Question marks above woman's head

Considering a career in L&D? 3 questions

In General L&D by JD Dillon

Odds are that most people reading this post already decided to go into L&D. After all, that is my target audience. So, if you know someone who is thinking about entering our field, forward this along. But, if you stumbled across this post as part of your career planning, I hope this proves helpful.

Every job decision requires a pile of thought. There’s always good and bad to be weighed. L&D isn’t any different in this way. However, our field is in a considerable state of flux. The considerations for potential L&D pros looking to make their career decisions are also changing. I’m not just talking about qualifications, responsibilities and technological capabilities, which are constant moving targets. I’m thinking about the foundational reasons why someone may decide to go into this line of work.

Here are 3 BIG questions I believe anyone thinking about going into learning and development should ask themselves …

How important is stability?

Pretty much every job is rife for disruption nowadays. This is certainly the case for L&D. I’d be surprised to find an L&D pro who hasn’t somehow faced a layoff in their career. I’ve been at least partially affected by 5 in the past 8 years. Support departments tend to be the first cost centers cut when short-sighted executives need to make the bottom line look good by end of quarter.

Beyond basic job stability, the overall idea of corporate learning is completely out of L&D’s control. Rather, organizational leadership, technological innovation, economic influence and employees themselves will increasingly dictate workplace learning and performance needs. This requires every L&D pro to be incredibly flexible in their roles. Today’s mainstay strategies may be completely invalid in 6 months, and you will be expected to adjust your knowledge and skills to match. Some people may find this to be an exciting and worthwhile challenge. Others may find it too scary or unstable to pursue.

How much do you know about business? 

I tend to be skeptical (at least initially) of L&D pros who have only worked in learning or HR capacities. Of course, there is great value in having a solid L&D knowledge base. But, if you have never been part of a customer-facing operation, can you really understand what employees need to do their jobs better? Sure, there are plenty of ways to get more familiar with the work being done by the people you support. But you have to WANT to get to know the business as a foundational part of your role. Maybe this question should be written as “how much do you WANT to know about YOUR business?”

L&D capability transcends company and industry, meaning you don’t have to have a background in restaurants to support food service learning and performance. However, once you are there, you must avoid resting on your L&D laurels and become part of the business in every possible way. No, L&D shouldn’t be the SMEs, but we need to know enough to be dangerous and properly inform our work. If you just want to focus on L&D stuff, you will eventually run into a wall and realize your solutions are not properly suited for the context in which people do their jobs. I will always credit my early work as an operations manager in high-volume customer service organizations for my later success in L&D.


What made you consider becoming an L&D pro in the first place? If the answer doesn’t revolve around the idea of helping people get better at what they do, then you may want to reconsider. I’ve worked with L&D pros who had a variety of different reasons for going into this field. A few of the most popular have been:

  • They enjoyed presenting.
  • They were good with media.
  • They were skilled operationally so they became a trainer.
  • The role got them away from customers.
  • The hours were more normal than in operations.

Some of these sound like decent reasons to pursue a career. Others are pretty darn bad. I consider every one of them flawed for anyone looking to thrive in L&D over the long-term. End of the day, our job is to help people get better at their jobs. That’s it! Yes, we also help organizations succeed, but losing focus on the people we help lessens our empathy and leads to poor decisions. Sure, we employ a variety of design, development and delivery skills, but the value of those skills rises and falls based on the needs of our people and the context of the work.

Long story short, the best reason to go into L&D is a passion for helping people. It may sound incredibly cliche and super altruistic, but experience tells me its 100% accurate.

Do you agree? Are these important questions all potential L&D pros should consider before seriously pursuing this field? What questions would you add? Would these considerations have impacted your decision to become an L&D pro?

  • JD Dillon is the world’s foremost expert on frontline learning and enablement. He is also one of the most prolific authors and speakers in the workplace learning community. For 20 years, JD has worked in operations and talent development with some of the world’s most dynamic organizations, including Disney, Kaplan and AMC. He is the founder of LearnGeek, a workplace performance advising and insights group. He is also Chief Learning Architect with Axonify, where he builds technology, content and services that enable frontline employees around the world to do their best work every day.