Applying for positions in research and development (2022)

Commercial enterprises from a whole host of industries are seeking junior executives for their research and development departments. The way into industrial research is easier for academics and doctoral candidates when they are well prepared - the application must always be tailored to the future employer. We consider what aspects are important to personnel managers in industry, and research and development in the application and interview.


Swantje Behnken has been working as leading employee at the department of Technology Development Biochemistry & Biocatalysis at Bayer Technology Services in Leverkusen for three months now. Prior to this, the biochemist spent over three years working on her doctorate at the Leibniz Institute for Natural Product Research and Infection Biology in Jena. "I focused on antibiotic active substances, and now apply the methods learned to other molecular biology aspects at Bayer," tells the 29-year-old, who decided early on that she wanted to move into the industry after completing her doctorate. "I enjoy the work in interdisciplinary teams and the target-oriented mindset at commercial enterprises." She discussed the opportunities for researchers within industry with company representatives long before the application phase. "This allowed me to establish whether my wishes and expectations tallied with reality," explains Swantje Behnken. She began preparing applications about six months before submitting her doctoral thesis. Her experience: "If you already know exactly which area you want to work in, six months is time enough. If you do not have a clear direction yet, you should allow yourself a little more time." The good preparation paid off: she was able to start her new job just one day after submitting her doctoral thesis; she also turned down an offer from another company. The decision for the Leverkusen-based company was ultimately down to a conversation with a senior expert, who has pursued a career in research at the company. "He has spent his entire life researching and is still brimming with ideas. He allayed my fears that industry might not have sufficient contact with research any more."

Many academics wishing to make the leap from university into research and development within a commercial enterprise find themselves in a similar position to Swantje Behnken: the prospects are good with a doctorate under your belt. "We value the experience of scientists, who have investigated the latest trends at the universities," confirms Hans Stratmann, who is responsible for personnel for the fields of research, development and medicine at Boehringer Ingelheim. The pharmaceutical company is primarily seeking young researchers from the fields of diabetology and toxicology - research fields in which it is not easy to find sufficient new recruits. "That's why we are also recruiting internationally," Hans Stratmann reveals.

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How to successfully embark on a career in research and development?

In principle, a career in research and development can be accessed via one of two routes: by applying to an advertised position, or by submitting a speculative application. The application should be approached differently depending on the route, the personnel manager advises. "When responding to a job advertisement, you should first review the desired profile and consider which of your qualities fit particularly well with the company requirements." Submitting a speculative application involves explaining what the candidates have researched to date and how well their fields of research fit with those of the company. "You should have a clear idea of your personal aims: do I want to diversify or to go into my field in greater depth? What aspects interest me the most?" The same applies for the cover letters for both: short and concise is most certainly better than long and drawn out. The personnel manager must be able to establish at a glance whether the candidate fits with the company.

Tips for the application: the cover letter, curriculum vitae and publications

Besides the cover letter and curriculum vitae, which should also be kept short and concise, academics are advised to also include a list of their publications with their application. However, in doing so, they should ensure that the publications fit with the company's research focus and show that the candidate is well-versed in their potential employer's specific fields of activity. It is not the quantity of the publications that counts, but rather the actual content. "We can immediately discern from the publications which areas the candidate is best suited for. It is not a problem if their research topics do not fit entirely with those of the company though," reassures Dr. Franca Tiarks from BASF. "Most new recruits must adjust to anew field of research anyway." The postgraduate chemist, who today is responsible for personnel marketing for natural scientists, joined BASF's research and development department herself eleven years ago. "We are primarily seeking chemists, but also biologists, physicists, mathematicians, biochemists and pharmacists." Around half of the applicants start working at the Ludwigshafen-based chemical company immediately after obtaining their doctorate; the other half come to the company from postdoctoral positions. "At the age of 30, you are not yet too old to switch to industry," emphasises Franca Tiarks. "However, those who remain at university too long may find the transition more difficult." People should be aware of the fact that research in industry is different to research at universities. "Our company attaches great importance to the entrepreneurial approach and transferring research results into business." In applications, the personnel manager pays particular attention to above average marks on the one hand and to the "overall package" on the other. "Our employees must be able to work in a team and be interested in other cultures, as they work in international teams. English is the common language. Those who have spent time abroad, completed industrial placements, or switched universities demonstrate their flexibility."

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Team players with personality are in demand

For Franz Donner, soft skills are also an important consideration in applications. "Besides a sound technical basis, we particularly value strong personalities. We seek team players who are open to innovation, have a backbone and their heart in the right place," confides the Head of Personnel at Carl Zeiss, a company active in the optics and optoelectronics industry. Among others, the personal qualities are also assessed during the interview. Franz Donner's tip for interviews with personnel managers and department representatives: "The applicants should be well prepared - technically and rhetorically. They should gather information about the company in advance and thereby show that they have a goal in sight." Applicants can also score points with dynamism, professionalism and a natural demeanour. "We seek people, who can reach for the stars and yet still remain firmly grounded," he says, summing up the requirements profile. A series of interviews is standard for applicants wishing to land one of the challenging positions in research and development. At BASF, for example, the interview partner changes every hour on interview day, and applicants also deliver a short presentation on their doctoral thesis. At Boehringer Ingelheim, applicants can expect two to three meetings during which the applicants' behaviour and demeanour are assessed in discussions and presentations are the norm. Franca Tiarks for example has noticed that academics often use the "We" form, rather than singling out their personal accomplishments. From the cover letter to the interview, applicants should always prepare thoroughly. According to Swantje Behnken from Bayer: "Only those who go into themselves and know what they want and where they want to go will be successful in their application."

INFO-BOX: 10 tips for applying for positions in research and development

  • Establish your aims and expectations
  • Take a targeted approach: seek companies matching your personal aims
  • Find out whether the company prefers to receive applications online or by post
  • Submit a full application portfolio: cover letter, CV, certificates, proof of other qualifications where applicable (references and a list of publications)
  • Keep the cover letter short and concise, outlining why you would be a good fit with the company
  • Structure the CV clearly and logically
  • Mention extracurricular activities highlighting your soft skills
  • Prepare for the interview well, ask questions about the company
  • Practice delivering speeches/presentations beforehand
  • Attend application training at graduate schools
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Sabine Olschner


academics - July 2012

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How do I get a job at R&D? ›

How to become an R&D engineer
  1. Earn a bachelor's degree. While not all employers require you to have a bachelor's degree as an R&D engineer, it's often a preferred qualification. ...
  2. Complete an internship. ...
  3. Get licensed. ...
  4. Earn your certification. ...
  5. Communication. ...
  6. Mathematics. ...
  7. Analytical. ...
  8. Organization.

What qualifications are required for research and development? ›

To become a research and development manager, you typically need at least a bachelor's degree. Managers also need 5-10 years of relevant experience. Organizations may have more demanding requirements, such as a master's degree in business or a related field.

What job titles are in research and development? ›

Some common alternative job titles include:
  • Research And Development Manager.
  • Research And Development Project Manager.
  • Senior Research And Development Project Manager.
  • Research And Development Project Coordinator.
  • Project Manager Research And Development.

What is a job in research and development? ›

Research and development (R&D) managers oversee research activities and develop knowledge-based products for a company. They develop research programs incorporating current developments to improve existing products and study the potential of new products.

Does R&D pay well? ›

R&D Personnel with an experience of 10 years can earn an average salary between 15 lakhs to 20 lakhs.

Do R&D jobs pay well? ›

While ZipRecruiter is seeing annual salaries as high as $70,000 and as low as $37,000, the majority of R&D salaries currently range between $50,000 (25th percentile) to $62,500 (75th percentile) with top earners (90th percentile) making $68,000 annually across the United States.

Is it hard to get into R&D? ›

To get into R&D, you'll need to have a passion for science, a formal education, and hands-on experience. Depending on the industry, many R&D positions require candidates to have a Ph. D., and this is especially true for academic positions.

How do I join R&D department? ›

An advanced qualification is a pre-requisite to cutting it through into a career in R&D, however, it is definitely not sufficient.
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Do you need PhD to work in R&D? ›

Many, but not all, scientific R&D roles require a PhD. For information about applying for a PhD, or a research-based masters course please see the information on postgraduate study.

How do I become an R&D specialist? ›

You will need a bachelor's or master's degree, leadership and management skills, know how to budget, and have communication and presentation skills. You need to be creative and have diversity. The median salary for a Research Specialist is $98,000.

What do R&D employees do? ›

R&D stands for research and development . It's a process that teams use to create new and innovative products for their employers. Most often, teams create a separate department to perform research and development tasks, looking for new products or services that fit customer demand.

What type of job is R&D department? ›

What does the research and development department do?
  • Product research. ...
  • Product development. ...
  • Product updates. ...
  • Quality control. ...
  • Market research. ...
  • Promoting innovation. ...
  • Helping businesses stay relevant. ...
  • Providing effective customer service.
26 Apr 2021

Why do you want to join research and development? ›

Increased market participation, cost management benefits, advancements in marketing abilities and trend-matching—these are all reasons companies invest in R&D. R&D can help a company follow or stay ahead of market trends and keep the company relevant.

What is the most important skill needed for research and development? ›

Creativity is an essential trait that undergraduate researchers should seek to develop and utilize within their research experience. The first step in research is developing a topic or a plan for exploring a problem, and creativity is fundamental to this effort.

What are the three major types of research and development? ›

2.9 The term r&d covers three types of activity: basic research, applied research and experimental development.

Which research field has highest salary? ›

High Paying Research Jobs
  • Research Scientist. ...
  • Materials Scientist. ...
  • Product Development Scientist. ...
  • Animal Scientist. ...
  • Statistical Analyst. ...
  • Scientist. Salary range: $63,500-$96,500 per year. ...
  • Senior Research Associate. Salary range: $71,500-$96,000 per year. ...
  • Pharmaceutical Scientist. Salary range: $54,500-$95,500 per year.

What are the disadvantages of R&D? ›

R&D always carries an element of risk because it involves trying out new, untested ideas. Common risks include: new or modified products or services proving more difficult or costly to develop than anticipated. developing a product or service that isn't commercially successful.

Which company has highest R&D? ›, Inc.

Is working in research a good career? ›

A career in research can be fun

The work is hard and the standards are rigorous, but most researchers agree that their work is rewarding, so you will enjoy what you do, and hopefully you will even find a way to express that through your work.

How much do R&D scientists earn? ›

R&D Scientist salary in India ranges between ₹ 2.0 Lakhs to ₹ 15.0 Lakhs with an average annual salary of ₹ 8.5 Lakhs.

Is R&D engineer a good career? ›

Not only is R&D a lucrative career with lots of opportunities to grow, but it's also in high demand. R&D is a great career option for those who are interested in the science and technology sector and who are innovative and creative.

What is considered R&D experience? ›

Research and development (R&D) includes activities that companies undertake to innovate and introduce new products and services. It is often the first stage in the development process. The goal is typically to take new products and services to market and add to the company's bottom line.

What does R&D mean in HR? ›

Research and development (R&D) | Business Queensland.

Why are you interested in joining this position? ›

I see this opportunity as a way to contribute to an exciting/forward-thinking/fast-moving company/industry, and I feel I can do so by/with my …” “I feel my skills are particularly well-suited to this position because …” “I believe I have the type of knowledge to succeed in this role and at the company because …”

What skills should I put in a research job offer? ›

10 of the Most Important Research Skills
  • Goal-setting. ...
  • Data collection. ...
  • Analysis of information from different sources. ...
  • Finding information on the internet. ...
  • Interviewing. ...
  • Report writing. ...
  • Critical thinking. ...
  • Planning and scheduling.
22 Jun 2022

What are the top 5 most important qualities of a good researcher? ›

The characteristics of a good researcher:
  • Curiosity.
  • Analytical ability and foresight.
  • Determination.
  • Collaboration.
  • Communication.

What are the six skills in research? ›

Big Six Research Skills
  • Task Definition: 1.1 Define the problem. ...
  • Information seeking strategies: 2.1 Brainstorm all possible sources. ...
  • Location and Access: 3.1 Locate sources. ...
  • Use of information: 4.1 Engage (e.g., read, hear, view). ...
  • Synthesis: 5.1 Organize information from multiple sources. ...
  • Evaluation:

What are the stages of R&D? ›

In general, an R&D project goes through several phases – planning, research, development, testing, marketing and product release.

What is an example of R&D? ›

For example, a spaghetti sauce brand's many variations on the original product – “Chunky Garden,” “Four Cheese,” and “Tomato Basil Garlic”– are the results of extensive R&D. Any business that creates and sells a product or service, whether it's software or spark plugs, invests in some level of R&D.

What are the five criteria identifying R&D? ›

For an activity to be an R&D activity, it must satisfy five core criteria. The activity must be: novel, creative, uncertain, systematic, transferable and/or reproducible.

How do I become a R&D scientist? ›

Qualification to Become a Scientist

Candidates must have a bachelor's degree from a reputed college or an institution. Graduation must necessarily be in the field of science. Candidates are required to score a minimum of 60% in their graduation. In case of masters degree candidates must score a minimum of 65%.

Do R&D jobs require PhD? ›

To get into R&D, you'll need to have a passion for science, a formal education, and hands-on experience. Depending on the industry, many R&D positions require candidates to have a Ph. D., and this is especially true for academic positions.

Can you be a research scientist without a PHD? ›

No, you do not need a Ph. D. to be a research scientist. However, it is highly recommended to possess, at a minimum, a bachelor's degree in a closely related field for most positions as a research scientist.


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