This post is contributed by Karla Ahern and Kit Nordmark, Burtch Works’ marketing research and consumer insights recruiting specialists.
We’ve all heard the advice out there to keep an updated resume on hand, but we get it – finding the time and working up the motivation to actually do so can be a challenge, and it can be especially daunting if it’s been a while since you’ve looked for a new job.
We know it’s no easy task, but we guarantee you won’t regret putting the work in now. You just don’t know when a great opportunity may present itself and why not have a head start on the process? (We promise – you’ll thank yourself later!)
As recruiters in the industry, we work closely with organizations looking to hire strong research and insights talent and we also frequently advise marketing researchers on how to maximize the impact of their resume, and we’ve taken notes along the way. With research salaries on the rise and strong hiring demand in the industry, it’s a great time to address some of the most common questions we get and share some resume tips specific to the research field.
Your Comprehensive Research & Insights Resume Guide
1. Tailor your resume to the specific research or insights role
It’s critical to take the time on the front end to create a document that not only reflects your experience and skillset, but also demonstrates how your specific background aligns with the particular position of interest. We recommend creating a “base resume” with the basics that can serve as your starting point, and then tailoring and customizing it for each different position as you apply.
When you’ve found an opportunity you’d like to pursue, carefully review the job description and make sure to highlight your relevant skills and experience for that particular role. Any experience that’s less applicable can be streamlined or minimized. (And it’s okay to have multiple versions of your resume – saving different versions can save time if you’re in an active search so you’re ready to go when a new position is posted!)
Example: If it’s an innovation-focused position, include detailed examples of innovation projects you’ve led, the different stages you’ve touched along the way, and the outcomes of these initiatives. Or if the role leads a research team, make sure you highlight any leadership experience you’ve had in the past that’s applicable to this position.
2. Use a summary section to highlight skills and methodologies
We see fewer “Objective” sections on resumes these days, so unless you’re looking to make a drastic career change that requires explanation, we recommend using the real estate just below the header for a summary section that can highlight relevant methodologies, skills, and tools you’ve used. This can be an easy-to-read bulleted list or columns, and then make sure you provide applied examples to support this section later on in the body of your resume.
General guideline: Instead of listing broad, vague categories like “market research” or “quantitative research”, focus on specific areas of expertise to illustrate your experience. This content will vary based on your specific skillset and will likely expand throughout your career.
3. Highlight your industry or category expertise
The market research and insights landscape can range quite a bit so show where your experience lies! If you’re a client-side researcher, your industry experience may be obvious depending on where you’ve worked, but on the supplier-side in particular, you may need to provide some context. Do you have experience in Retail? CPG? Tech? Pharma? Media? Make sure your areas of experience are clearly communicated, especially if it aligns with a particular role you’d like to pursue.
If possible, take it a step further: Is your CPG experience with brand activation, innovation/brand, or both? Or is your pharmaceutical experience in a particular therapeutic area (oncology, immunology, OTC medicine)? Be specific!
Or if you’re a supplier-side researcher, including examples of clients and companies you’ve worked with, or industries you’ve touched, can illustrate the breadth and depth of your experience.
4. Think about the purpose of every bullet – aim for strategic vs. tactical
The research and insights industry is one that requires strong communication and storytelling skills, so potential employers will often assess your ability to present information throughout the process and your resume is the first example. If your resume reads like a job description simply listing the tasks and responsibilities of your positions, it’s likely not doing your experience justice. Carefully consider every item and bullet you decide to include and make sure it has purpose and tells a part of your story. Make sure each bullet also showcases the strategic elements of your role and clearly explains not only what you did, but how you did it.
Tactical: “Led quantitative and qualitative research initiatives.”
Strategic: “Partnered with large CPG manufacturer to lead research for new product launch; leveraged iterative quantitative concept testing to optimize new household cleaning product and packaging design, followed by in-home ethnography work to inform go-to-market communication.”
5. Show the impact of your research and insights work
What have clients or companies done with your recommendations? How has your research impacted a product hitting the shelf or the company’s long-term strategy? Whether you’re on the supplier- or client-side of things, it’s important to show how your research has influenced the business or how your clients have used the insights from your work to guide their decisions. Showing your proven ability to lead work that impacts is especially important as you get more senior in your career.
Note for supplier-side researchers: If your experience is on the supplier-side it can sometimes be tough to measure the impact of your work since you might not always know how your clients use your recommendations! If possible, consider checking in with your client a few months after the project wraps to see they can give you an update on the impact of your work! At the end of the day, you only need a few good examples so a client follow-up could really pay off.
6. Demonstrate progression throughout your career
Perspective employers love to see career development and your resume is the perfect place to show your progression over the years. Especially if you’ve worked your way up within an organization or stayed a while at a the same company, make sure to list your different positions or titles to illustrate how you picked up skills and your responsibilities elevated across your tenure.
Example: If you’ve been at a company 10 years and you’re currently a Director, don’t just list your title today, show that you were hired in as a Research Manager, were promoted to Senior Research Manager, and now picked up even more responsibility and lead a team as a Research Director. It’s not necessary to create a completely separate section for each role, but at least list your different titles to show you made progress along the way.
7. Keep resume length to 1-2 pages
While it’s important to be concise, you don’t want to sacrifice valuable content in order to fit everything onto a single page, especially as you get more senior and have more years of relevant research experience under your belt. The old one-page rule was a requirement in the past when people regularly printed out resumes, but thanks to the digital age we have a bit more flexibility these days! We do, however, advise you to try to keep it to a maximum of two pages – anything longer and you may lose your audience.
General guideline: If you have under 10 years of research experience, try to stick to one page; if you’ve been working in the field for a decade or more and have relevant experience to highlight, go ahead and use a second page!
8. Place your education/experience in the most effective order
If you’re early in your career (the first 5 years or so), we generally advise placing your education before your work experience. After you’re fairly established and have more than 5-6 years of experience, we recommend moving your education to the end. (And don’t worry about including your GPA – it’s no longer necessary once you’ve landed your first job out of school.)
General guideline: Keep your experience section focused on previous research or insights positions you’ve held. If you’re early in your career it’s okay to include some other roles, volunteer positions, or internships, but make sure to keep it brief unless it’s directly applicable to the opportunity!
And if you’re thinking about going back to grad school, check out our thoughts on whether researchers should get a Master’s or MBA.
It sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people forget the basics! The header of your resume should contain your full name, location, and contact information (current phone number and email address are crucial). If you’re applying for roles outside of your home city or state, including a few words to explain your relocation situation can help answer questions potential employers may have when reviewing your resume.
Example: Including a phrase such as: “Open to relocation” or “Relocating to Denver in August 2019” can explain you’re open to other locations or targeting a specific area.
10. It’s okay to be creative, but use discretion
While design skills and creativity may be appreciated depending on the role or organization, don’t sacrifice content and readability for design! Chronological resumes tend to be the easiest to digest. And keep in mind that many companies use some form of ATS (applicant tracking system) for their hiring initiatives, and these databases aren’t always compatible with design-heavy resume formats, so your information may not upload properly.
General guideline: Keep in mind the type of role you’re pursuing. A digital or ad agency might be the perfect place to show off your visualization skills if it’s the kind of organization that values creativity, but make sure that the information you’re trying to convey is still clear and concise, regardless of format.
Infographic-style resumes may initially grab attention, but in order to function as an effective resume, it must still communicate your research background and skillset, your experience with a variety of methodologies in the field, overall career progression, and the strategic impact of your work.
BONUS TIP: Ensure your LinkedIn profile and resume are consistent!
Regardless of tailoring and tweaking, make sure that the information on your resume mirrors your LinkedIn profile. Employers and recruiters often look at both, so avoid any confusion about your work experience by making sure you have consistent information on both (especially titles and dates).
And in case you missed it – check out our LinkedIn profile tips if you want to make sure you’re getting the most out of your profile!
We hope this information was helpful! If you’re looking for new job opportunities yourself, or looking to hire marketing research or consumer insights talent, be sure to connect with us on LinkedIn (Karla Ahern and Kit Nordmark).
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Want more insights on salaries, resumes, interviews, planning career transitions, and more? Check out our video below with career planning tips just for researchers!