Case study

Research executive — Shadi

Shadi's time management and analytical skills are vital to her success as a social researcher

How did you get your job?

During my politics and economics degree I gained some work experience at the Research and Analysis division of the Department for Education (DfE). This gave me an interest in social issues and the role research can have within it. After completing an MA International Development, I spent a few months travelling round South America before returning home to apply for jobs. I chose social research based on my work experience at DfE and also the research element of my Masters.

I researched which social research agencies ran graduate schemes and looked into the type of work they conduct. I applied to TNS BMRB, which involved an application form and personality and numerical tests. I was invited to the TNS BMRB assessment day, which involved a competency interview, a 15-minute presentation, a written assessment and a group assessment. I was offered the job and began as a graduate research trainee in September 2012.

It's great to know that the work we do has the potential to influence policy, improve public service and impact on people's lives

How relevant is your degree to your job?

Social research attracts people from a range of different educational backgrounds, such as geography, psychology, politics, history and economics. Both my degree and my Masters gave me a lot of valuable skills that have proved really useful in my job, mainly time management and analytical skills. My Masters also had a specific development research module, which provided me with a basic understanding of different research methodologies.

What are your main work activities?

As we work on a number of different projects at a time they will all be at different stages. We tend to follow projects through the whole project process. This normally starts with questionnaire development, establishing what you want to ask people and how, and then getting the survey into field - it might be face-to-face, telephone, online, postal or a mix of these. Once it's in field we monitor our responses and make sure we have enough people taking part so it's representative. When we get all of the results back we check the data is correct and then analyse it, usually presenting these findings to the client in a presentation or a report and providing some recommendations.

While the majority of our work is desk based, we also go out to attend interviewer briefings, client meetings and conduct cognitive interviewing.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

Since I started I have been given more responsibility and have been managing smaller projects and playing a bigger role in some of our larger key projects. I've been interacting more with our clients and have become more involved in both presenting and reporting. I hope to continue on this same path and progress further, managing larger projects and becoming more involved in proposals and winning new business.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I enjoy the variety. I work on about five or six projects at a time, normally around education or employment relations. I also work on longitudinal studies, which are particularly interesting as they follow the same group of people over time.

Social research gives you the opportunity to be involved in some of the largest research studies in not just the UK, but the world. It allows you to engage with people's views on a day-to-day basis and present these to the people who are able to act upon them. It's great to know that the work we do has the potential to influence policy, improve public service and impact on people's lives.

What are the most challenging parts of your job?

One of the most challenging aspects is time pressure. As our work is project based you have to work to deadlines and manage your time effectively. However, this is part of what keeps the job exciting and ensures you're never bored.

Any words of advice for someone who wants to get into this job?

The most important thing is having an interest in what people think and in social and political issues and making sure this enthusiasm comes across in interviews. It's helpful to research the areas of social research you're most interested in and have an idea of the sort of work available in these fields.

Attention to detail and the ability to manage your time and work to deadlines are also really important skills needed for this job, so it's always good to demonstrate that you appreciate this and have examples of how you have developed these skills.