How to Assess Instructional Design Skills

How to Assess Instructional Design Skills

Hiring the right person for the job is critical to running your business well. We know that if you are hiring a programmer, you’d ask them to show you that they can code. But what can you do when hiring an instructional designer to help develop your training programs? In this article, we’ll look at strategies on how to assess instructional design skills either internally or externally.

Instructional design is a relatively new field and it can be difficult assessing skills for an area that is constantly changing. I hope these points are helpful to both hiring managers and job applicants who, together, help grow the profession.

What skills to look for?

First of all, what are the skills you should be looking for when hiring for an instructional design role? Depending on the specific work you need done, start by defining a criteria on which to assess your applicants. Here are some ideas related to instructional design roles:

  • Application of best practices: does the applicant understand best practices in the industry and know how to apply them?
  • Instructional design skills: can the applicant create effective plans and materials for training according to the latest standards?
  • Communication and comprehension skills: can the applicant understand and integrate your core business ideas that need to be trained, and generate new content out of them?
  • Analytical skills: given relevant data, can the applicant identify problems and areas for improvement for your organization’s training program?
  • Technical skills: can the applicant use or learn to use the tools required for the role?
    • Web development (e.g. WordPress, Joomla, HTML, CSS, Javascript)
    • Graphics editing (e.g. Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop)
    • eLearning authoring (e.g. Articulate RISE, Storyline, Captivate)
    • LMS administration (e.g. Fabric, Moodle, Absorb)

Tips on How to Assess Instructional Design Skills

When you know what you are looking for, you can request materials from your applicants that show what they are capable of. Here are some ways you can assess applicant materials for an instructional design role.

Resume + Cover Letter

The classic resume and cover letter combo is always a great place to start considering an applicant’s skills. Education and past experience are always good indicators of ability. However, you shouldn’t be too narrowly focused on the “instructional designer” label—the field is relatively new and not every capable applicant might have this exact degree or role. That’s why it’s important to look beyond resumes and cover letters when assessing applicants.


Today, every instructional designer needs to have a portfolio ready that is a high-level record of what they can do. Portfolios can include:

  • eLearning Content: this can be any digital content used for training, often mixing media as needed. Pretty content is great, but also consider the design that went into the content such as utilizing interactivity or multimedia to convey the concept.
  • Curriculums: these are big picture training plans that target every role within an organization. Curriculums often require a deep understanding of the business and communication with every department and specialization within it. Don’t underestimate the amount of work (potentially weeks or months) to produce well-made curriculums.
  • Reports and analysis: analysis is half the job for instructional designers; most projects should start with an analysis of the current state of the business, their goals, and recommendations that inform the rest of the project.
  • Lesson Plans: a lesson plan is a set of materials used by instructors to teach individual lessons. It would be smaller in scale than a curriculum but would include fine details on a single topic.
  • Job Aids: job aids are often reference material that are printed or easily accessed while on the job to help workers while they do the work.
  • System Designs: Some instructional designers might work on large projects such as a whole Learning Management System deployment. Often such a project involves designing and documenting how the system should look and function.


Assignments can be a helpful part of the hiring process as long as you keep assignments short and deliberate. Don’t expect to have real work done for free and don’t create assignments that would scare away valuable candidates. Try to ask for assignments that can be done in a short period of time (e.g. under 30 minutes) and demonstrate just the specific skills you are looking for. While using the expected tools is a bonus, don’t expect all applicants to have current access to the same tools you provide—try to focus on skills (such as the ones mentioned above) instead of specific tools and processes.

Here are some assignment ideas that may be useful:

  • Designing: provide business-relevant resources and ask the applicant to mockup and describe how they would turn your information into eLearning content.
  • Summarizing: provide a business-relevant resource and ask the applicant to write a brief summary of the content that could be used for training purposes.
  • Structuring and Organizing: provide a general list of resources and ask the applicant to organize the resources into courses and modules.
  • Assessment: provide a business-relevant resource and ask the applicant to write 2-3 questions that would test a learner’s understanding of the content.
  • Planning: describe your current training goals and request a proposal for the next steps for your project.


Instructional design is a relatively new field that is constantly changing so it can be hard to tell if a candidate is a right fit. I hope some of the strategies above are useful to employers or job seekers who need help on how to assess instructional design skills. An instructional designer with the right skills can be a great boost to any organization, you just need to know how to identify the right person for the job.

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