Thinking about a career in marketing research? Read this first!
Market research, marketing research, customer research. Yes, there are differences between them (and if you’re serious about a career in any of them you’ll already know what they are). If the research world appeals to you, take advantage of these top tips to help you on your way.
1. KNOW YOURSELF.
If you’re already au fait with the marketing basics, the first stage in marketing planning is knowing where you currently are, before establishing your destination (followed of course by identifying how to get there). This is similar. You need to know who you are and what you’re all about.
Good marketing strategies are aligned to their SWOT analyses. In other words, they play to their strengths. It’s the same with you: you need to know what you’re good at, what you love doing, what turns you on, what turns you off.
Good marketing researchers have an abundance of curiosity. They simply love ‘finding stuff out’. They’ve done this since childhood, whether it’s been burying their head into an atlas or encyclopaedia, or having a real passion for a school project where they had to go and (guess what) find stuff out, before presenting their results.
Attention to detail counts. So does getting on with a wide variety of different people from different countries and cultures and levels of seniority. Being well organised is another necessary skill, as is the ability to communicate effectively, whether verbally, graphically, or with the written word.
Know your strengths and passions and the types of work or particular tasks that you really enjoy. If these are the same ones that are required in a marketing research role, congratulations!
How do you best identify your strengths and passions? Check out the paperback institution that is ‘What Color Is Your Parachute?’ by Richard Bolles. With a new edition published each year it remains the job-hunter’s Bible. Pay particular attention to the Flower Exercise: particularly recommended to really discover what ‘you’ are all about.
Before moving on, a quick word about weaknesses. Unless your weaknesses seriously threaten a professional career (such as below average literacy, numeracy, timekeeping, and knowing how to communicate) don’t waste time trying to fix them. Concentrate on your strengths and market these accordingly. Identify the roles that are going to be a great job match, where the demands of the job match the skills you can offer.
2. …THEN KNOW YOUR OPTIONS.
If you’ve done your homework you’ll know about the different areas of marketing research you can work in. If you don’t, get up to speed. Visit the Market Research Society website www.mrs.org.uk and read ‘Your Career In Research’ (PDF file located at bottom of page). While you’re online also bookmark www.greenbook.org which is a great global MR industry resource.
Given what you now know about your own interests and skills, you’ll see whether you’re a quanty or a quallie, or able to turn your hand at both. Or maybe you have a penchant for some other MR functions.
Consider also company size. If you’re taken on by one of the large research agencies you’ll generally be a quanty or a quallie, with limited options to have your fingers in both pies. Join a smaller agency however, or go clientside, and you have a much better chance of getting involved in both. At the beginning of your research career there’s a lot to be said for this, especially if you feel equally at home in qual and quant. You potentially stand to gain more varied experience as well as valuable client-facing time than your peers at large firms.
That’s not to put a downer on larger agencies. The major global research firms certainly have their plus points regarding personal development. You’ll be privy to a structured learning environment, with regular training sessions and a company intranet chock-full of learning resources from the company’s brightest and most experienced thinkers. Chances are that you’ll also be encouraged (and supported) to study for MRS qualifications: many larger agencies are MRS Accredited Centres in their own right.
There’s also another aspect to consider if joining a small agency. You’ll get early all-round exposure. Perhaps even a more impressive title than your large agency peers. But that might come at the expense of career progression if it’s a relatively flat organisational structure. You may have to leave in order to progress. And your snazzy job title? That won’t be coming with you. Seasoned hiring managers will quickly see through the job title and measure you up based on your experience. Former ‘Directors’ or self-appointed ‘Rockstars’ can quickly be demoted to less grandiose titles such as Junior or Senior Account Managers under new – larger – employers. Could your ego handle that?
3. INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEWING.
It’s one thing reading publications or websites to get an insight into the MR world. It’s much better though to get a real appreciation of what life is like on the frontline. Make contact with junior or mid-level researchers. Ask to speak with them for half an hour to get their story on life in the MR industry, and their advice on the list of sensible questions you’ve got ready for them.
What questions? Time is precious so concentrate on what matters. You might want to know about the practical differences between quant and qual; what makes a typical day; their favourite and least favourite aspects of the work. Ask them a question of two about their career so far and how they’d like their career path to progress. If there’s a good rapport established, quickly mention your own job search and what methods they’d recommend. They might have some suggestions you’d previously never thought of. DO NOT ask outright if there are any jobs at the agency – that can possibly come later, and needs to be handled deftly.
Remember: be polite. Thank them for their time. Also ask if you can keep the communications channel open: seek their permission to connect with them on LinkedIn, for instance. But don’t stop there: send them a nice card with your relevant words of gratitude inside. Ideally they’ll keep this on their desk or pinned up beside them: remember the importance of maintaining awareness. If your card stays on their desk, you’re off to a flying start.
If all this conjures up images of James Bond, it’s because it is like being a spy. You’re establishing your network of agents and informers throughout the industry who can pass you snippets of intel and even act as agents of influence on your behalf within their companies at the appropriate time. Make a good impression and they can become a trusted source of information regarding job openings. Hit the jackpot and they might immediately think of you and facilitate interviews before the usual HR channels catch a whiff of what’s going on. This HAS happened. Just remember to always be polite and courteous and not too demanding. Don’t forget: THEY hold the power, not you.
4. GET IN EARLY.
For an industry which is meant to be completely objective, the marketing research industry isn’t the best when it comes to practising what’s preached. If you’re sure that MR is for you, get stuck in as soon as you can.
There’s a clear MR career ladder in place, with various Executive, Manager and Director roles featured throughout. This has been the case since time began (almost). And in general, the applecart doesn’t like being upturned with something challenging the norm.
What this means is that if you’ve had several years in other marketing roles, you’ll have a lot of marketing and business knowledge and experience. This is highly valuable. It means you can immediately understand why research is being called for and the potential impact of the findings on the subsequent marketing strategies and so on. It also suggests you’ve got a decent amount of client-facing time to your name.
Unfortunately, many in the MR profession – especially HR staff – just can’t get their heads around this, and as a result rounded marketing professionals looking to specialise in MR will generally not be immediately offered roles that can utilise what they’ve learned elsewhere, as they haven’t progressed according to the MR HR blueprint. Potential account management or client relations staff may be able to circumvent this, but for classic research positions it will be tough to avoid. This obviously can be an unpleasant surprise to people who have had a wider business career then decided to specialise in MR. They may feel their knowledge doesn’t count for much, at least at the beginning of their MR journey.
One Client Director opined that the best path for the well-rounded marketing researcher of the future was spending a few initial years at the MR coalface before departing to a wider business function, then returning to MR at some point with more generic business experience under the belt. It’s hard to fault this pragmatic approach. The only question is to what extent marketing research agencies will accept this slightly unconventional career path, and see it as a advantage rather than a potential problem.
This point perfectly illustrates the value of Tip #1. If you know yourself inside out and clearly see your skills and strengths fitting the job requirements in marketing research, then you’ll be in a much better position at the beginning of your career and for the years ahead.
5. IF A JOB’S WORTH GETTING, IT’S WORTH GETTING YOURSELF.
Similarly, if a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. That means getting off your backside and making it happen. Psychologically, you’ll also find it better having more control over the job hunt process than leaving it purely in the hands of others. Afterall, it’s your career, not anybody else’s.
If you’re going to use recruiters, do it at the very beginning to get it out of the way of your job search. Register and meet with a few of them so your details are uploaded into their database. However, don’t be tempted to sit back and let recruitment consultants do it for you. This is a mistake – for several reasons.
With little experience under your belt (and therefore a more difficult sell), recruiters can be limited in what they can do for you. Some can be quite rude about it, which can be disheartening to young researchers trying to forge a successful career.
Their communication skills also leave a lot to be desired, often leaving you completely in the dark during the application process, despite your best efforts to get updates from them. Remember that while your job search is a big piece of your life, to them it’s what they get paid for and you’re a mere speck in theirs – they’ve probably got dozens of other similar candidates in the same boat.
Also bear in mind that many recruiters are not much older than yourself. Often it’s their first graduate job. The majority have no MR experience to their name. This naturally begs the question: why would you place your future career in the hands of someone with relatively little professional experience coupled with even less industry experience?
Watch out for recruiters sending your CV out to companies without your permission. That’s a big no-no: if they do it, stomp hard on them. Also be on the lookout for recruiters expecting YOU to do THEIR job. This can involve them sending out a job spec en masse to their allocated candidates and seeing who bites, rather than going through the spec themselves and assessing who should be initially contacted. Some recruiters may even be under internal pressure to send out a set number of CVs each day, inevitably sending out candidate CV’s that don’t have a realistic hope of progression.
Talking more about CV’s: perhaps you’ve created a really striking CV that’s an infographic or utilising other data visualisation techniques to make a real impression on someone’s desk. Don’t bother giving this to recruiters. Some of them will have difficulty comprehending it; ALL of them will insist you give them a plain MS Word file for uploading into their own generic template. By all means design a great looking CV or similar document, but save it for your own direct approaches to potential employers who will actually appreciate it.
Make no mistake: recruitment consultancies are businesses. You come a distant second in their priorities after the paying client company. Boilerplate website text about their commitment to candidates often looks rather alien when experiencing the reality.
Believe it or not, there ARE some good recruiters out there. But they are a tiny minority.
Search for advertised marketing research jobs in the UK on www.researchjobfinder.com where you will find the vast majority of open positions. The majority of these will be posted by recruitment agencies – you’ve been warned! Also consider www.mrweb.com not only for jobs but for its industry news: very handy when trying to suss out what new agencies are appearing and where there might be hidden openings. If you’re already a LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) member – and you should be – it doesn’t harm searching there either.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that because a company isn’t advertising for positions there aren’t any, or none that can’t be created for you (citing personal experience). If you see a company you like, make contact. At the very least, no harm can come of it. If the right impression is made, and you’ve shown potential, you never know what can transpire.
If you’re targeting a smaller agency with a speculative application, direct it to either the Managing Director or another named senior frontline person. DO NOT send it to HR, also affectionately known to many as ‘Human Remains’ (I’m joking…but only just). Their job generally involves screening candidates out rather than helping you in. Avoid at all costs.
If you’ve created a great CV, don’t let yourself down at the final stage by poor presentation. Print CVs and covering letters on good quality paper (nothing flimsier than 100 gsm). Conqueror paper is ideal.
While there is no shortage of potential methods you can choose from, limit yourself to a few. Success comes from focus and concentration of effort.