An informative case study from a past graduate about being on a market research graduate scheme.

A Career in Market Research

Many graduates decide on a marketing career when they leave university, but where does market research fit in the marketing mix? Market research is generally divided into two types, qualitative and quantitative research. Qualitative research is concerned with people's attitudes and motivation - eg, why do we buy a particular product, or use a particular search engine? - while quantitative focuses on gathering large volumes of data and is much more of a numbers game. Both techniques are employed by market research agencies to assist businesses with their strategic decision making across a wide range of sectors such as media, consumer, automotive, retail, IT/ telecommunications, health and social policy, in fact, just about any area of business and life can be changed by sound market research.

Careers can either start in a market research agency (agency side) or with a big company in their research, marketing or insight team, known as client-side. Wherever you make your start ultimately you will be delivering and presenting results that could really make a big difference to a business.

Research Methodologies:

Once you have started your career in market research you will work on a range of studies that can include branding; incorporating concept testing, usage and attitude and product perceptions; customer satisfaction and mystery shopping, advertising, media, communication research, employee research or business to business market intelligence analysing competitors and the market place.

What subjects should I have studied?

Market research demands a high level of numeracy and good analytical skills, particularly for quantitative research, so subjects such as mathematics, statistics and economics are particularly relevant, while a degree in a business related subject or marketing or languages is also a useful starting point. For qualitative research, psychology and sociology can provide a useful background. Graduates with relevant vacation experience or a commercial placement as part of their studies are likely to be strong candidates.

What skills are needed?

As well as good analytical ability you will need to have effective time management skills, strong communication skills and good attention to detail. You need to be able to manage projects to fixed deadlines and within budget and you are likely to have several projects on the go at any one time, so the ability to perform under pressure is essential. Good all-round IT skills are needed and knowledge of specialist statistical software such as SPSS can be useful.

What schemes are open to graduates?

The leading market research agencies usually take a number of graduates each year on their training schemes. A typical training scheme lasts for two years, with hands on experience combined with courses on methodologies of research and the processes involved.

What can I expect to be doing?

Typical tasks for a researcher include writing questionnaires, conducting surveys, analysing data and writing reports. As you progress you may become involved in planning the research, commissioning and managing external suppliers, writing proposals, moderating focus groups, client liaison and delivering presentations. Responsibility for very large budgets and the management of a team could follow.

What kind of starting salary can I expect?

Starting salaries for graduate trainees are in the region of £18-22,000.

What are the opportunities for career progression?

Market research informs the decision making process for a wide range of businesses and organisations and following formal training you may choose to specialise in either qualitative or quantitative research or opt to work within a specific sector such as consumer, retail, finance or pharmaceuticals. Whatever direction you choose, you can be sure of a varied and rewarding career path in a dynamic work environment where your efforts can make a real impact.