5 Instructional Designer Resume Must-Haves, According to Instructional Designers
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Instructional Design
min read

5 Instructional Designer Resume Must-Haves, According to Instructional Designers

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You have six seconds to get the interview.

Six seconds is how long most recruiters spend reading a resume before moving on. Have you made a good enough impression for them to keep reading? Or are they already considering the next candidate?

When it comes to finding work as an instructional designer, it’s not enough to be good at your job. It’s not enough to have experience or the right attitude or a strong work ethic. Your instructional designer resume (and accompanying portfolio) needs to be so finely crafted that it captures the attention of every recruiter and forces them to keep reading.

We spoke with industry experts to gain insight into the hiring process and the best practices for aspiring instructional designers looking for work. Here are five can’t-skip steps to creating a resume that will get your foot in the door.

1. Tailor Your Resume to the Job

It’s not necessary to rewrite your resume from scratch for every job you apply to, but (as with your cover letter) make sure that you give it a once-over to highlight the most relevant skills and work experience for the position.

Why is this so important? Most ID hiring decisions are tackled by a hiring committee, but the members of these committees are usually not IDs. They can’t read between the lines or pick up on the skills that are only implied by your resume. They can only look at what is explicitly listed on paper and give you credit—or not.

From there, they narrow the applicant pool by using a scoring grid, where applicants get points for each “required” or “preferred” characteristic stipulated in the job description. Only the applicants with the most points will make it to the next round.

Give your resume a thorough review to make sure you highlight all of the software skills, certifications, or other criteria listed in the job description.

You can tailor your resume even further with a well-thought-out objective statement or executive summary. Job seekers and hiring managers seem to be split on the utility of these, but they can be useful for clarifying who you are as a candidate and what your major strengths are, as they specifically relate to the job.

Objective Statements

If you’re new to the industry, use an objective statement to tell a company what you’re hoping to do and, more importantly, what you can do for them.

Here’s an example of an all-too-common objective statement:

"To seek a position as an instructional designer where I can gain experience and advance my career"

OK, great. So the company knows what you want, but what are you offering? Let’s try that again:

"To seek a position as an instructional designer at an institution where I can apply my skills to optimize educational standards"

The second objective statement is better because it prioritizes the company and its needs, not yours. Even as a new or aspiring instructional designer, you can demonstrate to potential employers that your main goal is to contribute to their success as part of a team.

Executive Summary

This section will summarize your career for employers and recruiters. Use action words in this section to describe past activities, and avoid the passive voice. Summaries are best suited to people who already have industry experience.

Here is a bare-bone example that is probably too brief:

  • Designed courses for students with a wide range of learning requirements

It’s better to be as specific as possible. Quantify the value you can bring to a team:

  • Designed courses for students with a wide range of learning requirements, based on an initial needs analysis
  • During post-course feedback, 75% of student reported that they gained a more in-depth understanding of the source material

Whether you choose to include a statement or not, state your qualifications so clearly that even a layperson can quickly identify that you’re the right candidate for the job.

2. Include the Right Keywords

As annoying as it is to have your resume simply scanned for relevant criteria, that’s more human interaction than some applications will see.

Most large companies and corporations use keyword recognition software to scan cover letters and resumes. So, as great as you may be for the job, you need to game the system to get a chance at being reviewed by a human.

Although that’s frustrating, it also makes for a golden opportunity to push yourself ahead of the pack. Here’s some expert advice from instructional designer SD Kennedy on the matter:

Look at the buzzwords used within the job description, and incorporate them into your job descriptions on your resume.

Let’s look at an excerpt from a real instructional designer job posting:

The listing above requires skills specific to elearning, as well as more general skills. For example, this particular job requires someone with D2L competency who can provide technical support to solve any maintenance issues on that learning platform. More generally, the role requires leadership skills, technical support, strategy, and collaboration with others. You should list skills from both of these categories if they apply to you.

Here is a list of in-demand instructional designer skills, including curriculum design, agile learning program competency, and needs analysis. Familiarize yourself with these skills, and list the ones you have that apply to the role you’re seeking.

3. Showcase Your Technical Skills

Creating a winning resume is a bit of a paradox: you want to prove you have the wide range of relevant skills required to get the job, but you also want to highlight why you’re unique as a candidate.

You can’t be everything to everyone. Instead of trying to prove that you’re a little bit good at every single thing, spend time highlighting and emphasizing the skills you are really good at.

Subject-matter expert Noelle Graham Allen told us:

Make sure to include the tools that you use—Captivate, Storyline, etc. Also, make sure you have a portfolio with some diversity. Employers want to know that you can create videos and interactive learning.

Courses and certifications are great, but it’s even better if you can demonstrate how you’ve used these skills in the course of your work. For example, instead of just listing that you’re proficient in Adobe Captivate, explain how you used it to author an interactive elearning course used in third-grade curriculums countywide.

Worried you don’t have enough experience to showcase yet? We spoke with subject-matter expert and instructional designer Sarah Ann Houghton, who offered us another excellent piece of advice when it comes to showing recruiters and employers what you’re capable of:

“Some newbies get hung up being experienced with the right tools, but anyone can learn a tool. Prioritize evidence of working with new software, handling unknown subject matter, collaborating with SMEs, and churning out content on tight deadlines.”

4. Demonstrate the value of your work

Every resume lists relevant work experience, but simply providing a list of your past job titles and responsibilities isn’t very informative. Remember that six-second window? Employers and recruiters read through many summaries, and you need to make sure yours is the most impactful.

Listing your accomplishments is the bare minimum; the key is to explain the impact your actions had. Subject-matter expert Tony Meluzio offered a great tip for adding value to this section:

I had my resume critiqued and was shocked at the feedback. It was high-level critique, but nonetheless. One thing that stood out was not just stating what you did, but quantifying the impact.

For example, this achievement is generic:

"Created written guides and course materials for a company-wide orientation program."

This would be much more impactful:

"Implemented orientation program for over 5,000 employees, involving storyboards, written guides, and three courses. This orientation program was directly responsible for a 30% decrease in employee turnover over the course of two years."

Employers are interested in what you’ve done in your career to date, but they’re also interested in why. If you can demonstrate that you’ve been working toward a goal or a specialty for some time, you’ll present yourself as driven and organized.

5. Create an accompanying portfolio

It’s not just enough to have a winning resume anymore. To really grab a hiring manager’s attention, you’ll need a visually attractive instructional design portfolio that showcases your skills.

As subject-matter expert Kim Scott told us, a portfolio can really make or break an instructional designer job application:

“I've had the opportunity to hire or be on the hiring committee for four instructional designers, and the portfolio and their ability to speak is always what won me over. ”

While some people send their portfolios as email attachments, this can be perceived as old-fashioned. The most commonly accepted way of sharing your portfolio is on a stand-alone website.

Portfolios can vary greatly in terms of organization and design, but it’s important to present a portfolio that is uncluttered and easy to navigate. Showcases a variety of projects that emphasize the range of your skills. Include detailed descriptions of each project, your role, and the tools used.

You should have a portfolio even if you don’t have a lot of work experience to share or your work is mostly locked up under nondisclosures. You’ll simply need to create your own self-directed projects.

Check out our dedicated article on how to create a winning instructional design portfolio for more tips. You can also sign up to see a wide range of portfolio examples and even add your own to our collection.

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