Why Instructional Designers FAIL To Find Jobs (And How To Fix It)

Instructional design jobs are out there, but many ID professionals find themselves without work, doing pro-bono until they ultimately lose interest in the field.  The sad thing is, many IDers have the ability to improve their chances at landing contract work, even full-time engagements, if they just altered their approach.

Here is some food for thought…

As we know in our industry, their are many different facets that make up “instructional design” of which the everyday person may not be aware.  It is kind of like saying all “engineers” are the same.  Engineer is the category, but there are many sub-niches within (electircal, mechanical, civil, etc.) and even niches within those!

If you are looking for contract work, you need to search job boards (yes, boards with a “s”…) with this idea in mind: not everyone is going to call what it is you do by the same name.

For example, if you are just searching for job postings listed as “instructional design”, you are missing some great positions out there.

Get creative with what you search for on the boards.  What do other people call “instructional design”?  I have seen it referred to by many as “training developer”, or “training manager”… sometimes they are even more specific as “eLearning developer”, or “computer based training”.

The point is, you should use variations, putting yourself in the shoes of the job poster who many not know anything about instructional design.  I know that I sometimes tell people I am involved with instructional design and they look at me like I have two heads.  Or that I am working on a WordPress Learning Management System  (you should see the blank stares from my family on that one).

While we are on the topic of job searches, do yourself a favor and use the advanced search function.  You will be amazed at how much more refined your results are (and often times, how many more “direct hits” you receive) just by adding some additional specification.  Most job boards have an advanced search link located on the homepage under the normal SEARCH button.

I have no doubt you will find what you are looking for just by thinking outside of the box on possible position titles and by focusing the results using the advanced search function.  I use this strategy and continue to find really great positions out there.

In the near future, I will provide some insight on how to stand out from your competition when applying to ID roles.

 

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About the Author:

Justin Ferriman is the co-founder and CEO of LearnDash, the WordPress LMS trusted by the world's leading organizations, such as the University of Michigan, Digital Marketer, WPEngine, and Infusionsoft. Justin has made a career as an elearning consultant where he has implemented large-scale training programs for Fortune 500 companies. Twitter | LinkedIn

12 Comments
  1. I totally agree with you. If we cannot think outside the box to search for our projects, then we probably will not think outside the box when we are actually developing and designing the course. But let’s give some slack to those who perhaps don’t know much about Search. There are many instructional designers out of work at the moment who have traditionally worked full time as an employee and have been laid off. These folks don’t know how to look for work and they are doing the best they can but no one is showing them how to stay busy.

    I am also finding that many instructional designers have not invested in software tools they OWN and rely on companies providing them the software when on an assignment. If you plan to work onsite, then I agree the software should be provided but when you are only looking for onsite positions, then you have limited yourself to a geographic area which limits the amounts of jobs you will have available to you.

    If you are truly a freelancer, then you have invested a lot of money on products and you can also justify why you can work off site or with an occasional on site visit (which many customers will gladly pay for) and you command a higher pay rate. You can now look all over the US but also around the world sometimes. You present yourself as a ‘consultant’ and not a ‘contractor or temp worker’ and there really is a lot of difference.

    • Ilene

      Three questions – (1) What software do you recommend to someone just getting started? (2) Do you use different software for different projects? (3) When an adjunct faculty member is asked by a university to design a new course or redesign an old one, does the university usually require that their preferred software be used?

      • Ryan Pratta

        I would recommend someone just starting to get use to Powerpoint and then carry your experience over to Storyline. Storyline is like Powerpoint on steroids.

        -Ryan

  2. Jung Feng

    1.) Use the following:
    Adobe CS (get the latest version if you can in WHATEVER way you can get…no lie..just get it)
    Camtasia (for screen capture)
    Captivate (same as Camtasia but gives you the ability to work with Flash a little better)
    SnagIt OR IrFanView (SnagIt is not free but IrFanView is free and works just as well if not better than SnagIt for screen capture)
    Udutu or ReLoad Editor (for SCORM editing — if you don’t know what this is, get hip VERY QUICKLY)
    Audacity (freeware audio recording that is very good)
    some kind of video editing software including: iMovie, Windows Movie Maker or if you can afford it, Adobe Premiere, Avid XPress or Final Cut Pro. don’t have an attitude about any of these products, they all do the same thing and go with what you can afford and what you can learn very quickly. seriously. macintosh folks can be haters sometimes and they have no right to be that.

    2.) I use whatever software GIVES THE BEST RESULTS FOR EACH PROJECT. If I can knock out multiple projects with the same software, so be it. This means a faster production schedule and at the end of the day, all people want is their product. That’s why the list has a wide variety of software, some of them doing the same thing.

    3.) University design jobs absolutely suck — they don’t pay much, and folks at these places either a.) don’t know what ID’s really do and will ask ID’s do a bunch of stuff that has nothing to do with ID based on bad assumptions (you’ll know this when you see it…trust me) b.) universities/colleges DON’T HAVE THE MONEY TO PROVIDE YOU WITH THE SOFTWARE TO DO THE JOB OTHER THAN MS OFFICE WHICH HAS POWERPOINT. Unless you know something different about the university in question that you bring up in this discussion, it is best to assume that educational institutions have zero budget and know nothing about what technologically is used in a instructional design project. so….use what you have based on what they tell you. i’m quite sure they won’t give you anything (significant) to use to develop their thing.

    good luck and please do take what i put down seriously. i’ve been doing this stuff for a long time and these are the hardcore facts about what you need to get started with (I assume) little to no budget.

    • LongtimeIDer

      This is some great advice for people who are overwhelmed by the tools. When you are self-teaching, there are plenty of You Tube videos as well as http://www.lynda.com (low cost subscription) to pick up the tasks and techniques.

      Having just finished a design project for an Ivy League medical school, I couldn’t agree more with the comments about universities. And yet universities are posting ISD jobs as fast as they can write the job description. I found that you REALLY need to go in with your learning theory cap on to wrestle these folks away from antiquated fears. And some people actually like that challenge!

  3. Benji Ming

    As im a newbie, I came to this article thinking I might get some deep insights about current challenges I may face in this career. But it looks like choosing the right keyword to search and doing an Advanced search are the main points here. Have I missed anything? Adly, it doesn’t make me want to visit Part 2, wherever that is…

    Any good advice out there about challenges or pitfalls for newbies? Thanks!

  4. Jem Spencer

    Currently searching for an entry level instructional design job or even to work closely with one. So glad I found this article becasue these jobs do go by tons of different names! The examples you gave really have helped me search and broaden my scope, thanks!

    • Clary

      First, thank you for all the great information. I had already figured out the endless name choices for the same job, yet it was great to prove it. I am a certified teacher with experience in a state of the art fully digital classroom with a Masters in ID. I have been an end user with many clock hours of re-designing, developing, evaluating and analyzing digital resources, yet I felt teaching limited my competency. specially because I don’t have the on the job hands-on experience. After reading the many job descriptions online, I realized that I am as able as many. I changed the wording in my resume so it doesn’t read teacher (but more ID with instructional experience) and now am on the search. Will continue to search, read and self-teach! Please keep sharing! 🙂

  5. Wow! Thanks for the “two heads” comment – perfect! I once moved my family 2300 miles across the country for a newly created ID job at a community college. No one understood what an Instructional Designer was and faculty was immediately threatened by my presence. I am really excellent at working with faculty and SMEs, so I smoothed it over and forged excellent relationships, but my boss continued to be baffled about what I do and felt threatened until she “eliminated my position”. I was out of a job and my family lost EVERYTHING.

    In the one year I spent there I completely overhauled and redesigned a 20-year old Cooperative Education Curriculum that they were going to eliminate – an $11m a year federally funded program (which is now an award-winning program and continues to employ 250 students a year) and worked on 20+ faculty projects, HLC assessment committee, and faculty professional development projects and training. My work was invaluable. Faculty continued to request my help and tried to “get me back” for months.

    My advice is to be careful of “newly created” ID positions within higher ed (that includes grant-funded positions). The internal politics can be murderous to a career.

  6. David

    Well, I echo the same concerns about academic ID jobs and the internal politics (especially if you have more experience than your boss). As far as the current job market is concerned, it is brutal. I was laid off in November 2015 and I am experiencing the I am too experienced response (e.g. Overqualified). After 10 years in the field, I am actually considering changing fields entirely. I am tired of contracting (I HATE CONTRACTING), dealing with incompetent MBAs that do not know the first thing about training, and having jobs outsourced to overseas countries. I think the field is dying a slow and painful death.

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