Post written by Scott Rencher based on an interview with ATDChi member Nathaniel Miller. This article is part of a series on Career Development in Talent Development.
Nathaniel, like many Instructional Designers (ID), fell into his career unexpectedly. He was an ESL educator in South Korea and Japan for about 10 years before moving back to the US in 2019.
When he returned to the States, he landed a position in International Education Administration. However, four months in, he lost his job due to significant restructuring. While recovering from this setback, he worked for his father’s construction company, doing construction and project management while searching for his next job.
#1 Advice, Your Network
“One of the things that I think was really helpful to me in the whole search was reaching out to people in my network.” One his former colleagues from the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education suggested Nathaniel should apply to U of I for an Instructional Design Specialist position. He said, “If you can manage the heavy lesson planning, course load, and hybrid online courses you did in South Korea, you can certainly do this job. Your familiarity with adult learning principles and the corporate training environment will come in handy with a lot of the work you will be doing. You will just have to tweak your resume to illustrate that you have the necessary skills.”
His former colleague’s counsel validated his experiences and encouraged him to take the next step and apply for the job. With this guidance, Nathaniel began the application process.
Connect with Your Experiences
In preparation, Nathaniel looked at what the U of I specifically wanted for the job and how his previous experiences could help him fulfill that role. At first glance, the role seemed overly technical because there was a couple software tools he had not previously used in his teaching roles in South Korea or Japan. However, upon closer examination, most of his work experience, was indeed applicable. The job required someone who was familiar with lesson planning, online course design, project management, and familiar with learning technologies. The more he thought about it, Nathaniel found, “I fit the job better than I had initially thought.”
Nathaniel also leveraged his teaching experience as an advantage. He understood a day-in-the-life of a teacher, what they needed when they got the material, and how to apply it in the classroom. While he acknowledges that not all ID professionals need to have a teaching background, he wanted to leverage every ounce of experience to demonstrate that he was the best candidate for the job.
What Was Once Unfamiliar Became Familiar
While researching the job role, he split things into two categories: what was familiar and what was unfamiliar to him. With the familiar group, he connected his relevant experience and he used LinkedIn Learning and other online tools to brush up on the latest adult learning concepts. With the unfamiliar, he did additional homework so that he could speak to those concepts with the appropriate language.
For example, one unfamiliar tool was a software called Storyline 360. To get a general idea of how it worked, he watched online tutorials and downloaded a trial version of the software to get a crash course in the technology. While he was not fluent in the software, he could at least relate it back to technologies he did know very well, like MS PowerPoint. During the interview, when asked about whether he had any experience with Storyline, he was honest about the limits of his exposure and said, “I’ve learned a variety of educational software and even how to speak two languages over the last 10 years, so I am certain I can learn new software like Storyline 360.”
Nathaniel landed the job and has been in the role for a year now. He has found that he loves being an Instructional Designer and really enjoys the people with whom he gets to work.
Pulling it all Together
His advice to job seekers looking to get into L&D:
Tap into and use your network, especially to help land the first interview.
Do not be afraid of the job specs and the interview questions. Map your experience back to the job requirements. Even if you have not done the ‘exact’ job or task, think about how your experience relates.
Research what is familiar and unfamiliar. Sharpen what you are good at and get some level of exposure to the things that are not familiar to you. Do not waste your time trying to talk about things you do not know! Focus on what you do know and how it makes you an excellent candidate.
Thank you, Nathaniel, for your time and wisdom. Career journeys can be long and circuitous. Along the way, we pick up odd skills and experiences that may be useful to us down the road. The trick is figuring out which ones relate and applying them to new situations and opportunities.
When it comes to leveraging your network, as it was in Nathaniel’s case, our 1st degree connections are not typically going to offer or land us the job. The power is really in the 2nd degree connections. They may either have an opportunity or they can connect you to someone in their network who can help you get a foot in the door. That is where growing and maintaining your network has the greatest power and reach.
Each month we publish an article written by or about one our ATDChi members. This article is based on an interview conducted in May 2021 with Nathaniel Miller, Instructional Design Specialist from the University of Illinois System. You can connect with Nathaniel on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/nathaniel-miller-1ab0b4134/
Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash