The Learning and Development (or Training and Development…or Talent Development…) field can be a very fun, exciting and lucrative place to build a career. But how do you get started? What type of job is the best fit? What do you need to know before making the leap? That’s what this article is all about! We’re going to take a look at some of the most common positions within L&D along with an insider’s (my) view on what each one does and how you can get started with pursuing them.
What Do you want to DO?
Before you can begin pursuing your L&D career, you need to figure out what you want to do. You may already have some idea but let’s take a look at some of the most common roles within the field and see what will be the best fit.
The Coach: Department Trainer
Other Titles: Mentor
Are you really good at your job? Do you like to take others under your wing? Are you considered a subject matter expert within your department?
This is where a lot of people (myself included) get started on the path to a Learning and Development career. If you are good at your job and your department hires someone, chances are, you might be asked to train that person. This type of training usually takes place one on one but may also involve a small group. You basically show the newbie (or newbies) the ropes of how to do the job.
This is typically not a full time training position. You are doing your regular job while training the new employee. The training could last for a day or several weeks depending on your job. It usually consists of the trainee shadowing and observing you along with you explaining what you are doing and why.
- Excellent stepping stone to a full time Learning and Development position.
- Great personal development opportunity to demonstrate coaching and leadership skills.
- Satisfaction of helping another person be successful.
- May feel like you’re doing double work.
- Can get tiresome having someone observing you all the time.
The Performer: Corporate Trainer
Other Titles: Training Facilitator, Learning Facilitator, Trainer, Presenter
Do you like to perform? Are you good at public speaking? Do you tend to be a bit of an extrovert?
Training facilitators typically conduct a variety of training programs. These are usually done in person for an audience. Examples of classes can include New Employee Orientation, Sales Training, Safety Training, Customer Service, Software and Leadership. Basically, anything the company needs people to learn about could be a potential topic.
In my personal career, I have facilitated some really fun topics like Walt Disney World Traditions and some not as fun topics like the Workforce Investment Act. As the facilitator, it is up to you to make those “not fun” topics interesting. You can get really creative with how you involve and engage your audience. Just because the topic may seem boring doesn’t mean you have to be.
- Fun to present to an audience.
- Satisfaction when you see the “a-ha” moments from your learners.
- You are seen as an authority.
- You get to meet a lot of people across your company.
- Possible travel.
- You are on your feet and “onstage” all day. (When presenting)
- You are usually responsible for having the room set up early and cleaning up after the class is over.
- Can be monotonous if you end up teaching the same class over and over.
- Participants aren’t always enthusiastic to be in your class.
- Possible travel.
(For more information, check out my Career Spotlight: How to Become a Corporate Trainer article)
The Architect: Instructional Designer
Other Titles: Learning Experience Designer, Learning Designer, Experience Designer
Are you creative? Do you like to come up with ideas on how to deliver training? Do you like investigating what needs to be trained?
The instructional designer designs and builds the training solution. Typically, you will begin by determining what actually needs to be included in the training. Then, you decide how the content will be delivered. It could be an instructor led class, a webinar, a video or an e-learning course. Whichever direction it goes, the instructional designer is usually also the one who creates any materials associated with the training. This could include outlines, job aids, PowerPoint presentations, and anything else the instructional designer determines is needed.
- LOTS of opportunities to use your creativity.
- Usually good variety from project to project.
- Great opportunities to learn new information as you develop training.
- Reliance on busy subject matter experts can sometimes cause delays.
- May be assigned projects that you have no knowledge of or interest in.
- Can be very demanding as far as what is expected – writing, communication, project management, graphic design…etc…
(For more information, check out my Career Spotlight: How to Become an Instructional Designer article)
The Techie: E-Learning Developer
Other Titles: Instructional Designer, E-Learning Specialist
Do you like working with multimedia? Do you like to create using different types of software? Are you into technology?
E-learning development will often be a part of an instructional designer’s role but more and more, it also exists as a standalone position. An e-learning developer is solely focused on e-learning or online learning experiences whereas the instructional designer may also work on developing instructor led courses. In addition to building courses in software such as Adobe Captivate or Articulate Storyline, the e-learning developer typically works a lot with the company LMS (Learning Management System). That’s because not only are they building the course, they need to make sure it works when people launch it. Thus, the e-learning specialist may share some LMS Administrator duties as well.
- Usually on the “cutting edge” of learning technology.
- You get to be creative and work with some fun/cool software.
- Good variety of things to do.
- Can get pigeonholed as the “LMS Person”/Help Desk
- Technology can be finicky (i.e. stuff doesn’t always work the way it’s supposed to)
(For more information , check out my Career Spotlight: How to Become an Elearning Developer article)
The Organizer: Training Coordinator
Other Titles: Training Administrator, Project Manager, LMS Administrator
Are you really organized? Do you enjoy project management? Are you detail oriented?
Most Learning/Training departments will have some kind of coordinator/administration type of position. This person is oftentimes the “glue” that holds everything together. Generally, the creatives are happier concentrating on the creative stuff – designing the training or delivering it. Someone needs to keep track of everything, though. e.g. scheduling training, booking rooms, tracking attendance, maintaining the LMS (Learning Management System), ordering supplies, printing materials, helping with logistics, etc… It can be a very demanding position and most of the training coordinators I’ve worked with have been highly skilled and highly respected members of the overall department.
- Lots of different types of tasks of the administrative variety.
- Can be a good way to get your foot in the door to one of the other positions – if you play your cards right.
- Often seen as the “glue” that holds the department together and if you’re good you will probably hold a lot of sway with the boss.
- At times, some of the people you support (Facilitators, IDs, etc…) can act like Prima Donna’s .
- Can be very demanding with a lot of shifting priorities.
- Can get pigeonholed as the admin when you were hoping to eventually move into a training or designing role.
The Jack of All Trades: Training Specialist
Other Titles: Learning Specialist, L&D Specialist, T&D Specialist
Did you read the list above and think “I wanna do all of that”?
It’s really interesting how different companies handle the training/learning function. Some will have fairly large departments where the various roles are broken up as I’ve described so far. Many, though, like to lump a whole bunch of the above into one role (e.g. “Training Specialist”). I’ve usually seen this in smaller companies but it can happen anywhere. It’s not necessarily a BAD thing. I owe a lot of my success to the fact that I held several of these “jack of all trades” positions. That’s because they allowed me to discover and “play” in several different arenas which ultimately led me to decide that Instructional Design was where it’s at for me. I love that I got to experience all of the other aspects, though, and it helped me develop a lot of valuable skills that continue to serve me well even though I’m more ID focused now.
So, yes, many of these “Specialist” positions end up being a multi-hyphenate of several of the other positions. This can be great if you’d like to dabble in facilitation AND instructional design AND e-learning for example. Maybe not so much, though, if you know you want to specialize in a particular area.
- Lets you experience a variety of different training functions in one job.
- Gives you more flexibility for if/when you do decide to specialize or decide to switch companies (or go off on your own).
- What’s that they say? “Jack of all trades…Master of none…”? (I wouldn’t sweat that too much. You’ll naturally find your superpower and then go from there)
- It can get overwhelming to be expected to be good at EVERYTHING. I feel like a lot of companies don’t understand all of the specializations and they just cram every training function into the one position.
- Can become a dumping ground for whatever random training related thing the company has going on.
What About (insert other job title here)?
Obviously, this is not a comprehensive list of EVERY position ever created within Learning and Development. In my experience, it does cover the majority of roles that a person would want to begin investigating. If none of these quite fit the bill for you, though, there are still plenty of other L&D related jobs out there to explore. Many are hybrids of the above so you should still have a pretty good idea of which direction you want to head after reading this.
Hopefully, this gave you a good idea of what type of role you think will be a good fit for you. But where do you go from here? You can start with my Career Spotlight series where I delve into some of these roles in more detail. In the meantime, though, here are a couple of general tips.
- The number one thing I tell anyone wanting to break into L&D, regardless of position, is to look for opportunities in your current position to gain experience. If your company has a new employee orientation, for example, and you want to be a Training Facilitator, volunteer to be a presenter for that. Training departments are almost always in need of good subject matter experts who are also good presenters for various programs.
Or, if you’re more interested in something like instructional design, put together something for your department. Talk to your boss about a pain point within the department.
Boss: People aren’t using the Flux Capacitor the way it was meant to be used.
You: Why not?
Boss: I don’t know…I don’t think the training really covers what we want them to do.
You: I’m really good with Flux Capacitors. What if I put a job aid together that would help the rest of the team?
Boss: You are a ROCK STAR! Here…take my office!
Seriously, though, taking a little bit of initiative can go a long way.
- Talk to people who do what you want to do. That may seem obvious and, if you’re like me, it may also sound terrifying. I HATE networking. I tend to be very introverted and the thought of talking to strangers sends me into a panic. (Of course, that’s not a problem for you talkie facilitator types…) It doesn’t HAVE to be strangers, though. Start with people you know in your company. Who taught you at new employee orientation or for that safety class you took? That could be a good person to start a conversation with to understand the training department and how it’s run. It may also give you some inside scoop on any needs within the department. If you’re not afraid of going the “stranger” route, there are a lot of good professional organizations to check out. One in particular I’d recommend looking into is a local ATD chapter. ATD is the Association for Talent Development. Back in my day, it was “ASTD” or American Society for Training and Development. They changed the name in 2014 “to reflect the global nature and broad scope of its members’ work” (according to the site). I like recommending it because you should be able to find a local chapter where you can go and attend an event while also meeting people in the field. The member base is large and broad too so it’s good for getting exposure to a variety of the roles I mentioned. One other tactic I recommend as far as “talking” to people is social media. Places like LinkedIn have lots of different groups you can join and ask questions or read others’ questions. For the most part, there are a lot of sincere people who will try to help you if you ask a question. I know I try to do this when I get a chance. My main beef, though, with some of the groups is that if they aren’t well moderated, they get a ton of spam posts from the same people over and over hawking their business or service. (Looking at you Instructional Design Central!) Still, I’d check out any that appeal to you or are focused on the area that interests you.
There is a lot to consider when pursuing a career in Learning and Development. It can definitely be overwhelming. I hope this guide helps a little bit as you embark on your own career journey.