Occupational therapy is a great field with so many opportunities to work with different populations and in different settings. I always tell students that you have such flexibility that you can literally work as much (or as little) as you want. If I could have cloned myself a couple of months ago, I would have been able to work 80 hours a week. The other side of the coin is that I also now work only 2 days a week and still have financial security. To navigate this world, it is helpful to know the different types of employment that are available. Here are some descriptions and pros/cons to different types of employment.
Salaried employment is what most people think of with a "typical" job. You are paid a set amount per year and usually after a short probation period have an expectation of job security. Promotions may be available more readily, and most management positions are also salaried. Typically, you can negotiate for a raise at your annual review and may get a cost of living raise during this period as well. Salaried workers usually get benefits such as health insurance, life insurance, paid vacation days, and 401K eligibility/matching. CPR and other necessary certifications may be provided and reimbursed at your employer. Continuing education may be reimbursed and days off for education may also be paid. In an OT world, you may need to spend extra time outside of "typical" hours doing work tasks. There may be meetings during lunch times and you may need to stay late to see patients or do paperwork. There may be additional job responsibilities (the infamous "other duties as assigned") like participating in committees, representing the facility at meetings, etc.
Hourly employees may make more money than salaried employees and may be able to opt out of purchasing certain benefits in order to increase their pay. Part time employees will often be paid hourly .Typically, you will not be asked to work overtime because then you will be paid more, and bosses try to avoid that sort of thing. :) You will likely have to keep very close track of your time in, time out, and lunch times to ensure that you are paid accurately. Hourly OTs may still earn paid time off, but will accumulate it gradually as they work each hour. Depending on the employer, hourly employees may not be guaranteed a certain number of hours each day or week, and may also be the first person "furloughed" if someone is looking to cut costs.
Contract employees will likely make more money than salaried or hourly employees, but they are even more costly to the employer than it would seem from that knowledge. If there is a contract company, they are getting paid an extra fee from the facility for that employee. It's a very expensive proposition. It's important to remember that if this facility had any other options other than hiring a contractor (also known as a traveler) that they would have taken it long ago to save money. So there is a potential that you could be walking into a bad situation in one way or another, although you may also just be covering for an extended leave such as a maternity, sabbatical, or medical leave. As a contractor or traveler, all you are getting from the facility is your money. There will be no trainings, no benefits, and they're not going to want to have you taking many days off. You may be able to get these benefits through your contract company, they may also provide relocation assistance. If you have a continuing relationship with them, your contract company will do the heavy lifting of actually finding you placements instead of you looking for job after job, and will help you get through licensing procedures as needed. It's also a good way to see new areas of the country and a variety of practice areas. From the viewpoint of the facility, they will want you to be able to hit the ground running, maintain a higher productivity, and function without assistance. If there's a rehab tech, they are probably helping someone else. If there's a difficult patient, they might be on your caseload. If there's something else that needs done, it may well be shuffled to your schedule. You will be guaranteed a certain number of hours per week, likely for a set time period of a few months to a year. This is often not a good fit for a new graduate who may need more support starting out and is still learning the field. This can certainly be a full-time long-term gig if you live in a metro area or are willing to travel, but there is a degree of insecurity between placements. Contract companies vary with how much they require their employees to do above the actual OT work, as well as what benefits and placements they provide. In an odd twist, some facilities actually employ their entire therapy staff through a contract company instead of having on-site management and hiring. In this case, you operate more as an hourly employee.
Working prn (as needed) or OPT (occasional part-time) involves hourly pay at a high rate like a contractor. You may have a higher productivity standard and will likely not get very much assistance from the staff (both because you're expected to operate independently and because people won't know you as well). Your employers will want you to spend your time efficiently, and so you won't likely be asked to go to meetings or rounds. Similar to contract employment, you are filling a shortage. There is no guarantee of hours per week or continued employment from one day to the next. If you are with a large system such as a brand of nursing homes or hospitals with multiple facilities, you can get frequent calls and make it work as a prime gig, but it's a risky move. This is much better as an option for moonlighting. Many school system OTs have a prn job for summers or weekends to supplement their other pay. Again, this is rough to do as a new graduate (especially if you're balancing multiple facilities or different practice areas) and since you're not going to get staff support, you need enough experience to be independent with what's being asked of you.
There's a lot of flexibility in OT employment and knowing these options can help you make decisions on the jobs that are out there. Check out the "students" label and some of the Greatest Hits entries if you are curious about other facets of finding your OT job.