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Product Development Jobs

When I talk to people who are looking to start a career in the cosmetics industry, they often have questions about what coursework they should be pursuing or what types of job titles they should be looking for. Today, I'd like to go over the types of jobs that go into product development and give some information on the different roles and responsibilities and skill sets required.

For those of you who are not interested in a career in cosmetics but are more interested in learning more about the industry in general, I think this will also give you some insight into the many people who are involved in bringing a product to life. For even more details on the cosmetic product development process, check out my prior post on the entire process flow: Cosmetic Product Development

Formulation Chemist

Most of the students I talk to have a technical education. They may be passionate about cosmetics and personal care products, find the industry interesting, or be open to all types of technical work. For these people, I think getting a start in the laboratory setting is a great option.

Formulation chemists may have titles like scientist, cosmetic chemist, formulator, or R&D (research and development) chemist. Generally, a bachelor of science degree in chemistry is required, but other science degrees may be accepted as well. The formulation chemist will be the owner of the laboratory formula work. They will work with marketing on the formula brief, research ingredients, and do the prototype work in the laboratory. They may be reverse engineering existing products, tweaking existing formulas to include new ingredients or claims, or spending time experimenting with their own ideas.

The type of person who excels in this role would love chemistry, be comfortable working alone at the laboratory bench, and have a curious disposition and an interest in learning about new trends and new ingredients. It's also important to be able to translate their technical knowledge and recommendations into clear feedback for a non-technical marketing partner. This role exists at contract manufacturers working with many brands, and at larger brands with their own internal labs.

Process Engineer

Since the majority of my work experience has been in the process engineering and scale up space, I've already dedicated an entire post to the job responsibilities and work of this position: Process Engineering and Scale-up

The title of process engineer is common, but I've also had titles including process development scientist and senior scientist. I have found that larger companies try to use similar titles across the organization, so they tend to have vague titles that apply to everyone within R&D. There is usually a hierarchy of levels such as associate scientist, scientist I, scientist II, senior scientist, principal scientist, research fellow, etc. If you are job searching, you may come across "scientist" postings within the industry with a wide range of job responsibilities and experience requirements.

Generally, process engineers have a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering, but some folks have degrees in chemistry. There are schools that offer graduate programs in cosmetic science, but they are not a requirement to get into the industry. To excel in this role, working well on a cross-functional team is critical. The main goal of the position is to translate a formula from laboratory scale to manufacturing scale, so a lot of the work involves getting input and insights from the project's cosmetic chemist partner as well as the supply chain and manufacturing partners.

As a side note, there are also process engineering jobs that are not fully devoted to new product development. These positions include continuous improvement work at the manufacturing scale or technical support of manufacturing issues. They require similar skills, but have a different function within the product life cycle, focusing on the post-launch operations.

Brand Manager

I have not been part of the marketing organization myself, but I have worked very closely with the department throughout my career. Unlike the technical roles, there is not necessarily a educational requirement to get into marketing. People may have undergraduate degrees in business, MBAs, or unrelated majors but have worked their way up the ladder within the organization.

Since there are so many different types of marketing, there are many different titles. However, in my experience, the marketing role that owns the formula decisions for new product development is generally referred to as brand manager or associate brand manager. These positions understand the trends for their target market, the brand identity, and how future launches should fit into their long-range plans and vision for the brand and product line.

This a great role for someone who wants to go really deep into consumer insights and understanding the market, but doesn't have the technical background or interest in working on the technical side of new product development. Brand marketers also have responsibility for the financials including the final formula cost and post-launch sales targets. If you would love getting into the details on margins, trade-offs in cost for packaging and formulas, and the copy and claims on the package, this is the role with that decision-making power.

Product Development Manager

In some companies, there may also be a role that straddles the marketing and research and development responsibilities. I've seen this position exist at a larger organization where the role was a liaison between the two departments. I've also come across this role at smaller start-up brands who don't have an internal manufacturing or technical team and have one individual act as the liaison with the external manufacturing partner.

Most of the titles include product development in the name, such as product development coordinator, product development specialist, and product development manager. This role is best suited for someone with some prior job experience in the technical side, the marketing side, or both. It requires enough technical expertise to speak knowledgeably with manufacturing partners, but also enough marketing background to understand the brand and what may be negotiable from a technical perspective and what is not.

Supply Chain Associate

The supply chain organization can be vast, as it includes everything from procurement of raw materials and packaging, to manufacturing, to warehousing and order fulfillment. I personally got my start in the cosmetics industry in supply chain, working as an intern in purchasing and spending the first two years of my career in supply planning. Since there are several departments within supply chain, there are many different roles and titles.

For entry-level job seekers, supply chain can be a great way to get your foot in the door. Depending on the role, a wide variety of backgrounds are accepted. I've worked with talented colleagues with a high school diploma and no undergraduate degree. I've also worked with people with industrial engineering degrees that graduated with the specific goal of a career in supply chain operations.

I found that my job in supply planning required soft skills such as organization, time management, and communication more than hard skills from an engineering education. It was necessary to be very organized, tracking all products and demand requirements and managing databases and spreadsheets closely. To excel in supply chain, it helps to be calm under pressure and work well with deadlines. Retail customers are endlessly changing demand requirements, placing unexpected large orders, or making complicated and urgent requests.

Project Manager

I want to close today's post with the group that tries to keep this whole crazy process on budget and on time. That group is project management. The most common job title I've seen is project manager, with associate project manager or project coordinator for less tenured employees.

There are project management certifications that are available if you are interested in this type of role, but it depends on the company on whether that is a requirement. I've worked with project managers with a variety of backgrounds, some who used to be individual contributors in the new product development process and moved into the project management role and some who have done project management throughout their career.

The job requirements include shepherding the project through a stage-gate process if one exists, or at the very least updating senior management on the progress against the projected launch date and cost. At larger organizations, this role will enter the project into a database and formally request resource allocation from all impacted departments. At a smaller company, they will work with department heads to make sure the project can be supported with the projected timeline and cost. Typically, PMs run weekly status update meetings on all projects to check in on progress and help individual contributors when they get stuck due to technical issues, slow approvals, or missing input from other groups.

To excel as a PM, it is necessary to have great interpersonal skills. You are no one's direct manager, but you need to ensure that everyone is doing their work and executing flawlessly to deliver the project on time. That takes influencing skills. Knowing the personalities of everyone on the team and when you need to step in, escalate to management, or let someone work through an issue on their own is critical, but can only really come with time and experience.


It takes a lot of people to get a new product from concept to launch. Some critical roles in the process are formulation chemists, process engineers, brand managers, product development managers, supply chain associates, and project managers. If you are interested in being a part of the new product development process, I hope this post helped you understand which role would best fit your background and interests. As always, if you have any specific questions, please leave a comment below. Have a great weekend!

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