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Becoming an Instructional Designer: How I Completed My Portfolio in 45 Days

#becomeanidol #elearning #idolcourses #instructionaldesign #motivation #teachers May 14, 2020

 April 6, 2020. The day I began my first official job as a corporate instructional designer. I couldn’t believe it; three intense interviews later (my third interview lasted four hours 😆), and I had pulled it off. No more long meetings that could have been an email, no more having to deal with students who weren’t motivated, or dealing with irate parents and policy changes that don’t make sense, and more having to fight to be paid my worth. (Is it obvious that I was a teacher?) I finally landed another dream job, and the previous years of hard work had finally paid off.  

How did I do this?

Many instructional design hiring managers state one of the first things they look for when it comes to the hiring process is the candidate’s portfolio of work samples. In this blog, I will discuss my 45-day journey to completing my instructional design portfolio and landing a job with the help of IDOL courses Academy

What is an Instructional Designer?

First, let’s talk a little about the role of an instructional designer (also known as an ID). According to the Association for Talent Development (ATD), “An instructional designer applies systematic methodology to develop content, experiences, and other solutions to support the acquisition of new knowledge skills.” In a nutshell, an instructional designer is someone who develops and designs instructional courses and materials for learners. Those designs include assets such as instructor-led training presentation materials, participant workbooks, job aids, infographics/handouts, multimedia videos, storyboards, virtual trainings, and eLearnings. Instructional designers are also responsible for evaluating training to determine whether the learning solution’s outcome was effective. Instructional Designers use adult learning theory models (Bloom’s is an example for those of us who come from the education world) to assist in this process. The most commonly used adult learning theory model for IDs is ADDIE.

My Instructional Design Journey

I knew my ultimate goal was to become an instructional designer, so as a teacher, I began taking on other roles that I knew would help me build my experience. I served as a technology coach, presented at educator conferences and professional development events, and I landed a role as an adjunct technology trainer...but it still wasn’t enough. I was applying for jobs, but still not getting callbacks. Fast forward to 2019, Gretchen Johanson, one of my former managers, had a conversation with me about my career goals. The conversation ended in her telling me about the many different industry Facebook groups she had joined, and her membership in the IDOL courses Academy. She told me how it had assisted her in landing her dream job as an instructional designer. Needless to say, not even two weeks later, I was enrolled and one step closer to leaving the classroom. That was January 24, 2020.

Tips to Completing Your Portfolio in 45 Days

Now, let’s get to the good stuff. 😍 It is nearly impossible to land a job as an instructional designer without a portfolio of your work samples. When I received confirmation of my enrollment into the academy, I immediately started reading through lessons and mentally coming up with a plan to help me reach my goal of landing a job before Spring Break in April. As I explored the academy, I realized many of the lessons I had designed as a teacher and trainer, with a few minor changes, would work for my portfolio. I started going through all my resources to see what I could use that would be transferable into the adult learning world. 

Decide early on which industry you would like to work in as an ID. This will help you select topics that are geared towards your target audience within that industry. I knew early on I wanted to take the corporate route; I am a certified Business makes sense, so my samples focused on topics that would be of interest and benefit employees at major corporations.

Once I decided which topics I wanted to focus on, I began using Trello as a project management tool. I planned out the next 45 days, making sure I forced myself to complete at least one asset to place in my portfolio each day. I worked on my portfolio during my free time at work, and when I got home in the afternoons. Weekends didn’t exist for me, but it was only for six weeks. I got over it!

So as you plan out your 45 days, break down your tasks in a way that makes sense for the process, but also in a way that will ensure your success. I did the following:

  • Week 1 - Pick a theme/brand/color palette and design your logo (Canva will be your best friend for any graphic design if you are not skilled at Adobe products.); setup website; begin uploading your teaching and training assets that already exist, such as graphic designs, job aids/infographics, ILT PowerPoint decks, sample assessments, etc. Remember, these assets should make sense for your target audience or the industry you want to work in; begin researching ways to enhance your ID technological skills, download the software, and set aside 30 minutes to 1 hour each day to practice. Utilize resources like LinkedIn Learning to assist you with learning how to use the software. Suggested software tools to learn include: Articulate Storyline 360, Rise 360, Camtasia Studio, and Vyond) Also, during this week, you should reach out to friends, family, and small business owners to see if they have a training need and offer your services pro-bono. This will give you real-life experience working with a client on a tight deadline. 
  • Week 2 - Create a script & storyboard on a relevant topic for your target audience, and begin designing an ILT (Instructor-Led Training) that includes a PowerPoint deck, facilitator guide, learner workbook, and a job aid/infographic. Don’t forget to complete an Analysis, and plan out your lesson. Come up with good solid objectives that are measurable. Plan with the end goal in mind. Also, remember to stick with your branding, unless you are completing work for an actual client with their brand.
  • Week 3 - Dr. Robin Sargent, the founder of IDOL courses Academy, recommends at least two samples of each type of asset within your portfolio. Design a second set of ILT presentation materials on a topic that teaches a learner how to perform a specific task that you could virtually demonstrate in some way. This will assist you when it comes to creating multimedia videos later.
  • Week 4 - 30 days in! Create two - three multimedia videos this week. One related to the ILT from Week 2 (Use Vyond software), one from the ILT scripted during Week 3, and one additional video showing you demonstrate how to perform a task virtually using screencasting software, if your two ILTs won’t accommodate this (Software: Camtasia, SnagIt).  Begin working on updating your resume and LinkedIn profile.
  • Week 5 - Your deadline is fastly approaching. Make sure you have at least two sample eLearnings for your portfolio by the end of this week. Pick one lesson or topic within each ILT you have scripted, and create short, simple training on those topics. Or, you can choose topics you know a lot about, and won’t require much research. This will cut development time in half, not having to look for content. I received layout ideas for my courses from the eLearning Heroes site. Create one course in Storyline and one course in Rise 360 to showcase your versatility. Don’t forget to come up with objectives, design a storyboard, and plan out your courses.

During Week 5, I started setting up and completing interviews. I received a callback to set up a second interview for an ID position. This gave me even more motivation to make sure I had my portfolio completed before the interview.

  • Week 6 - Congratulations! You did it! You should now have a completed portfolio. If you don’t, use this week to catch up on any additional assets that need to be added to your portfolio, and dedicate at least one hour each day applying for ID jobs and perfecting your resume and LinkedIn profile. Be sure to include a link to your portfolio website on your resume, job applications, and social media profiles.

That interview from Week 5 turned into a third interview, which then led to a job offer.  Not only did I have my portfolio completed within 45 days, but I also had a job offer the week after that. I accepted a position as an Instructional Designer for a large corporation before my Spring Break deadline. I negotiated my salary and signed my offer letter on March 16, 2020...remember, the date I signed up for the Academy was January 24, 2020!  

My manager told me the thing that stood out to her the most was my portfolio. I am glad I pushed myself as hard as I did to make sure I met my deadline because COVID-19 happened during my hiring process. But, it didn’t block what was meant for me because here I am, over one month later, working as an ID!  With the focus, determination, organization, drive, and a strong support system, your path to becoming an instructional designer will be one of the biggest success stories of your life.


Written by: Santana Kennedy, Instructional Designer

Santana is an Instructional Designer and educator with over eight years of experience in facilitating and designing learning experiences. She develops these experiences through instructor-led trainings and eLearnings. She has Certificates in Training and Performance Improvement, Educational Leadership, and Corporate Instructional Design and Online Learning  (IDOL courses Academy). One of her biggest accomplishments was being selected as Teacher of the Year in 2016.

Let’s connect via LinkedIn and follow the link to my Portfolio to view my sample designs.