9 Career Tips You Absolutely Cannot Ignore When Applying for Your next L&D Job

The L&D field changed forever.

If you are a job seeker aspiring to find your next job in the learning and development (L&D) field, this article is for you.

The career tips you will read here are not the typical generic ones you will find on Google, such as polishing your CV or brushing up on your interviewing skills.

The tips outlined below are specific to the L&D discipline and were gathered through my 10+ years of experience as well as my conversations with some of the field veterans.

Here is what I learned.

Cast a Wider Net

It's becoming less common for L&D companies to host learning events and more common for them to create a wider learning experience that includes both formal and informal learning. This includes things like learning on the job, mentoring, and professional groups.

The move is based on the wide adoption of the 70–20–10 model among many Fortune 500 companies.

If you haven’t heard about this model before, check it out here.

In a nutshell, this model holds that 70% of learning in the workplace happens on the job, 20% happens through others, and only 10% happens through formal training.

Can you see how this model could result in a paradigm shift in learning?

Training, which used to make up the majority of learning interventions, is on its way to making up only 10% of all learning projects.

What Does This Mean to You?

It means that if you have been up to this point branding yourself as a “trainer,” it is high time to reposition yourself and broaden your skill-set. You need to acquire skills that you can promote to organizations as useful and relevant across a wider range of learning solutions, not just training.
In other words, your newly acquired skill set must be tightly coupled to the 70–20–10 model.

Unlearn Outdated Models

Unlearning is how you keep up as the world evolves. - Adam Grant

The ADDIE and Kirkpatrick models have been used for a long time in the design and evaluation of courses. These learning models are becoming outdated.

They can be used in a lot of different ways, but they are usually used to help with traditional training. The more quickly you can unlearn these paradigms, the more quickly you can progress and reinvent yourself. Modern frameworks such as design thinking, learning agility, and the Ebbinghaus curve are getting more attention now and are worth checking out because they influence modern L&D practices.

Learn about mentoring, social learning, micro-learning, and performance support in the workplace. These are all extremely valuable abilities that are in high demand at the moment and are all consistent with the 70–20–10 paradigm. A good place to start is to read ‘Design Thinking for Training & Development,’ ‘Managers as Mentors,’ and ‘The New Social Learning.’

Go Beyond L&D

It is impossible to operate L&D in a vacuum or in isolation. The new focus on creating a holistic learning experience will involve dealing with the whole life cycle of an employee, from onboarding until exiting the company.

This means that, as an L&D professional, you need to educate yourself about wider HR functions that intersect with your work, such as recruitment, culture, performance management, and promotions.

The better informed you are about these functions, the easier it will be to convince employers of your added value, and the faster you can position yourself for a transition to a new role in the future.

Keep an Eye on the Big Players

Do you want me to reveal a little secret to you?

The ATD in the United States and the CIPD in the United Kingdom have already updated their competency frameworks to include a broader range of skills that define the L&D profession. The older list of skills was limited and focused mainly on the learning function. The new one includes far more business and technology skills.

What does this mean to you?

This signals the shift that is happening already, and the new direction companies are heading toward. What you need to do is become acquainted with the new framework and evaluate yourself against each skill. The ATD has an online free self-assessment on the skills included in its new talent capability model that you need to check yourself against. Once you know where you stand, prepare a personalized plan to build the areas where you score the least.

Stay Away from Transaction Roles

Nobody needs to tell you that technology is turning everything upside down.PP training is already dead in the L&D field, and we have seen a massive shift from instructor-led training to e-learning. The COVID-19 pandemic hastened the shift. Most recently, artificial intelligence (AI) is slowly transforming the way people learn. Your most fierce competitor is going to be a machine, not a human. The McKinsey Global Institute predicts that AI will replace about 73 million jobs in the US alone by 2030.

AI gets every one of us asking: Will my job be replaced?

The irony is that employees in HR and L&D who are expected to map future jobs and skills in an organization are themselves busy debating their future relevance.
I have found that technology is a big intimidating factor for adults in general and L&D professionals in particular. If you have an edge in the use of technology, this could easily differentiate you from other job seekers.
If you are not a technology geek like me, then you need to educate yourself.

David Clark’s book on AI for learning is a very good place to start. When you're done reading this, the most important thing you can do right now is to learn new skills and avoid transactional roles like L&D administrator, tracker, assessor, or coordinator.

These will be the first to be replaced by technology. Consider roles that are more strategic and forward-thinking.

Improve your math skills

If you have had any kind of experience in finance, data analysis, statistics, graphing, or number interpretation, this could be your gateway to distinguishing yourself. This is the best time to highlight these skills.

For a long time, people who wanted to work in L&D and HR didn't need to know how to work with numbers. In fact, many of my friends who work in HR chose this field because they hate math and want to escape numbers.
That, however, is no longer the case.

Thanks to technological advancements, we now have access to a massive amount of data generated about practically every aspect of HR, including L&D.  People analytics is a hot topic right now. The issue is that there aren't enough qualified learning and development professionals to analyze and interpret this data. Because I started my career as a financial analyst, I was trained to read numbers and not fear them. When I shifted from a financial job to an L&D job to follow my passion for people development, I thought my financial skills were now squandered and irrelevant.

I was wrong.

Employers value candidates with financial backgrounds, I discovered. Do you know the popular interview question, ”Why should I hire you and not others?”

The answer could very well be that I am not your typical L&D professional who avoids numbers. I am capable of making sense of numbers and interpreting them in meaningful ways. That could be one effective way to differentiate yourself.

Develop your Business Acumen

You need to understand the business model you work with.L&D professionals are notorious for isolating themselves from the larger business picture. That is precisely why the field has been struggling for a long time to demonstrate its strategic impact and earn a seat on the executive committee. If you look closely around you, you will find that many learning providers have now added to their offerings, such as business acumen for learning professionals or financial analysis for learning professionals.

These courses are added to fill a real gap in the knowledge of learning professionals who tend to be siloed in their departments.

Spend some time gathering information about the industry you work in and understanding its main drivers. To me, this is a key differentiator for us all.

If L&D professionals stopped thinking about how their learning solutions are connected to the big picture, they are doing themselves a big disservice. It's related to voluntarily opting out of a bigger game and choosing to remain on the margins for the rest of your life.

Be selective when choosing an employer.

You can aspire to change the culture of a group, but don’t overlook how the culture will change you. Few of us are immune to the values of the people around us. - Adam Grant

The interview is an opportunity for you to choose the employer who best fits you. The truth is that when it comes to the L&D functions, organizations are not equal.

Some are very forthcoming about their learning functions, while others have not paid attention to employee learning except when prompted by the COVID 19 pandemic. The good news is, according to LinkedIn Learning—Workplace Learning Report 2021, 65% of L&D pros agree that they are now focused on reshaping their organizations through upskilling the workforce. If you look forward to re-inventing your L&D career, this is the kind of organization you need to join.

That is why it is very important to pay attention to the values of your potential employers. During the interview, look for clues on how far the organization has come along the L&D development path.

Is technology being widely adopted, or are PP decks still being entertained? Workplace learning: Do they think of it as having a wide range of things to do both on and off the job, or as the number of workshops that are held each year? Most importantly, what is the status of L&D in the organization? Is it elevated, respected, and influential, or is it merely an order-taking department that is largely ignored? Is the L&D department in the executive suite, or is it the first to be laid off during budget-cutting periods? Whether the leaders are encouraging learning or hoarding learning tells a lot about the culture and it is important to find out early on. You may believe that joining an outdated company with the intention of changing it is still a good idea. That’s a good intention.

Be warned, however, that top management must be willing to lead the change. If top management does not have a vision for change, your efforts will be futile, no matter how sincere your intentions are.

Ditch These Popular Learning Myths

For many years, the learning field accepted a number of learning concepts that were later dismissed or weakened by research. You probably heard about the concept of learning styles, which holds that a trainer should adapt his teaching to the learner’s style. This concept has probably survived for so long because it sounds logical.

It turns out, however, that research by Pashler et al. (2008) shows that there isn't enough proof that adapting to learners' styles makes sense. Learners indeed differ, but the difference is not consistent across contexts.
Another popular concept is that millennials learn differently than baby boomers. Again, this claim did not stand up to scrutiny.

Research conducted by Bluath et al. (2011) concluded that there are only four scientifically validated differences among generations (e.g. differences in work centralization, work ethics, preference for leisure, and workplace individuality). Other than that, there is no scientific basis for any other claims.

The message is now clear.

Nothing is cast in stone, even the long-held concepts that we believed in for years and took for granted. As you evolve in your career, don’t fall in love with any learning concepts and be ready to unlearn or dismiss some of them.

Parting Thought

Overall, the modern L&D function does not require trainers or course designers. They are looking for people who have a wide range of experience and can show how their work fits in with the company's long-term goals. You must be adaptable enough to learn and unlearn new concepts as well as change your branding as you go.
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