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Market Research Executive

Market researchers try to find out what people think and how they behave and why.

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 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.
  • 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.

Research methods include telephone interviews, internet contact, face-to-face interviews and group discussions or focus groups.

Executives' daily tasks might include:

  • deciding on the best research methods
  • designing questionnaires
  • briefing interviewers
  • supervising research
  • analysing the findings
  • writing and presenting results
  • managing budgets.

Salaries range from at least £18,000 to £80,000 or more a year.

Researchers usually work normal office hours, although some may be expected to carry out work at evenings or weekends.

The work is based in offices but there may be a lot of travel to meet clients and interviewers and to visit research sites.

A market research executive must be:

  • a strong communicator, in person and in writing
  • skilled at working with numbers
  • analytical
  • commercially aware
  • good at solving problems
  • well organised
  • interested in people and what motivates them.

Some market research executives are employed by one of hundreds of market research agencies and may serve a range of clients. Others work in-house for commercial and industrial organisations, government departments, advertising agencies, research institutes and charities.

Most people enter this work with a Higher National Diploma (HND) or degree, which can be in any subject. A subject demonstrating strong communication or analytical skills may be useful, such as languages, English literature, maths, psychology, history, politics, science or IT. Qualitative researchers often hold degrees in social sciences.

Training is usually on the job, often working towards qualifications such as the Advanced Certificate or the Diploma in Market and Social Research Practice.

Progression may be to senior research executive. Those working with larger employers may progress to management positions. Many experienced researchers set up their own market research businesses.

What is the work like?

Market researchers look into people's opinions and behaviour and the factors behind them. Market research informs decision making at almost every level of industry, commerce and social policy.

The work is diverse. Some executives work within a market research agency, serving a range of clients. Others are employed by large organisations 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 or focus groups.

For each research project, an executive may:

  • design the best research method to gather the data needed by the company or client
  • advise on questionnaire design
  • brief those who will carry out research interviews
  • oversee the research process
  • check and analyse the data
  • write a report from the findings
  • make a presentation on the results and offer recommendations
  • manage the budget for the project.

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 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 gather and analyse data.

Hours and environment

Researchers usually work normal office hours, although exact 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.

Salary and other benefits

These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer and where people live.

  • Starting salaries tend to be between £18,000 and £24,000 a year.
  • A senior market research executive with a few years' experience may earn £28,000 to £35,000.
  • Senior research executives with several years' experience may earn between £45,000 and £80,000 or more, with some specialists able to command higher salaries.

Many market research posts also have performance-related bonuses and other benefits, which can increase earnings considerably.

Skills and personal qualities

A market research executive must be:

  • a strong communicator, in person and in writing
  • skilled at working with numbers
  • analytical
  • commercially aware
  • good at solving problems
  • well organised
  • comfortable working to deadlines
  • able to work well within a team
  • tactful
  • alert to the need for confidentiality.

Interests

It is important to:

  • have an interest in people and what motivates them.

Getting in

Market research is a large field, with the UK industry worth over £2 billion per year.

Some market research executives are employed by market research agencies. There are hundreds of agencies, ranging from large international companies to small consultancies. Most of them are located in London and south-east England. Agencies are listed in The Research Buyer's Guide.

Other executives are employed throughout the UK by commercial and industrial organisations, government departments, advertising agencies, research institutes and charities.

Entry to this work tends to be very competitive and the number of market research executives has slightly reduced recently.

Vacancies may be advertised in local and national newspapers, in trade magazines such as Research, on www.mrweb.com and www.researchjobfinder.com and on The Association for Qualitative Research's (AQR's) website. There are also several specialist recruitment agencies.

Entry routes

There are no set entry requirements, but most entrants are expected to have a Higher National Diploma (HND) or a degree. This may be in any subject. A course that demonstrates strong communication or analytical skills, such as languages, English literature, maths, psychology, history, politics, geography, science or IT, may increase employment prospects. For qualitative researchers the most common subjects are psychology, sociology, anthropology, social sciences and political sciences.

Entry to an HND or foundation degree is usually with at least one A level, or the equivalent. Honours degree entry is usually with a minimum of two A levels and five GCSEs (A*-C), or the equivalent. Applicants should check with individual institutions for specific entry requirements. Those without the usual academic qualifications may take an Access course.

The Diploma in business, administration and finance may be relevant for this area of work.

Some entrants have a relevant postgraduate qualification, often in marketing. Entry to postgraduate courses is usually with a first degree.

Some university programmes include study for the MRS (The Market Research Society) Advanced Certificate in Market and Social Research Practice. The MRS website has a list of universities.

As competition for entry is so strong, some work experience in areas such as research, statistical data analysis or interview techniques can be useful. This may be voluntary or paid work or through placements or work shadowing.

Training

Training is usually on the job, with some larger agencies offering structured in-house training programmes. Executives learn skills such as questionnaire design, interviewing techniques, analysis and interpretation of data, time management and project management.

Entrants usually work towards qualifications, such as those offered by MRS. They can be studied part time, by distance learning or in-house with some employers. MRS qualifications include:

  • Advanced Certificate in Market and Social Research Practice which provides a practical grounding in the principles and techniques that underpin research
  • Diploma in Market and Social Research Practice which enables candidates to develop high-level research skills and is designed for those preparing to move into a more senior research role.

MRS also offers an introductory online distance-learning package for those interested in research. It introduces the principles and techniques of effective research and leads to the MRS/City & Guilds Certificate in Market and Social Research.

MRS, AQR and the Royal Statistical Society (RSS) offer training courses, workshops and conferences for their members. In addition, MRS runs R-Net, a networking group for young and new researchers.

Graduate entrants may study part time for a postgraduate qualification at Masters, diploma or PhD level. A number of universities offer relevant courses.

Getting on

It is often possible for executives to be promoted to senior research executives. 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.

Further information

The Association for Qualitative Research (AQR), Davey House, 31 St Neots Road, Eaton Ford, St Neots, Cambridgeshire PE19 7BA. 01480 407227. Website: www.aqr.org.uk

MRS (The Market Research Society), 15 Northburgh Street, London EC1V 0JR. 020 7490 4911. Website: www.mrs.org.uk

Royal Statistical Society (RSS), 12 Errol Street, London EC1Y 8LX. 020 7638 8998. Website: www.rss.org.uk

The Social Research Association (SRA), 24-32 Stephenson Way, London NW1 2HX. 020 7388 2401. Website: www.the-sra.org.uk

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

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