How did you get there? Emma King

Great to hear from Emma King who has run a number of Corporate Research Services in professional services firms and is a self-professed lover of the library!

I completed work experience in my local public library when I was 15 (it was a close call, I nearly ended up in the M&S stockroom). It was really eye-opening; I spent a day on the mobile library around various villages and outposts, I went to meet with housebound members who relied on the service for their only social interaction, but it was actually being in the main central library that I enjoyed the most – helping people find what they were looking for. I ended up with a weekend job with the lovely staff at Hemel Hempstead Library and they made me feel such a key part of such an important service that I realised “research” was a job option for me, not librarianship as such. The thrill was in the hunt of finding something out and solving someone’s problem.

Not wanting to narrow my options I studied English at University, but whenever I was looking for a job to fund my studies, I always looked for a research related role. I typically ended up in libraries because I had quickly built up so much experience – I worked in health, university and special libraries around Birmingham as I studied for my degree.

At the time of my studying there was an option to do an MSC in Information Studies – it seemed the natural choice, and when I was lucky enough to win a scholarship, I took it with both hands – I paid it back with a distinction but also a keen interest in both research and knowledge management – and how they complement each other. It widened my thinking and as a result I went into a corporate research role for a Big 4 firm working in their Knowledge & Information department – and I’ve never looked back.

I’ve worked in several professional services firms for more than two decades, and am currently running part of a global research function at Alvarez & Marsal.

I’m sure we can all say that we’ve experienced this situation many times, as the saying goes “you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs”! I’ve learned that the best days are when something didn’t go to plan. In fact, I learned this early in my career when my first ever interview didn’t quite go to plan. I turned up early (or so I thought) for my interview and a very flustered hiring manager came running out to collect me. As we got into the lift, she demanded to know why I was late. Somewhat stunned I produced the correspondence from my preparation folder and showed it to her stating the time of the interview and politely pointing out I was in fact early. It transpired I had been told one time and she had been told a completely different time. This was long before mobile phones, long before it was easy to print out an email, but getting this first role for me was so incredibly important that I had found a way to get that email printed (probably going to a printer shop with a floppy disk). It had cost time and money, but turned out, it was worth it. I got that job and it set the course of my fantastic career. In hindsight, that print shop spend was possibly the most important money I ever spent to ensure I was as prepared as I could be.

I have learned that in most situations, you and your team are only as good as your last research deliverable. Therefore, be consistently excellent knowing that you have great research technical expertise. As I’ve developed my career, that technical expertise is a really solid foundation for everything that I stand for as a leader in a research role. I work with MDs and Partners all day, and they are equally experienced and expert – they expect the same of me. I have staff working for me that need my help – despite all the changes to products and processes, I need to be able to give them instant advice and guidance. Therefore, ensure your foundation of research expertise is rock solid, and keep it updated even as you develop – then you have something to build on.

The second key skill is service culture and etiquette. It is not just about the research deliverable. You can provide a great piece of research, but if it’s late, or it’s gone over budget, or you have proved tricky for the requester to work with throughout the process – then they’ll still take away some negatives which will overshadow the work. Remember to help educate those you are working with in order that you can manage their expectations in a positive way, they’ll leave the interaction with the answer they are expecting and a great experience in obtaining it.

Research is such a catch-all and the diversity of the role is expanding, there are so many different types of research that it’s not just as simple as quantitative versus qualitative, secondary versus primary. We even have journalists working in our research team who being the data to life in the shape of fantastic thought pieces.

I think researchers can be quite self-deprecating, we are not all (or always) very good at marketing ourselves and consequently our sector. We should share our experiences, celebrating the diversity of differing research roles, the types of organisations that these roles exist in, even the locations in which they are based which has also diversified as we work in more virtual or hybrid ways.

As I just said, we need to self-advocate so that everyone knows what we can offer society.

Many of my research cohort from my first days as a corporate researcher at KPMG are still in my friendship group. Beyond that role, I’ve picked up so many amazing colleagues and friends since then, I thank you all and I can’t unfortunately name you all. However, if asked to choose one person, then it’s Catherine Callen who I worked for when I joined KPMG. She is now one of my closest friends and was a great boss for someone who was new to the corporate world of work – I didn’t always get it right as I learned the corporate etiquette needed to succeed, but she was patient and fair, kind and considered – and stern when required too!