The demand for technical trainers is soaring as companies channel more money into educational programs designed to close the skills gaps of employees. As job postings increase, technology professionals who’ve taught small groups or coached a few colleagues sometimes think about moonlighting as trainers. However, they’re often unaware of the challenges they’ll encounter in the classroom or virtual environment.
“It’s not enough to know the subject matter,” notes Sarah Garwood, manager of education services for LearnQuest, a global training company headquartered in Bala Cynwyd, Pa. “You not only have to be a great presenter, trainers have to manage and engage the entire class.”
Here are some of the questions Garwood asks during interviews.
What percentage of your time is devoted to teaching in your current role?
- What Most People Say: “I spend part of my time teaching and part of my time consulting.”
- What You Should Say: “Fifty to 80 percent of my time is devoted to teaching and training in my current role. I spend the rest of my time consulting.”
- Why You Should Say It: Training isn’t a hobby. The real pros spend most of their time in the classroom. Also, trainers tend to be outgoing. Anytime you give them an opportunity to talk, they’re going to seize it. So it’s easy to spot an experienced trainer during an interview, Garwood says.
What topic do you teach most often?
- What Most People Say: “I’m not sure what you mean.”
- What You Should Say: “I most often teach SQL. Over the past year, I’ve taught four different courses: SQL fundamentals, administration, performance tuning and developing databases.”
- Why You Should Say It: Professional trainers are more than great teachers. They’re credible because they’re subject matter experts. They tend to teach the same courses repeatedly instead of venturing into topics or technologies they don’t really know.
What’s your preferred class size?
- What Most People Say: “I usually teach one to two people. Anything beyond eight people is too difficult to manage.”
- What You Should Say: “I’ve taught classes as small as one and as large as 30. I’m comfortable teaching groups anywhere in that range.”
- Why You Should Say It: Flexibility is key. Most corporate training classes average 10 to 15 students, so it’s a red flag if someone has a strong opinion about the ideal class size or refuses to teach a large group. Not having experience in a virtual environment isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, Garwood adds. “Delivering an effective virtual class requires different techniques and methods, but they can be learned and honed over time,” she says.
What’s your favorite technology to teach?
- What Most People Say: “I like to teach Java.”
- What You Should Say: “I like Java because it’s such a powerful language. I love that it makes a developer’s job easier and I get a kick out of showing students how it works. Of course, they need to learn the proper fundamentals and develop good habits to reap Java’s benefits.”
- Why You Should Say It: Trainers should be passionate about teaching and have a vested interest in helping students. Notes Garwood: “You can feel their enthusiasm in the way they respond to interview questions.”
So, what’s your least favorite subject?
- What Most People Say: “I won’t teach any technology I don’t like.”
- Why You Should Say It: It’s OK to dislike a particular technology or training course as long as you have a valid reason.
How would you handle an intermediate-level class where four students had never heard of the technology, four were experts and four were in the right place?
- What Most People Say: “I’ve never run into that problem before. I’d probably kick out the ones who didn’t belong.”
- What You Should Say: “I usually pair up the beginners with the advanced students to keep both groups engaged. If the beginners struggle, I stick with the curriculum and the schedule and work with them after class. I’ll also give the experts some challenging exercises to work on in case they finish an assignment early.”
- Why You Should Say It: There are lots of techniques for teaching students with varying proficiency levels. An experienced trainer should be able to name at least one or two best practices. “What I don’t want to hear is that you’d teach to the middle or tell the advanced students to go check email if they finish an assignment early,” says Garwood. “A technical trainer should have the ability to simulate, engage and motivate both high and low proficiency students.”