Providing services in instructional design, virtual training, and human performance improvement.

Monday, December 15, 2014

How to Succeed in Instructional Design Interviews

In a previous post, we talked about how to land an instructional design position. Since interviews are crucial to earning the position, it is worth spending more time on this important aspect of the hiring process.

Many companies, Victor 12 included, use more than one interview to get a feel for candidates. We will often conduct phone interviews then webcam and/or in person interviews for an open position. We do this to narrow down the applicant field and to make sure we find the best person for the position and company.

As a candidate, you should make the most out of these interviews. Use this time to determine if the position’s responsibilities and expectations are a match with your own skills and interests, and if the company culture is one that you can fit into for the long term. While some candidates may only think of their next job in the short term, you should view a position with at least a five year mindset. Can you see yourself growing with the company for the next five years or more?

Here are some helpful pointers for common interview types.

The Phone Interview

We use phone interviews to narrow down large applicant pools and to save time over in person interviews. We ask each applicant about four or five standard questions, in addition to any unique questions that may arise from their resume. Phone interviews are usually brief, so it is essential to make the best impression during that time.
  • Speak with the interviewer in a quiet area.
Do not take the call outside or in an area with distractions. You won’t come across well if it sounds like you are in a wind tunnel, if you are putting away dishes, or if you have dogs barking or kids screaming in the background. If you do the interview in your home while others are present, close yourself in a room alone and put a sign on the door to prevent disruption or outside noises.
  • Sit down, smile, and speak calmly.
The interviewer cannot see you during a phone interview, so if you are pacing or gesturing wildly with excitement all they will hear is your panting breath. You need to convey a sense of professionalism using just your voice and words. To accomplish this, sit up straight in your quiet area, speak with a smile (you can detect a smile in someone’s voice), and enunciate.
  • Practice.
Enlist the help of a friend to practice your phone interview skills. Call your friend using the same phone you will use for the interview and speak in the same room you’ll use. Practice introducing yourself and answering a few technical questions. Your friend should provide feedback on if it is easy to understand you and if there is any static or distracting background noises.

The Webcam Interview

Virtual interviews are becoming more common, especially with remote positions. They can be used to interview a candidate who has yet to relocate or who will be working from an off-site location. Or they can be used to conduct additional interviews if phone screening did not adequately narrow down the candidate pool.
  • Speak with the interviewer in a quiet area.
Just as with a phone interview, pay careful attention to your background and room selection for a webcam interview. Pick a quiet place free of distractions. As with the phone interview, if you do the interview in your home while others are present, close yourself in a room alone and put up a sign to prevent disruption. If possible, unplug your phones or turn them off to avoid potential ringing in the background. The portion of the room that will be visible from the webcam should be clean and professional (e.g., an empty wall or a bookcase).
  • Test your webcam.
Do not wait until the last minute to purchase a webcam or learn how to use one. You should know how to operate your webcam and ensure that it works correctly.
Before the interview, turn on your webcam and adjust it so that the view presents your face and upper torso. You should be well-groomed and dressed in professional attire. Once you have a good shot, you should stay relatively still during the interview. It is very distracting for a candidate to lean forwards and backwards while talking, effectively shrinking and growing in size on the monitor.
Do NOT have other individuals in the shot. To share a “webcam interview gone wrong” story, I once interviewed a candidate via Skype and we lost connection during our interview. About four or five minutes later, the connection was re-established and her webcam turned back on. When it did, I got to watch her re-adjust her clothing while a boyfriend or husband snuck out behind her in his underwear. I did not hire her.
  • Make eye contact.
This may take some practice. Adjust your webcam so that it focuses on your face in such a way that, when you look at your monitor and the view of the interviewer, it should appear as though you are making eye contact with them. If your webcam is off to the side and you are looking in front of you at the monitor it will appear as though you are looking sideways.

The In Person Interview
  • Dress to the part (or slightly higher).
Professional attire is a must. If you are uncertain exactly what to wear, aim slightly higher than what you feel the position calls for. Better to overdress than underdress.
  • Avoid distracting habits.
Do not be the candidate that clicks their pen incessantly. Or the one that taps their foot against the table over and over. I once had a candidate who answered every question while literally clawing across the top of the conference table with his fingers. It was so distracting and unprofessional that I could not concentrate on his responses.
  • Do not share inappropriate details about yourself or the interviewer.
Try to limit the amount of personal details you share during interviews. There may be times when it feels appropriate to mention that you have children or that you enjoy vacationing in Barbados, but oftentimes you should stick to information relevant to the position.
Likewise, do not bring up any personal information you discovered about the interviewer. It is always smart to research the company prior to interviewing. You want to know about the position and all relevant information to help you determine if this is where you want to work. It may even be appropriate to share this knowledge during your interview, but stick to relevant and professional information.
For example, I am a competitive triathlete in my free time. This is not relevant to an interview. However, I once had an applicant locate a picture of me racing and, at the end of her interview, asked if I was “one of those strange people who wore spandex cycling shorts.” The question was inappropriate, unprofessional, and reflected very poorly on her.

As a final tip, remember to thank the interviewer. Regardless of what type of interview, this is always a good practice. When possible, follow your verbal thank you with a brief written one via email.

Good luck and happy job hunting!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Recommendations for Deploying VILT

Our previous entries have covered designing and developing Virtual Instructor-led Training (VILT). This post will review the preparations needed to ensure a smooth deployment of a VILT course. These tips were originally presented by Kelley Rogers, a Victor 12 instructional designer, at the 2014 for Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) International Convention in Jacksonville, FL.

Choose the right instructors and hosts.
Probably the most important decision you will make before delivering VILT is who you select for the instructor and host. These two people will make or break your course.

Look for instructors with these qualities:
  • Content expert
  • Build and maintain rapport with participants
  • Flexible
  • Team player

Look for hosts with these qualities:
  • Tech savvy
  • Knowledgeable about technology and course structure
  • Multi-tasker
  • Calm in a crisis

While VILT is delivered virtually, instructors with face-to-face teaching experience often have the most success. VILT is most effective when the instructor is able to build rapport with the participants and confidently facilitate the session. While we provide basic training for instructors on how to navigate around the VILT platform, providing training on how to be a good teacher is usually outside the scope of VILT deployment. For this reason, we like to hire instructors with traditional ILT experience that can be flexible and adjust to the needs of participants.

In our deployment model, we have a Victor 12 host who manages the technology for the course, leaving the instructor free to teach. The best hosts are both tech-savvy and calm in a (technological) “crisis”, should one occur. A good host remains in the background supporting the instructor and providing a seamless instructional experience for the participants.

Rehearse before and debrief after.

Rehearsal is key. Unlike a face-to-face class, which allows for significant flexibility and requires minimal coordination, VILT is a partnership between the instructor and the host. Sessions should be rehearsed prior to the live course to ensure that everything will run smoothly. The instructor and host can work through the class, interacting with simulated participants and practicing their coordination.

After each live session, conduct a short internal debrief to review what went well and what could be improved. This may be especially important after the first session. By conducting debriefs immediately following a live session, memories are clearer and any critical issues can be addressed before the next session. If there are any changes identified for curriculum, such as timing, instructions, or activities, they can be recorded for future life cycle maintenance.

  Kelley Rogers is an instructional designer with Victor 12. She has over 10 years' experience designing and delivering instruction for both face-to-face and virtual training environments. She is also a published author and experienced speaker at professional conferences.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Recommendations for Developing VILT

In a previous entry, we posted recommendations for designing Virtual Instructor-led Training (VILT) courses. This post will tackle recommendations for developing VILT courses once the design is complete. These tips were originally presented by Kelley Rogers, a Victor 12 instructional designer, at the 2014 Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) International Convention in Jacksonville, FL.

Deliverables for a VILT course combine elements from both instructor-led training (ILT) and web-based training (WBT). Like ILT, we deliver a facilitator guide and participant guide. Like WBT, we also create the content that will be uploaded to the web conferencing software as well as the classroom environment itself.

Keeping this in mind, here are some recommendations for developing VILT courses.

Run through each lesson.

It is important to run through the session(s) with designers acting as the facilitator, host, and participant. This step, often skipped when in a time crunch, is vital to ensuring that the course runs correctly and smoothly. 

During the run through:
  • Check to make sure the instructor guide is accurate.
  • Check the timing of all activities.
  • Time the course as a whole to make sure that it is not significantly shorter or longer than designed.
Design estimates are just that—estimates. You never really know how long an activity will take until you test it. We design courses with significant participant interaction, which can mean that our host may be very busy manipulating the learning environment, setting up breakout rooms, and so forth. During initial run-throughs, we can spot areas where the host needs more time to set up activities or where activity/multimedia coordination should be smoothed. With this information, we revise the facilitator guide to ensure that instructions are practical and give both host and facilitator time to complete their tasks.

Develop with Life Cycle Maintenance in mind.

Manage the course materials and assets in a way that allows future designers and developers to easily update content for life cycle maintenance (LCM). As VILT involves uploading content to a web conferencing platform, it is critical to have a plan in place for managing this content.

It may be helpful to ask yourself these questions when creating a method for content management:
  • How will you ensure that the correct and most current content is uploaded to the meeting room?
  • What is the plan when there are multiple versions of the same course running simultaneously? Will they all pull from the same content or have copies of content?
  • How will you manage content revisions?
  • What process will you use for archiving old content?

As with all LCM, regardless of course type, it is important to implement and follow strict versioning and naming conventions. This allows everyone on the team to locate the most current and correct content. We recommend that you address these questions and conventions in the design phase in order to save significant time during development and deployment, as well as while the course ages and changes are requested.

Finally, no matter which platform you choose for your virtual classroom, there will likely be software upgrades. Sometimes these upgrades are small, but if there is an upgrade that impacts the look or functionality of courseware, these changes should be incorporated into the relevant facilitator and participant materials.

Coming up next:
In a future post we will share recommendations for deploying VILT courses.

  Kelley Rogers is an instructional designer with Victor 12. She has over 10 years' experience designing and delivering instruction for both face-to-face and virtual training environments. She is also a published author and experienced speaker at professional conferences.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Recommendations for Designing Virtual Instructor-Led Training

This past week, Kelley Rogers, an instructional designer with Victor 12, presented at the 2014 Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) International Convention in Jacksonville, FL. She presented on Victor 12’s experiences and recommendations for designing virtual instructor-led training (VILT) courses, which is one of our core services. Over the next several weeks, we will post excerpts from her presentation as well as information shared in other sessions.

This post focuses on recommendations for designing a VILT course. Some elements should be treated similar to a face-to-face instructor-led training (ILT) course while others should be approached from a web-based training (WBT) perspective.

Use modified face-to-face strategies.

Although VILT is taught virtually, face-to-face instructional strategies that are modified as needed, based on the technology capabilities and limitations, increase participant engagement and learning.

Just as an instructor for a face-to-face class must organize his or her classroom to decrease participant distraction and increase content retention, the virtual environment must also be organized to maximize participant engagement and learning. In a virtual environment, ensure that commonly used items, such as a chat pod, are in the same location on every screen to provide consistency. For chat pods, this is especially important so that participants can easily ask questions at any time.

Keep in mind that virtual real estate is valuable. Everything on the screen should have a purpose, so do not, for example, add images just for aesthetics. Less is more. We want participants focused on the content, not lost in a sea of information.

Look for ways to increase participant engagement. Consider the challenges of keeping a participant’s attention when they have all the distractions of a face-to-face classroom plus the entire internet at their disposal. We mitigate this concern by limiting direct instruction to small time increments and include frequent interactive elements throughout, such as polls, class discussions, and small group activities. While we do include multimedia elements, such as videos, we use them when they directly relate to the activity and keep them to under 2 minutes.

Storyboard like web-based training.

Although face-to-face instructional strategies work best when designing course presentations, we take our storyboarding cues from web-based training design.

When storyboarding for VILT, especially if the designer and developer are two different people, storyboards must be extremely detailed and well thought-out. While fairly effective ILTs can be taught using lesson plans that allow for significant instructor improvisation, VILT doesn’t work this way. This is especially true for our Victor 12 courses, as we have a virtual host who handles the technical end, allowing the instructor to teach without worrying about technology or platform concerns. The course design and storyboards must support this level of structure and coordination.

Below are some elements worth including in a VILT storyboard:
  • Screen layouts
  • Presentation slides
  • Instructor script
  • Technical directions
  • Participant activity instructions
  • Multimedia scripts
Storyboards must include all participant activities, presentations, and multimedia that will eventually be uploaded into the web conferencing tool. Additionally, you must decide where this content will appear on screen within the virtual environment.

Plan for participants with disabilities.

Finally, when designing a VILT course, you need to consider participants with disabilities. Make sure that your conferencing software is compatible with screen reading software and provide keyboard shortcuts for participants unable to use a mouse. Not all VILT software is created equal in these regards.

Also, make sure to include captioning for all multimedia and for the course itself. There are several companies that provide live captioning services. Captioners sit in the course and provide real-time captioning to the participants. If using breakout rooms, ensure that all participants who require captioning are placed in the same breakout room with the captioner. 

Victor 12 chooses to have captioning visible on all multimedia for all participants. We do this not only for participants requiring captioning but also to account for participants who may have bandwidth issues. If multimedia audio doesn’t play correctly due to internet limitations, they can still read text on screen.

Coming up next:
Our next post will contain recommendations for developing VILT courses.

  Kelley Rogers is an instructional designer with Victor 12. She has over 10 years' experience designing and delivering instruction for both face-to-face and virtual training environments. She is also a published author and experienced speaker at professional conferences.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

How to Land an Instructional Design Position

As a growing company, Victor 12 frequently interviews and hires instructional designers from the junior to senior level. For every one open position, we may interview roughly ten designers and sort through forty or fifty resumes.

So how do you, as an instructional designer, get your resume reviewed favorably, make it through the interview process, and be selected for the position?

Consider the following recommendations of things to do and avoid to improve your chances of landing the job.

Thoroughly read the position description and research the company prior to submitting a resume.

Tailor your application to the position by highlighting your experience relevant to the stated position and company needs. Demonstrate that you took the time to research the company and fully understand the opportunity, as opposed to just sending a generic form-letter introduction and resume.

If submitting a cover letter or introductory email, address the letter to a specific person.

Too often we receive cover letters addressed to “Dear Sir” or, even worse, to “Dear [insert random name from a company the candidate previously applied to]”. Do a little research to try and identify the person likely to receive your application. If it is not obvious from the position description, search on the company website or LinkedIn for the individual likely to supervise the position or be involved in making the selection. Address this person by a professional title (e.g., Dr., Ms., Mr.) and their last name. If all else fails, most employers prefer the salutation “Dear Hiring Manager”, followed by a colon.


I cannot stress this one enough. Many resumes we receive are filled with spelling errors, grammar errors, and information left over from other applications. We receive cover letters addressed to wrong employers, applications for position titles that don’t exist in our company, and emails that read as though they were written by a non-English speaking infant. Once you have proofread your resume and cover letter, send it to a trusted friend or mentor to proofread and review for you. The more reviewers you recruit, the more likely you are to catch errors and areas that can be improved. If you have an e-portfolio, make sure you have thoroughly proofread your entire portfolio. Which leads me to...

Have a portfolio ready.

While we don’t always ask instructional designers to see their portfolios, it is always a good resource to have when applying for jobs. This can be especially helpful if you are junior and new to the field. Your resume may not have a wealth of professional experience, but including a link to an e-portfolio with strong, instructionally sound samples can bolster your credentials. If you are interested in doing development, graphic, or media work, this becomes especially important.

Act professional from your first interaction.

After selecting a candidate for a phone interview, I’ve been disappointed on more than one occasion when their response email to my interview request is informal, filled with errors, or otherwise unprofessional. As a candidate, you are being judged from your very first interaction with the company. Every email you send should be clean and professional. Every phone call you have with them should be calm, clear, and polite. We don’t start evaluating candidates at the in-person interview, we start evaluating them from the moment they enter our system, or sometimes even before then if we receive an inquiry prior to an application.

This position is important to us as a company, so it should be important to the candidate we select. Prove that to us.

Know your field.

For most interviews, via phone, webcam, or in person, we ask candidates the same set of questions. Depending on their responses, we may deviate from these questions as the interview continues. Our starter questions are directly relevant to the position responsibilities. We test candidates to make sure they can perform the required duties of the job. If there is a skill or responsibility listed in the position description, we may very well ask you to describe how you would complete a related task. In fact, we may actually give you a sample task to complete during the interview process to prove you can be a success in the position.

Additionally, if you have a skill set listed on your resume, you should be able to speak clearly about that skill. If you claimed to have done something for a previous employer, you should be able to explain how you did it and what your previous responsibilities entailed. If you are fresh out of college, you should be able to speak intelligently about your coursework, internship, or other experiences relevant to the field and position.

In a future post, we’ll go into more detail about interviews. However, following even these brief recommendations should help you improve your job search process.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Developing Templates: Style Guides

Developing a style guide (sometimes called a stylebook) is one of the most important support documents we create and maintain within a project. By creating a strong style guide prior to design and development, you set expectations and standards for the project. This means you avoid costly time spent going back to make revisions and corrections across a sloppy or inconsistent product.

In essence, a style guide sets the standard for the writing and design of a document or other deliverable. Style guides vary from company to company, but here are some basic categories to consider including:
  • Accommodation requirements (American Disabilities Act, Section 508 Compliance)
  • Document and asset repositories (file locations, shared sites)
  • Editorial
    • Capitalization
    • Grammar
    • Punctuation
    • Spelling
  • Formatting and style
    • Assessment format (question types and format)
    • Fonts and colors
    • Storyboard/Screen layout conventions
    • Text formatting
    • Titles and subtitles
  • Media conventions (audio, image, video)
  • Naming conventions
The style guide categories will vary depending on the format of your deliverable. A basic text document may only need editorial and formatting conventions. A web-based training, however, may need conventions for screen layouts, media use, and other product specific considerations.

If you are creating a style guide for the first time, keep in mind that you don’t have to start from scratch. You may be able to start from a corporate style or marketing guide that addresses items commonly encountered in that particular company.

With regards to spelling, grammar, and punctuation, you can also consult a published stylebook as a secondary guideline. Some popular stylebook options are:
  • Chicago Manual of Style (preferred in book publishing)
  • Associate Press Stylebook or AP (preferred in magazine and newspaper writing)
  • Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association or APA (preferred in academic
From these resources, client needs, and your own best practices, you can create a strong template to ensure consistency and professionalism across your projects.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Developing Templates: The CDD

After project kick-off and scheduling is complete, one of the first documents created and delivered to a client is often a course design document (CDD). This document can take many forms and can include different sections and content, but it serves as an agreement between the client and designers on how to proceed forward.

Our basic Victor 12 CDD is a Word document that outlines the proposed design, content, and delivery methods to be used. The CDD is usually created in concert with or directly before the first prototype. It is a “living document” in that it may be updated as the project progresses to reflect approved changes in the design strategy or technical specifications.

In this post, we’ll consider a few sections that we typically include in a CDD template.
  • Audience
This section outlines who needs this course or training. What is their position? What roles do they play in the organization? Where are they geographically located and are they in the same time zone? Do they work the same shifts? And, often overlooked but very important, what tools is your audience able to use? (Macs, PCs, laptops, cell phones, shared computers, etc.)
Ideally, all of this information would be provided prior to beginning course design, but including this section helps to remind everyone of who will ultimately receive the training.
  • Assumptions
In order to move forward with course design and development, it is often necessary to make assumptions. These assumptions help avoid project delays and, when documented in the CDD, can encourage team members to obtain missing information. Some assumptions may include:
    • Minimum technical specifications that a user’s computer will have
    • User’s internet access and speed, as well as their browser configuration 
    • Ability for users to perform technical functions (such as dial into a private line while concurrently accessing internet on an individual computer) 
    • Estimated “seat time” for the course 
    • Section 508 compliance needs
    • Any assumptions about content the client did not provide or clarify, such as acceptable references to use moving forward
  • Objectives
Course objectives should be listed very clearly. Depending upon client needs, you may want to include behavioral indicators, terminal learning objectives, enabling learning objectives, and cognitive levels for each objective. It may also be helpful to outline where each objective is supported in the course.
  • Delivery solution(s)
Include how the course or training will be delivered. Are you using web-based training (WBT), virtual instructor-led training (VILT), face-to-face, performance support, or other solutions? Is your solution consistent throughout or will you blend the options by module, lesson, or topic? It is also helpful to explain the appropriateness of each solution and why it was selected.
  • Learning activities
What learning activities and strategies will occur during the course? There are several ways to organize this section. We often find it helpful to create a table outlining the course by module and/or lesson with columns for learning objectives and the supporting learning activities and strategies.
  • Content and references
What content information will support each learning activity? What is the source for this information? Include references and designated subject matter experts (SMEs) that can be consulted during design and development.

The CDD is very customizable per client and project. Additional sections, such as timing, instructional strategies, and evaluation strategies, can be added to the document, as needed. When complete, the CDD provides a framework for the course design and, upon acceptance by the client, allows full design and development to commence.

What other sections have you found helpful to include in course design documents?