How to become a Learning and Development practitioner with no prior experience
Learning & Development is a highly rewarding career path but one that can be pretty daunting to enter. It can seem like an impossible task if you're looking to go into L&D but don't have any prior experience in this field. Don't worry, though. In this article, we'll walk you through the steps necessary to start your career as an L&D professional.
Table of Content:
Pros of Working in Learning & Development
First, let's try to figure out what are some of the pros of working in L&D.
Being responsible for other people's development can be a gratifying experience. You can help people:
improve their skills,
learn new skills and
change their behavior, attitudes, and mindset.
When you see the light go off, you know you've made a difference in someone's life.
But there's more to it. Learning and development professionals are not just responsible for the learning experience but also for the whole employee experience. They have the opportunity:
to influence organizational culture through the programs they develop and deliver
shape the way organizations operate by helping employees learn new skills or adopt new behaviors that will make them more effective at work, which helps organizations achieve their goals
support the organization's strategy by creating an environment where employees can thrive through continuous learning and development opportunities
be the first point of contact for employees who have questions or issues related to their career development or performance management processes
assist managers with coaching and mentor individual contributors on how best to develop their teams so that they can achieve organizational goals
What's more, the work can be really interesting—you never know what kind of people you're going to meet or what kind of problems you'll face! One day you may be working with a very large company dealing with the challenges of scaling up training across many locations around the world; the next day, you might be working with an early-stage start-up that's just starting out its L&D journey. This diversity makes for an exciting career because every day is different!
Cons of Working in Learning & Development
Just like any other job, there are a few cons to working in Learning & Development.
It can be difficult to find a job with no prior experience in the field.
The pay can be low, especially if you're just starting out.
You have to have a good understanding of the needs of your audience.
You might have to sit through some really boring meetings.
There's no guarantee that you'll have a great boss or that they'll be able to help and support you out as much as you'd like.
Sometimes, it can feel like everyone else knows what they're doing and you don't. (Imposter syndrome, anyone?)
You need to be a good listener. Learning and Development is not for everyone. If you aren't the kind of person who enjoys listening to others learn, you may want to consider a different career path.
You need to be a good communicator. If people don't understand what you're saying, they won't buy into your ideas or feel motivated by them.
You need to be a good problem solver. Every day brings new challenges that require creative solutions on the fly (and often under pressure).
You'll need to be able to work with people from all different backgrounds and personalities, which can be challenging at times.
You'll also have to deal with tough situations where employees or managers might not want to learn something new or change their behavior.
It's also important to remember that L&D practitioners don't just sit around all day and make manuals and presentations. They have a lot of responsibility on their shoulders: they have to plan training sessions, create course materials, and manage stakeholders and budgets for their projects. This means that sometimes you'll need help from other departments, like HR or IT, as well as external vendors who specialize in specific training topics that you are not proficient in.
However, if these things don't scare you off but excite you, the pros of working in this field far outweigh the cons!
What it takes to work in Learning & Development
If you're considering a career in L&D, it's a good idea to know what the job is all about. Here are some of the areas you need to keep an eye out for:
Have a solid working understanding of what Learning & Development is and how it works. The basics are always helpful in establishing the minimum viable competencies you need. Read through the most important competencies in our free guide "Start a Career in L&D".
Why do people do the things that they do (i.e., basic motivation and psychology)
Why change happens and how to manage it effectively, so everyone stays on board with your plans
Training design & delivery skills for both classroom-based and e-learning courses
You should know about adult learning theories and principles. This way, when you create content for your audience(s), the course flows logically from one lesson or topic to another without jarring jumps. The learner should not be confused by jumping around topics without any logical reason behind why they went from A-Z then suddenly went back up B-C again!
You need to know how people learn and how organizations can leverage it to improve performance. You must understand how organizations work, why they do what they do and what makes them tick. This includes knowing about motivation, leadership styles, and productivity.
Learning doesn't happen in isolation. It occurs within organizational systems like an intranet, SharePoint, Slack, or email, as well as face-to-face interactions with colleagues during team meetings or one-on-one discussions. The effective use of technology is, therefore, essential if we want to move towards learning environments that are more effective than traditional classroom settings. In the latter, students passively absorb information from their lecturers instead of actively engaging with the material that encourages active participation with games or simulations. Learn what's available out there, how it can be used to support learning and development initiatives, and how to make sure it doesn't get in the way of what you're trying to achieve (like when one device is incompatible with another).
You need to be passionate about Learning and Development. It is one thing to have a general understanding of how people learn and develop, but another entirely to understand the intricacies of human behavior. Be observant and curious - both can be fueled by your passion for the job.
Being able to coach and lead others through change will also help you succeed. This includes understanding what it takes for people to perform well at work and recognizing when someone needs coaching or training to do their job better.
L&D doesn't exist in a vacuum. It collaborates closely with most (if not all) other Human Resource departments. You'll need an understanding of talent management processes, such as performance reviews and succession planning, not to mention how management and leadership development programs work.
How to become an L&D practitioner with no prior experience?
Suppose you're interested in becoming a learning and development practitioner but don't have any prior experience in the field. In that case, figuring out how to get started can be a little intimidating. A great first step is to start as a learner first. Discover how your brain works and what motivates you to learn. When are you at your optimal, and when do you struggle to retain knowledge? A couple of books on the topic we would recommend are:
How We Learn, by Benedict Carey
The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything...Fast, by Josh Kaufman
While you are working through these, supplement your journey with some of these 'side quests':
Learn about the field of learning and development
You can start by reading books on the subject, taking classes at your local community college, or exploring online resources like YouTube videos and MOOCs (massive open online courses). We also offer a 6-hour online course, "Introduction to Learning and Development", that will take you through all the major responsibilities and give you step-by-step instructions on how to perform the most important tasks in the field.
Find ways to practice what you learn
Volunteer at your company or start your own blog where you write about topics like employee training or workplace learning.
Apply for jobs that match your skillset and interests
You can find these by talking with friends who work in the field, looking at LinkedIn profiles of other L&D pros, attending networking events held by local companies offering L&D services, or searching job boards online.
Look for internships
Internships are often a great way to get your foot in the door at companies that do L&D work. You'll get exposure to the tasks typically involved in these roles (such as designing training programs) without worrying about being responsible for executing them on your own. If you do well during your internship, there's a good chance your employer will offer you an entry-level role or when they need someone else on staff full-time.
L&D Practitioners Qualities
L&D practitioners have many different roles, but there are some important qualities that every L&D practitioner needs regardless of what type of work they do:
A high degree of empathy
To optimize employee engagement and satisfaction with their work, L&D professionals must be able to put themselves in their employees' shoes at all times. They need to understand what motivates them, what makes them feel valued, why they might be stressed out by certain tasks, or how they learn best.
It's also important for L&D Professionals to never stop learning about new technologies and trends in training, development, and the HR field in general. Staying on top of these helps us keep organizations competitive in today's ever-changing business landscape. And removes the excuse "I don't know enough about [insert technology name], so I'm not going there!".
An open mind
Being open to new ideas and concepts is necessary when designing learning experiences for others. L&D is constantly looking for opportunities to develop new areas of study or help employees in a more efficient way.
Strong communication skills
A good L&D professional knows how to communicate effectively with clients and colleagues while remaining professional. This means asking the right questions, actively listening, reading between the lines, writing clearly and concisely, and utilizing non-verbal cues.
When looking for a job (any job, not just in L&D), it can be tempting to jump at the first opportunity that comes your way. This can be a great way to get your foot in the door. But it's also easy to end up with a job that doesn't fit you as well as you hoped.
If you want a position that will allow you to thrive, take some time to think about what's most important to you in a job. Reflect on how much money and benefits matter, where the job is located in, whether there's room for advancement within the company, and whether or not there are opportunities for training or professional development within this particular organization.
This might sound like a lot of work—and it is! But suppose you ask yourself these questions before taking on any new job opportunities. In that case, it will help ensure that when you find one that fits perfectly with your personal needs and goals, it'll be worth every minute spent searching!
Learning and Development is a rewarding career path. And there are many opportunities to get into the L&D world. If you have no prior experience, don't worry! There are a number of roles that require little or no experience. Some L&D professionals start off as interns or volunteers and then move their way up. You can also take courses in related fields such as psychology, education, or management before applying for an entry-level role.
We have a dedicated community of L&D professionals over on LinkedIn. Come by and say hi!
Good luck and happy learning!