When the news about the possible Pfizer takeover hit our screens a couple of weeks ago, a lot of talk turned to the research industry in the UK. And we can’t be the only ones who sat there wondering what all the fuss was about and what a job in research is anyway (surely it can’t mean just sitting on Wikipedia all day?). So we tracked down Maxine Cook who is an Insight Manager in Customer & Market Research at O2 to find out what jobs in research and development actually are, what skills they require and how you could go about getting one.

What actually is research and development?

Research and development (or R&D) refers to a department within a business that is focused on moving the business forward and improving services and products for customers and stakeholders. Maxine explained that her job involves looking at customer satisfaction surveys, comparing O2 to its competitors and looking for new services that O2 can offer.

For example, Maxine has recently been working on a project that involved looking at the services they offer business customers and coming up with new tariffs, bundles and products that O2 could offer.

Why is it a great job?

Maxine says that the best part of her job is the fact that it’s really varied – she works on loads of different projects and has a great insight into the business.

“You get to understand new parts of the business,” she explains. “And you get close to the business strategy because the aim is that you’re trying to inform the strategy and research new things to drive the strategy.” Essentially, Maxine’s job is a bit like a fortune teller as she tells O2 what they should be doing in the future.

What qualities and skills do you need?

Funnily enough, to be good at a job in research, you need to be prepared to sit down and work through lots of information to find out the interesting things from it. “You’ve got to be the kind of person who wants to learn new things,” Maxine says.

“It’s about understanding the big picture but also having an eye for the details,” she adds.

Most importantly, for someone working in research and development, you need to be questioning and constantly looking for new insight. Maxine added that it’s also a good idea to think about non-traditional ways that you can research things. For example, she’s really interested in the way that O2 can make use of feedback that they receive from customers on social media and how she can use that in her research.

“You need to be prepared to sit down, focus and concentrate on the detail,” Maxine explains. “But then you also need to be able to let other people know your findings, so you’ve got to have good communication skills too.”

And, more than anything, Maxine says that it’s good to be able to manage people. She says that one of the challenges she regularly faces is stakeholders who ask for more and more information from her – and she has to politely remind them what the agreement was.

Qualifications?

There aren’t specific qualifications that you need for this kind of role, but having a good understanding of how businesses work is a pretty good idea. And Maxine recommends getting to know some of the basics of market research – a lot of marketing courses will include a module on this, she says.

“It’s useful to have experience in different areas of business,” Maxine says. “You need to learn the industry that you want to work in.”

Advice

If this has convinced you that research and development is where your career should be, then Maxine has a few pieces of advice: “Whatever you do get a mentor,” she says. “It’s so important to get advice from people who know the job better than you.”

She also says that it’s the kind of job where you have to keep proving yourself over and over again. “You’re only as good as your last project. People are always looking for the golden nugget, that piece of insight.”

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