people seated at an interview

You found an instructional design job you’re interested in and applied.  Now they want to interview you.  How should you prepare?  What kinds of questions are they going to ask?  That’s what this article is all about.

In my over 20 years of experience in corporate training and development, I have been on both sides of the instructional design interview and I know what you are likely facing. Here are ten common questions along with how to answer them.

For more interview advice, be sure to check out my Ultimate Guide to Getting a Learning and Development Job article.

Interviewing for a combo job such as Training Specialist?  Use this guide together with Insider’s Guide to Answering Corporate Trainer Interview Questions.

Question 1: What experience do you have?/Tell me about your Experience

Why they ask:

You can pretty much count on this question in some form or fashion.  To me, it’s kind of a “check the box” question that everyone feels compelled to ask even though they have already seen your resume’.  I get it, though.  They want to hear it from you.  The resume’ tells part of the story but you are the one who can really bring it to life.

How to Answer:

This is one I would practice. A lot.  You want to give the interviewer a good idea of what you have done (and, thereby, what you can do for them) but you don’t want to babble on and on to the point that they are bored.

Hit the main job roles and responsibilities.  In particular, highlight any that directly pertain to the job you are interviewing for.  For example, if the job posting mentions that you will be creating job aids then I’d definitely mention “at XYZ Company, I created several job aids for the Pinnacle system roll out.” Or whatever makes sense.

You want to be able to give a compelling answer within around 2 – 3 minutes.  That’s why I’d not only practice but I would even use a stopwatch to see how you do with timing.  Remember, the idea isn’t to give them your whole life story.  It’s to succinctly tell them what you have done and then, if there is something in particular they want to hear more about, they’ll ask.

(By the way, if you are worried about a lack of experience, I have a FREE tool to help you brainstorm ideas of what to include in your resume and use to answer this question.)

Question 2: What is your favorite aspect of instructional design?

Why they ask:

It seems like a bit of a “fluff” question but it can actually help to see how much you really know about instructional design.  It can also give an idea of where you are likely to focus your efforts.

How to answer:

Of course, as with any answer, be honest.  Don’t just tell them what you think they want to hear.  If you like the development/creation part, say so.  If you are more of the analysis type, that’s fine too.  Whatever it is, think about the WHY.  Why is that your favorite part?  That’s the meat of your answer along with how you do it.

I like the development phase where I’m actually creating the training asset. When I answer this question, I’ll mention this and then give a recent example.

“I love the development phase because I really enjoy using my creativity.  Recently, I worked on a short explainer video using Camtasia that came together really well.”

I try to not only mention what I like to do but also to let them know that I’m really good at it.

Question 3: How do you work with Subject matter experts (SMEs)?/How do you deal with a difficult SME?

Why they ask:

Any job that involves instructional design will require that you work with subject matter experts or “SMEs” at times.  Usually, as part of the needs analysis, you will interview one or several.  You are also likely to work with them throughout the project to help  with validation.  The interviewer wants to know that you can work with different types of people and personalities.

How to Answer:

For this one, you want to think of an actual situation and how it played out.  If it’s the more general question of how you work with SMEs, just take the interviewer through how you have interviewed and/or worked with them on a project.

If they specifically ask about a difficult SME, tell them “I’ve never had a difficult SME!” and then laugh and laugh.  Ok, seriously… Most of us have worked with difficult SMEs.  Now “difficult” doesn’t necessarily mean the person was a jerk or anything like that.  One of the more common issues with SMEs that I’ve had is when they don’t respond to my requests for information.

Regardless of what the “difficulty” is/was, you want to highlight what you did to overcome it.  If it was a difficult personality, talk about what you did to keep your cool and work productively with the person.  If it was that they didn’t respond to your emails, then talk about how you persisted and were able to get the information.

As you are doing this, make sure you don’t bad mouth the SMEs.  Show how you empathized with them.  “I know that as Director of Sales, Sarah is very busy. Since my email requests were probably getting lost in the shuffle, I set up a quick phone call with her to discuss the information I needed to move forward with the project.”

Question 4: What Is your process for Designing a course?

Why they ask:

The interviewer wants to know more about the approach you take.  They are also usually looking for some indication of your familiarity with various instructional design models.

How to answer:

If you use a particular ID model or process, mention that and then give a good example of how you used it in an actual project.

If you don’t or don’t know, then take a look at some of the different models and see which one aligns best to what you do.  I’d start with ADDIE (Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, Evaluate).  It’s well known and usually broadly fits whatever you might have created.

Question 5: Are you familiar with _______ ISD model?

Why they ask:

Some companies may have a particular model that they use and want to know if you are familiar with it.  Generally, they like to know that you are familiar with SOME ISD model and can use it effectively with your design.

how to answer:

Most of the time, you can find clues to which model they are going to ask about in the job posting.  They usually list in the requirements section which one(s) they expect you to use.

The majority of the time, the one they are going to ask about is ADDIE.  Make sure, at a minimum, that you can talk through an ADDIE example.

Again, though, if they specifically mention SAM or Action Mapping or some other model in the job posting, you’d better brush up on that.  And, if you can describe how you used it in a project, all the better.

To read more about Instructional Design models, see What’s The Best Instructional Design Model to Use?

Question 6: What is a project you are most proud of?

Why they ask:

The interviewer wants to hear specifics about projects you have worked on.  It is helpful to hear about what you consider to be your “best” work.

How to answer:

This is your chance to brag.  Pick something that you are truly proud of and that represents you at your best.  You should also be prepared to give some background on the project.  How you came up with the design, what steps you took to create it, who you worked with, etc… Anything relevant to help the interviewer better understand your skills and talents.

Question 7: What is a project that you aren’t proud of?

Why they ask:

Here, the interviewer wants to know how you handle adversity and/or how you learn from your mistakes.

How to answer:

This is kind of like the classic “tell me a weakness” question you often get in interviews.  You don’t want to go on and on about how terrible you are or did on a project.  At the same time, you will want to have some example where you can show growth.

I like to use examples from early in my career.  For example, my first couple of e-learning courses were really boring click and read, click and read, click and read safety lessons.  I mention that and then talk about how I worked to improve my skills.

Another angle to take with this question could be a project where things went wrong.  Maybe it was behind schedule or the quality didn’t turn out how you had planned or some other obstacle.  In an example like this, you would want to emphasize how you overcame that obstacle and what you learned from it.

Question 8: What software/tools do you use?/Are you familiar with ______?

Why they ask:

This is mainly just confirming what you probably already have listed on your resume.

How to answer:

This one is pretty straight forward.  It is an opportunity to reiterate any of the software skills you want to emphasize.

Obviously, if they have listed a specific software in the job posting and you have experience then you’d want to mention that.  As with other questions, I’d also talk about a project where I used that particular software.

If there is a new program you’ve learned recently, I’d mention that as well.  You want to show that you are constantly learning and staying up to date.

Question 9: How do you measure the success of the training?

Why They ask:

The fact that your latest course had slick graphics, cool video and catchy music is great but what were the results?  Did people learn what they were supposed to learn?  How do you know? That is basically what the interview wants to know with this question.

How to answer:

There is usually at least some kind of mechanism in place to measure training.  It could be an evaluation form filled out after an instructor led course.  It could be the number of people who completed and passed a quiz.  Whatever example you can give, you can mention.

You should also mention any successes you’ve heard about anecdotally.  For example, if someone has increased their sales after taking a sales course you created, talk about that.

Question 10: Walk me through an example./Show me your portfolio

Why They ask:

It’s pretty straight forward.  They want to see what you’ve done and what you can do.

How to answer:

The first, obvious piece of advice here is to make sure your portfolio has all your best work.  I talk more about what to include in your portfolio in my Ultimate Guide to Getting a Learning and Development Job article.

Once you have your portfolio put together, make sure you are prepared to speak on each item you’ve included.  That may seem pretty obvious as well but let me share with you what happened to a certain <ahem> someone who was not prepared.

I have different types of examples in my portfolio and for one particular interview I had a couple of things that I wanted to share with the interviewer (who happened to be the hiring manager).  I made an assumption about what I thought she’d want to see so mainly focused on them for my prep.  Well, guess what?  She wanted to see a completely different example and I stumbled through a not so great demo of that.  Lesson learned.

It was really disappointing because she had another meeting she had to go to so I only got to show the one thing.  I wished I could have at least salvaged the situation by showing her a couple of other examples.  But, it was not to be.  I never heard back from them.

Final Thoughts

This is by no means a comprehensive list of all questions you could possibly be asked in an instructional design interview. It should, however, be a good start to get you thinking about your experiences and projects so that you can answer just about any question they throw at you with confidence.

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