An insiders guide; an interview with George Tsakraklides.
I’ve personally been involved in recruiting specifically for the market research industry for over 10 years and it still never ceases to amaze me how many jobs there are in the industry and how some of the best researchers decided to get into the industry. Having two teenage children and being surrounded by kids of different ages in my spare time, I am also surprised and a bit disappointed when I see how few of my local schools or universities promote market research as a career of choice alongside other professions such as being a doctor, lawyer or accountant. Many of my clients have heard me mention this and I am sure that there must be a way to raise the profile at grass roots level.
The role of a specialist recruiter should not be just about filling jobs. It should be much more and we should use our resources to promote and share the knowledge we have of what the industry is about and why some jobs are just really worth applying for. This is the reason I asked George Tsakraklides, a well-respected Senior Client Manager working in a London based global agency, to meet me and help shed some light and offer any tips or advice to someone who was considering a career in the industry.
George has worked his way up in the industry and has worked with a broad range of clients in FMCG, Healthcare, and B2b sectors. He has been fortunate enough to be involved in some very interesting and varied projects.
M: What does a typical day involved for a Senior Client Manager in market research?
G: A typical day is actually very varied, one of the reasons why I like the industry. I will have a mix of interesting and mundane tasks; some you aren’t so keen on doing but others you absolutely love to do. My role involves planning, analysis, project management, being client facing, liaising with teams internally and externally, checking the work I do meets the requirements of the project and delivering insightful results.
M: What do you enjoy the most about your role?
G: I really enjoy the analysis. I come from a science background and really found that my skills were transferable into market research. You get to use your brain and think about things which is great if you are naturally curious. It’s not repetitive or at least not as repetitive as a lot of roles out there. Projects are varied. As soon as one project finishes a new one starts. Clients are also varied as well.
M: How did you get into market research? What made you decide to work in that sector?
G: I was a late starter in market research as I had focused the early years of my career as a scientist, however I was a bit disillusioned as the pay wasn’t good and the work didn’t seem to satisfy all the skills I wanted to use. I fell into the industry by chance and joined a specialist healthcare consultancy. I remember being helped by one of my teachers when I prepared for the interview as I didn’t have any real in depth knowledge, so she explained to me some of the terminology and different elements of what was involved in working on a qualitative or quantitative project. This gave me more confidence in the interview.
M: How do you assess your graduates/ juniors when they apply to you for a job in market research? What should they expect to be asked?
G: We would want to be sure that they understand what the job actually involves. Have they done anything in their studies that could be relevant to the job, in their dissertation, for example? 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, but we would want to see evidence in their understanding of the research process and whether they have grasped the terminology and given thought to what considerations are needed when working on a project. They would also need to be able to demonstrate their curiosity as this is key to being successful, especially in qualitative research.
We would also want to be confident that they can work with figures and data. Do they understand what the percentages mean, for example? There are so many great graduates out there these days. Recently we had a shortlist of 8 and in all honesty could have offered the job to 5 of them.
M: How do you differentiate then who gets the job? What do they do to make themselves standout?
G: 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.
M: We get a lot of candidates who have spent considerable time in education but don’t have commercial experience and are applying to commercial roles. What do you think about that?
G: An academic background is welcomed in this industry so don’t be put off. However, successful applicants will have to show they can be client facing and see clients commercially. They also should show an awareness of brands. If working in an agency where there are diverse clients, they may have to put aside their own personal beliefs as they may have to work with brands that they don’t always feel compatible with ethically.
M: 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.
G: I would reply that the size of the company isn’t what makes the difference. I worked and left both large and smaller 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 team work. I think this can also be achieved in a large global agency. My current team feels great. We are small and we work really well together even though we are a part of a global business. A smaller company doesn’t always give you a better work life balance either as it can happen that you end up working much longer hours and staying late frequently.
M: What advice would you give to a graduate who was starting out their career and had the option of working in a big agency or a smaller specialist?
G: In smaller agencies they say you can get a lot of exposure to work more quickly and in a larger company you may end up doing more administrative tasks to start. However, unless the company was focussed on working in an area you feel extremely passionate about, I honestly believe that, as a graduate, you would get much better training from the bigger 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.
M: What are your predictions for the future of market research?
G: That’s a difficult and interesting question. I believe market research will become commoditized. Clients expect results much faster, with higher quality and at a lower cost which puts pressure on a lot of agencies. We will see more and more automated research, already we see data collated using digital and mobile tools amongst other means. In many ways consumers will become desensitized and less interested in completing satisfaction surveys. I think the increasing automation of data collection will mean that agencies will focus their resources on developing sophisticated analytical tools. I also believe that the increase in number of client side / on site roles and the willingness of many agencies to reduce their fees to win business will mean that leading agencies will focus more and more, on more complex and sophisticated studies.