Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Getting a job as an Instructional Designer

4396779599_c5a6a3606aI get a lot of emails from people asking me how to break into the ID field. 
They’ve been trying to get a job but haven’t found the right door to open yet.
  • “I’ve been teaching for years and now I want a change.”
  • “I’ve been reading up on the field and it seems really interesting.”
  • “You did it, Cammy, so how can I?”
  • “I’ve got a degree in ID now, but no one will hire me because I don’t have any experience.”
This post is my response to those emails. Because I’m an extremely flawed human being I don’t always respond to these right away and then they sit in my inbox for months and months and wither away on the vine. So my apologies to those of you who’ve written that I didn’t get back to!

Here are three ideas I have to help you break into the field:

Strut Your Stuff
You’ve got to show what you know.  You have to provide some proof of your capabilities and at the very least be able to point to a really kick ass portfolio of design treatments or even courses you’ve built (or collaborated on with someone else). But if you don’t have any job experience yet doing this kind of work, what can you do? Well – make something up! 

About What?
  • Well, how about you? Tell the story of your life and why you’re going to be a great ID.
  • Make up a course on a topic that interests you – maybe it’s dishwasher repair.
  • Volunteer for an organization like Lingos (eLearning Global Giveback Competition) and create something for their clients. And if you’re really that good,  you might even win an award while you’re at it.
If you really want to show your stuff, take one topic and create a few different designs out of it.  Make one a goal-based scenario, another a game, another a more straightforward information presentation. Create some job aids or tips sheets to go with it.  Try different design approaches using different tools to show you’re not just a one trick pony.

That’s right. Do something whackadoodle and crazy – to show that you know how to think outside of the box of an elearning course and are thinking creatively about solutions that provide experiences all along the user spectrum.

And if your ID bag does not include using actual tools (mine doesn’t!), well just write a design treatment or script.  That way your potential employers can see how you write and how you approach design challenges.

Learn Some Tools

Most employers these days want to hire IDs that know it all: instructional design and adult learning theory, graphics, script writing and authoring tools. It’s way too many hats to wear for most people, but it’s the reality.  In fact, most job postings typically include tools right in the job description. Captivate, Articulate, Lectora, and Camtasia are the big off-the-shelf authoring tools that seem to come up in a lot of job postings.
SO. Learn ‘em.  Go download some free 30 day trials and mess around for a month and create those courses I mentioned above.

Buy some books on using the tools, and then read ‘em.  The ELearning Uncovered series includes an Articulate and Lectora handbook

Read the vendor blogs to learn tips and tricks for using those tools. 

If you have the budget for it, go to an elearning conference (DevLearn and ASTD TechKnowledge are two of the biggies, but there are smaller more local conferences that might work for you). Learn from the masters, hear the latest ideas on learning with technology, connect and schmooze and start building your brand.

Search on It

Of course, you’re already looking on all the job boards for listings, right? SALT, elearning guild and ASTD are just a few places to start.

I’ve got a google alert set up for Instructional Design and these days it’s mostly pushing through job listings.  (It used to push me lots of blog posts on ID, but who blogs these days? Oh wait….)

What else?

Tom Kuhlmann of Articulate has written a great post Do You Need an Instructional Design Degree? that provides some good discussion and practical tips.

Christy Tucker Getting into Instructional Design – and also explore the Best of links on her blog’s side bar.

We’ve got lots of great tips about design on the Kineo elearning website, so be sure to check those out.

This is just a start.  I’m sure you people have more great ideas. Feel free to add them in the comments!

Update: 10/18 Articulate's Tom Kuhlmann has a great post this week on Getting a Job in Elearning.

Photo Credit:  Job Hunting is Frustrating by William Brawley


Shauna Vaughan said...

My ISD grad program required an internship rather than a thesis, and I think that was the number one thing that set me up for success. The internship turned into a full-time opportunity, which was awesome. They also had a class that offered service learning (doing ISD work as a volunteer - in my case I designed new benefits training for new hires at a local museum).

eLearning for Kids is another place where you can volunteer your skills ofr a great cause:

Robert Kennedy said...

Yep, volunteering is a GREAT way to go. The LINGOS competition every year is a great help for people looking to showcase what you can do. But even if you are not interested in competing, there are many companies looking for help but who dont have the budget to hire a full-time designer. Volunteering for these companies can be a great starter.

Kelly Meeker said...

Yay for LINGOs! And one more suggestion - if you don't have a full website (not everyone does, it's a lot of work) - use or to build a personal portfolio page where you can direct people to find all of your resources and profiles. This makes it a lot easier for people to find your web presence in one place.

Tom Peters said...

If you're coming from the teaching field, like I did, you can always show a portfolio of examples of lessons that demonstrated an effective use of instructional technology along with project based learnings.

Many of these projects and technology infused lessons contains some key elements of elearning.

Kevin said...

I'll echo volunteering your skills and talents as well as entering an elearning competition. It's not about winning rather the sponsor of the contest will promote you and your work for you.

The conferences are a great place to network and learn new trends, but not everyone has the budget. If not (yet), participate in the online communities on LinkedIN, Facebook, and Twitter. Get to know others just like you and face the same challenges.

Judy Unrein said...

Hey, thanks for the shoutout for the E-Learning Uncovered books, and great suggestions on building a portfolio! So many IDs in our industry work on proprietary stuff that even experienced professionals don't have a portfolio. Having one can be a great advantage.

And if you don't know how your work stacks up, I'd go looking for great examples online. Cathy Moore has an awesome collection at and many custom design shops have samples on their websites, as well.

Such clever work and coverage! Keep up the excellent works guys I've included you guys to my own blogroll. said...

I really like the shoutout for the E-Learning Uncovered books, and great suggestions on building a portfolio! Such clever work and coverage! Keep up the excellent works guys I've included you guys to my own blogroll.

Connie Malamed said...

Hey Cammy,
I know this post is from 2011, but I just came across it and wanted to let people know about a free 12-lesson course I created on starting an ID career.

See: Breaking Into Instructional Design

It explains lots of options, lists books and job sites and even includes the degree debate (linking to one of your posts and one of Karl Kapp's posts :-)


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