A Career in Market Research

Boyce Recruitment joined forces with George Tsakraklides, a well-respected Research Director, to comment on what to expect when applying for a job in market research.

The global landscape is changing so fast; it’s sometimes hard to keep up with market research trends. Companies have access to so much more data as a result of increasing technological advancement that trying to make sense of it all is a priority. Competition for market research candidates who can combine data analysis and excellent storytelling skills continues to grow. As specialist recruiters in market research, candidates often ask how they can improve their chances of landing that dream job and what they should ask future employers. What do employers look for when they recruit? What is the future of jobs in market research? Which skills and qualifications are most relevant to develop?

Written with the help of our recruiters and George Tsakraklides, a research director, scientist and writer, this article offers tips and advice to anybody considering a career in the market research industry.

George has worked in small and large market research businesses. He has been fortunate enough to be involved in some exciting and varied international projects, most recently on a Regional Innovation Lead role. 

What are the current market research trends you are seeing?

That’s a difficult and interesting question.

There are all sorts of changes going on. Technological advancement, artificial intelligence (AI), and access to vast amounts of new types of behavioural data have been at the forefront of these changes. Market research agencies are having to innovate and develop new tools and technologies to help unlock the value of this data, as well as join the dots between different datasets. AI will revolutionise the way we work, and there is a race on for who will get there first. I believe that AI will eventually be embedded in everything we do; however, it’s important not to forget the present while we’re on a quest for the future. The road is not a straight line.

Market research has continued to become more and more commoditised. Clients expect results much faster, with higher quality and at a lower cost which puts pressure on a lot of market research agencies. As a result, we will see more and more automated market research as a way to recoup some margin. Already we see data collated using digital and mobile tools amongst other means. However, data quality and providing insightful stories will also increase in importance. On the first point, in many ways, consumers are desensitised and less interested in completing satisfaction surveys, and there are growing doubts about the validity of ‘claimed’ responses.

While technology has been at the forefront of these changes, there are restrictions we have to navigate. For example, GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations) have hugely impacted on Passive Measurement as market research agencies cannot access data once obtained through cookies.

How do you assess your graduates/juniors when they apply for a job in market research? What questions are you likely to ask?

We want to be sure that they understand what a job in market research involves. Have they done anything in their studies that could be relevant to the post, such as in their dissertation? We would also give them hypothetical scenarios to see how they think about brands, for example, and to understand how they would go about designing research. We wouldn’t expect a perfect 100% answer, especially if they have not got experience. However, we would want to see evidence of a creative mind in their understanding of the market research process, main terminology, and asking the right questions, because it’s the questions that make the researcher as much as the answers. They would also need to be able to demonstrate their curiosity as this is key to being successful, especially in qualitative research.

Furthermore, we want to be confident that they can work with figures and data. For example, do they understand what the percentages mean? Are they able to put their thoughts into a presentation? There are so many great market research graduates out there these days.

Hands highlighting stats

Is the type of degree important when applying for a job in the market research sector?

At Boyce, we get a lot of market research candidates who have spent considerable time in education but don’t have commercial experience and are applying for these roles. What do you think about that?

The market research industry welcomes an academic background, so don’t be put off. However, successful market research applicants will have to be curious, show they can be client-facing and see clients commercially. They also should show an awareness of brands. If working in a market research agency where there are diverse clients, they may have to put aside their personal beliefs if a brand does not feel compatible ethically.

How do you differentiate then who gets the job? What do they do to make themselves stand out? 

That’s a very tricky question, but I guess much of it comes down to who we feel we could work with best, while also qualified to do the job. Who has the most positive attitude and would be the most collaborative.

What are the key questions candidates ask when they apply for a job in market research?

The number one reason to join a company is the people who work there:

Reputation and culture

I think that some employers forget that. When you research an employer, you look at their social profiles, their website, their employee experiences. When you turn up for an interview, you look around. Are the people engaged? Are they boastful? Is the workforce diverse and fairly represented?

Leadership

Is there a strong leader? Who are they? Are they passionate and hardworking? Do they take responsibility voluntarily? How do they support stressful situations? What safety nest do they provide for their people? What is the work/life balance? Having a happy leader with a clear goal and vision is key.

Company and personal development

Does the company have a short, medium and long term business plan, and what is it? Where do they want the business to be in 3-5 years, how will it look, and what will it mean for me? How will they equip me for the future, and what skills will I be able to learn and develop while I am there?

We get asked a lot about the pros and cons of BIG vs Small. You have worked in both, and I wondered what your thoughts are about this.

I would reply that the size of the company isn’t what makes the difference. I worked and left both large and smaller market research consultancies because they didn’t offer me the satisfaction I sought for my career at that time. People say that in a small company you can get a much better family feel and teamwork. I think this is also possible in a large global agency. My last team was small, and we worked well together even though we were a part of a worldwide business. A smaller or bigger company doesn’t always give you a better work-life balance either. You can still end up working long hours and staying late frequently.

What advice would you give a graduate who was starting their career and had the option of working in a big agency or a smaller specialist?

In smaller market research agencies they say you can get a lot of exposure to work yourself up the ladder more quickly, and in a larger company you may end up doing more administrative tasks to start. However, unless the company focuses on an area you feel incredibly passionate about, I honestly believe that, as a graduate, you would get much better training from the larger agencies. I also think that on a long-term basis, having a major brand name in market research on your CV will open many more doors for you later in life.

Blind interviews

Blind Hiring helps eliminate instances of possible discrimination based on race, sex, age, socioeconomic background or education. Candidates interview anonymously and often take skills assessments to determine if they are qualified for the job.

What do you think of Blind Interviews?

I think that’s a fantastic idea. It’s not something that we’ve used for experienced market research hires, but education and experience have changed so much. People can now develop their skills in so many different ways they don’t necessarily need a degree or go down a classic route to do it. Blind interviews can also give us access to candidates that are brilliant but have failed the first hurdle because they didn’t fit one or more of our ‘stereotypes’.

Furthermore, I think the nature of education is also changing in a way that no two candidates with the same degree are the same. In the coming years, we will see ‘personalised’, bespoke education and people will be able to define distinct skill mixes for themselves and challenge the one size fits all ‘top route to university’. I came from a science background and found that my education and skills were transferable into a market research career. You get to use your brain and think about things which is great if you are naturally curious. A job in market research is not repetitive or at least not as repetitive as a lot of roles out there. However, the type of degree or whether to do a degree at all is not as relevant as it was years ago as long as you can demonstrate the skills. There are so many choices, such as apprenticeships and general work experience. Millennials are so much more savvy with some building extracurricular skills and experience while still at school.

People looking at statistics

What do you think makes a good market research consultant?

A good market research consultant identifies the challenge while managing expectations.

What’s most important these days is that a consultant understands the client’s problem and, in many instances, can explain this back to their client. In our quickly evolving world, more often than not, clients aren’t clear about what challenges they are facing, or what situations or problems they need to address. A good consultant will help them understand this while managing expectations between what is possible and desired.

Increasingly often, clients may have a vision of what they want and, in some areas, request that our studies are future-proofed, i.e. made to stand the test of time. Given that designing the future is a challenging and bespoke task that requires a futuristic, innovative and creative brain, often the best we can do is be clear about the possibilities and limitations, and define the approach that most closely matches the ‘vision’.  A good market research consultant can sell the present as well as the future and become a collaborative partner with the client.  We often tell our clients that we are equally disrupted by technology as they are, and this seems to help bring the conversation back to the present tense.

What are the high demand skills in people you hire?

Creative ability.

Being able to tell a good story and present it in an engaging visual is essential.

The ability to think laterally and make sense of various data sources.

For example, a brand study for an FMCG client may require you to conduct a brand tracker, use social listening tools, examine sales data (cost, volume and location), analyse competitors, and then present the results into something meaningful and significant.

What’s in store for recruitment within market research and insights?

A market research role is about identifying data, interpreting information and validating it. It’s about being able to integrate volumes of data effectively and understanding how to calculate and analyse information in a meaningful way. As a result, researchers must be strong analysts, great storytellers and more strategic than ever before – it’s easier to ‘lose the forest for the trees’ with so much data.

Clients are also more knowledgeable and demand added value; wanting more from their research and insight suppliers, much faster and at a lower cost. They are looking for solutions to their problems using expertise and a point of view which they don’t have in-house.

Data Science

Attracting talent in this area is a challenge. The industry needs to develop its tech know-how and recruit more data scientists. However, the competition for data scientists is huge. Instead of applying to market research consultancies, many skilled applicants are joining tech start-ups where they can have an immediate impact or global technology companies, such as Amazon or Google.