, my experience managing a team) so that if I have not had an opportunity to discuss them by the end I can elaborate and leave knowing I have represented myself as best as I could.

8. CPD Portfolio.

Bring your CPD portfolio in, even if you’ve not been asked to. It shows you are prepared and committed to your professional development.

9. Listen carefully to the question.

Consider if you were the interviewer, what information you would be looking for. There are often points assigned to each aspect of the question so listen carefully, take your time and write a structure for your answer before you begin. For example: ‘Give an example of when a service improvement project you initiated benefited the service and patients’ (need to describe the project and the impact on the service as well as the patients). Ask for a question to be repeated if you think you’ve missed a part.

10. After the interview.

It’s the last thing you want to do, but write down all the questions you can remember from the interview because whether you get the job or not this has been a great learning experience and the questions will help you or your colleagues prepare better next time.

Practice interview questions

I would encourage you to write your own questions based on the job description but here are the one’s I have prepared over the years. When preparing answers, think about general responses and specific examples for each question.

Overarching questions

What are your relevant skills and experience to the job/ your key selling points?

Why do you want the job?

What are your key strengths and weaknesses? / Describe two of your strengths and two areas you want to develop further.

Clinical questions

Definitions of key terms relevant to the post (eg in neuro: apraxia, autonomic dysreflexia)

Revise key conditions you might be asked about, for example typical impairments following stroke, spinal cord functional levels (in the event of a question about a patient with C6 injury etc). Eg of a question: What assessments and interventions would you consider when working with a person with multiple sclerosis?

Prepare case examples for a range of conditions (disorders of consciousness, walking wounded, complex social needs etc)

Describe a patient who changed your practice

The doctors want to discharge a patient who has had a stroke. The physiotherapists have discharged him but you don’t think he is safe to go home. Describe how you would handle the situation. (consider risk, capacity, communication with team, communication with patient and family, assess cognition in function, documentation etc)

Describe a complex patient you worked with and how you helped them achieve their goals

How do you tailor your communication to the patient and family?

Describe an incident when you were unhappy with the result (clinical or non-clinical)

How do you use outcome measures to improve practice?

Describe a time your leadership benefitted a patient

Describe a time you co-ordinated a complex discharge for a patient. What were the challenges and how did you overcome them?

Describe a time time when you worked to achieve a positive experience for a patient

How do you deal with cultural differences with patients?

Non-clinical questions

Describe a service improvement project you lead and how it benefitted the patient and service

How does evidence based practice influence your practice?

How do you maintain your continued professional development? (describe a range of CPD activities, discuss portfolio, courses, reading articles, journal club, supervision)

How do you balance clinical demands with non-clinical responsibilities? (question about prioritisation, delegation, organisational skills)

How does occupational therapy theory shape your practice?

Give an example of working as an MDT member for the patient’s benefit

How do national guidelines and policies inform your practice

Do you have an example of a challenging supervision situation? What were the challenges and how did you address them?

How do you handle conflict with patients and family members?

How do you deal with differences of opinion and priorities with other staff members?

How would you go about implementing a change within your team or department?

Describe your experience of audit. (give specific audit example, show you know the audit cycle)

What is clinical governance and how do you ensure it within your team?

You have a full day of patients, a supervision session and a team meeting. You get two new referrals and no longer have time to complete everything. What do you do? (delegate, how you prioritize, problem solving - supervision over the phone etc)

How will you cope with the extra responsibility of this position? (if going for promotion)

Hopefully that has helped some of you prepare for interview. Please comment with any ideas from your own experience. Thanks for stopping by!


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                                                                                                          Aisling van der Walt Ltd trading as Solas Rehabilitation