Researchers and the Love of Learning

How is the market research industry doing in career satisfaction, growth opportunities, and learning preferences? Find out in this new report from MRII.

On behalf of MRII, Researchscape surveyed 129 market researchers from the US, UK, and Australia using an online survey in order to better understand career satisfaction, growth opportunities, and learning preferences. The survey was fielded from July 23 to August 7, 2017. Half of the sample worked for research agencies, 19% for corporate researchers, and 20% are suppliers to both (e.g., panel companies, tools providers).

Fielded to a panel and a house list, this survey differs from many industry studies in reaching a younger, less-connected audience within the research industry, including part-time telephone and field interviewers as well as project managers. Nearly a third of respondents have worked in the research industry less than a year, and the majority had worked in market research for just 1 to 9 years (59%). In fact, a third of respondents are employed only part-time, reflecting the only-as-needed staffing of interviewers.

A quarter of respondents had planned a research career while in college, while a third entered the industry with their first job and simply stayed.

Job Satisfaction

Not quite half of researchers surveyed (47%) were very or completely satisfied with their job overall.

What is your overall satisfaction with your job?

Sample Size: 105 (81% of Respondents)

Respondents then rated their satisfaction across 13 aspects of their jobs. The following quadrant analysis of satisfaction vs. derived importance (shared variance) splits the axes by the median value of each dimension.

How satisfied are you with each of the following aspects of your job?

Higher Importance Weaknesses

  • Pay
  • Opportunities for advancement
  • Workload
  • Expectations set for work
Key Strengths

  • Opportunities to learn and grow
  • Freedom to innovate
Lower Importance Vulnerabilities

  • Level of communication from executive management
  • Benefits
  • The company’s executive management
Assets

  • The materials and equipment provided to do the job
  • Relationship with your direct reports (if any)
  • Relationship with manager
  • Relationship with coworkers
Lower Satisfaction Higher Satisfaction


The top right quadrant contains attributes that respondents ranked above the median in terms of satisfaction and have a shared variance with overall satisfaction (derived importance) that is also above the median. These key strengths include opportunities to learn and grow as well as freedom to innovate: education and self-improvement are key strengths of research jobs. Weaknesses were pay, opportunities for advancement, workload, and expectations set for work.

Skills and Learning

Qualitative comments back up the fact that “opportunities to learn and grow” are vital to the industry. Researchers are enamored with learning. It’s a central theme about what they like about a research career:

  • “Learning new skills all the time.”
  • “It’s an awesome job and I learn new things every day.”
  • “You are always learning new things in every sector. You learn how to face problems and how to solve them in the best possible way. It’s very interesting and challenging.”
  • “I enjoy learning about new advances in healthcare (which is my market research focus), and analyzing data to come up with conclusions.”
  • “It is a very interesting science.  I like studying my company’s business and learn how it works so at some point I can get to a similar point as a successful company with my own company.”

Company-provided in-house training (42%) and formal schooling (39%) are the most common ways that respondents have learned the required skills to be a market researcher. For formal schooling, 16% of respondents learned research as part of their undergraduate major and 27% through a graduate degree (4% took both). Three out of ten learned by reading on their own.

Career Satisfaction

Only 43% are very or completely likely to recommend research as a career, but three out of four researchers (77%) have said something positive about market research as a career to someone else directly, compared to 22% who have said something negative. And 18% have posted a positive comment online, compared to 1% who have posted a negative comment.

Only 59% of researchers think that it is very or completely likely that they will be working in market research a year from now, and 16% think of leaving the industry on a daily (11%) or weekly (5%) basis. Of the respondents who have worked less than a year in market research, 39% reported they were not at all likely or slightly likely to be working in the industry a year from now in contrast to 11% of those with 1 to 9 years of tenure.

Industry Outlook

While a research career might not be right for them, that didn’t mean researchers thought the industry was in trouble. For all the doom and gloom from industry pundits, four out of five researchers (81%) reported that the research industry today was generally headed in the right direction, with only one respondent (1%) saying the industry was on the wrong track (18% were unsure).

72% of corporate researchers report that market research is very or extremely important to the mission and purpose of their employer, similar to the 74% of agency researchers and suppliers who believe market research is very or extremely important to the success of organizations in general.

Recommendations

  1. Firms can improve employee satisfaction (and research quality) by providing more opportunities to learn. Given the appetite for learning, and that only 42% of researchers reported they receive in-house training, this is an important step that organizations should be taking. Unfortunately, the broader trend – in the research industry as well as with employers in general – has been to cut-back on employee-provided training.
  2. Unfortunately, when in-house training is provided, it tends to be very narrow and focused on the elements of a specific job done according to that single firm’s specifications. Organizations too often train people to work in silos. This is not a substitute for learning the fundamentals of market research in ways that are transferrable to other job functions within the organization.
  3. Third-party training courses are even less used: only 13% of research employees had received them. Organizations like the Burke Institute, RIVA, Research Rockstar, and – yes – the University of Georgia offer affordable training opportunities for research staff.
  4. Economical ways that organizations can support autodidacts (30% of researchers) and encourage a higher proportion of them among their staff include building a research library of reference books and providing reimbursements for business books.
  5. The front lines of research – soliciting opinions from the general public through telephone and face-to-face interviews – are hard, often unsatisfying jobs, with high attrition. But battle-tested interviewers develop a richer understanding of respondent behavior than project managers who field only online surveys and achieve a better appreciation of well-designed questionnaires. Organizations should formalize career paths from interviewing into research design and analysis.

This exploratory research was designed to help the MRII better understand career satisfaction and education in the market research industry. Sadly, like most research within the research industry itself, this study uses convenience samples, in this case derived from a Researchscape house list and from self-identified market researchers across a range of panels.

The hope is that trade associations and other organizations will expand on this research in the future.

The full report can be downloaded from the MRII, a non-profit focused on offering global, market-leading continuing education programs for the practice of market research and insights.

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