I didn’t know I wanted to become a Corporate Trainer until I was selected to teach Walt Disney World Traditions back in the early 90’s. Once I got a taste of how energizing it was to hold an audience’s attention and inspire them, I was hooked. I decided that’s what I wanted to do when I grew up which led to a 20+ year career in Learning and Development. Are you interested in a corporate training job but not sure where to start? Read on, friend. You are in the right place!
If you are looking for an overview of several Learning and Development positions, check out “I Want to Be in L&D: Getting Started in Learning and Development”.
What is a Corporate Trainer?
I am using the term “Corporate Trainer” but this is just one possible job title you might see. Other examples may include Trainer, Training Facilitator, Learning Facilitator, Regional Trainer, Training Instructor, Sr. Instructor, Sales Training Facilitator, etc…
For the purposes of this article, I am focusing on jobs where the main responsibility is conducting/facilitating training. For example, as a Regional Sales Trainer for CarMax, I did NOT have any instructional design responsibilities. I trained employees on the CarMax Way (new employee orientation) and also conducted week long sales training for new sales employees that consisted of both classroom and some one on one training. This is the type of role I will be highlighting here.
What does a Corporate Trainer do?
In this role, the primary responsibility is to conduct and facilitate training classes. These could be in person, classroom classes but you will probably do a good amount of virtual, in person classes as well (e.g. webinars in Zoom, Webex, etc…). Whatever the venue, as the trainer/facilitator, you will keep things moving along. You may be doing the majority of the training yourself. In many instances, you may act as more of an MC as you introduce subject matter experts to cover a particular topic. When I taught New Employee Orientation for a large hospital system, for example, I did a fair amount of introducing other presenters. I wasn’t an expert on things like Tuberculosis or Bloodborne Pathogens so there were subject matter experts who would come in to cover those sections. During other sections, though, like covering the company values, I was the one doing the presenting.
Something else that is a big part of this role is running activities that support the training. You shouldn’t just be a lecturer. Yes, there are times where you may be speaking for a little while to introduce a concept. A good trainer spends just as much time (if not more) getting thoughts and opinions from the learners and engaging them in activities. These training activities can be as simple as a Q and A session or they can be more involved case studies or role plays. There are hundreds of different training activities. Which types you use will depend on the training being conducted and how the training has been designed.
Speaking of training design, as I mentioned earlier, this article is more focused on roles where facilitation/training is the main job responsibility. In most cases, with a “pure” training or facilitation role, you wouldn’t be doing any formal instructional design, but you will still most likely have some input. At CarMax, for example, there was a team that designed the sales training and the materials that went with it. They also built in the activities that the trainer would run as part of the training. As the trainer, I used this material to conduct my classes but I also had the ability to flex when necessary. I might change the activity slightly to fit mine and my learners needs. I also sometimes added my own activities (for example a game show review) if I felt it would help with learner engagement. In every facilitation job I’ve had, even when there were materials and outlines created by someone else, I still had some freedom to put my own spin on things. I’ve also worked for companies where the facilitator and instructional designer work together on a project and the facilitator has even more influence on the overall training course.
Your mileage may vary, of course. Different companies will have different policies about how much you need to “stick to the script”.
What skills/qualities Do I need?
The obvious skill or quality for a Corporate Trainer is public speaking. Yes, you should be a good public speaker if you want to be successful in this role. As important as this skill is, there are several others that I think are just as important that I would like to highlight here.
Compassion/Empathy – You need to care about the people you are training. Meaning, you should take a genuine interest in whether or not they are learning the material. If you don’t, it shows. The best trainers make an effort to connect with their learners. They also show patience when learners may be having a hard time grasping a concept. For example, when doing software training, it can be frustrating when people in the class are not very tech savvy and fall behind. It’s important to be able to put yourself in their shoes and help them get through it.
Listening – While there may seem to be an emphasis on speaking in this role, listening is actually a lot more important for success. Early in my career, I often made the mistake of focusing on what I was going to say instead of focusing on my learners. In doing so, I missed opportunities to connect with them as well as opportunities to encourage their learning from each other.
Communication – As a Corporate Trainer, you will obviously be doing a lot of communicating in your classes. Note that you will also do a lot of communicating outside of your classes as well. For one thing, you need to communicate with or meet with other presenters for your class. You may be responsible for scheduling them and/or getting them to agree to come in and speak. Oftentimes, you will have to negotiate how much time they’ll have as well. I can almost guarantee that whatever time you have allotted for them, they will want more. There is also a good bet many of them will consistently go over their allotted time so you have to gently nudge them to wrap it up. It can be very annoying but you have to be able to finesse how you communicate with them. You most likely need their expertise so you don’t want to offend.
You will also likely communicate with the people in your class. For example, you may assign them pre-work or send a schedule or a “Welcome” email. You may have a coordinator who does some of this but usually, as the facilitator, you will have some responsibility for communicating with the class in some form or fashion.
Enthusiasm – One of the things that attracts people to becoming a trainer is the opportunity to train something they are excited about or know a lot about. My first true facilitation experience was teaching Walt Disney World Traditions which is the new employee orientation at Disney World. Do you think that was easy to be enthusiastic about? You bet it was!! I loved it! It’s easy to maintain enthusiasm for topics like that. Here’s the deal, though. Maintaining that level of enthusiasm for every class you are assigned can be very challenging.
Once you start training a particular class for a company, there is a good chance you will be teaching it over and over again. You may start out excited and enthusiastic but this can slowly turn to boredom and resentment. That has to be kept in check. You’ll want to look for opportunities to change things up for your own sanity. Be creative – think of new activities or new questions. If there is a team of designers, you can work with them to come up with some ideas. You also need to remind yourself that even if it’s your 100th time teaching a class, it’s the learner’s first time so don’t short change them with a bad attitude.
The other challenge with maintaining enthusiasm is you don’t necessarily control what classes you will teach. You are at the mercy of your company. So, if they want a class on the Equal Employment Opportunity Act and you are the trainer, guess what? You’re probably gonna be teaching an EEO class. That may or may not be something that excites you. For me, not so much. However, when it was assigned to me, I found ways to make it more interesting for myself and for the learners. I looked up some real life examples of EEO cases and their outcomes. I then used them in an activity where I challenged the class to guess what they thought the outcomes were based on EEO law. It ended up being a very engaging session. The point is, as the trainer, it is your responsibility to find and demonstrate enthusiasm for your topic. If you don’t care, why should your learners?
Storytelling – This got ingrained in me from my first job at Disney World. Stories matter. As a trainer, you should always be looking for and collecting stories that help drive your points home. People relate to stories and it helps them retain the information better. Whenever possible, I like to use personal stories that make the point but you can find lots of great stories all over. Just make sure to credit the story properly. i.e. Don’t act like it was you who did something if it wasn’t. Let the audience know where you heard or saw it. In the EEO example I mentioned, I didn’t actually participate in an EEO case myself so I used others’ stories to help convey the information.
How much does a Corporate Trainer make?
I’m going to answer this anecdotally. If you do a Google search for this question, you will see a range from various jobs sites. It looks to be in the $30k – $80k range which is probably about right. Of course, it depends. My first real facilitator role at Disney was not my full time gig. I had my regular job and then I also taught the class a few times a month. When I taught, I earned an extra $.10 per hour (yes, that’s 10 CENTS). Once I nabbed my first full time training job (CarMax) I think I was making $35k/year or thereabouts. This was in 1998 so I’m sure the pay has increased since then. With every job I took, I made increasingly more. I also took on more responsibility, though, like instructional design and e-learning development. If you want to stick with just the training/facilitation role, though, you can still continue to increase your pay.
Experience will usually get you more money as you move through your career but you also have to look at what you are training. Some training topics are going to pay better than others. Leadership and Sales training, for example are likely going to pay more than Call Center Customer Service training. Also, the more specialized the training is, the more likely it is to pay more.
You also have to look at where you are training. Some industries pay a lot more than others. In Houston, where I live, oil companies are known to pay more than other companies. Of course, they can also be a lot more volatile and less secure than other industries so there is that to consider as well.
The size of the company may also impact how well they pay. And bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better. In my experience (and others’ as well) Disney, for all the billions they rake in, was pretty cheap as far as salaries were concerned. That’s not a knock on Disney. I’m sure that is part of why they are successful. But don’t assume that bigger companies pay better. Some do. But many times, you might do better looking at a smaller, leaner company.
Bottom line with salaries is you can make a really good living. I know corporate trainers who make six figures while staying focused on just the facilitation/training. Granted, they are highly skilled and highly experienced so don’t expect to make that much right out of the gate. But, if you put in the time and effort, you can attain a much higher salary than the average range indicates.
How do I get started?
After reading all of the above, you should have a pretty good idea on whether or not you think the Training Facilitator route is the way you want to go. Assuming, yes, the next big question is how do you get started?
My first piece of advice to anyone looking to become a full time trainer is to look for opportunities in your current job. The first place I would start with is within your department. There is ALWAYS something people aren’t fully trained on or knowledgeable about. A lot of what we do in a corporate position is learned on the fly. And often, that means learning just enough to keep the boss off your back. If there is something you are particularly good at within your job, that is a great place to start.
For example, if your reports are always error free and your boss has commented on that, you might have a topic for a short training session that you could volunteer to give to your department. Or, maybe you consistently have the most sales or get the best customer satisfaction scores. Whatever it is, go to your boss and offer to do some training for the rest of the team. Why/when would a boss ever turn this down? You are doing a couple of things here. 1. You are showing great initiative and 2. You are helping your boss solve a problem. It’s a total win/win.
An advantage to starting within your own department is that it is relatively low stakes but a high payoff for you. I say low stakes because it will probably be a relatively small audience and it’s people who know you so they will likely be a pretty agreeable audience. Of course, you do have to put something together and deliver. This really shouldn’t be too hard since it’s something you are already doing. You just need to figure out how you want to organize your information and what you want to say. At this stage, it’s not about being perfect. The main thing is to do it. Once you’ve done it you’ll quickly start to figure out a few things like where you can improve and even, is this really something you’d want to do for your regular job?
Whether it goes total gangbusters and you are carried out of the conference room on the shoulders of your peers or it doesn’t go so great and you only get a smattering of polite applause…guess what? YOU NOW HAVE EXPERIENCE! You can legitimately put on your resume’ “Trained staff of 24 on the Higgledy Piggledy Reporting System” or whatever you trained your team on. And if it didn’t go as awesomely as you’d hoped…that’s OK!! You’ll know what to do differently for next time. The fact of the matter is, even after lots of experience, we all bomb sometimes in the training room. You just keep making adjustments and getting better.
When you feel like you are ready for “bigger and better” training opportunities, once again, I’d recommend looking within your current company. For example, what kinds of training does your company offer? Are there any topics you could help with? One place to check into is new employee orientation. Most companies have one and most use a variety of subject matter experts to help with training. Some subject matter experts really like doing the training but there are quite a few who really don’t. It’s an interruption in their day and not really their cup of tea. Maybe there is someone on your team who helps with orientation who feels this way and you could take their place. Or, at least alternate with them. You could also check with the team that runs the new employee orientation to see if there are any sections you could help with.
At Disney, they changed up who taught the Traditions class each year. They had a big audition for people who wanted to facilitate. That’s how I got to do that. I actually didn’t make it the first time I tried out but I knew it was something I really wanted to do so tried again the next year and got in. If your company does something similar, it would definitely be worth looking into.
The reason I like new employee orientation is because it’s usually a pretty good sized audience for you to practice on. It also exposes you to a wide variety of people since (usually) everyone has to go through it regardless of job title. So at Disney World, for example, I had housekeepers, restaurant workers, ride operators, managers, etc… It was a great way to see and hear from different perspectives and it also forced me to adapt as a trainer. On top of that, it exposes you to the other presenters. This might help you later if/when a job opens up in the training department.
As you rack up these “wins” that give you experience, you can start keeping an eye out for openings within your company that have training responsibilities. Or, for entry level positions at other companies. Just make sure you keep adding each new experience to your resume so you can highlight it when you apply.
Working as a Corporate Trainer is very rewarding. You get to connect with a wide range of people within your company and have fun at the same time. As you pursue your own corporate training career, I hope you find these tips helpful.
Troubleshooting for Trainers by Sophie Oberstein
Virtual Training Tools and Templates: An Action Guide to Live Online Learning by Cindy Huggett
Telling Ain’t Training by Harold Stolovitch
Confessions of a Corporate Trainer by Jonathan Halls
slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations by Nancy Duarte