11 Common Instructional Designer Interview Questions And How to Answer Them
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Instructional Design
min read

11 Common Instructional Designer Interview Questions And How to Answer Them

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Congrats! You made it to the final stage of the hiring process for that dream instructional design job - the interview. The future of your career hangs on being able to make it through 30 mins of gruelling instructional designer interview questions… no pressure at all 🤪

Excitement about a new potential job can quickly turn into anxiety about how to answer instructional designer interview questions. (Why else would you be here?) With so many paths that lead to careers in instructional design and the wide variety of jobs in the field, how can you prepare?

To help, we gathered 11 common instructional designer interview questions from informal surveys, forums, and online job sites. Then, we added our advice on how to wow the interviewer with your answers.

Once you build confidence in your responses, you can head into the interview with your polished portfolio in hand and head held high, ready to impress.

1. What is your design process?

Your interviewer will want to hear your step-by-step design process, from planning to execution. They’ll want to know how you approach projects — your daily routine, your working style — so that they can understand what theories or methodologies guide your work. Asking about your design process will also allow the interviewer to vet your knowledge of instructional design strategies.

If the position you are applying for calls for organizational or management skills, it’s likely they’ll also want to know about your project management experience and how it relates to your design process.

How to Answer

While it’s tempting to respond to this broad question with a high-level overview, take the time to walk the interviewer through your workday. Taking them through your process demonstrates how you prioritize different aspects of the project and manage your time.

Even if they don’t explicitly ask about instructional design models, you might impress them if you incorporate the ADDIE model and other instructional theories into your answer. Whenever possible, tie your design process back to established theories, such as behaviorism, constructivism, social learning, and/or cognitivism, and be ready to explain why you use those tactics.

Your knowledge of proven theories and methodologies shows that you’re experienced in the field and able to incorporate a range of theories into your design process.

And if you feel like your process needs a refresh, think about joining Eduflow's free cohort-based course on instructional design principles. You'll learn from top instructional designers from MIT, ETH, and more, as well as getting certified.

2: Tell me about a time when you couldn’t finish designing a learning experience on deadline.

We’ve chosen the example of missing a deadline here, but really our advice goes for any instructional design interview question in which you’re asked to reflect on a professional experience or challenge. In these types of questions, interviewers are trying to establish whether you are self-aware, have personal accountability, and can learn from difficult situations.

How to Answer

For any interview question that starts “tell me about a time when…”, we recommend using the STAR method to structure your response, describing:

  • The Situation
  • The Task you were doing
  • The Action you took
  • The Result 

Think through a few professional situations in which you were challenged or had to overcome a problem, and structure the story around the STAR method. The interviewer isn’t looking for someone with a perfect professional record; they're looking for someone who can acknowledge challenges and improve upon their responses to them through active reflection.

3. Have you worked in positions outside of instructional design?

Most instructional designers migrate from other fields, so this is your opportunity to show how your past experience has prepared you for this specific role. Many companies are more than willing to collaborate with new IDs as long as their skills translate well to the available position.

How to Answer

This is a chance to be honest. Yes, it’s helpful to have former instructional design experience, but experience in a different position in a related field can be just as valuable. For instance, if the position involves creating a Shakespearean learning course, you might have better luck getting the position if you formerly taught English.

If you already tailored your resume to the job, you won’t have much trouble weaving keywords from the job description into your answer.

Take the responsibilities listed in this instructional designer job opening:

Let’s say you have a background in technical writing. Instead of giving a generic answer like “technical writing naturally lends itself to designing courses,” be more specific:

“My work as a technical writer taught me how to identify learning objectives and find ways to explain complex subject matter to a wide range of audiences. In a previous position, I conducted quality reviews after my first course. When I discovered that visual learners struggled with a particular section, I worked with the graphic design team to create explainer videos. As a result, the overall satisfaction score for the second course increased by 50%.”

Notice how the second answer incorporates five phrases from the job listing and includes a key result (increased satisfaction). That’s what separates a good candidate from a great one.

4. How do you work efficiently and effectively with subject matter experts?

Ahhh, subject matter experts. SMEs are crucial in the creation of learning experiences, but the relationship between instructional designer and SME can be challenging. That's why almost any instructional design interview you attend will ask questions that tie back to how well you manage SME relationships.

Interviewers need to feel confident that ID candidates can extract valuable knowledge from SMEs and independently manage the ongoing working relationship. They want to know how well you handle issues such as scheduling conflicts and translating expert knowledge into digestible content.

How to Answer

Start by explaining how you prepare new SMEs. Do you have a process for getting them up to speed on instructional design terminology? Do you use productivity apps to keep project participants synced? SMEs can do their job with or without you, but you’ll need their cooperation to create authoritative content; show your interviewer that you know exactly how to manage that relationship.

Be sure to touch on major pain points, such as scheduling. SMEs tend to put interviews with IDs at the bottom of their to-do lists; how do you get ahead of this problem to make sure you can hit your deadlines?

If possible, point out a project in your portfolio that involved a difficult SME. Then, explain how you collaborated with the SME to create a successful course. Take the interviewer through the entire process of getting to know the SME, scheduling interviews, and crafting your interview questions in a way that allowed you to extract knowledge from a challenging expert. Doing so proves that you can get the information you need to design a great course, even if the SME is reluctant or unaccustomed to working with IDs.

We believe that the most effective online courses are designed by instructional designers and SMEs who are on the same page. We work with MIT's Dr Luke Hobson to run regular cohort-based courses on Collaborating and Building Relationships with SMEs.

Get a sneak peek at Dr Hobson's 8-step framework for wrangling SME's here!

5: If you received negative feedback from a SME about the lack of information in a training, how would you adapt your learning?

Given how tough it can be to wrangle SMEs, it’s no surprise that instructional design interviews often contain more than one question on this topic. Be prepared to expand on initial responses into how you handle these relationships.

How to Answer

This question gives you a chance to demonstrate your focus on learner needs, rather than SME needs. We would answer this question by re-centring the learner and reviewing your initial learner needs analysis to make sure it was correct.If your needs analysis is solid, you can push back on the SME and prove there’s no need for additional information, or reach a compromise by including their additional suggestions in an appendix or extra resource pack at the end of your course. If you find your needs analysis was lacking, you may need to include the information suggested by the SME.

There’s no definitive answer here. The trick is to answer this question by showing that you have a process that can withstand scrutiny from SMEs and justify your decisions. Check out our in-depth post on training needs analyses for more info on this process.

6. How do you measure your course design success?

Companies want to know that IDs are invested in the outcome, not just the design process. Instructional designer interview questions related to performance give you a chance to show that you design with specific goals in mind.

Your courses are valuable only if they have predefined learning objectives and a way to judge whether or not those objectives are achieved. Interviewers are interested in how you analyze learning outcomes and instruction techniques as well as what tools or resources you use to track success.

Instructional designer interview questions related to measuring outcomes help weed out candidates who lack follow-through, so don’t be surprised if they also want to hear about how you handle unsuccessful projects.

How to Answer

Show the interviewer a work sample, and explain what learning outcomes and key performance indicators (KPIs) you established before launching the course, and share the results.

If you worked on a gamification initiative in a previous position, don’t just say “using gamification was very effective.” Instead, share the specific objectives you outlined and the results you achieved. For example, “This university wanted to experiment with gamification in their courses in an effort to increase student engagement while preparing students for their final exams. The main objectives were to achieve 75% participation in study games, 80% overall satisfaction with the games, and a 15% increase in exam scores. We were able to surpass all goals.”

This answer would show that you put thought into the why behind the gamification initiative, set clear objectives, and saw the project through by monitoring KPIs.

This is also a great time to talk about a course that did not go well at first, along with how you adapted. You can’t guarantee a course’s success, but you can show that you are passionate and dedicated to getting it right.

7. What tools and LMSs are you familiar with?

Be ready to provide detailed answers to instructional designer interview questions about tools. Because IDs have a wide range of skill sets and technical proficiencies, the interviewer will want to know what experience you have to determine whether you are prepared to adapt to their system.

Many job descriptions will list preferred tools, such as Captivate and other Adobe products, Storyline, and Blackboard. However, lack of experience with one tool does not necessarily mean you are unqualified. Your responses to these questions tell the interviewer a little more about how involved you have been in graphic design, coding, and technical assistance in past positions.

How to Answer

Be honest about your proficiency level. Instructional designers work in a wide range of industries and with a variety of clients, which means you’ve likely done a lot of learning on the job. In instructional design, adaptability is often more important than knowing every tool available.

If you have experience in the company’s preferred tool, briefly touch on the other tools you are familiar with, but focus your answer on the tools/LMSs required for the available position. Knowledge of different systems shows a wider range of experience, but the company will be most interested in how well-versed you are in the tools they currently use.

If you lack experience, provide evidence of how you adapted to the required technology for a past job. Everyone claims to be a fast learner — prove you are by telling the interviewer what you did to learn the tool(s) and how long it took you to get up to speed.

We also have a couple of helpful posts on LXPs vs LMSs, and social learning platforms, to help you brush up on the differences between tools and systems.

8. What learning design theories do you favor, and why?

The interviewer may ask specific questions about applying different instructional design theories, such as:

While you don’t necessarily need to be well-versed in every theory (and, not everyone believes in the validity of each and every one of these), it’s helpful to have a basic understanding so you can share your opinion on the approach.

How to Answer

Interviewers are looking to understand what drives your design decisions. Clearly explain your preferences, and be able to defend your reasoning.

For example, if you swear by Bloom’s Taxonomy, take the interviewer through each stage and explain how each aspect informs your course design process.  If you find Bloom’s Taxonomy flawed or unhelpful, be ready to critique the shortcomings of the theory and explain your alternate approach to writing learning objectives.

9. How do you make your courses engaging?

Content alone won’t win over students. Interviewers are interested in how you get creative with your course design to keep students engrossed in the material.

They want to hear about your experience leveraging multimedia elements in your courses.

How to Answer

Have a portfolio piece with interactive elements on hand so you can show off your imaginative approach to course design. Consider bringing a tablet or laptop and letting your interviewer play around with an interactive element that you’re especially proud of. If you have success metrics tied to that course, share those details as well.

If you really want to wow your interviewer, make an interactive quiz or game about the company you are interviewing with. Something as simple as a 10-question trivia game about the company’s founders, the mission statement, and other key details not only shows your design skills but also shows that you really did your research.

10. Have you ever recommended changing the direction of a curriculum or course?

IDs need to be comfortable providing feedback on the direction of a project, even if it means disagreeing with the original plan. Interviewers use instructional designer interview questions like these to feel out your work style and see whether they think you’ll be a good fit for the team.

Companies ask how you handle adjustments to learn how you identify the need for change and how you communicate your recommendations. Questioning the direction of a project isn’t easy, but qualified instructional designers need to feel confident expressing their professional opinions. Your response to this question shows the interviewer how well you stay ahead of potential issues.

How to Answer

Share an experience in which you recommended a change. Explain why you believed the change was necessary, how you handled the discussion, and how the change affected the end result.

As always, the more details, the better. Let’s say you saw an opportunity to improve a university course. You could explain your reasoning by saying, “While designing a university literature course, I noticed that the classes that involved students critiquing each other’s work had the highest attendance rates. In addition, the essays that were critiqued in-class averaged a 10% higher grade than essays that were not reviewed during class. I shared this data with the instructor and recommended that we implement a peer-review workflow that would allow students to submit their essays for peer review and review their classmates’ work at any time. As a result, the course engagement rate rose by 15%, and the average essay grade for the entire class rose by 8%.”

This detailed example demonstrates that you are constantly seeking to improve upon your work and are prepared to go to the decision-makers with educated recommendations.

11. How do you go about teaching instructors how to use an e-learning platform?

Often, the instructors who use the courses you design will need a bit of technical assistance. Questions related to tech support give the interviewer an idea of your technical prowess and your ability to work well with others.

Interviewers are interested in how you approach teaching a teacher. Do you use specific instructional methods, just like in your course design? Do you have instructional videos or written guides, or do you work directly with the instructor? Most importantly, how do you judge whether or not the instructor has a good grasp on the required tools?

Your answer will tell the interviewer whether or not they can count on you to help instructors use your materials effectively.

How to Answer

Think back to the least tech-savvy instructor you’ve worked with, and explain how you helped them. Provide some background information about the instructor’s inexperience with technology in general, and discuss the required platform, as well as the key features the instructor needed to master. Then, walk the interviewer through the challenges, and share how you helped the instructor be successful.

If you don’t have a specific story, pick an e-learning platform that you feel confident in, and give the interviewer a hypothetical explanation. Take them through how you would teach a complete newbie the basics of the platform and monitor their comprehension. The goal is to show the interviewer that you have the patience and knowledge needed to help an instructor use an e-learning platform successfully.

Go Beyond Instructional Designer Interview Questions

Mastering your responses to these common questions will help you crush your next interview. Instructional design is a fast-growing career in an ever-changing landscape. As factors such as the shift to online learning and the rise of AI in education change the day-to-day experience of instructional design professionals, it’s important to stay up to date.

If you’re interested in more tips about building your instructional designer career, make sure to join our newsletter. Every two weeks, we share insights and news about online learning, pedagogy, and more.

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