Interviewing Instructional Developers

Sep 21, 2011

What questions do you ask when hiring an instructional developer when you want them to also be strong in instructional design?  

In the past, I was always interested in evaluating the candidate's developer skills (Flash, ActionScript, Articulate, etc.) because our existing trainers were creating the storyboards. While I still need a developer, I am looking for someone who also has experience and skill designing e-learning.

And finally, I have debated whether this is the appropriate time and place to "advertise" especially since the job may not be posted for another week or two. But where will I find better talent than right here? So here goes....

I work for Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center in Houston, Texas. This is a fantastic company where I have worked for 20 years. As previously mentioned, the job is not yet posted but you can check our Careers page periodically.

19 Replies
Ivan Hernandez

From my personal experience, an instructional designer should have competency in instructional content development. An ID should be able to walk you through the ADDIE process while providing examples of work completed during each phase. This is a strong indicator that the ID has been exposed to all ADDIE phases. 

My recommendations is to evaluate candidates by their work samples they provide to you and give them a 5-minute course so they can showcase their skills. 


Jeanette Brooks

Love Ivan's idea about giving a short assignment. Once you narrow down the list of candidates to a handful, you could give them a learning objective, and maybe some sample content to work with, and ask them to design & build a brief module or presentation. To level the playing field you could pick a neutral topic that wouldn't require anyone to do too much extra research or legwork, like "how to retrieve voicemail from your mobile phone" or something like that.

Bob S

An assignment for your finalists is a great idea. If you want something you can do earlier in the process, you can try tossing them a hypothetical to handle on the spot...

I always used to ask about their hobbies, then pick one they professed knowledge in and ask them the following:

"Ok, so let's say I'm brand new to Mountain Biking (insert their hobby), tell me in super simple terms the top few things I would need to know to get started".

I'm looking of course for Process Thinking (key to a designer), Clarity of Thought/Speech (also key), and the ability to Peg the Material to The Learner's Level (again, also key).

Will it tell you all you need to know?  Of course not. But if a designer can't do this simple off-the-cuff task for a hobby they have knowledge/expertise in, then it would give me serious pause concerning their ability to do it for a topic they have to rely on a SME for.

Hope this helps,


David Anderson
Ward Scott

These are great ideas. Thank you!

I was considering creating an assignment for the candidate. Any thought on best practices for how to go about this? I was thinking about giving them advanced notice about the general topic so they could think about their approach before the interview, and then provide them with content and resources.

Erendira Ramirez-Ortega

One very significant caveat that is missing in this discussion is whether or not the designer is able to identify, and write, solid learning outcomes.  I find that designers, or trainers who design their own curriculum, often miss the boat on this one, and I ask myself how they would be able to measure learner competence in the area of instruction delivered.  

To figure this out, give your candidate some content to review and have her devise the learning outcomes.  Check for the three components of writing effective student learning outcomes (performance, criterion, condition) and then decide whether she has the critical sensibility at what effective learning is about.  

I describe this best practice in my blog and you can look at the guide here: 

Or you can view the video here:!

Elizabeth Israel

Couple of suggestions:

Ask the candidate to bring you their portfolio.  It's rather easy to "talk" a good game, but I'd suggest you see what they have done.  Also, you need to be careful with giving candidates assignments - I'd recommend checking with your HR group to have a very clear outline of what needs to be covered and what the measuring criteria are. 

Here are some other items I would recommend asking:

  • What do you do when you can't get SME assistance on a project?
  • Have you ever worked on a project where there have been challenges?  Tell me about them and what you did to overcome them?
  • There are many people who say that instructional design is more art than science.  What are your thoughts on this?  Explain how you have approached your projects.
  • How do you handle having to learn something new?  What is your approach?
  • What has been the most compelling project you've done?  What made it so interesting?
  • If you had to pick one tool to work with for a project which one would you choose and why?
  • When have you worked on a project solo - what did you like about working solo?  What about an example when you were in a team environment for a project?  What did you like/dislike about that?
  • Can you show me an example of a storyboard that you've created?
  • Walk me through the ADDIE process and what you do for each component
  • What is the last book you've read for work?  for pleasure?

Let me know if you require any other information or I can assist you in any way.

David Glow

Best interview I've ever been to, hands down...

I showed up and was met at the door by an assistant. They handed me a spec sheet, client background, and requirements for submission.

We submitted entries to solve a learning design problem, building actual product in a tight timeline (2 d) demonstrating capability.

Reviewers, I later learned, voted by identifying submission code, so the invite back for round 2 was purely based on product. (They didn't know who I was, how many years experience, where I went to school, where I had worked).

They invited me in for a second round. Repeat.

After making it through 2 performance rounds, THEN they started the behavioral interview approach. 

Thought this was a perfect way for a new org to understand exactly what they were getting. And, as a designer, I immensely respected the approach because it realistically reflected the job.

Mike Taylor

I like the assignment idea. A portfolio could be in sort of the same arena as that too with the possibility of a wider range of outputs to see. I think looking at some completed work and a conversation about how & why they arrived at the solution is great too.  I don't know if it's just my deviousness of not but I'd almost want to present them with an assignment where the correct answer would be to NOT build a course, etc.  I think there are times when we need to be able to say that this is not a training issue and even the best course in the world will not solve the problem....but maybe that's too tricky?? 

I like Elizabeth's questions too. Although I'd eliminate any mention of ADDIE and just ask then generically to walk through their process. 

Ward Scott

I knew this would be great group to ask. Thanks for your great responses.

I am seriously considering the assignment idea. I would like to know what everyone thinks of the following:

Prior to their interview, I will contact the candidate and let them know that the interview will conclude with an assignment where they will have up to 45 minutes to create an e-learning program using content provided at the time. They would also be told what software would be available:

  • Articulate Studio
  • Flash
  • Dreamweaver
  • Photoshop
  • Fireworks

The topic would general and task-oriented, maybe changing a tire on a car. I would already have content that looks like it comes from an SME - formal and loaded with too much non-essentials. I would also have photos that, ideally, should be cropped and have backgrounds removed.

What am I looking for?

  • Did they try for something truly engaging, or is it a page turner.
  • Did they show a mastery and familiarity with the software.
  • Did they do anything with the graphics provided. Did they go get their own.
  • Is there an introduction, a conclusion.

Post-assignment questions:

  • Was this a fair assessment of your skills? Why/Why not?
  • What would you differently if you had more time? How much time would you need?
  • How do you feel about the learning objectives? (I could write them as "Understand...." when they should be "Perform....")
Kristen Hull

I think it is a great idea, but wow, 45 minutes just seems like such a short amount of time. They have to read the topic and the materials, trim the content down, create a Powerpoint, edit pictures...all in 45 minutes. I'm overwhelmed and stressed out just thinking about it!    Just figuring out what software to use for what, given the options, could take a bit of time. Maybe you could tell the candidate to choose 2 of the software options.  If you want them to show that they have mastery over the software and you list 5, they will probably want to use all 5 (and eek, 45 minutes...that just doesn't seem possible).  Or maybe they could be given some information in the day before, send them the SME content. 

Ward Scott

I should clarify. I am not expecting mastery of every software app we have, just that they have a mastery of the ones they choose to use. And honestly, I really would not care if they finished the course. I am more interested in their approach to designing the course and their response to the post-assessment questions. (Some people may opt not to do a scenario because they wanted to complete the course within the time frame, while some may complete a part of the course but were on their way to creating an awesome scenario, etc.)

The one exam I will never forget was the Air Force Officer's Pilot Exam. The exam consisted of 200 questions and we had 60 minutes to complete it. I learned later that we were not expected to complete the exam, but were graded on both how far we got and the accuracy of the questions completed.

David Glow

In my prior life, graphic design, I had to interview for a position developing packaging for baby products. Accurate reproduction of a standard blister card was the test. They provided basic specs, key info, pantone references, necessary logos. No blister card template, I needed to measure and figure it out.  Also, since materials are to be submitted in a very specific format, only certain programs were allowable, and files provided required a very few that could be used to edit.

This is very appropriate because of the technical accuracy and standards that were in place that weren't very negotiable in that environment. If Articulate, Photoshop, Fireworks are expected standards in your organization, this may also be appropriate.  But I think the test set up against certain tools in a tight timeline can somewhat constrain the submissions you will get (again, this may be appropriate and necessary, but may also limit exposure to your interviewee's true talents and creative process).

I have a designer/developer- a whiz in Captivate. If she walked into this test, she wouldn't perform well, but she is a heck of a designer, and given a bit of time, will come up to speed on about any tool you could give her.  If you gave her a project to deliver quality product, you'd get quality product, and see what she is capable of. If you make her start with tools she isn't expert in, it will compromise her contributions: you'd miss out on a prime candidate (IMHO).

Why I like the interviews that give time to reflect a bit (creative process) and deliver. For the blister card, I had an hour (done in 45, I was 100% accurate, got the job- it was all about production stds, tools- not creativity). I imagine this is like the AF Officer's Pilot Exam. Each question has a pretty finite band of options. Not the case for elearning- unless you have "hard" requirements on what tools used, etc...

 For two cases with creative, I was given a day or two. It let me sink my ideas in, think, design, refine.  If I spent 2 hours on it, or 48, it didn't really matter- I spent the time to show my capability. What I built it in was up to me (again, if you have "hard" requirements, use them, but I generally don't care how they got there- I just want to see "they got there") When you say "design effective training for" really see the designer's thinking- and may see things you hadn't really expected. I'v seen a lot of elearning done where a very effective job aid would actually impact performance more (great analysis by ID- sharp focus on ROI, great fit for my team), EPSS- what if they developed macros in Word/Excel to help with tasks (thinking outside the "training" box, and got into developing in-task support), what if they recorded an effective webcast? integrated social?, did something mobile?...

You can already see that tools restrictions by the interview structure will shut off learning much about the candidate. Also if they have transferable skills (like my Captivate guru) but don't currently use this tool set (but could undoubtedly "train up"), both sides miss seeing what value the candidate can really deliver to the org.

Of course, timing is key too- if you need someone to hit the ground running, and can't afford to hire someone to train in your tools, then finding great candidates in this band of tools is certainly a valid approach.

Susan Wilson

We have used the design challenge approach a couple of times, and I have also had to do something similar twice while interviewing for jobs.  I agree with Kristin, 45 minutes is way too short and you will not get enough to evaluate.  Two hours is more appropriate.  Also, we have used material that they would actually work with on the job.  While they will not be familiar with it, they will still be able to write objectives, design, etc.  You can make it clear that you do not expect content accuracy.  The idea is to make it as realistic as possible, but pick content that could be handled within that period of time.  Something introductory, or a procedure works pretty well.  

I also like to ask people about their favorite learning theorist/theory and how it informs their work.  It lets me know something about their approach, their academic background and how current they stay with the field and research.

Linda Al Ansari

Ward, please feel free to get in touch if you want any details, but in summary we thought of the full blown approach you suggest and then discarded it for many of the reasons given by Kristen and David above.  At the end of the day we concluded that we can teach any tool but really wanted to see whether the people being assessed knew how to design and essentially construct a really good learning solution (using whatever component parts they felt appropriate as suggested by David).  What worked really well for us was to take out most of the technology and therefore the constraints and possibilities this would create for masking the true skill base we were seeking (or for failing on the day for whatever reason).

We sent candidates an assessment outline a few weeks ahead of the event telling them that they would be given an already built module to critique when they arrived and that we wanted them to a) document their views on what was wrong with the module; b)re-design the module incorporating dealing with their own criticisms of the original and c) (only if there was time and they had the skill base) to build as much as they could of the re-worked module in Articulate.  The last option was only to get a sense of the tool experience but was not a deciding factor in the process and this was explained to all involved.  The candidates had 3 hours to review and complete the assessment against a 20 minute module (which was a real module live on our learning system).

Candidates were encouraged to use whatever means they were comfortable with to document their views and their new design.  We also told them what we were looking for so that there were no fears of hidden agendas or concerns about what was important for them to display of their talents.

The results were really very interesting and gave us clear indication as to which candidates had a good understanding of ID as well as core development/aesthetics etc.  Creativity, sound adult learning principles, solid ID approach, appropriate treatments and look and feel as well as a willingness to critique work in a constructive and confident manner were all able to be demonstrated by the candidates without any technical constraints.

This was so successful that we will definately use this approach again in future and would be happy to share more details and a copy of what we mailed the candidates if this will be of any use.

Debra Beach

While it kooks like a good idea, You may inadvertently be losing excellent instructional designers by assigning interview homework. Any effort you expect an applicant to spend will be greatly multiplied. That person is not talking only to you, they’re looking at LOTS of job postings!! Many people already have a full time job and if most interviews have a mini ID project it becomes impossible in terms of time and energy to adequately complete these “skill tests”. If every potential employer starts assigning “homework”, it becomes a major hurdle and you can bet many very qualified applicants will drop out of the process that requires “homework”.

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