Can't seem to land an instructional design job (or interview even). Possible "overqualification". Advice?

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Stranded in Iowa

21 months ago

Most of the ID jobs I'm seeing are for a Bachelors degree and they also want that person to do everything from graphic design to programming as well as the ID work. (I can do basic graphic design and programming). I don't get any callbacks on applications to ID positions and am not sure what might be going on. In some cases the job description is written as if it was designed specifically for my skills, and still no interview. Since I've already sought feedback on my resume and cover letters, and got positive feedback, the only thing I can assume is that my PhD in Education is the problem, making me "overqualified". But if I leave off the graduate degree on applications, all I have is some completely unrelated college degrees and my ID experience, which apparently wasn't sufficiently impressive to potential employers when applying prior to graduation.

So many of the advertised ID jobs seem to only want to pay < $45,000 and I cannot relocate for that amount since family members already make over this amount. Many of these have soul-sucking, time-consuming application processes in which I must fill in a bunch of boxes, repeating the information already on my resume and frequently asking for irrelevant information (like my typing speed). I'd be willing to do freelance, but I just can't seem to find the clients willing to pay for ID services.

Are there any recruiting companies that specialize in ID? Are there any online ID project sites where designers can sign up for projects? Any advice for instructional designers trying to find full time employment or break into full-time freelance? I've been told I've got great skills, but I just can't seem to get noticed.

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Christy in Cary, North Carolina

21 months ago

You mention your resume and cover letter, but no portfolio. Do you have a portfolio? If not, that's probably the first thing to do. Get together some examples from your previous work. If you can't show those examples, create something new. Go back and redo a project the way you wish you could have before if only time or politics didn't limit your options. You might want to volunteer with a non-profit to get some experience plus a project with a real client you can add to both your resume and your portfolio.

The PhD may be a problem, especially if your resume doesn't clearly tell the narrative of how your previous unrelated degrees got you to this point. I have worked in environments where a PhD or EdD got resumes automatically tossed. I don't think that's common, but it is potentially a factor, especially since you have such limited experience. That's why I think a portfolio is critical--you have to prove that you have the skills to really create courses. A PhD doesn't prove that you are willing to get your hands dirty developing courses; it sends the message that you want to be researching or managing or doing something else besides the day-to-day work of instructional design. That doesn't sound like it's true for you, but your resume obviously isn't getting past the assumptions of what a PhD usually means.

If you Google "overqualified instructional designer," you'll find a blog post I wrote with questions from someone else with a PhD. Read the discussion there for a range of comments.

There are some options though. University jobs may give preference for a degree, although the pay is lower. Some federal government positions also require a degree, so you may have more luck there.

Freelance work is out there, but it's hard to find when you don't have experience. You might be better looking at the contracting companies that regularly hire IDs (TrainingFolks, TrainingPros, Clarity Consultants, CARA Group, etc.)

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Stranded in Iowa

21 months ago

Thanks. I've been planning to work on my portfolio, and your response put a flame under my rear to get it done sooner than later. What should I do when these applications I encounter don't ask for a portfolio. Should I just find some way to attach a link to my online portfolio in their generic application forms even if they don't request a portfolio?

Originally I went to grad school to learn how to improve the curricula in professional schools. Along the way I discovered instructional design and realized that I'd found my true love. Yes, I'd rather be doing the hands-on work, as I love diagnosing and treating learning/performance problems with practical, customized solutions. I wouldn't mind leading a small design and development team to create effective training solutions, but I'm not so interested in managing a department. I do enjoy curricular design, evaluation and educational research. Considering my background, I thought it would be a good match to get into ID in the healthcare industry, but I just can't seem to get past the gatekeepers to talk to those who need the work done.

I actually have a number of projects that I've completed for satisfied clients. Unfortunately, these unpaid freelance jobs for charities didn't really result in the paying type of word-of-mouth clients, and I'm a sucker for helping those in need of effective instruction despite inability to pay. I'm probably not doing a good job of selling myself. Do you have any recommended formats for an ID resume which gives the right signals about my skills and hands-on willingness?

I skimmed your article and will go back and read in more detail later. It saddens me that so many have negative preconceived notions about me due to my PhD, which I can now do nothing about. Sometimes I wish I'd found this career before I sought my higher degrees. I'll check out the contracting companies. I'm definitely doing something wrong and I can't seem to diagnose myself.

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Christy in Cary, North Carolina

21 months ago

For jobs where you have to spend 30 minutes filling out a form before you ever talk to a human being, you may never get any traction. I wouldn't even waste my time. With resumes, it's hard to say what the issue is without seeing it. Usually when I review someone's resume and they've been having trouble like you, they aren't speaking the language of instructional design, and they aren't connecting the dots clearly for employers for how their past experience helps them now.

Since you're getting so little traction with the traditional job search route, it may be time to do something different. Liz Ryan's Human Workplace group has resources for a very different approach to job searching. You avoid the "HR black hole" of those online applications and reach out to hiring managers directly with an explanation of how you can help solve their problems (what they call a "pain letter").

They have a free Yahoo group where you can search the archives and see advice given to other job seekers to get an idea of how it works.

I don't think this approach is right for everyone, but what you're doing now clearly isn't working. Maybe this would work better.

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Stranded in Iowa

21 months ago

Awesome! You're a wealth of information. Thank you for your suggestions.

The"HR black hole" entirely captures my feelings about the helpless position I could sense myself in with these 1-2-hour application processes asking me questions that didn't allow me to let my positive qualities shine. (Do you know how disheartening it is to get a question like: Do you have a Bachelors degree in instructional design/technology? "Yes" or "No" and then be given no other way of being able to say, "I may not have that, but look at this, this and this which prove I can do the job". Every time I encountered these questions which painted me into a corner and tried to box me in, could just feel my application going directly into the round file as I hit the submit file. Time I could have spent on fixing my portfolio had just been wasted.) I knew I was doing the same thing over and over expecting different results, but I just had no idea what to do different. I am so glad that I finally posted here. I finally feel like I have a new avenue to try and have hope that I might actually get some traction soon.

Thanks so much!

Any advice or resources on portfolio designs? Over the last few years I've started developing portfolios in many different (online) formats but never finished (due to the same problem as the cobbler's children, who have no shoes). The ideas I keep returning to are a) buy some web server space on which I can develop my own website from hand-coded HTML and CSS (to showcase those skills) or use Drupal (so I can teach myself that system), b) use Google Sites (boring and constrained), c) set up a CourseSites course to showcase my LMS course designs. Would potential employers/clients be willing to take the extra step to enter a password protected area like CourseSites if I provide them a username and password to use?

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Christy in Cary, North Carolina

21 months ago

Of your three options, I'd go with Drupal. It will be faster than hand coding, and it will give you some experience with that software (although that isn't tremendously in demand for instructional designers).

I use Wordpress for my portfolio, which is pretty easy to set up. doesn't allow you to upload Flash files, so any Captivate/Articulate/Storyline examples aren't easy to share. If you get your own website with a shared server though, you can do a site. That's faster to learn than Drupal, and Wordpress has released some nice themes for portfolios recently. You can always tweak the CSS if you want to show off those skills a bit too.

I'm not sure how many employers would log in to CourseSites. I also wonder if seeing a course in a totally different LMS from what they use would become too specific and make employers think, "Oh, our LMS is so different from this, I don't know if this ID could adapt." In reality, if you learn one LMS, it's much easier to learn any other system, but employers don't always realize that.

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Pensiveone in Chicago in Matteson, Illinois

20 months ago

A great discussion! I have been having a similar problem as well, although I have a Master's degree rather than a PhD. I have five years experience yet I cannot get a call back on any job I apply for, even those I qualify for easily. I suspect the HR people are the major log jamb as they really do not know what an instructional designer does(One job I looked at had 36 bullet-pointed skill requirements!). They seem to think it is related to IT or graphic designers/web developers so they lump all those skills in as part of the job requirement. I have been working on a portfolio by creating new material in Articulate and Storyline, since my last employer will not allow me to use any of the company's work. I have been using Wordpress to showcase screenshots in a theme called Solio. You can see what I have so far here: There are many hosting companies out there who have free accounts, or for a pretty low fee. I'm using and it was pretty easy to set up Wordpress and add my own domain name. Of course, a portfolio is of no use if I cannot get it to a potential employer to look at. I guess the trick is getting past the HR and to the actual person who is looking to fill the position. So far I have had no luck getting there.

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J Guerra in Boston, Massachusetts

19 months ago

Hi Stranded, I'm going through the same problem. I've got a lot of valuable information here, one thing I would suggest for your portfolio is Sidengo. I also purchased a domain with my name and linked it to this site, it gives you the opportunity to show links to your work (perhaps you can do it in Slideshare). Also, I'm learning the software ID require (Captiva, Lectora) and follow Instructional Designers on Linkedin and Twitter.
Hope this helps somehow, I know it's a long, tedious path... I hope to find someone who may be interested in partnering in a project. Good luck!

Stranded in Iowa said: Awesome! You're a wealth of information. Thank you for your suggestions.

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latourem in Prescott Valley, Arizona

9 months ago

A very interesting discussion. I too am having serious issues getting interviews and when I do interview these days I discover immediately that persons present do not care about innovation or improvement to instruction or even meeting real performance issues. These persons are more interested to know that you will use their tools only to build whatever they stipulate. I would give you a host of examples but I would begin shaking alot and probably receive several subpeonas. If I hear the phrase... "We just need a high-level overview to the introduction, in a video.", one more time...

The ID position has lost much of its prestige and employers are putting tools before the task for whatever reason, mostly for control. They give lip service to ADDIE or like approach but have no intention on following such a method or process. Again, they horde control about what they know not and undermine what could benefit the operation, even make employees productive. Copyright infringement doesn't seem to be a problem with these folks either.

In putting the tools before the tasks and side-stepping the ID endeavor, employers now hire junior IDs as "curriculum developers", read Slide Makers skilled at stolen image manipulation. There seems little need now for seasoned IDs. Beware of online universities advertising for IDs as well. They too have no intention of going through the effort, only to re-distribute hallow curricula to out-of-state and unsuspecting learners.

Hopefully you can find those few and far between folks who still understand. I don't know where they are anymore.

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