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A Learning & Development Resume that Gets Noticed

Maria Leggett on learning & development resumes

Applying for a new job can be both exciting and frustrating. The excitement of new possibilities is often tempered by the frustration of navigating online application portals, the tedium of updating your resume and customizing it for each job, and then waiting to hopefully hear from a recruiter or hiring manager. And who knows exactly what that hiring manager has in mind and what should be in your learning & development resume?

Recently I had a chance to sit down and talk with Maria Leggett, an HR leader with extensive experience hiring people for learning and development roles. She shared some important insights when it comes to how to best position yourself to get noticed in your resume and to stand out in the interview process.

Introduction 

Brian Washburn: Welcome, everyone, to another episode of Train Like You Listen, a podcast about all things learning and development in bite-sized chunks. I’m Brian Washburn, I’m the Co-founder of Endurance Learning. We’re an instructional design company that puts together training programs for projects big and small. We can help organizations with in-person training, virtual training, or eLearning. And today, I am joined by Maria Leggett, who is an experienced HR Professional with significant crossover in L&D, and we’re going to be talking about what a hiring manager typically looks for when they’re hiring somebody who’s looking to break into the world of learning and development.

Before we get into the conversation though, I want to make sure that you all know that this is brought to you by Endurance Learning’s new L&D Professionals Academy. It’s an eight-week cohort-based course for people looking to break into the world of learning and development. We’ll dive into Adult Learning Theory, Instructional Design Basics, Classroom Training, Design and Delivery, eLearning Design and Development, Change Management and Project Management – all while building a portfolio of work samples for your next interview. So if you’d like more information, you can visit www.endurancelearning.com/academy. Our first cohort will be forming this October.

All right. Hello, Maria. Thank you for joining us. How are you today?

Maria Leggett: Doing great. Glad to be here, Brian.

Six-word Bio

Brian Washburn: Well, I’m excited for this conversation. Before we jump into the hard-hitting questions, though, we always like to have our guests introduce themselves with a six-word biography. So if you could introduce yourself to the world of listeners out there using exactly six words, how would you do that?

Maria Leggett: Okay, mine’s a little– I purely can’t count because I think as I thought about this, it’s probably a little bit long, but if you’ll give me grace, I’ll share it. I really describe myself as a “strategic talent partner, helping companies solve business problems through human capital. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my career is being a partner to the business, really providing strategic thought leadership, is probably the best thing that you can do as a learning and development professional in your career.

Brian Washburn: And so– and I’m always curious about the terms that are used for human resources, human capital. Is there a difference between those two? Is it a mindset difference? Before we get into the questions that we’re here to talk about, you mentioned that term “human capital,” which I’ve heard a lot. I’m not of the HR world, so I’d love to just hear your perspective in terms of the way that so many terms get used.

What is “Human Capital”?

The most valuable asset that companies have are their employees. - Maria Leggett on Human Capital

Maria Leggett: Yeah, so– well, human capital is really that’s all the employees of a company, right? But when you think about it, the most valuable asset that companies have are their employees. They have the expertise, the knowledge. And so really, when you think about it in business terms like that, I find that a lot of times leaders recognize how important it is to develop their employees, their leaders. When you think about it in those terms, because it is a P&L line item for sure. So in terms of like, you know, human resources, you’re thinking about all the different pieces that support human capital management, whether it’s employee engagement or benefits or employee relations, talent development, talent acquisition. All those pieces. So really, you know, HR, particularly now after the pandemic, has become incredibly important to supporting the most expensive line item for companies, which is human capital.

Brian Washburn: That all makes sense. Thank you for that explanation. Sometimes I think of those words interchangeably, but the distinction that you made is really helpful. 

And while we’re talking about just the world of HR in general, you have hired plenty of folks for L&D roles. What are some of the specific things that you’re looking for when it comes to finding the right fit? And when I talk about what specifically you’re looking for, I’m talking about like– and just the application process, like, what do you look for in the resume or cover letter, as well as the interview, that will make somebody stand out?

What Do Employers Look for in an L&D Resume?

The other piece that's important that people often miss in their resume, they tend to list all their tasks and responsibilities instead of talking about their accomplishments and the impact of their learning programs.  - Maria Leggett on learning and development resume choices

Maria Leggett: So, I think at this day and age, you’re never going to be a real deep dive expert in L&D, right? It’s just not one of those career paths. So I think it’s important to show the breadth and experience that you’ve covered in your various roles in your career. And I think the other piece that’s important that people often miss in their resume, they tend to list all their tasks and responsibilities instead of talking about their accomplishments and the impact of their learning programs.

So, you know, when you think about– I’m a hiring manager, I’ve got a position I’ve got to fill. Probably, you know, learning teams, talent development teams are always running lean. So, I’m looking for someone who can immediately jump in and start to solve problems for the business, create relationships and partners, and deliver results. So, as much as you can to show that in your resume, that you’ve done that in your previous positions, that’s going to really catch the eye of a hiring manager. I think if you’re Googling terms– and now it’s Chat GPT. Like we can all do that, but if I’m connecting that work to actual business impact, that’s a different story.

Brian Washburn: And can you give an example of a difference between putting like a responsibility on your resume and putting an accomplishment on your resume?

Resume Specifics for L&D Jobs

Maria Leggett: Yeah, so something like you know, developing a program that was responsible for a 10% increase in a business metric, right? Like that’s an example, right? You know, we shouldn’t be doing any type of learning if it doesn’t support the business. So everything that you’re doing should show that there was some improvement in the business, whether it’s qualitative or quantitative.

Brian Washburn: So just writing “developed a program” doesn’t tell the whole story, right?

Maria Leggett: Right.

Brian Washburn: I’ve seen a lot of resumes too, and a lot of times that’s what I’ll see, right? So you know, “conducted 74 trainings,” right? So that is measurable, I guess, it’s a number. But the question is, “Okay, well, what was the outcome?” And I guess that’s one of the things that may be a rule of thumb that people might want to think about is: finish the sentence.

Maria Leggett: Yeah.

Don't just start the sentence with what you did, but what did it lead to.  - Maria Leggett on what to include in your L&D resume

Brian Washburn: Don’t just start the sentence with what you did, but what did it lead to.

Maria Leggett: Yeah. And with the impact, right? And I mean most– it’s pretty much standard practice to do, you know, a level one survey. So, you know, what’s the– whether you did it with a net promoter score, you know, or like a survey metric. But show what was the response and the feedback from that? That’s one way of showing that – how many people went through that program and then continued to deliver to the business? All those are great metrics.

Brian Washburn: So one of the things that– and I’d love to hear your perspective from a hiring manager. I know that in my own experience, when I’ve applied for jobs through a company’s online portal, it often feels like you’re dropping your resume into a black hole. What are some of the things that people can do to increase the likelihood that they’ll even be invited for a phone screen or an initial interview?

Tips for Bringing Attention to Your L&D Resume

Use Keywords

Maria Leggett: Well, first I would match your experience to what the job description is because there is always going to be a recruiter typically that screening. And they don’t have an experience with L&D or talent development. So they typically– I mean, I always provide my recruiters with just some things that I’m looking for. So they’re scanning for those things in resumes. So, you know, at least add those keywords in.

Network

I think you have to really do a little bit more than, like, submit and pray. It's really get out there and network.  - Maria Leggett on building connections in L&D

Maria Leggett: I think the other thing that you can do beyond just, especially in this connected world, is get on LinkedIn and start trying to find people in the company and reach out. Recently, I hired someone that had actually pinged someone on my team and said, “Hey, I’m interested in this role. Here’s what I’ve done.” And so that kind of brought her up to the top of the pile there, right? So I think you have to really do a little bit more than, like, submit and pray. It’s really get out there and network. And, you know, just try to make those connections because there is a lot of competition.

Brian Washburn: Yeah, and I tell people that a lot is that it’s not always what you know, but who you know is really, really helpful. You know, I’ve spoken with a lot of people who are looking also to just to break into the world of L&D. Some are teachers that are looking to become trainers or eLearning developers. Others have been training in their roles for a while, but they’ve never actually worked on an L&D team. Beyond instructional design or training delivery experience, what do you think are some things that you tend to look for to ensure that your candidate will be successful from the start?

Highlight Project Management Skills

I cannot emphasize enough project management, right? And that's a skill that's in so many different roles, but it's really critical because there are a lot of moving parts.  - Maria Leggett on including project management in an L&D resume

Maria Leggett: I cannot emphasize enough project management, right? And that’s a skill that’s in so many different roles, but it’s really critical because there are a lot of moving parts. And usually, as an instructional designer, you were owning end-to-end that project. So putting together a timeline, a communications plan, who are your stakeholders, all that is just really critical. So, those can be applied to– from a different career path, if you’ve done project management, driving projects to execution, fantastic skill.

Highlight Change Management Skills

Maria Leggett: I think the other thing that people forget about is a lot of times training kind of lands at the end and so you’re never really sure what was leading up to it in terms of like the change management. So, really being proactive and finding out from stakeholders, sponsors what brought this about? Are people ready to receive this change? Is there that desire to learn? Because a lot of times you’ll find your– someone’s sitting in your class or experiencing your learning product, and they’ve no idea why they’re there. So again, change management, definitely a transferable skill, but it’s really critical to think about why people are there. What’s the change? What’s their desire? You know, even helping them connect to what was current state and what’s the future state – thinking about that. So those are really critical skills.

Those are things that hiring managers are thinking about, and it just differentiates you from other candidates because it shows the breadth and scope of your thinking beyond the learning deliverable.  - Maria Leggett summarizing her thinking on a learning and development resume

And I think what people can do to really stand out is to ask questions around that. Think about some challenges that you’ve had in your projects and world. And they’re probably going to be time, communications, change management. So, you can ask questions like how– what’s your communication strategy? Do you work with the team? How do you get that communication out? How do you think about change management with your projects? Those are things that hiring managers are thinking about, and it just differentiates you from other candidates because it shows the breadth and scope of your thinking beyond the learning deliverable.

Brian Washburn: I love where those answers are headed. And one of the last things I wanted to ask, because this is always a tricky one, and again, from the perspective of a hiring manager, I’m really curious what your answer is going to be here. For a number of jobs and a number of people who I’ve spoken with said that this is the case, in order to be considered for a role, a lot of employers are looking for someone with years, sometimes three to five years or more, of experience. For people who are looking to break into L&D, what can they do, or how can they get that experience if nobody’s going to hire them unless they have… The experience?

How to Break into the Field of L&D with No Experience

What I'm looking for is demonstration that you understand all the phases of instructional design, and you know how to put together something that's engaging and is going to drive skill development and learning.  - Maria Leggett on what stands out in an L&D interview

Maria Leggett: Yeah, I understand that’s a challenge, and I face that too because I came from the education/teaching world as well. What I would do is come up with your elevator pitch, a brand statement, on what you want to accomplish and then start asking people if you could build stuff for them. There are all kinds of nonprofit organizations, maybe it’s a startup business who doesn’t have a training, you know, budget. But just offer to build something out, whether it’s a learning course or it’s facilitating a workshop, building out a guidebook – just anything to get your portfolios started so that you can share that on your LinkedIn page or with the hiring managers. Because I typically ask to see some examples of work, and I’m not so concerned about like whether it was tied directly to a corporate initiative. And obviously, a lot of people can’t even share that anyway, so I’m not looking for that. What I’m looking for is demonstration that you understand all the phases of instructional design, and you know how to put together something that’s engaging and is going to drive skill development and learning.

Brian Washburn: Maria, this is super helpful. And I know that we could talk probably for hours about what people can do in order to better position themselves for jobs, but this is really helpful. Thank you so much for giving me some time today and thank you everyone else for listening to this particular podcast about what hiring managers might be looking for when hiring for L&D roles.

If you think that somebody who you know might find this podcast about how to polish your learning & development resume interesting, please send them a link. If you would like to be notified every time there’s a podcast, it’s hot off the press, go and subscribe at Apple or Spotify or every list in your podcast. Even better would be if you were to give us a review or rating on your preferred platform.

If you’re interested in learning more about how Endurance Learning’s L&D Pro Academy can help you build the skills and confidence you need to take on your first L&D job, let us know! We’d love to talk to you about whether it would be a good fit.

If you’re interested in learning more just about a broad range of learning and development strategies, especially if you’re trying to break into the field, you can pick up a copy of my book What’s Your Formula? Combine Learning Elements for Impactful Training at www.amazon.com.

And until next time, happy training, everyone.

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