Interview Questions for Research & Development Scientists

For many, interview questions feel like a chaotic stampede, but its important to keep your thoughts organized.
For many, interview questions feel like a chaotic stampede, but its important to keep your thoughts organized. | Source

When interviewing for advanced Research & Development positions, expect to be heavily vetted. They must make sure you not only have the skills for the job, but the social skills to work within the company's culture and the requirements for government security clearance if the project will affect national security. In a heavily saturated job market, employers will not try to stick a square peg in circular hole, they have the ability to shop around until they find a fit.

Be sure to arrive early to account for any traffic delays as well as time to get through security.

Generally, you will have many interviews in the same day, but they will be from different backgrounds. You will generally meet with HR, key decision makers and other scientists. It is a good idea to follow an outline to ensure you cover the important points for each person you meet. Different people with different backgrounds will value different parts of your skill set.

Tell me about your previous job.

When you discuss your job, talk about the things that you liked about your environment. This will help the interviewer decide if they have an environment that will fit your skill sets and interests. This may be a great segue into talking about where you wish to work in the future with respect to environment.

What skills did you obtain there?

Without breaking any intellectual property contracts, talk about your product developments. If you cannot be specific, a general description is generally all that is needed for your value assessment. If you have intellectually protected projects, be sure to think through how to describe the scope of your work without violating any intellectual property agreements.


What was your most influential project?

While most of your questions may be rather generic, don't be surprised if you have a few discipline-specific questions. You won't get many of these, but answering them correctly and then using the question to lead down a related topic is a great strategy. I once was asked in an interview at a beverage company, “What is the definition of viscosity?” Answer: Resistance to flow. Then talk about a project where you may have studied flow, turbulence or some other fluids related problem.

Why did you leave your last job?

Always tell the truth when you answer this problem. You will learn that your professional circle is quite small and the truth is always divulged. However, some good answers include:

  • Started a degree program
  • Completed assignment
  • Spouse moved/military

Are you familiar with FDA approval, GRAS, GMP and any other manufacturing standard that is critical to your industry? Are you familiar with evaluating non-compete or intellectual property agreements? In one interview, I was tested on lock-out tag out.

Do you prefer working in the laboratory or the plant? What kind of work environment do you work in?

How long have you been at your current job?

What is your current (or most recent) salary? What are your salary expectations?

What are your weaknesses? This is always a really hard question to answer. Think it through before you go in, or it will catch you off guard.

When preparing for the interview, be sure to know the industry. Know the company and what they make. Understand the company's structure and challenges that they may face. Understand the competition and where they are in the market. You will generally be interviewed by at least one business guy who will want a read on your business sense. For this interview, you need to understand where your company fits in the industry. Is it a leader or a “me too” company? Does it offer a high end product at a higher price with better service, or is it the lowest cost option?

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