ATD Blog

Getting Your Start in Talent Development

Monday, January 26, 2015

  Thinking about a career in talent development, but not quite sure how to land that first opportunity? The exact path you choose will depend on your strengths and interests. 

Career Paths

There are three primary career paths for talent development professionals. While there is some degree of overlap in terms of responsibilities and skillsets, there are differences in terms of the principal areas of focus:

  • Trainer. While the term “trainer” is sometimes used to broadly describe all talent development professionals, the job of a trainer is actually a specific role. Trainers focus primarily on content delivery, meaning they are focused on leading workshops or corporate training sessions, typically in a traditional or simulated classroom setting. An effective trainer needs to have an understanding of such topics as adult learning theory, needs assessments, and measuring the impact and effectiveness of training programs, among others. 

  • Instructional Designer. These L&D practitioners focus not only on the delivery of training programs, but they also are tasked with developing the content for specific courses. An understanding of learning models and methodologies, such as ADDIE (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation) and SAM (successive approximation model), is critical. In addition, instructional designers need strong project management skills, as they are tasked with managing the project of creating courses from conception through execution. Most instructional designers also need excellent technology skills and the ability to use a variety of Learning Management Systems (LMS) and e-learning tools.

  • OD/HR Professional. Organizational Development professionals are tasked with designing programs, typically as a member of an HR department or as an external consultant, in corporate environments that focus on employee development, engagement, and retention, as well as how to help drive business results. These positions require consultative skills, coaching skills, and an understanding of concepts such as change management and human performance.

There are a number of overlapping skills that all three positions require. Some obvious examples are strong presentation skills, project management, and the ability to relate to and instantly make connections with individuals from a variety of backgrounds. It is also important to have an understanding of and comfort with technology, especially as it relates to training delivery and adult learning.
Management Opportunities


If you are just entering the talent development field, it is unlikely that you will land a management position right away. However, after a few years of experience as a trainer, instructional designer, or OD/HR professional, if you aspire to lead others you are likely to have opportunities to do so. The most successful managers possess a thorough knowledge of their business and/or industry, as well as knowledge of employee motivation, in addition to the skills they possess relative to their own fields. For some, this many mean additional formal education in order to gain a thorough understanding of business and management principles.   

Finding Jobs

Job seekers can find positions posted on the Association for Talent Development job board and the Society for Human Resource Management job board, both of which are available for free to both members and non-members. While specific job titles may vary from organization to organization, positions may have titles, such as Training Specialist, Level 1 Training Specialist, and Training & Development Specialist. 


Also be aware of social media recruitment opportunities. Many organizations—for-profit companies, nonprofits, and colleges and universities—hire talent development professionals using sites like Linkup and LinkedIn, for example. Also, searching and identifying opportunities posted on corporate websites can be useful.

As with any job search, the key to successfully finding an opportunity is developing an effective job search strategy. An effective strategy includes:

  • careful consideration of the type and location of target organizations, regardless of current vacancies
  • assessment of current skills to identify strengths, weaknesses, and any skills gaps (and how to fill them)
  • a plan for networking both online and offline, as networking has proven consistently to be the most effective method for finding new jobs 


About the Author

Warren White is a relationship builder. As a sought-after thought leader in the fields of career transition and human resources, Warren possesses over a decade of experience providing strategic guidance, coaching and leadership to individuals and organizations in the mid-Atlantic region. He is the principal and founder of Humanus LLC, where he uses his consultative skills in working with individuals to help plan successful transitions, as well as with small businesses with specific HR needs.  Warren writes a blog, Humanus, on topics related to HR, job search strategy, and social media—and particularly what happens when those three areas intersect.  He also writes regularly on job search strategy for  

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