Hey, been a while. I hope that everyone is doing okay and safe in these uncertain times. Apologies, I was too lazy and (busy too) these past few months.
It’s June 2021. Pandemic, recession and unemployment. It is awful. But know that no evil lasts forever nor good that never ends. Now before it gets too dark, I would like to share some tips/tricks that you can use to apply for a career in Market Research. It is a solid career to have if you are brave enough to suck at something new. And if you are not interested, you may scroll down and download the editable ppt CV/resume at the end of this post.
If you are interested and would like to get some sneak peek from an insider who has spent 10 years in the industry (not from HR head-hunters who know nothing about the industry trying to make everything sound more complicated than it should), then this is the post for you.
What is Market Research?
The first thing you need to understand is what market research is. There are thousands of websites and blogs that talk about this, so let’s not go there.
Market research wants to know what people would buy or how they act, behave and make their decisions. That’s it. Market research is usually commissioned by clients to collect and analyse the data and the market researcher would give recommendations based on the findings
Occasionally, they also do the study without the client commissioning anything, and they sell the data to whoever interested in the study (usually called syndicated study).
Types of work in market research
In market research, there are different fields of expertise:
- Market Research (aka Market Intelligence / Client Servicing / Consumer Insight) – divided into quantitative and qualitative
- Project Management
- Operations – Recruitment team, quality control etc.
- Specialised – Business development, creative, marketing etc.
- Business support – Admin, finance, IT etc.
Let’s focus on market research expertise. There are two types of market research approach;
- Qualitative – it’s about quality over quantity. For example, you want to understand why people buy something or behave in a certain way. It is the study to understand a certain phenomenon.
- Quantitative – it’s about quantity over quality. I.e., how many Chrome tabs can you open with a 1 TB RAM? It requires statistics, numbers and facts. Anything you need to measure or validate.
Here, a pic for a case study. Quantitative would be able to measure how many visitors took a pic with the statue, and you would probably see that the bulk of visitors are attracted to the nipples and the nose. But we have no idea why until we ask the people. Are they horny? Is it a local tradition? Primal instinct? For luck? Hence, qualitative research is needed to answer this nipple conundrum.
Which is more superior between Qualitative and Quantitative? Which one is more accurate? They are both equally important and accurate. There’s no one right way of viewing the world, or one right way to gain knowledge or the truth. Market research is very much at the intersection of qualitative and quantitative. The yin to the yang, the Bonnie to the Clyde, the cheeseburger to the fries. Most people have confidence when it is backed up by numerical unit, or factual. But qualitative is needed to describe the meaning behind its numbers. If you need to crunch data but not interpret what it means, then a computer would be able to do it.
Qualification/characteristic for MR job
The requirements for MR jobs are basically 80% similar to succeed in any job, with 20% market research specific skills. I hired few executives before despite their technical skills as it is something that they can learn on the job, but attitude is more important IMO.
Some typical traits and necessary skills (and keywords that you should highlight during the interview):
- Attention to detail and good organisational skills (if you are looking for entry-level)
- Childlike curiosity
- Ability to interpret the data
- Communication skill – language proficiency etc.
- Good interpersonal skill – Very important for qualitative
- Storytelling and presentation (for mid – high level) – this skill would set you apart and often overlooked. If you can tell a clear and consistent story full of insights, then you are already a beast
You don’t need a specific degree to excel in both; despite what other recruiters might say. But if you have statistics, marketing (for quant) or psychology (for qual) related academic background, you would have a higher chance of landing the job.
Quantitative is what most research jobs look for. Qualitative has lower demands, but actually pays more; because they are more like mythical creatures.
Know your strengths and weaknesses. If you still use a calculator to solve 9 + 7 because you have trust issues, then maybe quantitative is not for you. If you can’t stand talking to strangers and hate people in general, then maybe qualitative is not for you.
Pros and cons for the market research profession
“People actually pay you, so you can learn about things”Suzanne Huang, one of my ex-directors in Kantar
- A fly on the wall – You would get to learn so many things. This is what I love the most. You would be able to meet a lot of interesting people; consumer, professionals, VIPs etc. Some projects are highly confidential, some would give you a sneak peek of innovation, cut the story short, a lot of cool stuff.
- Satisfaction of solving a problem – if you love to find ways/insights to make a better business decision, then you can’t go wrong with market research. It’s like you are playing Tomb Raider in real life.
- You’ll be a smart consumer – You would have the privilege to see and understand how the marketing works, what the brand is all about, the proper way to use it, who is their target market etc.
- Beacon of light / Point of Reference – people would want to know what you know, and it would help you to be a reference point – no one can argue when you have a deep understanding of the consumers, the market and when you back it up with numbers. For the quantitative researcher, CEOs and higher rank people would usually pay attention to numbers so make use of it
- Help sharpen your business acumen – you’ll know the market, you understand what makes consumer tick, you’ll know how to advertise and how to send the right signals. It will help you to sell any products/ideas later in whatever you do.
- You need to be morally flexible – some of the clients that you gonna work with are; for the lack of better word – utter and complete shit. Sometimes the research objective can be downright immoral; like how to persuade kids to drink this beverage full of sugar and market it as something healthy. I don’t use and buy some of my client’s products because they are pure evil (for example, a company that starts with Nest and ends with é). But once you reach a certain level, you can tell your superior that you don’t want to serve a particular client. Once you earned your stripe. But until then, I am going to send 200 thoughts and prayers for you.
- Sometimes the job can be so boring. Particularly when the client is trying to solve a problem where there is none.
- Weird encounters – You would encounter a lot of interesting but sometimes disgusting people. Karens are everywhere. I once met a woman who lived in a house full of rubbish and maggots, or the racist person who would insult your ethnicity; true stupidity, hate and all negative expressions humankind can offer
- Poor work-life balance / integration. We’ll discuss this further in the next section
- Might need to travel intensively
Where can you get a job in market research?
There are several places that you can get market research job from:
- Big market research agencies – Like Kantar, Nielsen, Ipsos, GFK etc.
- PROS: Good training program, huge exposure as you work with a huge array of clients, good support and mentorship, good salary, higher chance to work in other markets/expertise, simpler analysis.
- CONS: Higher chance of long working hours; leading to faster burn-out
- Small-medium market research agencies – Find smaller market research agencies in your country – get the listing from the ESOMAR directory
- PROS: Really high involvement; do everything from beginning to the end – you’ll learn faster, close-knit environment; more “family” relationship, good support, better bonus and paycheck, simpler analysis
- CONS: You’ll get burned out way too fast, sense of feeling lost, crazy working hours, the boss would sometimes milk “we are family” excuse dry.
- Client-side – Big Corporation i.e. Shell, Google etc.; often called Consumer Insight or Market Intelligence
- PROS: Better salary than research agencies (usually), better work-life balance, agency people would treat you like God, simpler analysis.
- CONS: Slower learning progress; you won’t be able to learn a lot from other industries or methodologies etc., not much empowering; more like intermediary between agencies and decision-maker in your company
- Consultancy Firm – Like PwC, McKinsey etc.
- PROS: High salary, licence to brag, access to better mentorship/facilities/research tools, wide exposure, more complex analysis.
- CONS: Crazy working hours, can be siloed.
Career-wise, if you are interested in market research, I would advise you to start in a big agency that works across industries. It will give you more experience within an array of industries and project types. The more you are exposed early in your career in terms of a variety of projects, methodologies and involvement in every step of the process from setup to client presentation – the better off you would be.
The Client-side is also good, don’t get me wrong. But too early in your career, you won’t learn as much since you’ll be mostly hiring freelancers/agencies to do your research and passing the insights on, rather than doing it yourself. However, you would be able to see the project from problem recognition to strategy implementation, performance monitoring, all the way until the end.
Market research and work-life balance?
Not sure if you can generalise the job itself, and mostly it really depends on the company/business or team you’re on. But, a market researcher’s work-life balance can be terrible, some maybe more than others. However, it can be pretty seasonal.
In Malaysia, there is this insane glorification of overtime work, like the system of praising the employees who do crazy overtime or work late as “team players” and shaming people into doing it for free is just so horrible. It is bad for long-term productivity, you’ll get burnt out faster, sense of feeling lost, disenchanted, disengaged, no-life outside work, inability to prioritise, simply put; you’ll become the human version of period cramps.
Let’s safeguard ourselves. Plan your leaves ahead. You should be as disciplined about rest as you are about work if you want to live long and prosper.
Here’s a graph to help you understand / plan your holiday if you already in MR industry:
In many big companies, they would track their performance quarterly; from Quarter1 until Quarter4. This is just a general overview, some days you may be busier than usual, working till 3 am just to get clients deliverables on time and some days you (very rarely) won’t have anything to do at all.
At the beginning of the quarter, there is a lot of planning involved, then execution, towards the end of the quarter, the top management would have realised that they are lagging and would play catch up. This is when you would hope that your boss becomes lactose intolerant because you gonna be sooo busy. They would want you to chase all the potential projects in the pipeline, close the current jobs, so they can record it in the right quarter.
It’s been a year since I left the corporate world (market research agency), and I still get PTSD flashback and a vague sense of impending doom about having to send urgent deliverables to the client. Heh!
If you plan your holiday, make sure to take it 1-2 months before and if they ask you to cancel, tell them politely to peddle their stupidity elsewhere. Or pick the correct slot (Jan, April or July) or if you decide to live life on the edge; March, June, Sept or Nov. Most people pick December because of the festivities, but the office is empty anyway, so I prefer to work in December because it’s relaxing.
Career path for market researchers?
Most of the time, this is our career path:
- 25: I’m doing it because I love it
- 30: I’m committed to it
- 35: I have too much invested in it to quit
- 40: I’ve got nowhere to go ayyyyy
But don’t be afraid my dear comrades, market research is a wonderful industry. Jokes aside, there are usually two typical paths for a market researcher:
- They would usually go into management/regional/global role
- Join client side
- Join consultancy side
- Management / regional / global role
- Join client-side (rarely)
- Become a freelancer / own business (like me)
Most client-side jobs would require a certain level of quantitative knowledge. Try to get involved and familiarise yourself with quantitative and be more well-rounded if you aspire to work in client-side.
If you love and prefer to remain in the agency side, you need selling skills. If you are able to bring in sales, even with crappy analytical skills, you’ll become a star. It is sad, but that’s how it is. Being commercially savvy would catapult you to instant promotion / open you to a wide range of possibilities. If you really into analytics, being able to tell a story that would cut through all the BS would separate you from those who are back-office drones.
Another growing field is the Customer or User Experience (UI UX) job – which usually encompasses the entire consumer journey. It is gaining traction with solid growth potential.
I left the corporate job after a while and decided on freelancing with all the skills that I acquired from my 10 years in the industry. I have much more time for myself and still going strong. However, I am sure this is not the right path for everyone, but there might be better options for people out there who are looking for a job / miserable with their current job.
Final Word and Free Editable CV/Resume Template
CV/Resume Template 1
CV/Resume Template 2
Here you go. I tried to make it as infographic as possible, just change it based on your preference.
If you are going for an interview, I wish you the best of luck. Nothing wrong with being nervous. If the interviewer is skilful enough, they’ll know how to put you at ease to get a good interview. Plan your way there so you are on time.
May adrenaline carry you through. You got this. Good luck!