Starting an L&D career

At the L&D Connect unconference, one of our party wanted to have a discussion on what advice we could give to someone at the start of their L&D career. An interesting question that I want to attack on this blog.

There’s a number of things which I think help make an L&Der good at what they do. And there’s some key things I want to raise that can help with the thinking here. One of the first things is, Learning and Development is not a commonly understood landing point for someone starting their careers. In general, people don’t get that L&D is a career choice at all. Not like Marketing, Business Management, Law, Medicine to name but a few. All of these have clearly defined entry points. What’s the clear entry point for L&D? In most cases, people fall into an L&D role because of a happy circumstance that lead them there. In very few cases is it because someone set out on this path from their studies. I have some thoughts on this, and want to come back to this in a later post.

What advice do you give someone who wants to start their career in this field?

You can’t just like people

It certainly helps to like people, yet there needs to be more. You have to know that you’re good at passing knowldge onto others. At its core, that’s what we do as L&Ders. This can be in the form of e-learning, apps, workshops, writing and/or training. In some way, you have to know you can do this, and you can do it well. Refining the skill once you’re in role comes with experience, feedback and coaching.

You have to be able to work with ambiguity

Most people you come into contact with at work won’t know what development activity they’re looking for. They’ll have an idea about something which will have come from feedback in some way, or sudden self-awareness of lack of knowledge in something, but this doesn’t equate to them knowing what the solution is. That’s what you have to help them uncover. And what you have to help develop a solution for. Personally, I really enjoy this part of the job. It’s great to learn about what development can help people, and it’s great being able to deliver a solution that meets that need.

You have to accept you won’t know all the answers

There are a lot of very clever people in this world, and your workplace will have some of these around. There are also a lot of books/journals/papers/blogs/information sources to avail yourself with. There are some very good providers of solutions which will help you broaden your thinking and learn new skills that define the human condition in some way – examples like NLP, MBTI, SDI, Bar-on EQ-i come to mind. Your own life experience will also determine what you end up deciding to focus on and learn about.

You have to be good at making unclear things clear

We have to deal with a lot of concepts, tools, theories and abstracts in this role. Most of them are just the invention of someone sitting one night at ten to eleven writing and thinking. They are useful and will help guide thoughts when delivering a solution to a group. In that, you have to be able to take such things and make them meaningful to others. Be it talking about the Tuckman model, Life energies, Scientology or the SMART model, it’s all about using these concepts well, and making them relevant.

You have to be good at self-promotion

I have no qualms about shouting about the work I do. If you hadn’t noticed, you’re reading this on a blog – one of the main ways in this modern world people create a voice, and talk about themselves. I get to talk about myself. As often or infrequent (ha! wouldn’t you be so lucky) as I choose. In the work environment, I equally have no problems talking about L&D to anyone who’ll listen, and get involved in myriad of conversations that mostly have nothing to do with me and the work I do, but actually have everything to do with me and the work I do.

You have to have humility

Egos don’t work in this role. We have to be about collaboration. Those who think they can craft the perfect solution every time and need little help from others to do so are setting themselves up for a fall. In this role – be you an external consultant or internal, your ego has to be parked at the door so you can truly be at your best. People at work want to achieve and be successful. It’s your job to help them get there.

I think this is a good place to start. What do you think?


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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

3 thoughts on “Starting an L&D career”

  1. You have a great way of getting words down. I fell into L&D through a happy circumstance and it captured me and won’t let go.

    The particular point that resonates for me is the bit about leaving egos at the front door. I’ve worked with people in the past who’s one goal is to get their great idea in motion, without putting that to the side and working with what the team/sponsor wants (albeit a little unclear).

    I revel in the airtime to talk about what I love doing. Its during those conversations we can open doors for people to allow them to take the step if they’re ready and willing

  2. Fantastic blog – honestly, it was such an easy read. Loved the way you categorised the basic requirements for an L&D career.

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