Instructional design (ID) is as much of an art as it is a science, so you need capable talent to do a good job. But what should you look for when seeking those capabilities; and where and how do you find the instructional designer talent you need?
What to look for in an Instructional Designer
If you have been managing and overseeing corporate training projects and programs for a while, chances are that you know exactly what to look for in your instructional designers. However, for anyone new at this, here’s what you should consider:
- Learner-centric designers: Look at what they’ve done in the past, and gauge whether the work exemplifies learner centricity. Producing instructional design content that’s appealing, great to look at and filled with cutting-edge features is good – but if it doesn’t have the learner’s needs front and center, the designer probably isn’t doing a good job!
- Related experience: Ideally, you should look for someone who worked as a front-line instructional designer for at least 5+ years, either as a full-time employee, or as a contractor or freelancer. Additionally, if they haven’t worked in an industry or business similar to yours (for instance: Banking), they might not be the best fit. Always look for instructional designers with similar industry experience (e.g. Insurance, Financial Planning, Accounting).
- Imaginative creators: Anyone can create great bullet points and colorful PowerPoint slide decks. However, it takes imagination and visualization to put together content that really stands out and allows learners to truly apply their knowledge and skills.
- Exceptional communicators: Instructional design is 90% about communication. Look for people who speak clearly, and who can articulate their message concisely in the written form. Be aware though: Today’s communication isn’t just about bullet points and paragraphs. It’s also about the effective use of Emojis, Icons, Images and other modern graphical content.
- Excellent analysts: A large part of an instructional designer’s job is to listen, observe and analyze a learning challenge, and then come up with imaginative content designs to address those challenges. Look to assess whether the individual is able to see the big picture without actually missing the details.
- Qualifications: While this is not a mandatory requirement, it’s definitely a “nice to have.” Look for individuals who have formal education in either instructional design or instructional technology. Any degree or diploma as well as an impressive electronic portfolio can help you find best candidates for the job.
- Industry accreditations: This too is a “nice to have,” mainly because it adds peer recognition to the candidate. Look for accreditations such as Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP) or Certified Performance Technologist (CPT)
Where to shine your light to find one
Since instructional designers are an elite group of talented individuals, you’ll likely not find the best of the best in the “usual” employment listings. Here are some ways to source the ID talent you want:
- Social media: Social platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook will have specialized communities that you could join and socialize your requirements.
- ID contractors: Many independent contractors today specialize in delivering ID and associated services to corporate clients. The advantage of using such sources is that, because they are “plugged into” the ID industry, they can scale up/down their teams based on the extent and diversity of your particular project.
- Specialized recruiters: Since this is a specialized role, you should approach recruiters that are specialized in finding and placing creative talent, rather than those who cast a broad net for other types of workers.
- Freelancers: You could also look for freelancers on popular freelancing sites.
- Specialized job boards: There are many specialized job boards that cater to jobs for instructional designers and other content development specialists.
- Colleges and educational institutions: Another excellent way to source ID talent is through colleges and institutions that specialize in teaching instructional design, or offer other creative arts programs. Such organizations usually have placement programs through which the best and brightest talent is offered to corporate employers. This might be a good source to tap if you are looking for designers to supplement an already experienced team.
Regardless of what sources you use, your hunt for ID talent must consider the following factors:
- Not all candidates will have exactly the skills, experience and qualifications you are looking for. You’ll need to decide in advance where you are willing to compromise
- It is never a good idea to take what’s written in a resume as the end-all-be-all. Always interview prospective IDs for your team – preferably in-person. If not, then use video conferencing (Skype) to have a face-to-face chat
- Instructional design is one area where simply relying on testimonials might not work. Insist on seeing a portfolio or real projects (online/hosted) so that you can get a sense of the innovation, creativity and imagination that went into designing those solutions
- Review resumes critically. For instance, if you have two candidates with “5 years experience in the finance industry,” check to see what types of experiences each had. In general, compared to a long-term full-time employee who worked at just one organization, a freelancer or third-party contractor will have worked at multiple client sites, gaining a much richer variety of experiences in the process.
The bottom line is that instructional designers are a diverse group of individuals, with a broad array of skills and qualities. Qualified designers can be found through a number of streams – not just through traditional sourcing outlets. Therefore, as HR managers, corporate recruiters and training executives, you need to be rather discerning to find the right mix of talent to meet your specific corporate training needs.
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