Tips for young players: How to build a successful market research career

I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with David McCallum  for this year’s AMSRS National Conference. We are sharing our thoughts on building successful careers in market research in the 21st Century.

Market research’s offering has diversified over the years and has branched out beyond simply ‘Quant’ and ‘Qual’ (think online communities, behavioural economics, big data, DIY, mobile). Younger researchers are faced with the choice to generalise or specialise. In today’s guest blog, David McCallum shares why he believes specialising pays off.

David mccallum

David McCallum, Managing Partner Gordon & McCalllum

Generalist or specialist, what should young researchers aim for?

When building a career in market research, researchers are faced with the dilemma of whether to specialise or take the path of a generalist. There’s often the temptation to avoid specialising and instead chase as wide a range of experiences as possible. This exposure to the whole gamut of options helps you select the ones most appropriate and ultimately beneficial for you, personally. But how do you balance being seen as well-rounded but possibly a bit shallow against being typecast as too specialised and thus potentially not adaptable to changing circumstances  mid-career? Over time there are definitely advantages in being a Jack of All Trades, so long as you’re a Master of One.

Build up an armoury

Even during a career’s foundation years, it is wise to simultaneously build up an area of specialisation in specific skill set as this will be an important part of your ‘armoury’ in years to come. The objective is to establish an area (or areas) where you are seen as having a respectable degree of expertise.

Being seen as an expert has several benefits in terms of your development as an executive with senior management ambitions in the business world. This is as true in the field of market research as it is in other occupations and professions.

3 benefits of specialisation

Firstly, there’s the reward you get financially – assuming your skills are sufficiently rare and sought after and you can execute against the expectations, you’ll be well-paid.

Secondly, there’s the peer group recognition. This is important; people don’t work just for money most of the time, they like the warm glow that comes with acknowledgement that you’re a player, that you make a difference. This usually manifests itself in the management and team meetings, where you get at least some say in the final decisions by virtue of your sphere being one of the parts that sum to the whole.

But, there’s a third aspect which is not as obvious as it doesn’t kick in until you’ve made your name in your area of core competence. If you perform well in your own arena, people feel comfortable that when they ask for an opinion, you will give them back the right advice and in a form they can use for their own good. When their dependence becomes clear, you start to feel more responsibility as what you are recommending not only impacts you personally but peers, associates, and clients as well.

It’s really at this point in your career where expertise morphs into experience, when technical prowess becomes seasoned judgment.
So, you start to raise your game because you don’t want to let people down and this in turn improves your performance. It’s really at this point in your career where expertise morphs into experience, when technical prowess becomes seasoned judgment.

The consequence of this is that you start to get invited to meetings and seminars and become involved with other specialists in related or even dissimilar fields. You are treated with respect as a peer ‘expert’ regardless of your field and this interaction opens your eyes and broadens the mind (and the contacts you make widen your career opportunities). But that’s still not the end of it, because once people see you as a leader in your own field they assume you have a valid opinion or view on topics in related fields. So, in order not to fall short of these renewed expectations, you broaden your reading and learning to accommodate them. And all this not only makes you a better operator but it is more satisfying and more substantial.

Returning to the market research world specifically, these fields of expertise could be in the ‘technical’ arena, such as in statistics or consumer psychology, or in the sphere of marketing science, in say, brand equity, or pricing strategy. If you’re working internationally, they could be in linguistics or cross-country cultures. Of course, whatever you choose must be something in which you have a high degree of personal interest (otherwise you are unlikely have the motivation to really excel).

The lesson is to master your own skills as early as you can because as well as inculcating a habit of life-time learning, it will almost certainly lead to a broader, more stimulating, and ultimately more satisfying career path.

AMSRS National Conference 2015

AMSRS National Conference 2015


Hear David and me in the ‘Passion of Research’ session

To hear more about which skills researchers, particularly younger ones, will need to acquire for the 21st century, join us at the AMSRS National Conference on Thursday 3rd September at 1:50 pm in the Plenary Hall/Diamond Room Level 3.

Author: Teri Nolan

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