Getting Started: Advice for Landing Your First Instructional Design Job


The growing field of instructional design presents many job opportunities for those looking to break into the field.

So, how do you stand out from the competition when you’re just getting started? There are several things you can do to improve your chances of landing an instructional design job that’s just right for you!

Evaluate your skill set.

Read each job description thoroughly, and evaluate your skill set against the minimum requirements listed for the job. Know your strengths, and make sure your resume, samples, and other professional materials reflect the relevant skills that you possess.

Look for ways to tailor your resume as closely as possible to the job description. Consider the industry, the position requirements, and important key words. Make sure your resume clearly presents the reasons why you’re perfect for the job. Draw special attention to teaching, writing, or other relevant professional experiences that are closely related to instructional design.

Every instructional design job is different. Some organizations require an understanding of a particular methodology, and certain projects require mastery of specific software tools. Avoid applying for jobs that require software tools or methodologies you have not worked with or studied. If you find that you consistently encounter requirements beyond your current skill set, there are numerous options for continued professional development.

Expand your knowledge base.

One of the core qualities of an instructional designer is a love of lifelong learning, which is essential for success in this ever-changing field. You can learn the latest trends in the field by attending professional development courses, networking, exploring free trials of new software products, and reading industry blogs and articles.

  • Professional Development Courses: While there are graduate and undergraduate programs for instructional design, there are also other professional development courses outside of traditional degree programs that can help you expand your skill set for a fraction of the cost. Many universities offer continuing education courses, and many instructional design companies offer open enrollment courses to help you build your skills.
  • Networking: Networking—both live and online—is a wonderful way to gain insight into the industry. Professional interest groups on LinkedIn and events hosted by the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) provide access to experts in the field and a wealth of print and online resources.
  • Software Trials: For instructional designers interested in elearning, it’s critical to understand the latest versions of software tools. Adobe and Articulate offer free 30-day trials of Captivate (Adobe), Studio (Articulate), and Storyline (Articulate), allowing you to familiarize yourself with the tools before you invest in a paid license or subscription.
  • Blogs and Articles: There are some wonderful online resources to keep you updated on the latest trends in instructional design.

Practice, practice, practice!

It’s the age-old conundrum: you can’t get a job without experience, and you can’t get experience without a job. Or can you? Here are some tips for developing savvy samples:

  • Work with local nonprofits. Many nonprofit organizations don’t have the budget for an instructional designer, and they would welcome the assistance in developing training materials. This is a great way to build your portfolio and gain valuable professional references.
  • Show initiative in your current position. If you’re currently working, assess the training needs within your organization. From restaurants to retail to office administration, every job requires training. If you identify any training gaps, approach the appropriate personnel with your proposed solution. You never know—you could become the first in line for a new instructional design position within your current organization!
  • Teach what you know. Think about your skills, both personal and professional, and then think about how you would teach one of your skills to others. How would you organize your information? What kinds of activities and resources would you include? How long would it take someone to master this skill? Before you know it, you’ve got a storyboard!

Compile your samples into a print or electronic portfolio. You can include writing samples, lesson plans, and other related materials from previous jobs as long as they are relevant to the position. Also, you can create an online portfolio to highlight your technical skills as well as your professional work, which will impress many recruiters!

Breaking into a new field can be challenging, but don’t lose heart! Define your personal career goals, embrace every chance to learn, and seek opportunities to put your skills into practice. Determination is the key in getting the job you want.

If you’re interested in learning more about instructional design, check out our instructional design training courses! We also have a dedicated recruiting team that can answer your questions about specific job skills and requirements.

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