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ATD Blog

What Is an L&D Niche and How Do I Find One?

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Suppose you’re looking to grow and evolve in your learning and development career. Most L&D career advice will advise you to choose a title you’re interested in, search for jobs based on that title, and create a resume tailored to each job description.

The problem with this one-size-fits-all approach is that it automatically assumes all roles are created equal, and it leaves out a key component—you.

Just as there’s no one-size-fits-all learning (that’s effective), the same is true for growing your L&D career. It must be tailored specifically to you.

This is where your L&D niche comes in.

What Is an L&D Niche?

When most people hear the term “L&D niche,” they assume it means a job title that best suits them, i.e., senior instructional designer, L&D program manager, chief learning officer, etc. Many people adapt to a specific job title without realizing they are limiting themselves.

Your L&D niche is the intersection between your skills, interests, and values. At its simplest, it explains what you do, how you do it, and who you want to do it for. Rather than trying to fit every job description you think you should be applying for, your L&D niche allows you to create your own box and find roles aligned with what you want to do next, regardless of specific job titles.

Your L&D niche becomes your career North Star—a new, aligned approach to finding and landing your dream L&D role.

How to Find Your L&D Niche

Your L&D niche is composed of three main parts:

  • The transferable skills you’ve gained in your experience thus far
  • The interests you have that you want to explore in your next role
  • The values you have and want to share with your next organization

When you can identify all three parts, you can then begin to articulate what it is you want to do next, how you want to do it, and the organization or team you’d like to do it for.

To find your L&D niche, follow the steps below.

Step One: Determine Your Legacy
No matter where you are in your L&D career journey, it’s important to find your niche with the end in mind. Like creating meaningful learning experiences, we must have our end goals at the forefront to align with expected outcomes.

Take a few moments to imagine you’re at your retirement party years from now, and everyone you’ve ever cared for, worked with, and created learning for is there to see you off into retirement. What do they say to you? What do you ultimately want to be remembered for?

Here’s an example: “I want to be remembered for creating welcoming experiences that engage, inspire, and enlighten.”

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Once you synthesize your legacy, you’ll have a target to shoot your L&D career arrow toward.

Step One Reflection: What do you want to be remembered for when you retire?

Step Two: Articulate Your Next Step (The “What”)
Now you can start thinking about what that next career move may look like. With your legacy in mind, brainstorm what you want to be known for in your next role. Let’s call this “The Office Walk-By Test.”

Imagine you’re in your next L&D role, sitting in a bright office (even if you want to work remotely, let’s imagine), and two co-workers pass. One turns to the other, points to your office, and says, “Who’s that?” The other says, “Oh, that’s [Insert Your Name Here], they [What you are known for].

For example: “Oh, that’s Emma. She develops and leads our next-level onboarding programs!”

Step Two Reflection: What do you want to be known for in your next role that gets you closer to your legacy?

Step Three: Identify Your Skills and Interests (The “How”)
The most important aspect of identifying your L&D niche is being ruthless with the skills you want to carry into your next role. Many people hold themselves back by holding on to skills they don’t want to utilize anymore.

Pull out your career timeline (L&D-related or not) and think through your interests and all the skills you’ve utilized in each role. Ask yourself:

  • Did/will using this skill give me energy?
  • Would I want to utilize this skill again in the right work environment?
  • Is this a skill that I enjoy using?

If you can answer YES, that skill stays on your list. If your answer is NO to any of them, it’s time to remove that skill, even if it’s something you’re good at.

I held onto the skill of “facilitation” for far longer than I should have. While I excelled at facilitating, I got to a point where facilitating depleted my energy and I no longer enjoyed it. Regardless of the working environment, it wasn’t a skill I wanted to utilize.

But because it was a strength, I kept taking on role after role that leaned heavily on facilitation and couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t fulfilled. What happened? My niche had evolved from facilitation to more strategic work. Once I tapped into skills that interested me, new roles I never even imagined became reality.

Once you’ve identified all of your skills and interests (even if it’s not a skill yet), prioritize your list in the order you’d like to leverage them. Then pull out the top three to five skills to make your “what” from Step Two a reality.

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For example: “Coaching, Program Design, Program Management, and Facilitation”

Step Three Reflection: What skills and interests do you want to utilize in your next role?

Step Four: Define Your Core Values (The “Who”)
In a recent poll with 200+ L&D hiring managers, nearly 20 percent said their most important hiring decision when adding talent to their L&D teams is value alignment.

We’ve all held roles that we loved but didn’t align with the company. Finding your L&D niche isn’t just about finding the right roles; it’s about finding the right companies as well. When we can amplify our values within an organization, we can truly bring our impact to life.

To define your core values, answer the following questions:

  • Think about a handful of peak experiences in your career. What values did you honor at that time?
  • Think of pet peeves in your career. What values were broken at that time?

The overlap or threads between the two form your career core values. For example: “Creativity, connection, and autonomy”

Step Four Reflection: What core values do I want to share with my next company and team?

Step Five: Putting Your Niche Statement Together
Now that you have the bones of your L&D niche, let’s create your L&D niche statement:

I [insert your output from Step Two “The What”] by leveraging [insert your output from Step Three “The How”] skill for organizations who value [insert your output from Step Four “The Who”].

Here’s an example: “I design and deliver next-level onboarding programs by leveraging coaching, facilitation and program design, and management skills for organizations that value innovation, autonomy, and sustainability.”

What to Do With an L&D Niche Statement

Your L&D niche can now serve as the basis for your L&D career transition. You can use your L&D niche to:

  • Craft a skill-based, niche-aligned resume and cover letter that doesn’t require updating for each role.
  • Apply to roles that fit within your L&D niche.
  • Network with other L&D folks within your niche to leverage, learn from, and lean on.
  • Create a personal brand and LinkedIn profile that speaks to what you do, how you do it, and who you do it for.
  • Prepare for interviews with confidence based on the accomplishments you’ve gained through previous experience.

Finding your L&D niche will allow you to expand your career horizons while providing a framework and path to land the L&D role of your dreams.

For more career advice, join me May 24, 2023, at the ATD International Conference & Exposition for the session What’s Next? Creating Your L&D Career Path Blueprint.

About the Author

Sarah Cannistra is an L&D Career Coach, and the founder of The Overnight Trainer, a coaching practice that helps purpose-driven people find, land, and LOVE the L&D career of their dreams. With over a decade of experience in L&D, Sarah has held roles such as Trainer, Instructional Designer, Director of Training, and Head of Learning. Having led the learning function 4x, Sarah utilizes her past experience as a learning leader and hiring manager to coach her clients to ultimate career success.

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I've always struggled to find my career sweet spot aka the overlap of what I love doing, what I'm good at, and what the world or business needs. But this framework provides a step-by-step approach to zero in on my L&D niche. I can't be more thankful!
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