Breaking into the Business

Earlier this week a friend-of-a-friend contacted me with this question:

What are some tips that you have for someone who would like to get experience with curriculum design and development and eventually pursue a position in this field?

This new friend is currently working in student services, has some experience as an instructor, and is taking graduate courses in higher education. My response included the following:

Assemble a portfolio – Establish a website, blog, or use an online portfolio tool (like VisualCV) to collect examples of your work. This could include brief descriptions of the projects you’ve worked on in the past, screenshots of items you’ve designed and/or built, materials you developed when you were an instructor, a writing sample. As you plan and complete your course assignments, do so with your portfolio in mind.

Find your niche – What part of the process do you enjoy the most? What are your strongest skills? Designers and developers often wear a lot of hats – graphic design, technical writing, project management, programming, multimedia, editing, testing.  Do you prefer working on face-to-face courses, blended courses, or all online? Do you want to work in higher ed, K-12, industry? From your coursework and previous experience you can probably also list areas where you need more practice.

Seek out opportunities to practice – Instructional designers get better with each project. Are there projects in your area, where you could assist, that would help you gain experience (creating user’s guides, training materials, etc)? Are there opportunities for you to volunteer your design and development services in exchange for the experience and additional portfolio items?  For example, another friend is building a website for a community youth organization.

Emphasize related skills – You already have some very valuable experience. Curriculum designers and developers are almost always working as part of a team. Faculty members are usually on that team. Students are the reason for building the courses in the first pace, so your experience working directly with students – as an instructor and as an advisor – gives you a level of familiarity that will be an asset.

Network – Keep talking with professionals in the field and asking questions. Consider joining a professional organization (AECT, AACE, ISTE, ASTD, Sloan-C are a few – but there are a LOT more). Set up a profile on a professional networking system (such as LinkedIn), join instructional design groups, and participate in the discussions.

Look for a position – While you may not be ready to apply, you might be closer than you think. Register for job search ‘alerts’ related to curriculum design and development and read through the vacancy announcements as they arrive via email. What are they looking for in terms of experience, computer skills, etc? These announcements can be helpful in identifying areas where you need practice and items you might include in your portfolio.

What else would you recommend to someone trying to get their first job in instructional design? Other sources of experience or education? Do you think a degree in instructional design is required?

Photo credit: NotMicroButSoft, Flickr

4 thoughts on “Breaking into the Business

  1. Ryan Eikmeier

    I would recommend searching for a contract position, even if it is only remotely related to instructional design. It will increase your exposure to the field, allow you to work on real projects, and allow you to network with other professionals. I broke into the field by pursuing contract work with a consulting firm. I learned as much as I could and leveraged my experience to land a full-time gig within a few months.

    I would also highly recommend attendance at networking events. I joined a local chapter of ASTD and started to attend chapter events. I met a lot of interesting people and started to learn the “lingo” of the ID field. It’s important that you learn to speak the “lingo.” Your resume, and more importantly, your interviewing skills, must reflect your understanding of the field. Prior to pursuing an ID job, I worked as a middle school teacher. I had an understanding of educational principles, but I had to learn how to translate those principles into “ID lingo.” I found that I really did understand many of the key ID processes and principles, but I didn’t know the language of the field.


    1. Melissa A. Venable Post author

      Ryan – I appreciate your comments and you’ve added several good tips here: 1) P/T work or a project-based assignment would be a good way for someone to get their feet wet, and add to their network. 2) I mentioned some of the big organizations, but your tip to start with a local chapter is a welcome one. Being prepared and putting yourself in the right places and conversations could result in a job opportunity. 3) The lingo! So true, every field seems to have its own set of acronyms and terminology. Thanks for sharing a little of your own story.


    2. sally kramer

      Ryan you mentioned contracting work….. do you have any suggestions on the best way to find consulting firms that does provide contracting work in the field of ID? I have not had much luck find should companies any suggestions you might have would be very much appreciated.


  2. Pingback: Instructional Design and Technology in Demand? Career Outlook Resources « Design Doc

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