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Ask a Trainer: E-Learning Interview Assignments

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Hi Tim,

I’m in the process of interviewing for a new instructional design job where I’ll be focusing most of my efforts on e-learning design and development. I’ve gone through two rounds of interviews, and I have my third (and, I hope, final) interview next week. The hiring manager informed me that they’d be assigning a small e-learning design assignment, which I am to complete prior to the next interview. The sole purpose of this assignment is to evaluate my instructional design and development skills. Honestly, I feel a bit conflicted about accepting this assignment, as I have an online portfolio, which showcases my skills and I know they’ve seen. However, I’m interested in this position and company.

So, what are your thoughts about design assignments as part of the interview process? Is it excessive? Should I push back or decline?

This is a great question, and it’s one that I see people debate online all the time. For some folks, the idea of completing a design assignment as part of the interview process is insulting. Many of the concerns I hear about this issue include:

  • Being asked to do work without getting paid
  • Fear that the employer will take what you create and use it without hiring you
  • Not understanding why your portfolio isn’t enough to evaluate your skills

I’ve never seen an employer take someone’s interview assignment and use it without permission or without hiring the candidate. This is not to say it hasn’t happened, but I suspect the likelihood of this happening to you is low. If you think they may be the type of folks who would do this, I’d question your interest in wanting to work with them in the first place. But like I said, I don’t think this is a real concern.

What do I think of a design assignment as part of the interview process? Not everyone is going to agree with me on this, but I fully support them. As someone who has interviewed and hired several instructional designers and e-learning developers over the years, I’ve found that a well-crafted design assignment can help me make a more informed hiring decision.


It’s important to keep in mind that it’s possible for a candidate to include incorrect or false content in their portfolio just as easily as it is for them to include incorrect or false content in their resume. It’s happened to me before! I once interviewed a candidate whose portfolio included an e-learning sample that I had created and shared online years prior. They took my work and tried to claim it as an example of their own. To make a long story short, it made for an awkward interview for them.

While your portfolio may be a solid example of your skills, not all portfolios are an accurate representation of one’s work. It’s not fair that people do this, but it’s just a fact. So, as you think about how you want to proceed, I’d challenge you to consider why the employer is asking you to complete the assignment. I’d assume they want to see how you’ll handle an unfamiliar topic or content. They also may want to see how you work under pressure and what you can deliver in a short time frame.

With that all said, it never hurts to ask additional questions to ensure you fully understand the scope of the assignment and how they’ll be evaluating your work. If you’re truly interested in the job and assuming the assignment is reasonable in terms of scope, I’d encourage you to accept it and see where it goes.

I hope that helps and best of luck with the job.



What other tips do you have for e-learning interview assignments? Share them by commenting below.

Do you have a learning question you’d like me to tackle? You can email them to [email protected]. Visit the Ask a Trainer Hub to check out all your questions and my answers!

About the Author

Tim Slade is a speaker, author, award-winning
e-learning designer, and author of The eLearning
Designer’s Handbook.

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Tim - I agree with you regarding completing the assignment. It provides future employers with current examples of your work, how you plan, etc. Yes, you are putting yourself at risk -- no pay, taking your work, -- but think of it as a learning opportunity in itself.
And on an earlier point -- unfortunately I know of several cases where the 'assignment' was used and the applicant never got the job or credit. The incidence is low, but really speaks to the ethics of the company.
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I disagree Tim. It's asking the candidate an unfair usage of their time, and you're implying that you don't trust candidates just because you've been burned before by one of them. The portfolio is evidence of their abilities, and it's a waste to ask them to do some random project just because of a lack of confidence.
What matters if the candidate and their experience matches the needs of the position and company. How they did on an eLearning project will make very minimal if any difference.
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