Market researchers look into people's opinions and behaviour and the factors behind them.
Their work is diverse and hugely influential. Market research informs decision-making at almost every level of industry, commerce and social policy.
Some executives work within a market research agency, serving a range of clients. Others are employed as in-house researchers.
They conduct internal research among staff and customers and may also commission researchers in external agencies to work on behalf of their companies.
Research may be conducted among a cross-section of the public, or within a particular target group. Research methods include:
- Telephone interviews
- Internet contact
- Face-to-face interviews
- Group discussions/focus groups
For each research project, an executive may:
There are two main types of market research. Most researchers work in one or the other, though some jobs may combine the two.
Quantitative Research - involves analysing large amounts of data collected by surveys and questionnaires. Based on statistics, it is used to find out how many people behave, buy or think in a certain way - for instance, to gauge support for a political party, or potential interest in buying a new product.
Qualitative Research - often involves fewer people, but asks more in-depth questions. It tries to understand why people act, buy or think in a certain way, by researching their attitudes and opinions as well as their actions. Researchers may deal with highly sensitive topics, such as criminal behaviour or health issues.
Researchers make use of IT databases, specialist software and spreadsheets to marshal and analyse data.
Researchers are likely to work 35 to 40 hours a week. Working hours depend on the employer and the type of research. Many executives, particularly those in qualitative research, may be expected to carry out work at evenings or weekends, when it is easier to contact respondents.
The work is based in offices. A driving licence can be useful as there may be a lot of travel, to meet clients and interviewers and to visit research sites.
Depending on the sector, travel may involve overnight stays away from home. Some researchers travel abroad.
Salaries start from around £18,000. Many market research posts also qualify for performance-related bonuses and other benefits, which can increase earnings considerably.
Market research is a large and varied field. Nearly every company carries out market research of some kind and the UK industry is worth over £1 billion per year.
The Market Research Society (MRS) has over 7,000 members. Opportunities exist across the UK and are more common in urban areas.
There are hundreds of market research suppliers, ranging from large international companies to small consultancies. Agencies are listed in The Research Buyer's Guide.
In addition, market researchers are employed by a range of organisations in the retail, industry, government and charity sectors.
Vacancies are found in national and local press and in trade magazines, such as Research. There are also job listings at www.research-live.com and www.mrweb.com, and the website of The Association for Qualitative Research (AQR). The field has several specialist recruitment agencies, listed in The Research Buyer's Guide.
There are no set entry requirements, but most entrants are expected to hold a degree. This may be in any subject.
A course that demonstrates strong communication or analytical skills - e.g. languages, English literature, maths, psychology, history, politics, geography, science or IT - may increase employment prospects. For qualitative researchers, the most common degree topics are psychology, sociology, anthropology, social sciences and political sciences.
For a degree, entry requirements are normally at least two A levels/three H grades, plus five GCSE's/S grades (A*-C/1-3), or equivalent qualifications.
Check with individual institutions for specific entry criteria. Requirements for postgraduate courses vary; check with individual universities.
The Diploma in business, administration and finance (available from September 2009) may be relevant for this area of work.
Training is usually on the job. Some larger agencies offer structured in-house training programmes.
Graduate entrants with some employers can join the MRS Professional Development Scheme. This is a three-year programme based on workplace training and assessment. Successful candidates gain the Advanced Certificate in Market and Social Research Practice as well as the MRS Diploma in Market and Social Research Practice. They are also eligible for full membership of the Society.
Some employers support their staff to study for the qualification in their own time.
Other MRS qualifications include an introductory course for those interested in research (MRS/City & Guilds Certificate in Market and Social Research).
Professional organisations, such as MRS, AQR and the Royal Statistical Society (RSS) run regular training courses, workshops and conferences for their members. MRS runs R-Net, specifically designed to support networking among young members and those relatively new to research.
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A market research executive must be:
It is often possible for executives to be promoted to senior research executives after around 18 months' experience. There may be the opportunity to move between different research sectors to broaden experience of research techniques.
After that, promotion depends on performance. Those working with larger employers may progress to management positions.
Many experienced researchers set up their own market research businesses.
The Association for Qualitative Research (AQR),
Davey House, 31 St Neots Road, Eaton Ford,
St Neots, Cambridgeshire PE19 7BA
Tel: 01480 407227
Royal Statistical Society (RSS),
12 Errol Street, London EC1Y 8LX
Tel: 020 7638 8998
The Social Research Association (SRA),
24-32 Stephenson Way, London NW1 2HX
Tel: 020 7388 2391
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.