Must-ask questions during an instructional design interview

You have done it!

You made it through the interview process and now you hear those words that so many job seekers don't want to hear. 

"Do you have any questions for us?"

Don't panic. You got this.The absolute worse thing you can do is say you have no questions. It doesn't matter how qualified you are, it can sink your dream of landing the job. Besides you've been selling yourself so hard, it's their turn to answer some questions for you to help provide you a clearer picture of what it is like to work there. Job interviews should be mutually benefical. Even if they want you, it's important for you to want them too. So what are some questions you should ask? In this chapter we will explore eleven questions you should ask when given the opportunity in an instructional design interview. 

Where does this role sit in the organization?

By asking this question, it tells a hiring manager you are curious about how the organization operationalizes the function of instructional design, and gives you more information about the role. Here are some of the possible answers you may receive:

Ultimately, this will likely be different at each organization you interview for, but at least by asking this question, it shows you have awareness of where learning and development can sit in other organizations and you can also determine if you feel like that position is a fit for you.

What is the composition of the ID department?

Again, this question shows that you are looking for a fit for you, but are also curious about how the ID department handles the workload.

For the composition question, you are looking specifically at which roles are in their ID department. Some of the answers you may receive include (but are not limited to): curriculum developer, educational technologist, LMS admin, knowledge management specialist, eLearning developer, instructional designer, learning experience designer, and project manager.

Some departments have each team member manage their own projects, and sometimes it can be the role of the senior ID (or team manager). If it’s a team where everyone has the same role, you may be expected to adopt the style of the team -- there could be less room for creativity & originality.

Through this answer, you should also be able to determine if the team is composed of generalists (who know a bit about everything and likely own their own project from start to finish), or designers with more T-shaped knowledge (they have a deep expertise in one/two areas and can do other functions in a limited capacity).

What are some of the projects lined up for this department in the next fiscal year?

Depending on the organization, fiscal years can be aligned with calendar years or have another cadence. This should be a question they should answer with little hesitation and the key things you want to listen for here are a healthy dose of current projects and future projects. The current projects will give you something to work on during your onboarding and the future projects will likely be heavier lifts requiring you to possibly own the entire project. Some potential red flags would include if asking the hiring manager they don't really have a good sense of the project composition. This could mean they are an "absent manager" in the sense they don't know what their team does. Additionally, for higher-ed or non-profit positions that are grant funded or waiting on a revenue stream to cover, that should also be concerning. I worked for a soft money research center and it adds a layer of stress on the staff to know that funding is in the balance on an annual basis. A great follow-up question would be to ask given the projects discussed, where would you see this role being a key contributor? Again, it gives you more information to see if their outlook for your project work and what you want to do are a fit. 

What is the biggest business challenge currently that this role solves for your organization?

This question asks the hiring manager and panel to tell you how valuable the ID department is to the business. Also listen closely because this will likely be your first mountain to climb and may be the project that determines if you make it past the probationary period (if applicable). 

How much autonomy and creative freedom does this role have?

Depending on the jobs you have had in instructional design, you know it can vary. This question is pretty cut and dry.

What key performance indicators (KPIs), evaluation criteria, and design standards are we held to in this department?

Buckle up, Buttercup. This may shock you but for many ID departments, they likely won't have an answer here. In some places, a good learning experience is a clean Powerpoint deck uploaded as eLearning in the LMS. For others, it must achieve Kirkpatrick's Level 4 evaluation (haha this like never happens by the way). Some may say the number of faculty members served in a calendar year. Others even expect their ID department to help save the organization money 

The fact that you are asking tells a hiring manager you care about the impact of your work. You aren't just another person in the course factory assembly line who wants to get on with the next project. You want to know how you are going to be evaluated and can make a difference in the organization with your work. Listen closely on this one, I know several people who have asked this, been disappointed, and rejected the job offer. 

How are projects in the department managed?

By asking this question you are trying to get the scoop on if you will be managing your own ID projects or if there is an ID project manager. A nice follow-up question, if it isn't shared, is asking if there is a particular method or technology used to manage the projects.

How is professional development for this role supported?

You want to know my absolute favorite part of being in charge of an ID team? I get to support their professional development. Weekly they have time on their calendars blocked to take time to read, listen, write whatever they want about any topic that makes them a better professional. I allocate time on the job for this because it is so important. Now with that being said, I do also believe you can't necessarily rely on an organization to provide for you totally in your career. You are in charge of your own career. This is a lesson I wish I would have learned sooner in life because I can't tell you how many roles I had where I felt like if I worked harder and harder I'd be recognized and rewarded. It's true, life isn't fair. Common answers to this may include a budget for a conference, webinar, books, etc. If you have a topic you want to learn more about like project management and they ask you to clarify share that you are interested in learning more about project management to become a better ID and wanted to know if that's something the company would support. You never know unless you ask.  

What is the career path for this role?

You want to know if you can go somewhere right? I guess it depends on where you are in your career, but this is a question that often gets overlooked. The price you pay for not asking this one is the risk of being in a dead end job. You want to hear that this department will support junior IDs, IDs, Senior IDs, Managers, etc. If they say the department is small or maybe there isn't a lot of formal mobility, an appropriate follow-up question would be to ask if there would be stretch assignments or project leadership opportunities. While I craved a leadership title in my day job, I was able to put that I was acting director on my resume for two months while my supervisor was out on leave because I shared with him I was eager to move up. Be sure to read the vibes of the people across the table. Sadly some folks are threatened by ambition and if you see hints of that, it likely isn't worth your time. 

If you were to hire me and six months down the road you were to say I was a successful hire, what would that mean?

This is a pretty bold question but one that tells the hiring manager you are wanting to know what makes you rise to the top. Listen closely as they will likely describe some hurdles and deliverables they expect you to overcome in the first three to six months. If that sounds like a good time, then this means you may be a fit. If it sounds like nightmare fuel, it may be time to rethink it. 

Why is this position open?

I can’t underestimate the importance of this question. Sometimes it is answered in the interview process but if it isn’t, please ask. Use the information from this question to determine if you are going to be cleaning up someone else’s mess or if the team is growing.

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