Industry Insights

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Hot Skills, and How Research & Insights Professionals Can Stay Competitive

July 21, 2021

This blog is contributed by Burtch Works’ research & insights recruiting team. A few weeks ago, we talked to our recruiting team that focuses on marketing research & consumer insights positions to ask about the most in-demand skills, the difference between supplier- and client-side roles, and what skills researchers can add to their toolkit to stay competitive with all the buzz around data science & analytics.

Key Skills for Research & Insights Roles

Let's start off with the big one, what are the most desirable skills and what are the top requirements that recruiters are looking for when recruiting for research & insights positions?

Alright, well, that's a good one to kick us off. When it comes to research and insights roles, some of the top skills are research expertise and working with data. What that looks like can vary so much depending on the company and the role of position. It could be custom research, whether that be qualitative or quantitative, syndicated research sales, data, social listening… it varies so much by the role. But generally, the first thing that employers are looking for is people who are steeped in the marketing research and insights industry and have built those data-focused skills. We also get requests for specific skillsets, depending on a certain position. For instance, they might look for experience with certain methodologies, an example might be looking specifically for someone who has worked with segmentation or on a large global research innovation project. We've recently gotten quite a few requests for Customer Experience, CX research, and there can be focus areas to these searches, depending on the role. It could be specific to that CX role and that the person will be exclusively working on, like a major customer experience program.

What about key non-technical or soft skills for researchers?

A lot of the requested skills do tend to fall toward specific expertise areas, and then, in addition to the technical side there's also soft skills that hiring managers are often looking for. Storytelling ability is often very key for researchers. People that can really take the data and understand what it all means and how to translate that back to business problems. This includes uncovering actionable insights: so not only figuring out what the data means, but what does that mean for the business? What does it mean for the brand? What does it mean for business decisions and making sure that is ultimately used to guide the strategy? Those are important abilities for researchers to have. We also get quite a few requests for executive presence and that's regardless of your tenure. So obviously as you get more senior in your career, it's important to be able to present your data and recommendations, but we have even started to see this as a pretty strong requirement for even more junior researchers in the field. You could be on the supplier-side and presenting to key leadership within your client's company. And so employers will want someone who not only has the research chops to do the project, but can present the project whether it's internal or external. We see that demand for executive presence and ability to communicate the research. One of the most sought-after backgrounds, just in terms of research and insights roles, can be a hybrid background, which is part supplier-side and part client-side. If you have a solid research foundation and have spent some time on the supplier side, you really understand how to conduct research, soup to nuts: the nitty gritty of getting the work done. It's often a little bit more hands-on on the supplier-side. If you have that under your belt, but then also have client-side experience, you're able to work within an organization. You can help drive those business decisions and work cross-functionally. That has been the Holy Grail, just in terms of research backgrounds that we see our clients looking for lately.

Working on the Client-Side vs. Supplier-Side

What's the day-to-day difference in a role for client-side versus supplier-side?

At the end of the day, the research that you're doing can be fairly consistent. You might be trying to measure consumer behavior or sentiment etc., but the way that it's conducted will vary.On the supplier-side, if you're working at an organization like Ipsos or LRW, one of the things that we hear from supplier-side researchers, and one of the things that they seem to really love about working on the supplier-side, is that oftentimes every day will be very different. So you could be working with Coke or Pepsi on a new innovation project in the morning, and then later on that afternoon, you could be working with Hulu or Nike. You could be working on completely different categories, different projects, and different companies. That day-to-day difference is exciting for a lot of people. And it might be more hands-on with the work. A lot of times on the on the supplier-side, you're designing the research, you're listening to the client questions and business objectives. You could be working with CPG or retail, pharmaceuticals, or maybe all across the board. But, regardless of the category, it's about understanding the client needs: designing the research around those needs and partnering closely with the client.On the client-side of things, you're an in-house researcher, so if you’re working with Coke or Pepsi or Nike, instead of being on the outside as an external partner, you’re working internally. This is when a lot of the work tends to be more similar. In a client-side role, you're likely partnering cross-functionally, you could be working with R&D, or marketing teams, or different departments within the organization and then serving as that liaison in-between. You might be doing the research in-house start to finish there, or you might partner with a company like an LRW. In that case, you may not be as hands-on with the work depending on the organization, and so it depends on how hands-on you want to be.At the end of the day, on both the supplier- and client-side you'll be using a lot of those same tools to answer those questions, just in a different way.

Advice for Early Career Researchers

What is your best advice for researchers just starting off in their careers?

Especially early on in your research career, just try your best to be a sponge. That might sound funny, but a lot of researchers are innately curious people, and so oftentimes that happens naturally. But early on, in your first couple of years out of school, it's really about trying to get exposure to as much as you can. So whether that's different methodologies, new tools and techniques, totally different categories and industries, and so on. That's why a lot of people love to start their careers on the supplier-side, since you can gain exposure to so many different things. You can also learn from all your colleagues and teammates, whether they’re on the insights team or in a different division.Everyone brings their experiences to the table, so sometimes, just having that interaction within your company, you can pick up so much, including knowledge, a variety of skills, and different ways to look at problems. The more diverse exposure that you can get early on will help build your broader research toolkit.

Research & Insights vs. Data Science

That sounds like great advice! And then our final topic for this section is, marketing research versus data science, how do you see marketing research remaining relevant and collaborative with data science?

This is a question we get all the time, and it's near and dear to our hearts here, because we provide talent services in both areas. So how does market research and insights exist within data analytics and data science, and all of the shifts there? It's something that we're always thinking about, and with recruiters that focus on data science as well, we have a pulse on both sides of things.From our view, there's still a place for both, and it's really the business collaboration that is key. Obviously, there's a ton of hype around Big Data, data science, and analytics. We hear about it day in and day out. And rightly so, because companies are swimming in more data than ever, and it's just expanding every day. But right now, we don't see those functions replacing Research and Insights anytime soon. They're able to coexist, and so, with all of the data available, if anything, it actually makes Insights more important, because that can help demonstrate an even broader 360-degree view of consumer of behavior and of what's happening.So many companies have these areas working hand in hand – leveraging research & insights as well as the data science and analytics side of things. Because, at the end of the day, sometimes you really need the custom work to really get to the why, as in, why are consumers doing things? Sometimes you need a different type of research to understand the consumer sentiment, or to look at innovation research and new product development, or concept testing.A lot of times, there isn't existing data out there for something that isn't even on the market yet, so there's definitely a place for custom work to come in and fill in those gaps or help guide businesses that way. Right now, insights is still in a unique spot. And a lot of times, you need someone who can not only understand the data, but also connect the dots and translate it into directions for the business. Someone who can present to executive leadership and understand what to do with it. That's where  we see insights coming into play and how research can demonstrate significant value for the company.

And what skills can researchers add so that they are competitive?

Sometimes we see people who are looking for jobs out there and they might say, all these posts that I see are looking for Python and Hadoop, and I just don't have those skills. Oftentimes the more technical data science roles that we work on here at Burtch Works are looking for people who have a Master's or a PhD in Computer Science or Engineering. So, a very technical background.The tools are changing fairly frequently and rapidly. A Python bootcamp or something like that could be a nice to have, but it's not going to necessarily put you in a place where you can compete with people that do that for their job day in and day out, where they're modeling and working with unstructured data consistently. What we're seeing, are requests for some tools like R, Tableau, or Power BI, that could be helpful for the visualization. We've seen some clients ask for experience with SQL or some of those other tools as a “nice to have”. It could be helpful to think about picking those up, but from what we’ve seen it's not a deal breaker at this point. We're still keeping a pulse on that one too, because it is an ever-changing conversation.

Want to learn more? Check out the rest of our careers Q&A with our research & insights recruiting team in the webinar recording below!