Why are researchers so ‘clumsy’?

Whenever I ask someone how they got into market research, nine times out of ten they tell me “I just fell into it”. Either researchers are a clumsy lot, accidentally tripping over other potential careers and finding themselves working in the insights sector. Or what they are trying to say is that there was never a plan to be a researcher and they found themselves in the sector by chance or serendipity. It seems that nobody ever says, “I want to be a market researcher when I grow up”. But why is that? And what could we do to make market research a destination career?

I think one of the reasons that market research isn’t seen as a destination career is young people don’t really know what we do. Doctors and astronauts, footballers and teachers, YouTubers, influencers and other aspirational occupations are all highly visible and it’s easy to imagine what people in those roles do all day.  Careers in research just aren’t on young people’s radar in the same way.

But even amongst young people who are considering business roles, we don’t stand out. This may be because market research can tend to be seen as a support function, providing insights and data for other departments to use, or because of a belief that it will be hard to progress in an insights role. There may also be a perception that market research is all about numbers and statistics and that you can only get into it if you are a maths geek.

So what can we do to encourage young people to join our sector? We need to start by promoting ourselves more effectively, earlier, and to a wider group of young people in a variety of settings – not just at graduate fairs.

As part of this, we need to make it clearer what researchers do all day and highlight a variety of roles, including qual, quant, agency and client as well as operations, support and technical roles; this will make it clear that you don’t have to be good at maths to work in research – although maths geeks are very welcome to apply.

Demonstrating career paths and opportunities to progress will also help.

We also need to do more to elevate the role of market research within client organisations and demonstrate our worth. This is something that both client-side and agency researchers can take on, building relationships, creating stakeholder engagement and promoting the value of our insights

And finally, there is a role for the MRS to build on the great work we already do to promote the value of research outside of the sector in the business world and to the general public.  As chair of the MRS, one of my main objectives is to drive awareness of the hard work being done to raise the profile of the research, insights, data and analytics sector. 

As a sector, I’m confident that we can all work together to demonstrate how exciting, interesting and fulfilling a career in market research can be. But if all else fails, I’ll be off to retrain as an astronaut.

  1. We need to make our sector a career destination, lets change this clumsy narrative. Perhaps: “I wasn’t that aware of the sector, but wow, when I joined I was hooked!”
  2. We need to work hard promoting ourselves within organisations, agency and client side. Perhaps: Our work gets your colleagues promoted, own it!
  3. Lets be bold! We underpin strategic business decision making, we need to be better at promoting ourselves externally.