A move into the Learning and Development (L&D) field is an appealing idea for many career changers and teachers…but there’s just one thing…
you need to ace your L&D interview!
L&D jobs, like the instructional designer role, often allow work-from-home flexibility (even before COVID!), better pay, and plenty of job growth opportunities. In Learning and Development, career changers and teachers get the chance to be on the front lines of a rapidly expanding and evolving field, merging the best of traditional education with the power of technological tools. What could be better?
Once you get your foot in the door of L&D, you will have ample opportunity to learn and grow as an instructional designer or eLearning developer, ultimately working your way into whatever your dream position may be. Sounds great, right?
But in order to be part of this exciting field, you have to land your first L&D job. And in order to do that, you have to knock your L&D interview out of the park.
If you’re a job seeker considering instructional design, or some other aspect of Learning & Development, or you are a teacher transitioning from traditional the classroom to Learning and Development, this post is for you, to help you feel poised, professional, and prepared for your very first interview onward.
Types of L&D Positions
First, what do we mean by “L&D positions?” That’s a tricky one because a lot of different jobs fall under the L&D umbrella. Jobs like:
- Instructional designer
- Training specialist
- Curriculum writer
- eLearning developer
- Learning experience designer
- And more!
These different positions highlight different aspects of the learning process, from curriculum design to course development. But keep in mind that while the focus may be different, all of these positions are centered on adult learning.
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If you’ve ever done teaching of any kind, you most likely have the basic skill set and experience to transition and build a career in Learning and Development. Then, as you get more experienced, you can choose to specialize in certain areas or work as a generalist and see projects through, start to finish.
Regardless of which area you’d like to work, landing your first job in the industry starts with your application.
Depending on the type of L&D position for which you apply, your application and interview may look a little different.
If you’re applying for freelance or project-based jobs, you’ll probably submit a short letter to summarize your education and experience, answer some preliminary questions regarding the particular project, and link to a project in your online portfolio similar to the one for which you are applying.
If you’re applying for a traditional full-time or part-time position, you’ll typically submit a standard cover letter, your resume, and a list of references.
For short-term projects, employers are typically interested in specific skills; for long-term employment, employers are more interested in the breadth of your experience, your personality, and how you work as part of a team.
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Let’s assume you’re applying for a traditional, full-time L&D position. The employer likes what she sees in your cover letter and resume and schedules you for an interview. Now, what?!?
Preparing for the Interview
The purpose of an interview is for the employer to get to know you, learn about your work experience, and determine what you can bring to the company. While you can never know exactly what they will ask in an interview, there are some general things you can do to prepare so you walk in feeling cool and confident.
First, review your own work history. Reflect on projects you had that were successful and think about why they were successful. Remember those projects you worked on that didn’t come out so well? Think about those, too, and examine what the challenges were and how you could have met them better. Most importantly, what did you learn from each of these experiences?
Reviewing your own work history will absolutely come in handy during your interview and will allow you to give specific examples of behaviors or skills— not just canned responses. Instead of saying, “I balance competing priorities well,” you will be able to give a specific example of this. This specificity will help distinguish you from other candidates and create a lasting (and positive) impression on the interviewer.
Research the company interviewing you. They will have learned about you; you should learn a little about them. Read through their website and look up articles in which the company is mentioned. What is the general industry? What does the company do, make, or sell? What is its mission?
It’s a good idea to also do a bit of research on the person who will be interviewing you, too, if you have the person’s name. Not a deep dive into his or her personal history, mind you, but rather a simple visit to LinkedIn to read through his or her profile. It’s always less intimidating to talk to someone you “know”— even if you’ve only seen a picture or read a professional bio online.
Make a list of past deliverables and current tech skills. If you’re new to the field of L&D, these lists may not be very long. But as you continue to work in the field, you will be able to add more and more experience and tools to this list.
If your interview will be on Zoom, you can tuck this master list to the side so you can reference it if needed. If your interview will be in person, this will be a good document to review just before. Scanning over this list will refresh your memory of your past experiences so they will be at the front of your mind during the interview.
Questions to Expect
I’m not a mind reader, and I don’t know every single question your interview will ask. However, I’ve been around the block enough to know there are some standard interview questions. For example, this one, which has to be the most common question to open interviews: “Tell me about yourself.”
You should 100% expect to get this question in an interview. Practice a clear, succinct answer beforehand. The interviewer doesn’t want every detail of your professional life; just the broad strokes of how you ended up here.
Some other common interview questions for L&D positions include:
- “Tell me about how you approach a new project.”
- “Which part of the learning and development process is your favorite?”
- “Describe a training/learning project you’ve created/been involved with.”
- “Which learning tools or platforms have you worked with the most?”
- “How do you keep learners focused and engaged?”
- “How do you know when your training or education program is effective?”
- “What is your experience with … ?”
Let’s take a look at this last question. This question is easy to answer if you DO have the experience they’re asking about. But what if you DON’T have that experience? What do you do??
What if You Don’t Have the Experience?
If your interviewer asks about a specific skill or experience you don’t have, stay calm. Don’t panic, don’t lie, and don’t make excuses. Remember what I said at the start of this blog post:
While the focus may be different, all L&D positions are centered on education.
All Learning and Development projects center on teaching and education. Therefore, if you have experience with teaching and education, you probably do have the experience the interviewer is looking for, but it might be more general than indicated by the question.
When you don’t have the specific type of experience an employer is looking for, go general!
For example, if an interviewer asks, “Do you have experience creating job aides?” you may be tempted to answer with a flat “no” if you’ve never done this professionally. But, think about what a job aide is: a clear, step-by-step guide to performing a process or action. Have you ever provided clear, step-by-step instructions to learners in the past? I’m sure you have!
So, instead of answering “no,” a possible answer might be:
“I haven’t created job aides specifically, but I have led multiple employee trainings where I walk employees through aspects of their jobs, step-by-step, so I’m very good at breaking complex information down into understandable bits. I also have some basic graphic design experience, so with the combination of these two skill sets, I’m confident I can create the type of job aides you’re looking for.”
Or, if you don’t have experience in the L&D field, another possible answer might be:
“I haven’t created job aides specifically, but I have created infographics (or checklists) to help (insert who) do (insert what).”
What Should YOU Ask?
An interview is an opportunity for you and the company to get to know each other. It is just as important for you to learn about the company as it is for the company to learn about you.
In general, try to prepare at least 2-3 questions you can ask— there will typically be time reserved for this at the end of your interview. Asking questions about the company or the position shows that you are looking for a good fit and are curious about your role.
Even if you don’t really care what the answers are, it is a good gesture for YOU to ask questions. Personally, I almost always took it as a negative when my interview candidates didn’t ask me at least one question.
Some questions could be:
- “Can you tell me more about what the position looks like on a day-to-day basis?”
- “How big is your team/department?”
- “What are the current challenges in your L&D department at the moment? What’s going well?”
- “How could I help you most right away once I get started?”
After the Interview
After the interview, whether it was a slam dunk or something you’ll need a pint of ice cream to forget, make sure to reach out and thank the interviewer for his or her time. Email is the best way to do this; most hiring managers greatly prefer email over phone calls.
If a week goes by and you haven’t heard anything, feel free to reach out for a status report. No news doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t get the job; the hiring manager may have gotten swamped at work and forgotten to connect with you. A friendly nudge will be all that’s needed to get an update on the hiring decision.
If you get the job: celebrate! If you don’t get the job, remain extremely professional, and thank everyone involved with the interview process for their time. Industries tend to be small worlds: the Director of Learning that doesn’t hire you for this position may hire you down the road, or even reach out to you if something catering more to your skill set becomes available. Don’t burn your bridges!
I once hired an instructional designer who later hired me for another role. How’s that for small?
If it seems appropriate, you could ask for feedback on your interview, in case there’s something you could improve for the next one. Be warned: this can be a bitter pill to swallow, though it may produce good outcomes in the long run. If you ask for feedback and get it, be extremely appreciative and don’t react defensively to any of it (even if you think it’s unfair).
Life lesson: Take all feedback seriously, but never personally. Get the information, then sift through to see what’s helpful and what’s not.
Most interviews are 30 minutes. Make sure to answer the questions completely but monitor yourself so that you don’t talk too much. Chances are they have a set list of questions to get to, plus, they want to leave time at the end for you to ask your questions.
If you’re just starting the job hunt process, set realistic expectations to prevent getting burnt out and disappointed. The reality is that it will probably take several to many interviews to land a good job. But remember: each interview is a learning experience and will prepare you that much more for the next one. If you are making it to the interview stage, that means employers are seeing your value on paper and you are close to finally hearing a “Yes!” Stick with it, and your grit will pay off.
If your interview will be via Zoom, prepare your interview space ahead of time. This is a BIG one! Some things to remember when it comes to video calls:
- Bad lighting, background noise, and awkward camera angles are things that interviewers remember!
- Pay attention to what is in the background and on the walls. I once had an SME on a livestream training with SEX written in large letters on the whiteboard behind him.
- Use a computer, not a phone. You don’t want your screen wiggling around as you are listening or speaking.
- Eliminate any distractions or noises in the background. No kids, no pets.
- Position the monitor so that you look directly at it when you speak. You may have to put some books under your laptop/monitor to get the right height, but this will automatically make you look more polished and professional.
- Lighting, lighting, lighting! Natural lighting is best, so set up your computer in front of a window with indirect lighting if possible. You don’t want the sun in your eyes, but natural lighting makes everyone look better. 🙂
- Check your sound before the call.
- Practice using Zoom or whatever video conferencing tool your interview will be on BEFORE the interview — You don’t want tech errors to be what they remember.
Finally, above all else, remember that if you’ve made it to the interview stage even once, that means you probably have the skillset and experience to succeed. So, stay calm, be yourself, and trust that you will find the perfect fit (even if it takes a few interviews to get there).