Teacher to Instructional Designer: Interview Questions

I received a question from a current classroom teacher who is hoping to make the career move to instructional design. Specifically, she wanted to know how to prepare for an interview for an instructional design position.

Any sage wisdom? I’m brushing up on ID jargon, but want to be as prepared as possible. What questions might they ask? Anything I should avoid discussing? Anything I should make sure to discuss? You’re guidance would be greatly appreciated.

What would you say was your biggest strength?
cc licensed flickr photo shared by hartboy

When I was part of a team interviewing teachers who wanted to switch, we always asked a couple of questions:

Have you developed any curriculum or lesson plans collaboratively, or have you always developed by yourself?

This wasn’t a deal-breaker for us, but being able to talk about how you worked with others to develop lessons is a big plus. IDs hardly ever work alone; you always have a SME and often several other team members. If they don’t ask about this and you do have experience developing collaboratively, bring it up yourself. Committee work is OK, but not nearly as good as collaborative curriculum work. Developing lessons for someone else to teach is good too. It isn’t the same when you’re developing just for yourself and no one else has to know how to teach what you designed.

How would you deal with not being in front of the classroom and interacting directly with students?

Talking about how much you love working with students is a great thing if you’re interviewing for a teaching job. When you’re interviewing for an ID job where you’ll be behind the scenes and may never talk to a student, it isn’t so helpful. I’ve seen candidates rejected because they talked too much about how important seeing the light go on in students was to them; we didn’t think they’d be happy.

What is your process for developing curriculum/lesson plans?

If you get this question or a variation of it, focus on the process of development and not your content area. Unless your content expertise is specifically part of this job, that isn’t what they want to hear about. If I’m interviewing someone, I want to know how you figure out what you’re going to teach and how you teach it. Do you start with your objectives or end with them? Do you write your assessments first or last? Do you start from high level goals and break down from there, or do you start with the daily lessons and build connections?

How would your skills transfer from teaching to instructional design?

Your skills do transfer, which they probably know or they wouldn’t have set up an interview. You need to explicitly connect the dots for them though–explain how developing lesson plans and curriculum is similar to developing higher ed courses or whatever you’re interviewing for.

How would you make the transition to this environment?

Talk about any work with adults that you have done. If you coached other teachers on how to use Excel, that counts here. I’ve been asked something similar to this just about every time I’ve switched from academia to corporate and back. If you’re interviewing for something in higher ed, talk about your experience in that environment; ditto for corporate or nonprofit jobs. If the job involves online education, be prepared to talk about any experience you have taking or teaching courses online. Hopefully you can also get a feel from the job description as to how much technology you need to talk about.

How do you assess learning?

In the previous job where I interviewed many people, we always asked candidates to tell us how they would assess a specific outcome online, given the caveat of no tests or traditional academic papers. We were very focused on authentic, real-world assessment. Teachers who could come up with a scenario-based assessment on the fly were likely to move forward to the next step in the process. I don’t think that’s as common an interview question as it should be (it’s a better test than “what is your greatest weakness” after all), but it does show the value of knowing your audience. People who had done their research and knew from our website that we were looking for practical assessment did much better than those who talked about how much they love writing multiple choice questions. And yes, we had a candidate who went on and on about how much she loved writing and validating multiple choice questions.

Other interview questions

The problem with answering a question like this is that everyone’s experiences will be different. I can provide insight on what I’ve seen personally, but that’s a pretty small snapshot. What about the rest of you?

If you’re a teacher or former teacher who has interviewed for instructional design jobs, what interview questions have you run across?

If you’re on the other side of the desk interviewing instructional designers, do you have specific questions that you tend to ask teachers? Do you ask anything like the questions above? What are you looking for when you ask those questions?

11 thoughts on “Teacher to Instructional Designer: Interview Questions

  1. I think what helped me transition from teaching to instructional design was a firm understanding of how to write and frame learning objectives as well as being able to assess the learner’s success. Then envision how I would design the learning experience around this. I have to say I leveraged my experience working in the classroom to help visualize how some activities were designed (still taking adult learner’s needs into account). I also found it helpful to seek out opportunities to train or instruct both adults and children, so I wouldn’t loose that ‘teachers’ edge.’ I feel like I need to switch roles every now and then to remain truly effective.

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  3. I’m a former teacher who has just started working as an Instructional Designer, and what helped me nake hte transition was having being able to articulate my experience with curriculum design and developing learning outcomes. My having collaborated on course development and curriculum design was also a big plus to my interviewers. In fact, my new boss told me that she selected me because I was able to demonstrate how instruction I had designed was used by other teachers and understand how to write assessable learning outcomes. Also, I was asked about my awareness of my own learning process and I used that to help me design instruction for others. The people interviewing me didn’t really care if I knew the ID jargon, but they cared that I could explain my course design process and how I incorporated learner feedback. I was also asked what I looked for in analyzing the design of existing courses for improvement. Demonstrating that I focused on the learner experience, could develop assessable learning outcomes, and could apply that assessment to refining instruction got me the job.

  4. Focusing on learning objectives makes sense. Looking back at that previous job where I did all the interviews, we were in the odd position of hiring IDs who didn’t need to write objectives. The way that group was set up, IDs really focused just on the DD of ADDIE. That skewed our interview process a bit.

    Assessment is another big area where the skills teachers already have can easily transfer to instructional design, as you both mentioned. The focus on learner success and learner feedback makes sense.

    Monica, congrats on your new position! Always good to have another former teacher in the field with us!

  5. All of these previous suggestions are great. You could expand the “design” and “development” areas by mentioning a range of face-to-face classroom activities that teachers know well (ie pedogogy) and how these might be translated into various formats in the design/implementation phase (eg print, online etc) while still achieving learning outcomes and objectives.

  6. For those who have made the switch what is your opinion? I am thinking of getting my Master’s in instructional design and can’t make up my mind. I do not see myself staying in the classroom my whole career.

    • It was 100% the right choice for me, but it’s not the right choice for everyone.

      How much do you enjoy creating lesson plans and developing a curriculum plan for the whole year? Do you like learning new technology and playing with a tool until you learn it yourself? If you are energized by those tasks, then you probably will like instructional design. If you dread writing and are really only energized when you’re in front of a class, you might be happier as a trainer or something else.

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