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ATD Blog

10 Questions to Ask When Interviewing Instructional Designers

Wednesday, June 22, 2022
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There’s so much hype surrounding instructional design (ID) portfolios. The idea seems to be that if you have a great portfolio, you can land an ID job. Portfolios allow you to see how ID job candidates apply Mayer’s multimedia principles, learning science, and principles of andragogy and cognition and if a candidate’s style matches yours or your organization’s. But as someone who has worked as an instructional designer and now hires them for the teams I lead, I can tell you—the role of an instructional designer is more than just designing the learning experience.

In 2021, North, Shortt, Bowman, and Akinkoulie released a study, using ATD’s Talent Development Capability Model to determine the frequency of capabilities that appeared in 100 online job postings for learning designers. They found that instructional design, talent delivery and facilitation, technology application, communication, and collaboration and leadership capabilities appeared the most frequently. Instructional design is just one of the important capabilities for instructional designers. Some of those skills you can’t assess by looking at a portfolio. So how do you determine which candidates can do the whole ID process and not just design?

Here are 10 questions to ask during ID interviews to ensure that you’re touching on those capabilities found outside of ID portfolios:

1. Tell me about a time when you completed a successful needs analysis. What did you find out, and how were you able to incorporate those findings into your work?

Good instructional designers know that completing a needs analysis is critical to creating learning that meets business goals. The problem is, there’s not always time, and it can vary from stakeholder to stakeholder the amount of information you get. This question will help you to determine whether a candidate understands the importance of a needs analysis but also how resourceful a candidate is in getting the information they need.

2. Tell me about a time when you persuaded a stakeholder, SME, or team member to see things your way. What was the situation, and how did you convince them?

Instructional designers work with people from other departments and from all levels of the organization. Asking this question will help you to understand a candidate’s influence. It takes trust and influence to get a senior leader from your organization to return a course review in two weeks. Being able to communicate and build a collaborative relationship is key for any instructional design candidate.

3. Think about one of your most recent ID projects. Can you explain your design process from idea to implementation?

This question will give you a few pieces of critical information—it will tell you if the candidate has a preferred instructional design model and if they know the ADDIE process. It will also let you know how iterative their process is. Do they do frequent reviews with relevant SMEs and stakeholders, or do they disappear for weeks before emerging with a finished product? It might even give you a sneak peek at their creative process and the tools they love.

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4. Tell me about a time when you had to lead a meeting or facilitate a training virtually. How did you keep the participants engaged?

Even if you’re not looking for a candidate with facilitation skills, being able to lead others toward a common goal is part of owning instructional design projects. Asking this will give you an idea of the candidate’s ability to communicate and engage with others. It can also give you insight into their level of comfort with technology and possibly teach you some tricks on keeping learners engaged.

5. Tell me about a time when you used technology to solve a problem in your role.

Depending on the tech stack you’re using and the technology requirements in your job posting, this question can remain broad or be specified to your organization’s needs. It can reveal how much a candidate knows about an authoring tool, learning management system, or other kind of software. However, it will also give you a glimpse into how the candidate responds to and solves a problem.

6. Tell me about a time when there was a miscommunication between you and a teammate or with your supervisor. What was the miscommunication, and how was it resolved?

We run into a lot of miscommunications—we can’t explain our ideas clearly, we misinterpret SME’s knowledge, or we have different teammates working on separate parts of the same project. It’s important to understand how people react not only when things go well but also how they communicate when things aren’t going well, especially with the people they work with every day.

7. Tell me about a time when you had to work with a difficult SME or stakeholder. What made the situation challenging, and how did you handle it?

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This is similar to the previous question, but it extends past the immediate team and looks at how the candidate communicates with the greater organization. We’ve all met a difficult SME or stakeholder
maybe one that doesn’t believe in training, or someone who doesn’t want to spend any time or money on a solution, or maybe just one who doesn’t understand instructional design or the process. It happens, but it’s how you deal with it that often determines project success.

8. Tell me about a time when you wanted to make a particular design decision, but a certain SME, stakeholder, or team member overruled you. What was the situation, and how did you handle it?

It’s important to see what happens when creators don’t get their way. Instructional designers are proud creators. But it’s important to know when to fight for your work and when to concede. This question will show you a candidate’s willingness to concede and how they respond emotionally to feedback.

9. Tell me about how you prioritize your work when you are working on multiple projects at one time.

I’ve only met two kinds of instructional designers in my career—ones who were working on multiple projects or ones working on a project so large that it required multiple instructional designers (and others). This question helps you to understand the candidate’s ability to manage time and projects. It will also tell you if they are able to prioritize their tasks in a way that aligns with your team and organization.

10. What are some of your personal and professional goals?

I’ve never been able to accurately assess where I’ll be five years in the future, so I’m not a fan of the “where do you see yourself in five years” question. But having a candidate explain their goals can help you learn more about who they are as a person and about their aspirations and even their ability to work independently and what kind of achiever they are.

About the Author

Based in Cleveland, Ohio, Heidi Kirby is a customer education manager, Ph.D. candidate in instructional design and technology at Old Dominion University, and host of the BLOC (Building Learning and Organizational Culture) podcast for L&D professionals. She got her start as a college English professor but has since worked as an instructional designer for NASA, a large health insurance company, software-as-a-service organizations, and a unicorn start-up company. She also teaches graduate-level podcasting and coaches/teachers new instructional designers. For her PhD program, she is studying leadership competencies instructional designers need to be successful. Her career goal is to continue to grow her leadership skills to bring positive change and a sense of belonging and learning culture.

8 Comments
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Great article, Heidi! Thank you! I appreciate the follow-up questions you included. Sometimes the “Tell me about a time when…” behavioral-based interview questions feel daunting for the candidate, but here you’ve given the interviewer examples for how to help the person they’re interviewing formulate thorough answers.
Thank you!
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This is a great list, thank you for sharing!
I also think a good idea is to ask some scenario-based questions about situations that are likely to happen on the job and ask the candidate how they would handle those tasks. For example: "Imagine you received a request for a time-management course from one of the managers. How would you handle this request?" Or "Imagine you received a 100-slide deck with a request to convert it into an e-learning course. How would you start?"
I love that! Yes! Hypotheticals can help when you're hiring for more entry-level roles too because it gives IDs a greater opportunity to share knowledge!
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These are great questions for assessing ID capabilities broadly. Other areas to assess relate to inclusion and belonging as well as how their personal mission fits with the organization and team's mission. It's also very important to provide the candidate with information about the organization and its culture as well as the ID team as folks can come from large ID teams where they had more people to do various parts of the process to smaller teams where they must be broadly proficient.
I love this post and comments. I hit “flag” thinking it was “like” - my apologies if “flag” means something else! Anne
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Treca! Amazing points. Thanks for adding to this. :)
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Those are great points.
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