Written by:

Mark Aston


September 1, 2019

Traps To Avoid When Hiring An Instructional Designer

This is the last in our series of articles discussing finding and selecting a great instructional design company.  In our first article we discussed the 10 Qualities and Skills of Great Instructional Design Companies.  Our second article focused on how to identify a list of potential candidates.  Our previous article discussed steps to select the best candidate to work with.  To add to your knowledge we are ending the series, by discussing what to avoid when hiring an instructional designer.

Focusing on Hiring Someone Who Is A Subject Matter Expert

While it may be helpful hiring a company or individual that is a subject matter expert, most often it’s a trap to avoid. Instead, focus on getting the best instructional design company you can. If that person or company ALSO happens to be an expert in the subject matter then all well and good. However, you should avoid someone who isn’t an expert in instructional design, or who has little cross-industry experience and new ideas to bring to the table.

Hiring Someone Based on Their Academic Qualifications Alone

Formal qualifications are good, but its much better for you to find someone who has many years of actual practical experience.  You want a person who has a strong portfolio of clients, with a solid understanding of instructional design. You should avoid hiring a recent Ph.D. graduate in instructional design, for instance, who doesn’t have several years of good experience.

Engaging A Firm Through A Request for Proposal (RFP) Process

The norm of past decades, especially for bureaucratic entities, was to put out an RFP to engage a company on a project. Conversely, today’s reality is that successful companies don’t respond to RFP’s because they don’t need to. The RFP process is mostly an outdated purchasing practice. It was born when transactional speed was slow, and there was an overabundant supply of willing contractors. Nowadays you need a more proactive approach to engage the best companies. Those who spend the time to respond to a formal RFP often do so because that can’t secure enough work. Unless you have a multi-million dollar project, don’t go through an RFP process. If you do you are likely to be fishing for the bottom feeders and the company that puts in the lowest bid (see below). Is that who you want to hire?

Focusing Too Much on Budget

Ok, so I’m not going to tell you that your budget isn’t important. Far from it. But it’s not a coincidence that we are on our fourth and final article and I haven’t mentioned it yet. Hiring an instructional design company because they fit your budget is definitely a trap you need to avoid. The budget is a consideration but only that. There’s an awful lot of scope in what you can produce within your budget. If you want high-end bells and whistles, and the latest in virtual reality then your budget needs to expand accordingly. Though, do you need those to create the behavioral change you desire? Perhaps, but not necessarily so. On the other hand, if your budget is unrealistically low any conversation won’t go very far. Or at worst you’ll engage someone who doesn’t understand what it takes to do the job.

So, you need to have a realistic budget and you should be open to suggestions for how you can spend those resources. You likely have a lot of scope within which to work. Often, there are a few features that could reduce the cost, which won’t appreciably impact the course.  Focusing on the 10 Qualities and Skills we’ve discussed, you’ll find someone to work collaboratively with to decide what you can achieve.

In Summary

In previous articles we’ve discussed the 10 qualities and skills of great instructional design companies, as well as how to create a list of candidates, and how to select the top candidate(s).  In the last of the series we’ve added in some additional insight into common mistakes to avoid when hiring an instructional designer.


If there are important items we could or should have discussed, drop us a note and we’ll consider those for future BLOG posts. Hopefully, we’ve managed to Spark Your Interest in the topic. If you like what you’ve read then we’d appreciate hearing that, and sharing it with your network.