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Career Advice From an Instructional Designer


We recently hosted Dr. Scott Baird, founder of Griffin Hill, for a great webinar called Instructional Designers, Protect Your Position – Advice From Dr. Baird. The webinar was packed with helpful career advice and suggestions, and sparked a ton of discussion on career development and showing the value of your work.

Our own Chris Willis, Senior Product Manager for Customizable Courseware, was kind enough to get even deeper into the topic of instructional design career advice for the blog.


Advancing in Your Instructional Design Career


Many people had questions about what the career path for an instructional designer is. “What’s the next step?” they asked.

“Just as there’s not really any single prescribed path for becoming an instructional designer, there is no set career advancement path,” answers Chris. Just the answer you were looking for, right?

She went on to say that “some instructional designers (IDs) enter the field with a degree in adult learning theory, but a great number of successful career IDs (including myself) acquired instructional design credentials and grew “commensurate experience” on the job. Our ranks include many former technical writers, web developers, and subject matter experts across many fields. Depending on individual skills and circumstances, folks who stay in the field either advance their skills in an ID role, move into a management level position over other IDs or the training function in general, or spin off and start their own freelance business.”

So, while it may not seem like there is a perfectly outlined path, it’s because being an instructional designer gives you the freedom to blaze your own trail!


Switching Companies


It’s commonly said that you should switch jobs every 3 years. Many believe this keeps you nimble, constantly learning, and can help you advance in position and compensation. Chris Willis shared some advice with a webinar attendee on how to develop in preparation for positions at other organizations. Because we’re nice, we’re also sharing that advice with you!

“From an ID perspective, imagine each prospective hiring manager as a new learner unfamiliar with your background and skills. What objectives are you trying to meet? How would you create an engaging presentation to satisfy those objectives?” suggested Chris.

These strategies could also be used to advance within your own company to a more challenging role or a different department. Once you identify the needs of your current company or a new company you’re interested in, you can figure out how to best show your value.


Here are some things to consider about the target audience. 


“Like other design roles, your portfolio is paramount for instructional design career advancement,” Chris emphasized. You want to show off your strengths. Some IDs are stronger creative writers and interaction designers, but not as technically adept at bringing their ideas to life in the tools. Others are technical but linear thinkers and not as strong with graphics and design. What are you good at? Make sure your portfolio shows that front and center.

Try to find out the strengths and weaknesses of the ID team at the companies your targeting. eLearning development teams vary in size and what they consider under the realm of “instructional design.” Figure out what skills they would value the most.  In a small team, being able to build a good enough course from start to finish is highly prized. In a larger team of specialists, IDs may truly only do front-end course design, and being an expert in one area is more valuable to the team.

Because there is no “one size fits all” skillset, hiring managers first and foremost want to see examples of the work you’ve produced, and what role you played in the project. Once your portfolio passes the initial “sniff test,” they will want to dig deeper into the range of your subject matter expertise, general communication skills, and your skill with specific tools. Make sure your resume uses active language that demonstrates the value of your unique skill set to both the role and higher business needs of the hiring organization.

“In my hiring experience, what your portfolio demonstrates you are capable of producing and related career experience trumps education. In fact, a high level of education may be interpreted as more interest in theory than hands-on course building—and that can actually work against you when vying for production focused environments,“ said Chris.


Chris’s Final Career Advice


“Think about where you would like to write the next chapter in your career. Is there an area within the realm of course development and/or subject matter where you would like to specialize? What kinds of organizations would benefit from your unique mix of skills? Or do you like being a ‘jack (or jill) of all trades?’ Once you have the skills and credentials, you just need to package that all up and sell it to a prospective employer.”

Read more helpful instructional design articles on the blog and sign up for a free Template Library account to access free resources to help you hone your skills!


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