Moving from Higher Education to Industry?

Dec 14, 2016

I'm thinking about moving from higher education into industry, and would appreciate advice, especially from anyone who has done the same.  The job descriptions are a little intimidating, as they often include processes I've only read about.

My background: Currently I'm an instructional designer at a large university, with six years of experience. Before working in higher ed I was a college prof teaching multimedia, programming, and web design, so my relevant experience is more like 10 - 15 years, depending on how you count my faculty experience.  My instructional design work has been in small departments with few IDs, where we create a lot of innovative but non-scale-able projects for individual faculty (not entire departments).  I can manage everything I do in an Excel spreadsheet.  In other words, I've never had the experience of working in a department with a course design process, QA checklists, specialized animators or graphic artists, copywriters, etc.  

So -- 

  • What skills do I probably lack, and how can I minimize their absence?  
  • Are their any certifications or training I should get before interviewing?
  • What kind of job interview questions can I expect that I wouldn't get in a higher ed interview?
  • What will my biggest on-the-job challenges be?
  • Is there anything I should remove from my portfolio? Or add?  (
3 Replies
Julie Stelter

Hi Sharon,

You have some great questions. Similarly, I moved from secondary education into an instructional design consultant. My experience has been, if there is a missing piece on a team, it is quality instructional design. So highlight this ability with the examples you have created for a university setting. Always try to tie-in the likenesses of the work by focusing on instructional design skills that are transferable to that company. Feel confident that you can learn a process. It is the skill of instructional design and project management which will get you hired. Best of luck!



Bob S

Hi Sharon,

Good for you for exploring new  opportunities!  Julie's callout above about quality ID and Project Management is pretty spot on. Not sure there is much to add there.

But the other thing I might share with you is a possible bias you may face, spoken or unspoken,.... The perception that you may not be as comfortable with the "speed of business".

It's unfair as IDs in the academic world today often face the same challenges as their private sector counterparts. But some companies can still cling to this outdated perception. So you may want to be prepared to address it  head on with stories and examples of work that you created/led on very short notice and with shifting priorities/direction changes along the way.

The good news (and to Julie's point) is that if you can show a private sector employer that they get the best-of-both-worlds  of Higher Ed level instructional design AND a comfort level with business project timeliness/ambiguities, then you become the answer to their training team needs.

Hope this helps and good luck!

Daniel Brigham

Hi, Sharon:

I taught writing at a university for 11 years and made the transition. What helped me is that I contracted with an elearning company for two years, and then went full-time elearning.

I second Bob's point. Be able to speak how you are quick to adapt to change. Projects in the private sector often do change, and we all have to adapt. 

Other ideas...

Research the company and speak to how training might be able to address the company's challenges. In the end, that's pretty much the goal of training. 

I've found that people in the private sector really value my writing skills. So if you have those chops, flaunt them. 

Interviews are a total crapshoot. What's helped me is to Google the 25 most frequently asked questions, write out my answers, and practice talking about them. Hope that helps a bit. --Daniel

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