How to Interview an Instructional Designer

Nov 05, 2014

Hi everyone! My title was recently changed to Instructional Designer, and we're actually getting ready to hire another me. But, some kind of way I'm expected to help interview this person--we do lots of backward things at my company lol. Anyway, we're very new to eLearning, instructional videos, and having a dedicated person who designs all training. I had to learn everything myself, and so I am definitely not an expert. When I accepted this position, the role was completely different, so this will be the first time we're actually interviewing an ID person. If anyone out there has done this before, can I ask for your tips? There is one person internally who we want to interview. She used to be a teacher and has a masters degree in instructional technology. I know it's not the same, but for the kinds of things we do, I think she would be perfect. But if she's not, then we'll recruit outside the company. Then I will REALLY need to have a watertight interview.

20 Replies
Phil Mayor

Check the application and ensure they have the "qualifications" needed to fulfil the role after shortlisting the interview is more about fit with the organisation and with you.  Perhaps you want to look at hiring somebody who has skills that complement yours such as a designer.

If they get to interview stage they should be competent, the interview is about ensuring that you can work with them and that they "fit in".

Bob S

Hi Jessica,

Congrats on the new role!

As for interviewing potential ID's, two tips for you...

  1. Ask them about a hobby they love  that has nothing to do with career in any way. Draw them into a short conversation about it and finally ask "So if someone were interested in getting started in that, what would say are the first four things they should do and why?".   I've used this question to gauge how well they can break down the complex into simple ordered chunks (key to good ID) as well as how quickly they can adapt (key to many businesses today) and it removes the "But I need to check with the SME" excuse.
  2. Prepare a homework lesson for them; can be done as pre-work for first interview or second interview. Ask them to prepare 3 slides (max!) or equivalent length alternate media type of their choice on a topic that's important to your company. You can offer a choice of topics for them to choose from should you wish. Set a short deadline (days). Explain it should feel like just a small piece/chapter of a bigger course rather than trying to cover the entire topic.   Again I've used this technique for years as it's often more revealing than a portfolio. You can tell who's truly interested in the role (some folks will self select out), know that work they show is more likely to really be their's alone (vs shared output in many portfolio pieces), and also gauge their creativity and sense of style if they do things like search the company website for branded images etc or just create generically.

Good luck and hope this helps,


David Glow

Best "interviews" I have ever been on, hands down have been assignments. I even had this back in the 90s when I did advertising.

It goes like this:

Company says "this is the type of thing you would do for us" (a mini module)- "show us what you would design". (Like I said, when I was in advertising, it was "make us an ad for these clients"- and they would mock up specs, client background, etc...)

Candidate immediately understands the type of work expected, if it is a fit, and if it's the type of work that engages them.

Client immediately understands the candidate's ability to deliver.  So make it real, make it as "tough" as a regular assignment (scaled down a bit for scope, but depth of skill should be representative).

If there is a potential fit, invite for an interview, the discussion from there flows VERY simply (why'd you make these choices? how did you achieve X? what would you think of Y approach?). Fit from both sides is easy to assess.

Then, you can easily transition to the other critical component: "will this person work well with our org?".  Personality fit is key too, but all the personality in the world doesn't compensate for lack of skill (the opposite is true also, but one is easy to assess up front).


Bruce Graham

...might end up with nobody though.

Perhaps it's a great "Requirement" to put into the Job Description

At least people can have a think about it, and it's not a great surprise to them when you start asking about "ROI" and "Hire to Bill Latency Reduction Programmes", (induction/orientation programmes for Consultants to get them out into the field and earning faster...).

Sharon Gregerson

These are all great points! For sure have them create a sample of work. It will show you their design skills, training application abilities and make sure to ask how long it took them to put the module together. It is important to keep in mind that some people can create great looking products but they may not have created the most effective training method.

Good luck!


Andrew Winner

I would definitely ask them to bring in a portfolio samples or send a link to an online portfolio. 

In terms of the questions I would ask, I'd ask them what tools they use to do their job and why. If you're unclear on anything, dig into their answers and ask them to explain further. If it's e-learning, ask them which authoring software they use and why? How do they prefer to record audio? Write scripts? Create graphics? Solicit feedback? Etc. This will really give you some insight into their process and you might also learn some thing that you can use yourself. 

I am really not the biggest believer in behavioral interviewing as the primary focus of an interview, but with an ID you'll probably want to ask questions like 'give me an example of a time when you've had to build a project plan' or 'tell me about a time when you had to secure buy-in for a course you wanted to create.' You can tailor the exact questions to the realities of your organization, but these types of questions are really good for separating the real candidates from the BS'ers. 

Finally, I personally also like to ask questions that help you get to know the person -- what are you passionate about, what do you do for fun, what does your ideal job look like, where are you trying to be in five years, what do you like about our company, does our mission match your values, etc. Cultural fit is also important so these questions might really help you with an external candidate. 

Good luck! 

Alexander Salas

Hi Jessica, in terms of context it's difficult to absolutely answer this question because it truly depends on what you are looking for.  Nowadays, you are definitely looking for someone that has referential knowledge to ISD, unless you are just looking for an elearning developer.   The work sample is a great idea and I would take it a step further by asking to design at least 3 different interactions to achieve a predetermined learning objective. Then you can ask the candidate to explain why those interactions are effective i.e. based on what methodology.

David Glow

Actually, the best experiences I have had kept all personal data (names, schools attended, organizations worked at) out of the process until very late. Initial stages was all about showing capability that clearly represented work.

I clearly remember one of my first "interviews" with Nynex Yellow Pages in the 90s. Getting all prepared, getting suit and tie looking and hair impeccable... only to be greeted by the receptionist with a one page instruction sheet and ID number to submit my entry.  This went on for 3 rounds, but eventually, I got to wear the suit and bring the resume- but it was LONG after they tested my ability to develop ads they would use.

My ability was no longer in question, at that point, they could focus on fit.

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