When you’re looking for an instructional design role, it’s important to find a good “fit.” A good fit means doing work you find satisfying, in an organization or with clients that value your contributions.
Generalist or specialist
Generalists do a little bit of everything. This is pretty common in instructional design and elearning roles, especially in smaller organizations. Generalists have a broad set of skills. You can have a lot of variety in your work when you’re a generalist.
Specialists have deep skills in one or two areas, but tend to have a weaker base of other related skills. Many elearning developers are specialists; they work best when someone else provides them with a storyboard or script that they can be creative in building. Larger teams are more likely to hire specialists who focus on a particular skill or part of the process.
Unicorn or comb
What employers ask for in job openings is often unicorns: people who have deep skills in all the areas. In practice, real unicorns aren’t very common.
Aim towards unicorn, realistically end up as a beautifully misshapen comb
The reality is that to be a unicorn is a worthy goal, but most people won’t get there, and that’s fine! First, find something you’re good at and which contributes towards the field you’re interested in, then you have at least something to fall back on and can bring value to a broad range of teams.Sophie O’Kelley in Generalist versus specialist? How about a misshapen comb?
Good Organizational Fit
Generalists have lots of options for jobs. They can contribute to a team or work as a department of one (fairly common in L&D). Being a generalist is a good way to start out in the field of instructional design because you get experience across a broad range of skills.
If you’re a specialist, you may need to be more discerning in searching for jobs or projects. Larger companies are more likely to have larger teams where different members have different specialties. Elearning vendors, the companies that specialize in creating elearning for other organizations, are other good places to find more specialized roles.
Elearning development specialists seem to have an easier time finding work, especially as freelancers. Organizations are always looking for developers who can build elearning, even if they have an internal team of instructional designers. Development is the easiest part of the process to outsource to a freelancer or consultant.
I know people who want to focus primarily on writing and stay away from development or technical work. It can be a little trickier if you want to focus primarily on analysis, design, and storyboarding. You have to look for those larger teams, or at least organizations who regularly outsource development work.
Questions to ask
Many people treat job interviews as a one-sided evaluation of your skills, instead of a two-way review for good fit. When you interview, asking questions helps you figure out the role and the culture.
Ask questions like these to learn more about the position:
- What does a typical day or week look like in this position?
- Thinking about the people who have been really successful in this role in the past, what sets them apart from people who are “just OK” in this role? (If they say how pretty they make PowerPoint, you know it’s not a good fit if you want to do more rewarding work.)
- What’s the most challenging part of this position?
- Tell me about the roles in the rest of the team. Who else would I be working with?
- How do you determine which projects get developed and what projects have priority?
If you ask those sorts of questions, you should get a better feel for the job and the organizational culture. Even interviewing with an elearning vendor as a subcontractor, you could ask some of these questions. The answers will help you figure out how much is just order taking from clients and how much is consulting.
More on Instructional Design Careers
Check out all of my posts on instructional design careers, including these:
- Is instructional design the right career?
- Teacher to Instructional Designer: Interview Questions
- Instructional Design Hourly Rates and Salary
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