The Princeton Review is currently experiencing some Dashboard down time. Come back again soon for an update. Sorry for the inconvenience.

A Day in the Life of a Market Researcher

“People will tell you market research is a science, and there are scientific parts to it, but when it’s done well, it’s an art,” wrote one market researcher. Market researchers prepare studies and surveys, analyze demographic information and purchasing histories, review the factors that affect product demand, and make recommendations to manufacturing and sales forces about the market for their product. This multifaceted job requires financial, statistical, scientific, and aesthetic skills, as well as common sense. Market researchers work on projects that proceed in stages. At the beginning of a project, a market researcher may spend three weeks with other market researchers designing a survey and testing it on small samples of their intended population. In later stages, they may define demographics, distribute the survey, and collect and assemble data. In the final stages, they may analyze survey responses to uncover consumer preferences or needs that have not yet been identified. Like all scientific experiments, “the assumptions we make are key. If we don’t get those clear at the beginning, it’s going to affect our entire study,” wrote one respondent. Those people who specialize in public opinion surveys are particularly careful about how they phrase their questions, as a single misplaced modifier can dramatically affect the meaning of a question and, likewise, its responses. Market researchers work on their own and on teams. Many researchers find it difficult to adjust to working on a team. As one respondent said, “There are a lot of opinions about what constitutes the perfect survey. Four market researchers are going to have four different opinions.”This diversity of opinion, while celebrated in the world at large, can make for difficult strategizing sessions and even more difficult interpretations of results. Good market researchers are careful listeners and remain flexible in their assumptions. They have to be good at communicating their results; a miscommunication between the market research department and management can lead to a financial disaster.

Paying Your Dues

An entry-level market research position requires only an undergraduate degree. Employers look favorably on a degree in marketing and courses in statistics, mathematics, survey design, advertising, and psychology. Graduate degrees in marketing, business, or statistics are becoming more common among individuals in management positions. Work experience that demonstrates a creative intellect and the ability to work on teams is also well received. Prospective market researchers should be aware that early jobs in the field entail plenty of menial work—copying, proofreading, inputting data, and the like. Individuals who are willing to carry out these entry-level tasks go on to fill positions of responsibility.

Present and Future

Market research as a distinct profession emerged out of the multiple-product nature of large companies. In the 1950s, many successful organizations began to analyze who their customers were and what other products they might be interested in buying. As advertising and marketing techniques became more sophisticated, so did market research techniques. Companies found customer information so valuable that they established in-house research departments to examine all aspects of a product, from concept to price, and to make recommendations to the company’s top executives. The job market for market research remains strong as the brisk pace of manufacturing consolidation, growth, and development continues. The pendulum has come full swing as today’s companies move away from in-house research, finding it more profitable to contract out than to support their own marketing staff. New technology continues to redefine the role of the market researcher, as computers expedite, expand, and sometimes even replace their functions. But thanks in part to an increasingly competitive economy, the outlook of the market research profession looks bright, with the field expected to grow faster than average for all jobs in the next five years.

Quality of Life

PRESENT AND FUTURE

During these years, market researchers hand out surveys, record information, set up appointments, proofread, etc.—any task that more senior-level market researchers need done. Although these tasks are not very stimulating intellectually, understanding all the steps required to conduct supportable market research is crucial to a market researcher’s long-term success. The hours and salaries are average. Responsibilities and satisfaction are low. After two years, market researchers emerge from administrative assistant duties and begin to have limited input in market research decisions.

FIVE YEARS OUT

By the five-year mark, most professionals are members of research teams and have earned the title of market researcher. Many of them have sole responsibility for areas of a given project and meet with team members to coordinate the project into a whole. The hours, salary, responsibilities, and satisfaction increase.

TEN YEARS OUT

Ten-year veterans of this profession are senior market researchers and often are more involved in policy and the focus of research than in project coordination. A number of them have moved into higher management. Those researchers who remain in the field work more closely with upper management than with other market researchers. The hours decrease, but responsibilities skyrocket. Mobility becomes important, but opportunities depend on the industry and the market for the industry at the time.