LMS Administrator Hiring – What you need to know to find the right 1

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Back in the 90’s (I think), there was “Where’s Waldo” books and stuff like that.  Find “Waldo” was the rage. He was this dorky looking guy with a striped sock on his head (ok, it was a long knit hat) and you had to look for him on each page with lots of other folks on it too.  I always wondered how awesome it would be to have a page where he isn’t anywhere on the page, and have readers constantly looking for him.  Ha, that would have rocked.

The funky thing about Waldo was on each book page, there were dozens or at least a few Waldos, which when you realize you might be looking at hundreds of little images, best viewed with a microscope, it wasn’t always easy to find the WALDO.  Did this WALDO exist? IF he did, how would you know?  What if you selected the wrong WALDO, after all, the rest in reality were clones. Fake Waldos, I say.  But I digress.

The point of it all (there isn’t one, but roll with it) is that finding the right person for the right role isn’t as easy as you might think. Or on the flip side, maybe isn’t as difficult as you might assume.

Take the LMS, learning system administrator role.   I often hear from readers who tell me how difficult it is to find such a person, i.e. the right person for the role.  What skills does this person need?  Do they need to be someone with a lot of IT/IS skills?  Can they be part-time?  Can they have other duties beyond just being an administrator? How much do you have to pay them?  And the list goes on.

I’ve had the experience ( I think some of you will be in the same boat) of having to be my own LMS administrator while running training at a company.  It’s not ideal and honestly, you would rather have a dedicated person, but budgets are budgets.  On the other hand, I’ve been fortunate to have hired folks for the role, and even trained others who were new to the space, in another role at the business, and now had this opportunity to become an LMS administrator.

As a result, I’m here to provide insight and guidance into finding the right candidate.  Experience is nice, but let’s be honest here, it is not always easily found in this online learning world.

And as with anything else, just because the person was an administrator at a previous place, doesn’t mean they were a good one, so never base your decision on solely that factor.

You want to find and hire the best candidate to be your LMS Administrator

Regardless if you have an LMS or some other type of learning system, and regardless of the size of the place you work at, if you can have a full-time administrator, I strongly recommend it.   If you can’t, then buck up for a wild ride.  Can you go solo, i.e. you running training/L&D/HR and be the LMS administrator or learning system administrator, sure anything is doable.  The question is, whether you would really want to?  For me, I’d say, if you have a budget line item to hire this important resource do it.

Number of Administrator(s) to Number of active users Ratio

If you are at a very large company or have the flex to hire multiple administrators, then you can go for it.  I had a complex LMS, and went with one administrator, with several thousand employees, plus a B2B channel.  Once the initial leg work is done, if you create a process that is followed, you can pull it off.  That said, if you have 10,000 plus employees, and again, have budget line items for two or more administrators, then go for it.  But, for me, I see the number of administrators for internal/external or both as the following (based on user base size)

  • 1 to 5,000 internal employees  =  One administrator.  If you are super concerned one will not be enough, then yeah go for two.  Anything above that, isn’t really needed with today’s systems (as a whole)
  • 5,0001 to 10,000 employees –  One to two administrators.  Can you do it with one? Yes.  But if you plan to have this person also build courses, then best to hire two.  Again, this depends on the number of courses factor.  I once worked at a place which besides corporate, had 46 locations/agencies, plus we provided external training too.   I had one administrator.  It wasn’t a problem, but then again, I had courses built externally, not internally, so that my administrator focused on one role – being and administrator.

That said, there isn’t anything wrong with hiring multiple administrators, one being the super admin if you will, if you have the budget line items to do so.  Just make sure you have the work, to validate the budget.  And I mean no offense to anyone here, seeking an administrator role, as it relates to being a number on a budget sheet – sadly, that is the reality of the workplace.

  • 10,001 to 50,000 employees – Two to three full-time administrators.  Once you break the 25,000 plateau, you should have three administrators, one being super admin.
  • 50,001 to 100,000 employees –  Three to five administrators. You could make it work with three for 100,000 employees depending on the system, but be safe at go with five. Especially if you have a multi-tenant.
  • Anything above 100,000 –  Five or more.  If you are rumbling around with 1M active users, then you should have at least eight full-time administrators.  Again, you could pull it off with five to be quite honest, but it is quite likely they – each administrator might be doing additional roles, course building, dealing with department heads who never look at emails and then blame you; etc.  Thus, having enough to handle all that and more is the key here.
  • Any B2B/B2C –  Depends on the user base and the system.  I’ve had one full-time administrator for 20,000 plus consumer active base, without any issue.  But that is me – and I’m not you, nor should I try to be.  Go with what makes you feel comfortable.  And I should note, that at one place I worked at, I had over 50,000 active users in a B2B/B2C environment, and no budget option to hire someone, so it was me, doing it, on top of all other duties as running training for the company.  I didn’t like it, but I wasn’t the CEO, so what’s the point in griping.  Again, once you setup a process, work with the appropriate departments – forge relationships with such departments to make the machine run smoothly (i.e. the process, not a real machine), then the workload of doing multiple eases, but, and I should stress this, as my dad once said, “If they are paying you the big bucks, then they expect you to do more than someone else.”  So, there is that.

What should I be looking for when hiring an administrator?

Rather than first jumping into their specific skill sets, I’d prefer to start with “looking for” because this is where folks make mistakes in the hiring process.  I’m referring to something along the lines of “what you want out of your administrator, and what you expect this person or persons to accomplish in the role?”

That has to be identified first before just going out and start to find someone.  Saying just, well I have an LMS (or learning system) and I need to hire someone isn’t good enough, and frankly if that is why, then maybe those strategy courses aren’t working out so well for you.

In all seriousness though, ask yourself, “Why?”.  The answer doesn’t have to be a book or even multiple pages.  It can be a few sentences or a couple of paragraphs or a word stream (whatever works), etc.

This is going to be an ever-changing role, in terms of duties and responsibilities and so forth, so you need to recognize that what you think of today, may not – and likely will not be the same, a year or two years from now.

On-going learning for that person or persons is a must.  And it needs to be included in your expectations component.  As an group of folks – i.e. us running training, or L&D or HR, we really stink at providing on-going learning to our own teams.  An irony don’t you think?

So, here are a couple of recommendations – to include in the on-going learning expectations

  • Member of a professional association (at least one).  There isn’t an LMS administrator association (not to my knowledge at least).  I’d join ATD – an international association.  I wish they had more seminars at their trade show for administrators, but they and other shows including LTUK don’t, which is a problem in of itself.    If you are working in a specific vertical as well, provide them access to any magazines, etc. you get.  For example, you work for an association, you belong to ASAE, they get to read your materials – as part of your membership.

The benefit is clear – they learn more about the audience at hand, more about the industry at hand, and learn themselves on what and who these folks are, etc.  Knowing who are going to be your user base, goes a long way in working with said user base.

  • Attend at least one trade show in the training/L&D industry.  Again, depends on your location in the world.  Many countries today have one training/L&D show.  For folks in the U.S., they are more than that, same with the UK and some parts of Europe.    For U.S. – ATD is a must.   If you plan on having your administrator or administrators create courses, send them to DevLearn.   If not, no need to attend.  I’m mixed on the other eLearning guild shows.  For the UK, LTUK is a must.  For France, LTFrance.   I am not going to say that all the seminars for these events are the best, because let’s be honest, it depends on the speaker, but just for the products, the learning, networking, blah blah, it is worth it.
  • Give them access to take any courses/content they want that are available in your LMS.  Who cares if it is not in their wheelhouse?  You never know what someone is interested in learning.  I mean, no one begrudged you because you are interested in learning more about how to mark-up the price of baseball cards, by forging the autographs, so allow folks to learn what they want to learn and leave your “old grandma/grandpa hat” at the nursing home.

Skills you want, Skills they need

Before diving into the specific skill sets, let’s get one out of the way right away, since I hear folks ask it a lot.  That is, do they need to be an IT/IS person and/or have strong IT skill sets.

Answer: NO. NO. NO. Unless you plan to push data into a SQL database or Access database or similar, to which they would need that specific skill set.  Otherwise, the answer is a flat no.

If you are connecting with an HRIS or ERP, the answer is still No.   Uploading your data files or .CSV files?  The answer is still no.  The point to all of this, is that you do NOT need someone with strong IT/IS skills or someone whose background is only IT/IS.

Now, let’s move on.

What you need/want

  • Independent worker –  Don’t get fooled by the adage that everyone loves and more importantly thrives as an independent worker, isn’t always the case. There are people who say it, but need day to day step by step approach, a more hands-on management style.  Those folks are not the people you want.   Rather, an ideal person is provided with expectations, work needed/tasks, the processes, etc. and then takes it from there.  I was a very hands-off manager, but I found my administrator really needed to have someone check off that items were done on a daily basis.  Autonomy was not a good thing in her mind.

That said, you want that in your administrator – i.e. being able to work autonomously without you having to do a to-do list.

  • Able to access the internet via whatever browser you use internally and/or they use.  Basically do they know how to access the internet, move around and visit sites? Do they know what the address bar in a browser is and where to find it?  Ever heard of the term URL or web site?  If yes, score a point.   The address bar by the way, is where you type in the web site address. : )
  • Can they upload files from their desktop or via your intranet (assuming you hire them)?  Yes? Score a point.
  • Are they able to multi-task?  Again, everyone says yes to this.  But seriously, this is something that is a must. 
  • Can they handle change quickly?  This is a role where change happens a lot, from the system items, to new changes in process, etc. – Again, people say they have no problem with change, and as you well know, that isn’t always the case.  This person is a change agent – and thrives on it.
  • Out of the box thinker, gets the vision of where the company wants to go with e-learning (which you have explained to them) and with the LMS for that matter.  Of course, if you are not such a person, i.e. out of the box, and prefers a very straight approach to everything, then hiring what I noted above won’t work.  You have to breath and live online learning, and the LMS in of itself.  You can’t say “yummy, but deep down think yucky,” and expect the administrator to work in synch.  It’s all or nothing on this train ride, and out of the box is the necessity, not the never.
  • Enthusiastic about the position.  This isn’t an entry role, this is a role to grow and build upon, so the person should be excited and want to be in this job.  You can tell the difference
  • Basic knowledge of Microsoft Office, specifically Excel, Word and PowerPoint.  We are not talking about someone knowing macros or VBA in Excel, rather, can they open a file, can they save a file as a .CSV. Are they willing to learn how to do more in Excel (if need be) – this would be (if they do not know it) – how to add columns, add labels, enter data.  Word is writing a document, saving it, doing some basic editing.  PowerPoint are the basics, and that is assuming you are having things uploaded in PPT into the LMS. 
  • Do they know how to use the e-mail program you are using, assuming it is either Gmail or Outlook?  If it is like Lotus 1-2-3, forget it – no one is using that unless they are still using floppy discs at your workplace. It is easy to just say are you willing to learn X if they never heard of it or know of it.  If someone uses Hotmail or AOL (God Forbid), they can figure out how to use Gmail/Outlook.
  • If you use Office365, see if they know or use it too.  Again, knowledge of some software is a good thing.  None is a bad thing.   That said, if you are using Salesforce, do not expect someone to know that program, unless they worked at a company that had it.  That is non-expected.  Office is another matter (or if they use Mac, whatever is the office program there, besides Microsoft which is available).
  • Basics of Adobe Acrobat or Reader.  Simply, can they open a PDF, save a document as a PDF.  Don’t laugh, I know plenty of people at the senior level who don’t.
  • Can they delegate?  If you are expected to have more administrators, this is a must.
  • Strong interpersonal skills – communication via phone and e-mail are essentials.  This is a Face to Face (either via email, phone or both) position – they will deal with unhappy people, frustrated people and people who are just being jerks, so thus, they need to maintain their cool, be friendly, accepting and approachable.  And at the same time, they will need to be able to provide specifics, details if needed to the LMS vendor’s customer support, if an issue arises.   For that, they need those interpersonal skills.  I’d argue that interpersonal skills are number one priority.  Communication is essential here.
  • Remaining calm in any situation.  It is easy to fly off the jets these days, but people calling your administrator are facing some form of an issue, it might be the product, more times than not, it is something they did or forgot to do or didn’t do, which creates the problem.  An administrator should be able to tell, and if unsure test to verify – before the admin calls their POC at the LMS provider.
  • Be able to do basic QA – in other words, if there is a problem, verify that it actually exists and is not related to human error (i.e. whoever called/contacted you)
  • Be a stakeholder. A champion of the system.  This gets back to being enthusiastic.  They will need to become someone you know will champion the system to anyone or everyone.  An unhappy administrator leads to unhappy end users.

Bonus Winners

If they have experience on your system or the system you are getting, that should elevate them to the top of consideration.  But do not make it the only requirement to get the job.  

If they have experience on any other learning system including LMS regardless of the brand, again, should be at the top of the consideration list, but as noted earlier, do not make it the only requirement.  Who knows, they may have stunk on it.

How to verify that someone who says they know your system, actually knows it?

Create a simple assessment in steps of doing things, then give them access to the system and watch them do it.  Unless they used the system 10 years ago, and not since, then they should be able to do the fundamentals, regardless of where they worked or their processes (i.e. other company).   If they say, “Well I never learned that,” – you do not want them.  Not because they didn’t learn it, rather because they were NOT interested in learning it on their own to begin with.  You want people who can think and want to learn on their own.  And if they are “its not in my job description” or “since I was not taught it, I do not need to learn it or want to learn it – in the system I am using” – why would you want them?  I want someone who always wants to learn, especially in using a software solution.  They are going and/or should be the expert on the system – the go-to person. 

As my dad once said to me, “If you can’t do the job, and I have to do it, then why do I need you?”


Bottom Line

I know you are going to ask about salary, but there is not a simple pay in this range, as you see in other roles. 

It depends on location, cost of living, and so forth.   I could say the average range is 55-75K and that might be true in some of the states (i.e. US), but easily could argue that 75-100K for places like CA, NY would be fair, due to the cost of living. 

Could you argue 65K for administrator in CA, sure.  And the same would be for the UK.  You might feel 35-45,000 pounds per year is fair (I’d disagree), whereas someone else could say, for our company the range is 65,000 pounds (which I would think is fair, but depends on whether the person is living in London or Plymouth).

Talent comes with a price.

And the best talent, the right talent, sometimes is out of our price range.

That’s just a fact.

So is finding Waldo on this site.

Did you find him?


I did.


E-Learning 24/7

One comment

  1. Great insights, Craig! I really appreciate the look at LMS Admins as I feel we’re often overlooked by the eLearning community. Having worked in an administrative LMS role at three different companies over the last 15 or so years, I agree with all the points you’ve brought up. In regards to salary, I completely agree and it’s rare to see a company find the value in an LMS Administrator and be willing to pay that much (or they want to combine the role with instructional design) but I think some companies are starting to change, thankfully.

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