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Instructional Design / November 2, 2020
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.
Interested in exploring instructional Design? Grab this starter kit.
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.
Need help creating the perfect resume that gets your interviewer’s attention? Grab my free resume eBook.
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 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).
Need help becoming a qualified Instructional Designer and eLearning Developer, without getting another degree? Check out my 12-week immersive program: Instructional Design & Tech Accelerator Certificate Program.
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The Testimonials are In:
Working with Shanwtay and Katie at the Instructional Design Company was a dream come true. Their creativity, expertise, and professionalism throughout the entire process was beyond top notch. I engaged them to help turn my first book into a training course, and I could not be happier with how the final product turned out. If you have an instructional design project and you’re considering which company to work with, you can stop your search and thank me later. They are truly the best in the business.
I joined the Instructional Design & Tech Accelerator Certificate Program because I struggled to find jobs in instructional design beyond the development phase. I’ve done a couple of training programs with lots of random projects, but I was overwhelmed, not connecting the dots, and not good at structuring my writing to hit learning objectives. I was looking for motivation and direction at beginning a better Instructional Designer.
After taking the Instructional Design & Tech Certificate program and joining my fantastic team for support, I found the structure and approach to be what I need to take my next steps, evening improving my skills in the development stage.
Teacher, Future Instructional Designer
I love how this course let’s you work at your own pace. I got great tips and learned many things. The ongoing support for multiple people and groups is what I love the best. You are never alone in this process. I have been able to adjust my resume and began creating a portfolio of work I’ve completed to add when applying for jobs. I use many of the PowerPoint skills in my lessons and trainings. I would highly recommend this for anyone wanting to become an instructional designer.
Teacher, Future Instructional Designer
I have searched for the last few years to find some suitable career change where I wouldn’t have to earn another degree and where I could use the talents and skills I already have as a teacher. When I came across the Instructional Design Accelerator course, I loved the fact that Shawntay was a former teacher and could relate to a teacher’s need to transition from the classroom. This was what sold the course for me. Her experiences are invaluable especially when translating teacher duties to instructional designer duties. I would (and have) recommended this program to other teachers I know who are looking to transition out of the classroom. I do appreciate ALL of her feedback on my projects!
L&D Project Manager
The Instructional Design & Tech Accelerator certificate program is one of the most comprehensive ID programs out there for beginners. If you’re looking to grow your schools in ID and development then I highly recommend this program. Not only will this program give you an overview of theory, but you will receive a thorough walkthrough of how to apply what you have learned. Although I had already secured a position in Learning & Development when I bought this course, it helped me to move up into a new position as a Learning & Development Project Manager!
Future Instructional Designer
If you have any interest in ID, sign up for this program NOW! Shawntay and her team are top notch! The course content exceeded my expectations in a big way and the encouragement and support continues to be so valuable. You will not feel alone going through this course, you will learn so much, you’ll have many cheerleaders, and you will have fun!
Future Instructional Designer
I am really enjoying this program! It’s prerfect for someone who is thinking about a career shift to Instructional Design and does not have a lot of experience. This is my first real introduction to Instructional Design and it’s been the perfect beginner course to help me get my feet wet. The modules are broken down well and it’s great to go at your own pace and at your own time. The modules themselves are very comprehensive and you learn a lot from all of them. I really like how each one build upon each other and you’re working towards the bigger project of designing your first training course from scratch. I’m learning so much from going through this course! I was provided great feedback from Katie and Shawntay through the process via Trello Boards, comments on the Google documents, and Facebook group. This course has been well worth the time and effort and I appreciate the fact that I will always have the resources available to me after I complete the training (just in case I’m not quite ready to transition yet).
Future Instructional Designer
I can’t say enough great things about the Instructional Design & Tech Accelerator Certificate Program! The length of the program is perfect; it doesn’t feel rushed and there’s just the right amount of structure to give you the accountability you need. There are so many opportunities to get live answers to any questions you have related to the course content or anything ID-related! This program gave me the support and structure I needed to both feel affirmed in the relevant skills I already had coming in and to fill in the gaps I had as a career-changer going into ID. Shawntay, Katie, and all the coaches are super helpful and supportive. I now feel confident that I have the tools and access to resources I need to apply for ID jobs without wondering if there’s something I’m “missing” in the preparation process. I’d highly recommend this program to anyone wanting to transition into ID or who just wants to brush up on their skills in the field.
Krista Johnson Awomoyi
Freelance Instructional Designer
I’d highly recommend the Instructional Design & Tech Accelerator Certificate Program. I’m blown away by how much I learned in just 12 weeks. I had ID experience prior to taking this course and was just looking to get a better understanding of applying adult learning principles. This course well exceeded my expectations! Not only did I gain a clear understanding of adult learning principles, I was also able to apply those principles by creating assets for your portfolio using PowerPoint, Adobe Premiere Pro and Storyline. The hands on support that we received was top notch.
This program is one of the most robust yet fulfilling L&D programs I’ve seen. I learned so much about the industry and about the limitlessness of my own capabilities. I am so appreciative of Shawntay and all of the trainers who took part in the program. They went above and beyond with not only guiding, but communicating live and working one on one or in small groups. If you are on the fence, I say take the leap and you will not regret it! There’s so much to learn, not only from the trainers, but also the learners in your group. Everyone comes in with their own skills and can be additional support and guidance for you. Thank you for creating this program!
Instructional Designer Training Facilitator
Shawntay is an amazing individual. She is very knowledgeable in all aspects of ID and eLearning. She is also very compassionate and loves to help and see everyone around her grow and prosper. Shawntay has been a great mentor to me and she has helped me mature as an instructional designer and eLearning developer. She has provided me with opportunities when others have overlooked me. I am very grateful to have met and built a lifelong relationship with Shawntay.
I recently got hired into my first instructional design / training position and Shawntay was one of the first people to congratulate me!
Freelance Instructional Designer
My teacher-to-instructional-designer journey began two years ago when I left my teaching comfort zone and started my first freelance ID job. Now, I’m stepping out of the classroom and taking my freelance work full-time, so I’m thrilled to be joining the Tech Accelerator program. Adding technologies like Articulate 360 and Adobe Premiere Pro to my qualifications will help me take my courses to the next level and attract more clients!
Teacher Transitioning into Instructional Design
I am genuinely grateful for this course. I wanted a real-world perspective and feel like I got it. I’m teaching now, but nearing retirement age but can see myself working as an instructional designer well into my retirement years. My other goal is to take as many courses in statistics as possible in hopes of bringing some mathematical precision to the ROI question. Like you say, getting accurate metrics to measure ROI can be a challenge, but I intend to work on that part. That’s unimportant right now, what is important is the fact that I feel like this course was well worth every penny I spent and I would to it again in a heartbeat. I have too much going on right now, but as soon as I get some time freed up I intend to take your course in project management.
Turns Your Written Thoughts Into a Masterpiece!
Shawntay Skjoldager can turn your written thoughts into a masterpiece. She is great to work with and the most organized person I know!
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Shawntay has been incredible!
Shawntay has been incredible and her team is responsive and effective in translating my training programs into professional presentations. Don’t hesitate to contact her for your project.
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President and Principal of HRM Consulting, Inc.
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The IDC team has been my secret and special weapon of success. They have delivered above and beyond with every single project out in front of them. They have met and beat timelines. They have been Uber responsive every step of the way. I keep them on speed dial and have and continue to recommend them to friends and clients. If you are in need of instructional design and plenty more, this is THE ALL-STAR team that will more than deliver and help make you and your project soar above the competition.
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U.S. Air Force Officer, Special Operations Pilot, U.S.A.F. Academy Instructor, Motivational Speaker
A Tremendous Asset to the Project Team!
Working with Shawntay and the Instructional Design Company has allowed our university to meet the growing demands of our programs. Shawntay’s expertise allowed for the course development to be completed on time and met all of the university requirements. Shawntay’s project management skills were phenomenal and allowed my team to work on other areas while she completed this project for us. Her work is of high quality and her professionalism and willingness to help made her a tremendous asset to the project team.
Academic Quality Assurance Specialist, Abilene Christian University
Creative & Highly Talented!
Shawntay is a creative and highly talented instructional designer. She brought a wealth of knowledge, expertise, and leadership that enabled her to own the design and creation of a full scale facilitator curriculum and train-the-trainer program. It was a pleasure to partner with Shawntay, her project management and communication skills ensured the project was on time and on budget.
Breaks Down Mammoth Projects
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Author, Speaker, Strengths Coach
“I have had many opportunities to work with Shawntay—mainly in the support of implementing new eLearning initiatives. I have been very impressed by her ability to quickly learn how to use rapid eLearning development tools and effectively use them to create multiple courses within a short timeframe. Shawntay’s enthusiastic nature, attention to detail, and dedication to her work make her a pleasure to work with and a great asset to both Texas A&M University-Commerce and the broader training community within the Texas A&M University System.”
Director of Learning Strategy, Caveo Learning
Top Notch Professional
Working with Shawntay has been an immense pleasure. She is atop notch professional who brings enthusiasm and extensiveexpertise to professional curriculum development and execution. Her knowledge of tried and true techniques to maximize the effectiveness of presentations is invaluable.
Nancy Drapeau, PRC
Vice President of Research, CEIR - Center for Exhibition Industry Research
Fortunate to Find Shawntay!
“I was fortunate to find Shawntay when our organization was looking to expand and update our educational offerings. Shawntay proved herself to be an educational and personal development expert who immediately made an impact with our clients throughout Europe. Everyone who came into contact with Shawntay was immediately impressed by her level of expertise and willingness to share her knowledge with those around her. I would not hesitate to recommend Shawntay to anyone looking for an education subject matter expert.”
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Vice President, Andy Frain Services
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Quality Products & Solutions!
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Judy Owen, CPC
Transformational Leadership Coach
“Invest in yourself and take your skills to the next NEXT level!”
Get yourself signed up for Shawntay Skjoldager’s Instructional Design & Tech Accelerator Certificate Program today and be on your way to success! Within the first week of taking her course, you will experience growth! Be sure to plug into her Facebook Q&A sessions for personalized help, too. This is THE course to take if you are new to instructional design or have landed on the training team and need help getting started.
Managing Partner, PHiG
“Her enthusiasm for adult learning is contagious!”
Shawntay has exceptional knowledge and experience with all aspects of creating and implementing effective, performance based training for adults. She is exceptional at needs analysis – identifying target audiences and collaborating with business owners to keep training focused on business needs. And she is great to work with – always providing great support to get projects done on-time and on-target. She is always on the look-out for new and more effective ways to engage learners. Her enthusiasm for adult learning is contagious!
eLearning Developer/Instructional Designer, Vivos Therapeutics
I have known and worked with Shawntay as a education program director and use the expertise of ShawntayMichelle for the development of my presentations. The service has always been “spot on” with professionalism, care and attention. Shawntay’s recommendations to my ideas make me look good to my clients.
Al Lomas CMP, CEM, CMM, CFE
Owner, Certified Consulting Services
“Shawntay Skjoldager reached in and made my training life so much easier!”
I am new to the training design and development world and I was SO excited to get in there, but I really lacked the real-world knowledge that would set me apart from my peers. And, then Shawntay Skjoldager walked into my life with an outstretched hand and a seemingly endless list of ways to knock every training out of the park. From the Training Analysis Form to the Tay Tay tips, this course made my life so much easier and even ironed out the review process that I had been struggling with for months.
Take time to invest in your own learning and make sure to put Shawntay Michelle at the top of your personal development list!
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