If you like collecting data and have a flair for communicating large amounts of information, then a role as a market researchers could be for you…

As a market researcher you collect and analyse data and information and then present it to your clients. The information you provide helps them to make informed political, social and economic decisions.

You may be employed directly by a company (known as client-side), where you would collect information on customer opinions, investment and marketing decisions. The majority of market researchers, however, are employed by marketing agencies that range in size, where work is carried out on numerous projects for different companies and industries.

You will specialise in either quantitative or qualitative research. Quantitative research involves working with statistics and percentages and can deliver quick results.

Qualitative research involves analysing opinions and can provide the reasons behind certain percentages. Qualitative research is a longer process, sometimes lasting years.

Responsibilities

The exact type of work you will carry out varies according to your employer (whether you work client-side or for an agency), the industry in which the client is based and the type of research you carry out.

In general though, tasks can include:

  • meeting and liaising with clients to negotiate and agree research projects;
  • preparing briefs and commissioning research;
  • formulating a plan or proposal and presenting it to the client or senior management;
  • writing and managing the distribution of surveys and questionnaires;
  • briefing interviewers and researchers;
  • liaising with and managing survey staff;
  • moderating focus groups;
  • undertaking ethnographic research (observing people in their homes and other environments);
  • conducting qualitative or quantitative surveys, which may involve field, interview or focus group assessments;
  • using statistical software to manage and organise information;
  • monitoring the progress of research projects;
  • analysing and interpreting data to identify patterns and solutions, including surveys and focus group transcripts;
  • writing detailed reports and presenting results;
  • advising clients or senior management on how to best use research findings;
  • managing budgets.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for market researchers are in the region of £20,000 to £25,000. With experience this can rise to £25,000 to £35,000.
  • At a senior level once you have significant experience you can expect to earn £40,000 to £70,000+.

These figures are for employed positions only and do not include earnings that can be achieved from freelance work or self-employment.

Some larger firms may offer additional benefits, such as a company car, profit-sharing scheme, medical insurance, gym membership and bonuses.

Paid overtime is rare, but some organisations will offer time off in lieu.

Salary figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours for in-house and quantitative researchers are generally 9am to 5pm, with occasional evening/weekend work required to meet project deadlines. It is common for qualitative researchers to have to work evenings and weekends so that they have a better chance of contact with their respondents.

Career breaks and secondments may be possible if working for larger organisations and in particular if working client-side.

What to expect

  • You may be desk-based but some market researchers do travel nationally and occasionally internationally to visit client organisations and to complete their research
  • Self-employment or freelance work is sometimes possible with significant experience. Self-employment usually involves setting up a consultancy, usually after around ten years' experience and with good contacts.
  • Short-term contracts are available via recruitment agencies, although these are generally for more senior market research posts.
  • Most opportunities with market research firms are in London and the South East of England but client-side posts are generally available nationwide.
  • This can be a fast-paced, pressurised role due to the tight deadlines, but it is also challenging, varied and rewarding.
  • Competition for jobs is strong. Speculative approaches can be more successful than relying on advertised vacancies. Consider applying for market research assistant posts first.

Qualifications

The majority of employers expect candidates to have a degree and look for skills in communication and analysis. If you want to get into quantitative research, the following subjects are useful:

  • business or management;
  • economics;
  • mathematics;
  • statistics.

For qualitative research it is helpful to have a degree in a subject such as:

  • anthropology;
  • geography;
  • psychology;
  • social sciences;
  • sociology.

Degrees in marketing, English and languages are also useful but a variety of degrees are often accepted by employers.

For specialist industrial market research posts, a degree in a specific subject linked to the industry, such as engineering or science, may be useful. For some posts, an understanding and knowledge of specialist statistical software may give candidates an edge.

A postgraduate qualification is not usually needed, although for some types of roles, a Masters/diploma in a statistics-related subject may improve candidates' chances, particularly if their first degree is not statistical.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • interpersonal skills, with strong written and oral communication skills;
  • good analytical and numerical skills;
  • accuracy and attention to detail;
  • the ability to use initiative;
  • excellent organisational skills;
  • business awareness;
  • creativity and problem-solving skills;
  • teamwork and negotiation skills;
  • flexibility and drive;
  • IT literacy;
  • an interest in psychology and behaviour.

Work experience

Pre-entry experience in areas such as research, statistical data analysis and interview techniques will be helpful.

You can get relevant work experience through work placements, shadowing or volunteering and a range of market research agencies offer structured placement opportunities.

For details see Market Research Society - Work Placement and Intern Opportunities.

Employers

You will find the majority of positions are found in market research agencies or consultancies. These specialist agencies manage and oversee research projects commissioned by a range of organisations, including businesses, advertising and PR agencies, local and central government and charities.

Many of the marketing research agencies are located in and around London and in the South East of England. Agencies range in size from two, to several hundred employees, offering specialist or general consultancy.

Opportunities also exist client-side, where market researchers work within industrial and commercial organisations, such as manufacturing, pharmaceutical and retail companies, as well as in advertising agencies and charities. Roles in these settings may involve coordinating and contracting out the research on behalf of the company or assisting in the development of marketing strategies.

Research institutions and government departments also employ market researchers. For more information on working for local authorities or government departments, see government social research officer.

You can get details of market research agencies and consultants, as well as background information on the different sectors from:

Look for job vacancies at:

Recruitment agencies commonly handle vacancies. Vacancies for graduates may be advertised as research assistants or as graduate trainees.

Get more tips on how to find a job, create a successful CV and cover letter, and prepare for interviews.

Professional development

Once in post, most training is provided informally, on the job, with support from more experienced colleagues. Some larger agencies run graduate training schemes, which typically last two years. There are also a variety of external courses available, specifically designed for market research professionals.

The Market Research Society (MRS) runs many training courses and offers qualifications at different levels. When you are in the first two years of your market research career you can take the MRS Advanced Certificate in Market and Social Research Practice. Some large companies may incorporate this qualification into their graduate training programmes.

For more experienced market researchers who are progressing to senior roles, there is the MRS Diploma in Market and Social Research Practice. To take this you need to have between one to three years' experience in a relevant role depending on whether you already hold the MRS Advanced Certificate or another professional qualification or degree.

It is also possible to take an accredited Masters degree. Details of courses, as well as further information on the certificate and diploma, are available at Market Research Society - Qualifications.

Many of the qualifications offered by the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) include a market research component. There is also a range of relevant postgraduate courses available in statistics, marketing or social research.

The Social Research Association (SRA) runs a range of courses on topics such as survey design and quantitative data analysis.

Continuing professional development (CPD) is important and can be carried out in many ways. The MRS offers training courses covering a range of topics, as well as webinars and online training in questionnaire design and business skills. It offers a range of events and networking opportunities, some specifically designed for new and young researchers through the MRS: R-Net group.

Career prospects

Generally, career progression in market research can be relatively rapid, with many market researchers being given the opportunity to advance to a more senior post within two or three years of entry. Promotion is usually based on merit, professional qualifications gained, experience and specialism.

Progression often takes the following route:

  • research executive;
  • senior researcher;
  • account director.

Responsibility for client contact, presentations, and project and team management increases with seniority, often with a corresponding decrease in the level of field work undertaken.

It is recommended that you gain a range of experience before specialising in order to enhance your career development and/or job mobility later in your career.

The rapid growth of international business and developments in information technology has created worldwide opportunities in this field. With a good level of experience in your specialist area, you can progress to working as a research practitioner, either independently or in a partnership.

You may also want to consider setting up your own consultancy or working as a freelance, but this will only be possible once you have built up substantial experience and have a good contacts list.