So You Want to Work in Market Research?

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Posted Feb 07, 2012
Kathryn Korostoff

Let’s say you’re thinking about a career change. Further, let’s suppose you just can’t get enough of asking questions, you love taking surveys, and the idea of playing Sherlock Holmes with all that consumer data absolutely makes your pulse race. If that’s the case, market research could be the place for you! Before you quit your day job and launch this new chapter in your life, though, there are a few things you might want to keep in mind.

First, “market research” is a pretty broad term. There are, in fact, different types of market research, so think about what type is most interesting to you. Which do you find most intellectually challenging? Which is really going to keep you engaged?

Market Research Categories

Broadly speaking, we tend to think of market research in two categories: qualitative and quantitative.1. Qualitative research: This category is often used to generate ideas, discover customer behaviors and attitudes, and gain directional insight into a particular market or product category. It generally uses techniques such as:• Focus groups - either traditional in person focus groups, or online.• In depth interviews - one-on-one interviews done either in-person or by phone.• Social media monitoring - for example using tools like NetBase, Trackur or Radian6, to monitor a brand or a product category's reputation or general buzz.2. Quantitative research: What we typically call survey research, it’s research that involves collecting large amounts of data, hence we call it quantitative. It's generally intended to be representative of a particular target market or population such that we can extrapolate from our survey results to have accurate and reliable descriptions of a broader target market's attitudes, behaviors, preferences, etc.So, what turns you on? Qualitative, quantitative or both? All three paths are valid career choices.

Who would you work for?

Another key consideration is the type of company you’d like to work for; most market researches work either “client-side” or in an agency.• Client side. A company that does market research in-house. Large companies like Bank of America, Cisco, Hewlett Packard and Walmart all have internal market research departments• Agency. Either a dedicated market research firm or a marketing agency that has a market research services department.Which would you rather? There are advantages to both. On the client side, you get to develop an in depth expertise in your company's industry and product categories. You'll do multiple projects with the same or closely related target markets and with a specific set of product categories. You’ll also have just one boss, and you can be highly focused in meeting the needs of one organization.Should you decide to work on the agency side, though, you’ll have variety. You get to work with lots of clients on many different topics. You’ll see a range of product categories, industries and brands, and that variety can be very exciting. One friend who works at a market research agency is currently juggling three very different projects: one for an insurance company, one for a wine producer and another for a software company. Three totally different types of projects and — for her — a very intellectually stimulating environment.

Test the water first

One final tip. If you’re thinking about a market research career but don’t actually have any experience yet, find a way to try running some online surveys. Developing some online survey experience is a great way to try a career in market research, before you make any big commitments.So, how to experiment with online surveys in a meaningful way? Maybe you’re involved in a non profit or local community organization, where you could volunteer to do a small survey project. It will give you experience and help with future job interviews. It would be great to be able to say, "Yes, I've executed some projects. I’ve actually programmed a survey. I know how to check the programming before I go live to make sure it's accurate." Any kind of experience is better than no experience at all. As with any career path, market research hiring managers like to see some enthusiasm, even from people who may be entry level. The best way to demonstrate enthusiasm is to show that you've been willing to invest your own time to experiment with the techniques and experience—in a small way—the field you’re about to enter.

Consider Training Options

In addition to conducting some research, consider investing in training. The market research industry has excellent training options available, ranging in fees from under $200 to over $5,000. Both online and in-person training events are available from Research Rockstar (disclosure: I’m the president of this company), University of Georgia, and The Burke Institute.

Career #1…or #4

There was a time, not so long ago, when one expected to find a job when they entered the workforce and stick with it until retirement, but no more. The average worker now has more than four distinct career focuses by the time they reach retirement age, and for many, “retirement” is actually just changing to a new career. If market research floats your boat, why not give it a try?

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