Instructional Design Hiring Manager Report 2021

Published on 
April 19, 2021
Updated on 
May 11, 2022
Instructional Design Hiring Manager Report 2021
Written by
Devlin Peck

What are hiring managers looking for when they hire instructional designers? Which application materials are the most important? How do hiring managers evaluate instructional design portfolios?

I created the 2021 ID Hiring Manager Survey to help answer these questions for the industry. The results should give new and experienced instructional designers some insights into how the hiring decisions are made.

Armed with this information, I expect that instructional designers will focus their efforts on the most worthwhile pursuits when trying to secure better opportunities.

Hiring managers may also glean some new perspectives by reviewing the choices made by their peers.

Here are some of the top insights from the data:

  • 74.3% of respondents select eLearning development as one of the top three skills that they look for when hiring an instructional designer.
  • 86.1% of respondents list Articulate Storyline as one of the top three tools and technologies that instructional designers should be familiar with upon hire.
  • Respondents identify the applicant’s professional experience, interview, and portfolio as the top three things they consider in the hiring process.
  • 42.6% of respondents prefer hiring an instructional designer with a bachelor’s degree, whereas only 33.7% of respondents prefer hiring an instructional designer with a master’s degree.

You can view the raw data by scrolling to the bottom of this page or opening the report in a new window. Alternatively, you can read on for my analysis and insights.

Finally, you are welcome to discuss these results in your own content, but please link back to this page if you do so.

The Audience

The respondents include 101 people who claim to play a role in the hiring decision for instructional designers. This is likely not an adequate sample size to represent all of the ID hiring managers worldwide, but it paints a larger picture than that painted by an individual hiring manager.

About 70% of the respondents are in the corporate space, so responses will be skewed to the corporate ID world.

Furthermore, I generated responses by sharing the survey on LinkedIn and with my mailing list. In each share, I asked people to share it with their audiences and send it to their hiring managers.

About half of my audience is in the United States, so we can expect that a US-skewed global audience that’s active on LinkedIn responded to the survey.

Top Skills for Instructional Designers

Hiring managers rated eLearning development skills as one of the most in-demand skills for instructional designers.

This is no surprise considering that our industry is very eLearning-heavy at the moment. Most instructional designers are expected to not only work with SMEs and write content, but also develop that content into a functional end-product.

When asked which top three skills the respondents look for when hiring instructional designers, they selected:

  • eLearning development (74.3%)
  • Communication skills (65.3%)
  • Ability to apply ID theory and science (61.4%)

The fourth place selection, visual design skills, comes in at a much lower 35.6%. The least selected choices include:

  • Business acumen (13.9%)
  • LMS administration (7.9%)
  • Learning analytics (4%)

Overall, it appears that hiring managers are looking for instructional designers who can communicate well, apply instructional design theory, and develop eLearning in rapid authoring tools.

Which skills are lacking?

When asked which in-demand skill is most often lacking when hiring instructional designers, the hiring managers reported:

  • Ability to apply ID theory and science (24.8%)
  • Visual design (20.8%)
  • Project management (13.9%)

So, while hiring managers are looking for applicants who can quickly dive into development, they are having a more difficult time finding people who can apply instructional design theory.

Therefore, if you want to ensure that your application stands out, then it would be smart to highlight your ability to design professional layouts and apply ID theory to solve real-world problems.

Check out this article about how to solve real-world problems with scenario-based eLearning.

Top Tools & Technologies

Articulate Storyline topped the charts when it comes to instructional design tools and technologies.

The respondents selected the top three tools and technologies that instructional designers should be familiar with upon hire. The top three choices were:

  • Articulate Storyline (86.1%)
  • Learning Management Systems (49.5%)
  • Microsoft PowerPoint (47.5%)

Adobe Captivate, Articulate Storyline’s main competitor, trailed behind at 20.8%. This data makes it appear that there is a much higher demand for people skilled in Articulate Storyline.

And, taking it a step further, it appears that Articulate Storyline is one of the most important skills you can learn if you’re trying to land an instructional design job.

Check out this video with my recommendation on how to learn Articulate Storyline.

The three least selected tools and technologies include:

  • HTML, CSS, and JavaScript (17.8%)
  • The Experience API (xAPI) (6.9%)
  • Adobe Premiere / After Effects (4%)

Therefore, while technical programming or motion graphics skills can set you apart from other candidates, they are more of a “nice-to-have” than a “need-to-have.”

Top Models, Theories, & Concepts

When asked what the top three instructional design models, theories, and concepts are that candidates should be familiar with upon hire, respondents selected:

  • ADDIE (69.3%)
  • Writing strong learning objectives (61.4%)
  • Managing cognitive load (43.6%)

As you can see, ADDIE remains the most important instructional design model when it comes to landing a job. You can learn more about all of these theories and concepts in my full guide to becoming an instructional designer.

The least-selected instructional design model was SAM, which was selected in 13.9% of the responses.

Evaluating an Instructional Design Applicant

We now know what knowledge and skills hiring managers are looking for, but how do they evaluate an applicant?

As you may expect, the instructional designer’s interview, experience, and portfolio play the biggest role in the decision.

When asked which top three things the respondents consider when hiring an instructional designer for a role, they selected:

  • Professional experience (85.1%)
  • Interview (69.3%)
  • Portfolio (67.3%)
  • Mock project assignments (56.4%)
  • Education (12.9%)
  • Cover letter (3%)

This data seems to echo the sentiment that Tara Coulson, a hiring manager at AWS, shared in a recent interview: hiring managers want to see that you can jump right in and hit the ground running.

When you have experience in the field and can demonstrate your skill set with an interview, portfolio, and / or mock project, then hiring managers are much more confident that you can get up to speed quickly.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these items.


Education does not appear to play a very big role in the hiring decision.

When asked about the minimum education required for a role, hiring managers reported:

  • Bachelor’s Degree (67.3%)
  • High school diploma (17.8%)
  • Master’s Degree (8.9%)
  • Graduate-level Certificate (5.9%)
  • PhD (0%)

And, when asked about the preferred education for a role, hiring managers selected:

  • Bachelor’s Degree (42.6%)
  • Master’s Degree (33.7%)
  • Graduate-level Certificate (17.8%)
  • High school diploma (5.9%)
  • PhD (0%)

As we see from the data, bachelor’s degrees beat out master’s degrees on both questions. None of the respondents prefer an applicant with a PhD, and very few of the respondents require that their applicants have any formal education beyond a bachelor’s degree.

It is unclear why hiring managers prefer bachelor’s degrees over master’s degrees, but it may be because they value practical skills and experience more than theoretical knowledge.

This is ironic because many new instructional designers feel that they need to pursue a certificate program or graduate degree to land a job in the field.  

The data tells a different story—practical skills and real-world experience will often help you land opportunities much more effectively than formal education.

Professional Experience

When hiring managers evaluate an applicant, real-world experience is one of the top considerations.

28.7% of respondents do not consider hiring instructional designers unless they have formal instructional design experience.  

44.6% of hiring managers consider hiring instructional designers without formal experience, but they admit that experience still plays a significant role in the hiring decision.

Another 21.8% of hiring managers consider formal experience, but they state that it does not play a significant role in their decision.

The final 5% of hiring managers state that formal experience plays no role in the hiring decision.

Hiring managers clearly prefer that you come into the role experienced, but if you don’t have formal experience, don’t worry. Since instructional design is such an interdisciplinary field, you can almost always pull relevant experience from your previous positions.

You can also design learning solutions to solve real-world problems on your own time, and then you can include these projects in your portfolio. The important thing is to develop the right skills so that you can hit the ground running.


The portfolio is another top consideration when it comes to hiring instructional designers.

19.8% of hiring managers require that their applicants have a portfolio, and another 44.6% of respondents state that it plays a significant role in the hiring process.

Only 4% of respondents do not look at an applicant’s portfolio.

When asked to rank six items in order of importance when evaluating an instructional designer’s portfolio, respondents ranked “Ability to solve real-world problems with instructional design” as a clear forerunner. 35 respondents placed this option in the #1 spot, and its average rating was 2.85.

The second most common choice was “Ease-of-use / user experience design skills,” with an average rating of 3.33.

Therefore, one of the best ways to set your portfolio apart from the competition is to show off projects that solve real-world problems with instructional design.

If you need 1-on-1 support with creating a flagship project like this and designing a stand-out portfolio, then you should check out the Instructional Design Portfolio Bootcamp.

Finally, I gave hiring managers the opportunity to share more details about how they evaluate instructional design portfolios. Here are some of the comments that stood out to me:

  • I need to understand the process / rationale that led to the examples contained in the portfolio, so having a description of the project is desirable.
  • We look for examples produced by a variety of tools (Vyond, Adobe Photoshop, Premiere, After Effects) rather than all Storyline.
  • I prefer courses about unusual topics (that I have no prior knowledge of), because if I retained knowledge from such a course, I know it's good.
  • I look for innovative ideas and things I haven’t seen before. I want the designer to see things I can’t and help me reimagine the effort.
  • I look for a professional look and tone. Less is more.
  • I always like to see proof that concepts/learning/experience can be applied. Even if they don't have formal experience—if they nail a mock, they are equally in the running compared to someone with experience.
  • I look for obvious errors. If the portfolio has errors, then the applicant is likely not detail oriented.
  • Most of the portfolios I've reviewed often backfired on the applicants because they were very poor quality, or very poor in taste. Others showed that the applicant was more of a graphic designer than an instructional designer, and almost lured my hiring team in by amazing visuals, while they ignored the other skillsets needed for the role.

As you can see, there’s a lot to consider when it comes to designing a stand-out portfolio. If you’re looking to get started, then you can check out this guide to creating an instructional design portfolio.


In the current L&D climate, hiring managers are looking for instructional designers that can quickly hit the ground running in eLearning-oriented environments. Development skills are at the forefront, and hiring managers evaluate applicants based on their experience, interviews, and portfolios.

If you’re trying to become an instructional designer, then your time would probably be best spent on improving your eLearning development skills and applying instructional design theory to real-world projects. Formal education does not appear to play a big role in hiring decisions.

To learn more about becoming an instructional designer, check out my full guide on the topic.

And remember, this data comes from 101 respondents who self-identified as instructional design hiring managers. We likely need much more data to draw more powerful conclusions about how hiring managers make their decisions.

You can view the raw data by scrolling through the frame below or opening the report in a new window. You’re more than welcome to cite this data in your own write-up, but please link back to this report if you do so.

You may also like...

View all articles