What are the top instructional designer interview questions?
Today, you’ll get 50+ questions you might be asked at your next interview and how to answer them.
Want to learn more? Read on.
So, you want to become an instructional designer? Well, nailing the interview is the first step.
A lot of people prepare for interviews by looking over their resumes and doing some light research on the company they’re applying to.
But there’s a lot more you can do to shine during the interview. See, you do need to put in prep time to research the company and role. And understanding how to answer questions can make the difference between getting the job or spending months (or years) on the market without much success.
Interviewers like to ask open-ended questions to get you to connect the dots between your experience and the needs and demands of the role. And two ways to answer interview questions are the interview thesis statement and STAR. Understanding these methods will help change the game for you – and you’ll land a lot more offers.
The interview “thesis” statement is a 5-7 sentence summary of who you are, your work experience, and why you’re the best fit for the role. A thesis statement helps:
Start with a brief background of who you are and include three words or phrases that capture how you fit the role you’re applying for.
Then, add a few sentences that support each word or phrase to show you have the required experience. End with a concluding sentence that reinforces why you’re the right person for the job.
STAR, which stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result, is the most common interview response method. It’s mainly used for behavioral questions, but it could be used for any question.
Why is this method worth learning about? Because it helps add structure and tell a clearer story.
So, describe the situation, the specific role or responsibility, the actions you took to complete that task or solve the problem, and the outcome or results, arguably the most important part of your STAR response.
For more tips on how to use STAR, watch this short video I put together for you:
So, now you know how to structure your answers. Next, let’s take a look at specific interview questions and example answers.
Here are the main interview questions and sample answers for an instructional designer job:
Your interview will likely start with a question that asks you to introduce yourself. Using the thesis statement, your reply could look something like this:
“I have been working in the learning & development field for 10 years as a curriculum developer, educator, and trainer. I recently returned to the United States after living and working in South Korea and Taiwan, where I designed learning experiences for a range of audiences.
From these experiences, I have refined skills working with eLearning tools like Articulate Storyline and the Adobe Suite, developing training that puts learners first, and creating learning solutions that serve global teams and clients.
I would be an ideal fit for this position because I’ve already created training programs from idea to implementation in several learning modalities (such as eLearning, virtual, and instructor-led). I’m sensitive to my learners’ needs and know how to develop cross-cultural relationships – both important qualities for training and serving global clients.
I’m excited about [company name]’s mission and know that my experience would help move [company name] forward.’’
In this short video, I explain a bit more about how to tell your story:
You’ll most likely get this interview question when you’re interviewing for an instructional design role. So, the key is to use a real-life example and show how it was successful.
I talk more about this question in this quick video:
Here’s an example answer:
“My design process is tailored to the type of instructional design project and the audience, but I typically use the ADDIE model (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation) as a framework.
For example, when I was tasked with developing an onboarding training program for new employees, I analyzed the organizational chart, interviewed SMEs (our HR representatives), developed an eLearning experience, implemented the slideshow by adding it to the company’s LMS, and gave HR an online survey to email new employees after their first week with the company. Employees who reviewed the eLearning experience reported understanding the leadership structure better than those who chose not to.”
This question focuses on your experience and how you approach your projects. If you don’t have any real-world instructional design experience yet, talk about a mock project you’ve created.
“My favorite learning experience was when I was tasked by a SaaS company that creates trucking logistics software to create a learning experience for truck drivers. This was a challenging and rewarding experience.
As a first step, I decided to ride with a truck driver on some pickups and deliveries to see what they experienced and how they would utilize the new software platform while on the road. This was an essential step because they are heavily regulated by the federal government, which makes it a requirement to log every aspect of the drive in real time. It also provided an opportunity to talk with the driver and learn how they would access any learning experience from the road, which, for most drivers, is an Android tablet.
So, I created an experience that was easily accessible and ran smoothly on an Android tablet with or without Wi-Fi. I simulated a drop-off and pickup scenario to make the learning relevant to the stakeholders’ everyday operations. The learning experience was no longer than 15 minutes because drivers only get 30-minute breaks. The result was that 85% of drivers completed the learning experience within the first week. The carrier feedback was positive, and they requested additional scenario-based learning experiences.”
Similarly, this question focuses on your experience. Here, the hiring manager is trying to understand how you approach challenges while creating impactful and engaging learning experiences. How do you problem-solve? And do you learn from challenges?
“A nonprofit arts organization hosted an annual 24-hour film festival. I was tasked with creating a quick learning experience for learners about what was required to be included in their films. It was a challenging experience because filmmaking is such a subjective art form. I had to be detailed about the things that needed to be included without stifling the learners’ creativity. So, I created an in-person, interactive learning activity to help the learners understand how they would be judged.
The learners were required to complete the interactive learning activity by a certain time. By successfully completing the activity, they demonstrated an improved understanding of the competition requirements. Most teams included all the requirements. And those that didn’t noted on a festival follow-up survey that they knew the item was missing but couldn’t fit it into their film sequence due to timing or plot.”
Basically, how do you learn from failure and make sure you do it better next time? That’s what this question aims to identify. Your answer might sound something like this:
“I created an online training course and assessment for local recreational sports coaches to help them learn how to behave towards and connect with the adolescents they’re coaching. Because the course needed to align with state volunteer expectations and regulations, the language used had to be very specific.
Only the learners who passed the course could become coaches. While I researched the appropriate state rules and created applicable quizzes, unfortunately, the nuanced content and the formatting only confused the learners. Several learners who had previously served as coaches failed the assessment and complained to the head of recreational sports. I learned from this experience that I needed to familiarize myself more with the details, reconsider how an assessment is presented to learners, and allow users the possibility of a second chance on some questions.”
Here, you’re expected to show how you handle stressful situations and multiple goals. Here’s what an answer might look like:
“Staying organized is critical for managing customer and client expectations as they vie for the instructional designer’s attention and deliverables. When I have competing deadlines, I make a list of tasks and prioritize them based on importance and urgency.
For example, I once worked with an institution that needed an end-of-term learner assessment and evaluation and formal evaluation and a learning advisor qualifying pre-test.
Using an online project management application was beneficial in having this information readily available and updated as needed. Both projects were completed on time despite shifting priorities and delays due to limited SME availability. The institution was equally pleased with their resulting instructional materials.”
For most employers, it’s important that instructional designers connect the dots between your work and the business’s ultimate goals. Here’s an example answer:
“When a business hires me as an instructional designer, I first ask clients to define their strategic business objectives and identify any skill gaps. For example, when I created a professional development module for associate attorneys at a law firm, I asked the head of Marketing what the firm’s business goals were for new associates.
I then established related training goals to determine the learning module’s scope. After developing a preliminary module, I asked the Marketing team to test the instructions and surveyed them on whether they felt the content was connected to their business goals.
Then, I added the finishing touches to the module and handed it off to the Marketing team to disseminate. Once the module had been successfully implemented, I asked the Marketing team for feedback again to know whether the associate attorneys were proactively integrating the training to build a client base. They reported that a few attorneys had already signed new clients.”
Instructional designers need to be able to work with Subject Matter Experts (or SMEs). For example, even if your SMEs don’t prioritize your project or give vague answers, your job is to get them to collaborate. And how well you do that is what this question aims to figure out.
“I worked for a university (that had an educational contract with NASA) to create short, whimsical instructional videos for young learners about scientific subjects to get them interested in science and technology-related careers. I first did some online research to prepare for a preliminary interview with an SME from the space program. To ensure I was familiar with the topic, I learned about inventions created for shuttle missions that are now applied to everyday life.
This allowed me to be conversational and identify items and complex terms that could be simplified for my target audience to steer the SME in an appropriate direction.
I explained the video topic and the target audience. The SME would also serve as the video narrator later in the video development, so I needed to prep them for production by explaining the project’s scope and giving them a feel for what the script would look like. I used our conversation to create a script so the SME could more naturally present the content when recorded. The video was substantive but fun and applicable to young learners. In fact, it became one of NASA’s most popular online educational videos within their free, district-wide educational platform.”
One question you will likely be asked is what your preferred instructional design tools and software are.
My advice? Learn enough about each of these so that you can talk about them and use them on the job.
This is another question that’s typically asked in most interviews. Ask questions you genuinely want the answer to.
A few that will show you what your responsibilities will be and what the role looks like are:
Other questions include:
1. What does your team currently look like?
2. What gaps are there on the team?
3. What projects are coming up? What will I be working on?
4. What is the onboarding process like?
5. How do you best support your clients/learners?
6. What is the satisfaction rate and feedback from your clients/learners?
7. How would my performance be assessed in this position?
8. What is the biggest challenge I would face?
9. What opportunities are there for growth? How do you support continued learning?
10. How does company leadership support the Instructional Design/eLearning team?
A few of the possible instructional design theory questions and suggested answers during an interview for an instructional designer role may include:
The three major components of instructional design are learning objectives, instructional activities, and assessments (the “Magic Triangle” of learning). Explain each component and how they’re used in projects. You can draw from your own experience and tell a story of how you’ve used them in a particular situation.
This question will likely ask you to identify the five principles of instructional design developed by David Merrill (known as Merrill’s Principles of Instructions, MPI). These can be applied when designing any program to achieve effective instruction. The five principles are:
Remember to use a story to illustrate how you’ve used these or how they can be used.
This is, again, a question you can answer with the help of STAR and draw from your experience to explain why you like a specific learning theory. For example:
“When I was an educator, I had to apply instructional design theories all the time to the learning experiences I was creating. I had to step in to deliver instruction for another coworker, and there were hardly any learning plans for me to work with. I knew I needed something quick, but I didn't want to sacrifice learner engagement. I knew that Gagne's nine events were perfect for designing comprehensive learning experiences in a structured way, so I built a template and used that to guide my learning design.
The template helped me design learning experiences 50% more quickly, and the learners were more engaged with these learning experiences than the ones I took more time on. Seeing the power of Gagne’s nine events made it one of my favorite ID theories.”
This question aims to understand how you work towards meeting learners’ needs – a key skill for instructional designers. Here’s how you might answer this question:
“A local restaurant noticed that its servers were making mistakes when entering orders on a new point-of-sale system and asked me to assess the training video used to teach the system and then identify the staff’s learning needs.
I first evaluated the video to know what was already in place. Then, I distributed an anonymous questionnaire to assess how the servers felt they could be best helped to learn the system better.
Finally, I held a short discussion session at the start of a few shifts to determine whether the servers had ideas and suggestions to become more familiar with the software. I decided that the video didn’t cover the topic adequately and that most of the staff didn’t have time to review the video. So, I created a job aid to mount near the computers and a rewards system to incentivize entering orders correctly. The servers became increasingly competitive in learning the menu abbreviations and discount codes that had previously confused them.”
The design process is sure to come up during a job interview. Here are a few instructional design theory questions and suggested answers.
This question gives you the chance to show off your project management skills. A potential answer might look something like this:
“I often handle multiple projects at a time, so managing them and communicating effectively with stakeholders is a top priority. For example, when I was creating a training course for a regional fast-food chain opening a new restaurant, I defined the project scope, established a timeline, created a project plan, and prioritized milestones. I stayed in contact with the key stakeholder and apprised them of completed and outstanding items remaining. Ultimately, I completed the course on time and within budget. The client was pleased and was able to start training employees before the restaurant opened to the public.”
A successful learning experience has to be measurable. And that’s what this question aims to uncover – how you measure your work. So, which stakeholders do you consult? What tools do you use to measure effectiveness? And, most importantly, how do you learn from your experience?
While this question asks for multiple courses, you’ll want to tell a specific story about one learning experience you created to keep your answer concise and focused. Here’s an example:
“I have created learning experiences for companies, municipalities, educational institutions, law firms, and nonprofit organizations. One of the most rewarding experiences was creating interactive learning materials and handouts for a local refugee nonprofit center to acclimate new arrivals and inform them of available social services.
All the learning experiences I’ve created are tailored to a specific audience and their accessibility needs. Many refugees didn’t have computer access outside the center, so printed materials were critical for this population. The learning experiences and handouts were designed for this purpose and were translated into several languages. In fact, the center’s director relayed several anecdotal stories of refugees being relieved to find the services they needed were available in the area without having to ask someone outright.”
It’s essential to have a portfolio of work samples to share when interviewing for an instructional designer job. These samples should include the use of Articulate Storyline or similar eLearning authoring tools.
After all, according to my Instructional Design Hiring Manager Report 2021, 86.1% of instructional designers list Articulate Storyline as one of the top three tools and technologies that instructional designers should be familiar with upon hire.
So, here are a few questions you might be asked about your Articulate Storyline skills:
This question is the perfect opportunity to share a story about how you used Storyline to create learning material. What’s more, you can really shine by explaining how you used Storyline in ways that make you stand out.
So, why did you use multimedia to achieve learning objectives? That’s what the hiring manager wants to know.
Articulate Storyline is the most popular rapid eLearning authoring tool available. But, like any tool, it has its pros and cons. So, explain what you like and don’t like about Storyline using specific examples, if possible.
Ultimately, the goal of this question is to understand how familiar you are with this tool.
The following questions are all about better understanding your skills. So, for example, how do you create learning materials? And how does your previous experience apply to the new job you want?
If you don’t have industry-relevant experience, you might be anxious about this question. But you don’t have to be! Just explain how your transferable skills are relevant to the position you’re interviewing for.
“My experience as an educator has well prepared me for a corporate instructional designer role. For example, I have prepared in-depth learning plans, delivered instruction to learners of various intellects and abilities, and experimented with multimedia.
I understand different learning styles, and as an educator, I know assessing a learner’s progress is paramount. I have had informational interviews with corporate instructional designers who have assured me that my skills will translate well, and I am confident this is the case.”
This question asks you to explain how you take into account all different types of learners. So, highlight any relevant experience.
“I keep accessibility and learner differences at the forefront of my instructional design process. Through purposeful approaches to content, such as highly readable fonts, background and foreground contrast, and downloadable PDFs, I make content that can be read aloud by a screen reader for the visually impaired.
I also approach the instruction from different perspectives based on whether the learner is a visual, cognitive, or social learner.”
Explain your strength and how it helps achieve the ultimate end goal. Remember to tailor your answer to the position you’re interviewing for to highlight why you’re the right person for the job.
Here’s an example:
“I enjoy telling stories to help learners engage with a new topic. In fact, one of the most gratifying projects I worked on included a gamification aspect, and the client was pleased with the employees’ positive feedback and interaction.
So, my greatest strength is making learning enjoyable and more like an adventure than a boring or difficult task. Ultimately, learners are more likely to retain the content and be able to apply what they’ve learned when they enjoy the experience.”
Soft skills, such as communication and creative thinking, are just as important as “hard skills.” For instance, my hiring manager report shows that 65.3% of hiring professionals consider communication a top three instructional design skill.
Most hiring managers expect you to collaborate with others (if not a team, then your SMEs and stakeholders), even if the position offers more flexibility to work independently. So, share a relevant story that demonstrates how you’ve successfully collaborated with others.
This question asks you to explain how you communicate. So, give an example of a time when you walked someone through an industry-specific concept. How did you ensure that the person walked away with a good understanding of the concept? Explain in your answer.
Now that you have a good overview of how to answer questions, let’s take a look at other questions that might come up in the interview process. You can answer most of these with the STAR method:
25. Give me an example of a time you worked with a difficult Subject Matter Expert and how you handled that experience.
26. How do you simplify complex topics?
27. What’s your greatest weakness? Why?
28. Why did you leave your last job?
29. How do you handle ambiguity?
30. Give an example of a situation where results went against expectations. How did you adapt?
31. Describe a situation where you had to make a decision without managerial support. What steps did you take? Who did you communicate with?
32. How do you prioritize tasks when you have multiple deadlines?
33. Describe a situation where you performed a task without pre-existing experience.
34. Describe a time when learners failed to understand the learning material. What were your biggest takeaways?
35. How have you used ADDIE to design learning programs? Give an example.
36. Explain the steps you take to make a course engaging.
37. Describe the steps you take to teach instructors to use a new eLearning platform.
38. What’s your experience with creating storyboards or scripts?
39. How do you stay on top of new trends and changes in the instructional design industry?
40. Describe how you incorporate feedback into your process.
41. What learning content do you have experience creating?
42. How do you incorporate performance data into your process?
43. Describe the steps you took on a recent project to go from ideation to implementation.
44. Give an example of a time when you used technology to solve a problem you were facing in your work.
45. Describe a situation where there was a miscommunication between you and another team member. How did you resolve the situation?
46. Give an example of a time when you wanted to make a change to a project, but a stakeholder, SME, or team member overruled you. How did you handle it?
47. What interactive elements would you add to a theoretical course to make it more engaging? Why?
48. Explain your process for recording scripts. What software do you use?
49. How do you collect feedback from stakeholders?
50. What steps would you take if an instructor didn’t want to use your learning material?
51. What are your main professional goals?
52. Why do you want to work as an instructional designer?
There you have it! Now you know what the top instructional designer interview questions are. So, with a little prep work, that instructional designer job will be yours in no time.
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