This post is contributed by Karla Ahern and Kit Nordmark, Burtch Works’ marketing research and consumer insights recruiting specialists.
As recruiters that specialize in research and insights roles, we often end up playing a somewhat advisory role when talking to researchers about their career development.
One of the more common questions we hear is whether or not researchers should pursue an advanced degree, most commonly a MMR (Master of Marketing Research) or an MBA. This can be a huge commitment from a time and money perspective, so people often want to know if it “pays off”.
Because of the steps and resources involved, getting an advanced degree is a very personal decision, but we wanted to offer a few thoughts from our perspective to help you weigh your options if you are debating about going back to school!
Some research and insights professionals will come into the profession via a psychology, economics, sociology, or a marketing or business degree, but once in the profession, many choose to go back and earn an MMR or an MBA either full-time or part-time while working. Before we dig into education options, we wanted to quickly take a look at common academic backgrounds in the research field.
Every year we publish a comprehensive industry report, The Burtch Works Study: Salaries of Marketing Research Professionals, which contains salary and demographic data for the field.
In our 2017 report, we found that 61% of researchers hold an advanced degree, with 31% holding an MBA, 26% holding a Master’s degree, and 4% holding a PhD. At almost every job level, marketing researchers with an advanced degree earn higher base salaries than those with a Bachelor’s degree.
For more information about how education effects salaries, the full report can be downloaded for free on our website.
Advanced Degree Options for Research & Insights Professionals
The two most common advanced degrees for marketing researchers tend to be either an MBA or an MMR. Both are strong options, but which one is best for your career depends on the program you choose and how you’d like your degree to be applied.
- Can be great for a broad business background
- Nice base for a research and insights career
- Skills often transferable into other areas such as Marketing, Brand Management, Strategy, etc.
- Emphasis on group work and small teams projects which is nice training for the business world
- Broad business networking opportunities
MMR (Master of Marketing Research)
- Great foundation specifically tailored for research and insights careers
- Strong training in a range of advanced techniques
- Often a heavy quantitative focus
- Can help lead to internships in the field with strong, client-side organizations
- Attending a well-known program can also help you boost your network of researchers in the industry
Some of the professionals we’ve talked to have found it helpful to go back for their advanced degree after a few years in the industry, that way they have work experience under their belt and business knowledge to refer back to and provide perspective. While some may pause working for a couple years in order to go to school full-time, many opt for part-time programs so they can continue working while balancing classes on the side.
We’ve rarely found that an advanced degree is a hard requirement for roles we’ve worked on, however it is almost always preferred.
In the instances where an advanced degree is a firm prerequisite, we’ve found that client-side roles are more likely to require one. The few roles we’ve worked on where an MBA has been mandatory for consideration have been at higher levels (Senior Manager and above) and for positions within the CPG (consumer packaged goods) industry.
All else being equal, most hiring managers typically lean towards the professional with an advanced degree over the one who doesn’t have one, but from our experience it seems as though a candidate’s skills and how they present themselves during the interview process often trumps an advanced degree when it comes to final hiring decisions.
Bonus Tip: Not sure whether an advanced degree will be a requirement for your career progression? Try reading through job descriptions for the types of roles you’ll eventually be targeting and see what academic backgrounds they require!
Committing to an advanced degree program can be a tricky decision to make, and it often depends on where you see your career heading and your personal and financial situation. Advanced degrees are common in marketing research and tend to result in higher pay, but rarely will hiring managers look at degree alone – skillset and relevant work experience also continue to play a significant factor.
Evaluating your career plan can sometimes indicate whether or not a degree will be a requirement for your career path, so we suggest careful evaluation before your decision. Best of luck!
Interested in our salary research on marketing research and consumer insights professionals? Download our studies using the button below.
Want more insights on salaries, resumes, interviews, planning career transitions, and more? Check out our video below with career planning tips just for researchers!