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Sunday, 23 November 2014

A new generation speaks out

These are the research leaders of tomorrow: six graduates who have decided to pursue a career in MR. Brian Tarran hears first hand what it’s like taking those first steps in the industry.

Summer’s over, and for most graduates the time has come to start forging a career. City work, media and advertising are the popular choices, but we’ve found six looking to make it big in the world of market research. They are (from left) Charley Warwick of SPA Future Thinking, Oskar Marcus of Firefish, Ellie Farnfield of Truth, Tomasz Sondej of Kadence International, Stefanie Zammit of Quadrangle and Praxedis Schnurbein of Tpoll. Research wanted to find out what it’s like to be a graduate coming into the industry, so we invited the six along to our offices for a round table discussion. Here’s what they had to say.

Research:When did you decide to pursue a career in market research?
PS:
At work, a lot of people say they just fell into it but I think I’m a bit of a geek because I was 16 when I decided that working in research would be really interesting.
SZ: I’m with you actually. I was really determined that I would do nothing else but reasearch. After I graduated I ended up doing sales stuff and customer service stuff. I liked working with customers but I hated the selling.

So that’s what motivated you – you liked that customer contact?
SZ:
Yes, understanding customers, working with different clients. I quite liked the variety of it all, I suppose.

Praxedis mentioned people falling into research – is there anyone here who feels like they did that?
CW:
I definitely did. I did a classics degree at uni, Ancient Greeks, Ancient Romans, Troy and all. It was majorly exciting but I didn’t really plan anything past graduation. So I started temping and ended up at Ipsos. I’d worked on a couple of their projects, and I thought, “This is really cool and I really enjoy it, the people are great and there’s such variety.” So then I started Googling research companies and found SPA Future Thinking whose CEO Jon Priest went to uni with my mum. So I gave him a call, went in and interviewed and the rest is history.

“I thought it was a branding and consulting job until they sent me to Manchester to do some research on burgers. I didn’t realise it was a proper career”

Ellie Farnfield, Truth

Why do you think research is an industry a lot of people end up in without really planning to?
OM:
The industry has a bit of a PR job to do. I knew market research existed, but I didn’t really know much about it beforehand. It was only once I was in it that I realised it’s a vast industry that stretches all the way from the more academic, social side, right through to the B2B and brand tracking side. It feels like several industries rolled into one.
EF: I do think there’s a stigma around it. I came out of uni in July and didn’t know what I was going to do. I thought I was going to go into the Navy and went through the whole selection process and went on courses for the day. But I was still sending out CVs left, right and centre when Truth came up, which is where I am now. Even when I applied, I thought it was a branding and consulting job and then even after I took it I hadn’t made the connection with research until they sent me to Iceland in Manchester to do some research on burgers and I was like, “Oh, so we do the research ourselves.” I didn’t realise it was a proper career.
PS: I think the problem is the way it is taught at university. We all know friends who do business studies and they always say the market research section is the one that they really hate. I think the universities don’t convey that market research is something that is exciting, that will help you. It’s seen as something that you do - you send out surveys - but it’s not something…
CW: …It’s not seen as a career.

Some of you mentioned the diversity of the job – do you think it might be hard to pin down one particular aspect that sums up market research and that is easy to sell to graduates?
TS:
Before entering the industry my perception of market research was more about the mundane – tables, graphs, boring numbers – nothing exciting about it. But now I see that market research underlies every business decision that’s made these days. If you don’t do your market research prior to business decision-making, you will be very unlikely to succeed in the market.

That’s an attractive thing to be selling to people.
CW:
That’s one of the rewarding things actually – to see businesses make decisions off the back of the research you’ve done for them and to think you’ve just made a difference.

I’m interested in finding out more about the route you took into the industry. Ellie, you talked about sending out a burst of CVs…
EF:
But I was applying to all sorts of companies. I did my degree in seven subjects, across three years, so, yeah… I was a bit indecisive.
OM: I was similar. I sent my CVs to pretty much everywhere, but I ended up with a recruitment agency and they were really good. We had a little chat about the kind of work I was interested in and they said, “Well, while we look for something we’ve got this place called Firefish – they’re quite fun, why don’t you have an internship there?” So the following Monday I went to Firefish and I’ve been there ever since. It may seem a bit backward, it’s not necessarily the best piece of advice on how to get into a job – do it, then you’ll know if you want to do it – but there’s a lot to be said for having a bit of experience if you can get it.
TS: In my case, it was when I was doing my Masters. At the same time I was working as an interviewer at Ipsos, so I kind of got the flavour of what research really is from the back end. I know what it takes to actually collect the data.
SZ: I think something quite limiting about getting into market research is that you have to move to London. You have to just take the plunge, because if you’re called in for interviews, you need to be there.
EF: We’ve all ended up in agencies, but I wonder did any of us think about joining clientside teams?
TS: I didn’t have a specific framework of what it would be like in a client company or an agency, I just wanted to get into the industry itself – to find a nice company to work for.
PS: I looked at it but it didn’t seem that appealing. I mean, if it’s a big company they will have loads of different products, but still it’s going to be one category you’re working in. Personally, I quite like that I get to work across a number of areas. Some are less interesting than others, but just having variety is quite exciting.
EF: I actually think that’s really important – there’s so much to be learned across categories. So you do a project for a technology client and suddenly you find yourself in the grocery retail sector and you actually can apply those learnings across, which is really interesting.

Was there much in the way of graduate opportunities clientside?
SZ:
I didn’t see anything.
TS: What I did see, though, when I was searching for a job was loads of companies advertising for ‘market research’ but when I attended the interview they said, “Ninety per cent of it is, you know, selling”, cold-calling or something that had nothing to do with market research.
SZ: Graduates needs to be very careful about those.

“That’s one of the rewarding things – to see businesses make decisions off the back of the research you’ve done and to think you’ve just made a difference”

Charley Warwick, SPA Future Thinking

So when you all arrived at your place of work, most of you didn’t really know what to expect. Can you tell us a little bit about what your first few weeks in the job were like, the kind of things you had to do, the kind of thoughts you were having?
CW:
When I went to my interview they said I was their first graduate back in after the recession. But that was the last I ever heard about being a graduate. I was thrown in completely at the deep end. I’d seen the first set of tables I ever saw in Word and my response was, “Oh my goodness, we don’t work like this do we?” I’ve since been introduced to Excel tables and they’re fantastic. But I didn’t know what to expect at all. That meant I just had to do it, I had to get on with it, learn as I go and I think that might be the best way, rather than being babied.

Was there anyone internally that you could rely on to guide you through it?
CW:
The people sitting next to you, definitely. Whether they like it or not they’re your first point of contact.

So is everybody else familiar with the deep end experience?
PS:
My company got me involved as soon as possible in every single bit of research, but when I went for my first and second interview, we just got on straight away. I knew what they were doing, they explained it quite well to me and then I went to meet everyone else in the team and so I knew what I was going to do, which was helpful. And also, I had a manager assigned that I could always go to if I wanted to ask questions. So maybe I was – [to CW] you call it babying – I definitely had a lot more guidance because they wanted me to learn as quickly as possible and so did I.

So what were the first things that you were asked to do?
SZ:
Charting.
OM: Charting, yes. But pretty soon – as in, within a few days – we were working on a project that had loads of transcripts and so I was working on analysis and just doing massive grids and working out what’s going on. And then we were doing behaviour studies, so it involved ringing up respondents, chatting through… just talking to people.
SZ: A couple of weeks in, somebody asked me, “Can you write the tab spec for this project” and I’d never even heard of a tab spec.
CW: That happened to me.

At what point in those first few weeks did you realise that this is the job you’d like to make a career of?
EF:
I think mine was quite a while in. My first few weeks were just bizarre. I spent a couple of days in a supermarket thinking, “Oh my God, they’ve sent me to Iceland and I’m asking about packs of burgers.” And then one time I was sent to a Tesco store and for some reason I got escorted out and the police were called. It was absolutely bizarre and I thought, “What am I doing?” But the first time I actually thought, “This is what I want to do” was when I’d seen a project from the start through to the end.
PS: I was the same. I came into the job and they said this is the project you’re working on, and for two weeks I just did exactly that from start to finish. I really enjoyed that, just seeing how it all goes and then you go to the client and they’re like, “Whoa, very interesting.”
TS: Feedback is something that is rewarding – if it’s good, obviously.

So you get exposure to clients quite early on?
CW:
At SPA, all the clients I’ve worked with are very keen to know who’s working on their projects so yeah, in the first couple of weeks we were off to an electronics company to meet their head of research, and I was thinking, “I’ve only been here for two weeks…”
EF: “…Don’t ask me anything!”
CW: Exactly. But it’s good to do because it helps you understand far more about how everything happens from beginning to end, and you’re not just sitting at a computer putting numbers into PowerPoint. It definitely gives you a well-rounded experience.
PS: I think that’s actually one of the big selling points to new graduates, telling them that they’re going to meet the clients, they’re going to be involved straight away - to varying degrees, I think. Looking at other graduates - they have to do formal training and they sometimes don’t get to see their clients or they don’t actually have clients for years.
SZ: I wonder what it is like in other agencies though, because I work for a fairly medium-sized company, so I think it might be slightly easier for me to get involved at the beginning. I do have a sneaking suspicion that with the very large companies, it might take slightly longer to meet your clients.
EF: One of the women I work with started at GfK. She said that for the first eight months she was just in the background, very formal training - it was all very theoretical and what I really like is the practical side of it.
PS: I think that big companies like Ipsos, TNS, GfK, definitely have their selling point in terms of formalised training, but I think we all agree that if you go for a small agency, you are involved from a very early stage.
CW: And little companies don’t equal little clients.

The second part of this round table can be found here. In it, our grads offer their view on the future of the research industry.

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Readers' comments (13)

  • I hope this people get an appreciation of what it's like on the field side. What interviewers go through to get the information that goes into their tables. Too many 'execs' have no idea of what it is like on the coal face'.

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  • I would be interested to understand why you have only included graduates from smaller research agencies, when the majority of graduates within our industry are trained within schemes operated by the larger research agencies?

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  • Brian Tarran

    @Anonymous no.2

    It wasn't intentional – it just worked out that way.

    Perhaps you'd be interested in writing about your own experiences as a "big agency" grad? That's something we'd gladly publish.

    Email me if interested.

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  • Do graduates go for big research companies (TNS, GFK etc.) these days, or are they also interested in smaller profile ones?

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  • So what is tab spec? Didn't find the answer in the article or on the internet

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  • So nice to see that you have represented operations and field side graduates here... Oh wait...you didn't!

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  • Great article Brian and really good to see the views of graduates which fit in well with the 'Credit where its due' article you ran in March. We have been delighted with our graduate trainee who was out in the field viewing, note-taking from the get-go, and two years later is showing all the signs and many of the skills of being a fantastic moderator. I think the 'deep end' is the only end of the pool, provided they have the back up and support of a more experienced team member as a mentor. Smaller agencies like ours may be less formal in training, but we believe passionately that more is learnt at the coal face - this includes early contact with clients and consumers alike. We're now ready for our new round of graduates, and implementing the lessons we've learnt in the training process.

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  • TS - "If you don’t do your market research prior to business decision-making, you will be very unlikely to succeed in the market"

    Steve Jobs : “We do no market research. We don’t hire consultants....We just want to make great products.”

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  • Brian Tarran

    Steve Jobs : “We do no market research. We don’t hire consultants....We just want to make great products.”

    Apple email I received a year ago: "As a valued iTunes customers, please could you spend five minutes completing this survey."

    That survey, interestingly, had questions about whether I would be interested in a cloud-based music storage service – something Apple is rolling out later this year/early next.

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  • When I update my iOS and stream my media from the cloud, I'll be thinking of you Brian.

    On a side note - you should interview these grads in five years time and see where they're at. That could be interesting. My money is on at least half having quit research.I question the research industry's ability to retain talent, especially in times where so many agencies are failing to embrace technology and innovation. Now - more than ever - it needs to shake the clipboard image.

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