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This post is contributed by Karla Ahern and Kit Nordmark, Burtch Works’ marketing research and consumer insights recruiting specialists.

One of the most common topics we discuss with research professionals is what type of job they’re looking for next and how to determine if an opportunity will be a strong next step. We know that location, title, and money often drive a job search, but if you look under the hood, there’s much more to consider when evaluating potential roles.

Deciding which path to take in your marketing research or consumer insights career should, first and foremost, involve some introspection. Career paths can vary widely and reflecting on your personal goals and preferences is often the best way to determine which role is going to be the best fit for you.

Because every situation is unique and personal, this isn’t meant to be a universal checklist of job requirements. Instead, we wanted to provide some food for thought when it comes to approaching new opportunities, weighing your options or potential paths to take, and help understand how strategic career decisions today can boost your long-term marketability.

Ideas for Assessing Research & Insights Opportunities

1. Industry exposure: What categories and industries will you touch?

As you explore different opportunities, one of the first things to think about is the focus of the role.

For a position on the supplier-side, will you work on a wide range of industries or will you be specialized within a specific category or roster of clients?

If it’s a client-side role, will you be dedicated to a particular product or a wide portfolio of brands? Will it be focused on innovation or existing products? Will your work be domestic or global in scope?

THINGS TO CONSIDER:
  • We generally recommend getting exposure to as many categories and industries as possible, especially early on in your career as you’re establishing your foundation.
  • When considering a new role, think about whether the opportunity will give you exposure to new areas, or if will it help build upon existing category expertise.
  • There are certainly pros to both, though if you spend many years focused in a single area, it may be more difficult to make a change down the road (i.e. if you’ve had a career focused in the auto industry or pharma, it may be tough to break into another category such as tech or retail).

 

2. Building your research toolkit: What tools and methodologies will you use?

Throughout your career, think about your skillset and the expertise you’re developing along the way. Is this opportunity focused on primary or secondary research? Will you be leading quantitative research, qualitative, or hybrid work?

As you consider new opportunities, keep in mind your experience to-date and look for ways leverage your background while also continuing to bolster and sharpen your research toolkit.

THINGS TO CONSIDER:
  • Will this opportunity allow you to pick up new methodologies or expertise? It’s important to continue to learn throughout your career and exposure to new research techniques and ways of thinking will help you evolve as a research professional.
  • Does this organization value innovation and emerging industry trends? Joining a company that works to be on the cutting edge can help advance your skills as well.

 

3. Leadership experience: Will you be an individual contributor or manage others?

We’re often asked about the importance of management experience, but every position has different requirements and different hiring managers’ preferences vary as well. Some argue it’s vital to gain experience managing direct reports, while others would rather the focus stay on the research itself.

Either way, we encourage researchers to look beyond people management alone when evaluating new roles – some of the most interesting and rich opportunities happen to be individual contributor positions.

THINGS TO CONSIDER:
  • Keep in mind: Titles in our industry often refer to the management of projects instead of researchers, so it’s common to have a Research Manager or Research Director role that does not have any direct reports.
  • On the client-side, direct management experience is generally only a requirement for senior-level or executive roles, usually at the Director-level and above.
  • Supplier-side researchers often gain management experience earlier on than similarly-tenured professionals on the client-side.
  • Regardless of whether you’re leading a team or an individual contributor, we encourage researchers to remain at least somewhat hands-on with the work. If you find yourself too far removed from the research, it may be more difficult to keep your skills current and harder to roll up your sleeves when necessary if you’ve been more removed in recent years.
4. Team composition: Lean vs. large research teams – does size matter?

Do you thrive among a larger group of researchers? Or do you prefer working within a smaller team? There are pros and cons to both scenarios and while it ultimately comes down to personal preference, you may want to try to experience both at some point to see what’s a better fit for you!

There are great things about teams both big and small, so the key is learning about the team structure throughout the hiring process to help determine how your role will fit within it.

THINGS TO CONSIDER:
  • Larger teams: Within a bigger group, you’ll likely have exposure to different perspectives and ways of approaching things. You may have a wider variety of colleagues for bouncing off ideas or brainstorming different solutions, and you may also have more resources available to you. But on the flip side, roles within larger teams may be more defined and siloed.
  • Leaner teams: On a smaller team, you may have the opportunity to wear more hats, take on more responsibilities, or gain exposure beyond your original job description. You may not have as many resources internally, but within a leaner research team you may have higher visibility within the organization or potential to make a substantial impact.

 

5. Company structure: How the Insights function can vary by organization

On the client-side, another factor to consider is the kind of company and how sophisticated the Insights function is currently. Is it an established corporation? Or a start-up in growth mode?

Working within a large organization with a long-standing Insights team such as P&G or Microsoft can be quite different than joining a younger company that’s still in its foundational years. While not every company will fall neatly into these two categories, it’s important to think about the different environments associated with different scenarios.

THINGS TO CONSIDER:
  • Some researchers like the idea of joining a company with an established team, so they can step into a well-defined role with structure and set processes in place. They like to know what’s expected of them and the performance indicators by which they’ll be measured.
  • Others favor the challenge of building a function and tend to appreciate some ambiguity if it means they can help shape their role and make it their own.
  • Organizations with new or more recently developed Insights functions may need some time to establish the group and gain traction internally; researchers with these companies may have smaller budgets, more limited resources, and it might be a tougher “sell” to socialize the value of research internally, but these types of opportunities often come with high potential for impact and strong sense of ownership.
  • Keep in mind: corporate roles used to be considered the most “secure” types of positions. Over the past few years that hasn’t necessarily been the case as we’ve watched roles eliminated as the by-product of mergers and acquisitions.

 

6. Growth potential: Will you have the opportunity for personal or professional progression?

No matter your tenure in the research industry, it’s always a good idea to think about how your next role will contribute towards your career development.

While we don’t recommend this being the first question you ask during the interview process, it’s important to get a sense for how you may evolve within the organization long-term is for any new opportunity you consider.

THINGS TO CONSIDER:
  • At a high level, growth can be in the form of future promotions in title or responsibility, though know that titles can vary greatly in the industry (see previous blog here!).
  • But perhaps more importantly, professional growth can also take many other forms: maybe you’re able to work on global projects, learn new industries, tackle new and emerging methodologies, or to manage and mentor more junior employees – oftentimes progress beyond only title and money can be more meaningful and open up more doors long-term.

 

Ready to job search but need to rework your resume? Check out our comprehensive resume guide tailored specifically for research & insights professionals.

 

We hope this information was helpful! If you’re looking to hire marketing research or consumer insights talent, or looking for new opportunities, 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!

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