Market and Survey Researcher Careers

Significant Points

  • Market and survey researchers can enter the occupation with a bachelor's degree, but those with a master's or Ph.D. in marketing or a social science should enjoy the best opportunities.
  • Researchers need strong quantitative skills and, increasingly, knowledge of conducting web-based surveys.
  • Employment is expected to grow much faster than average.

Nature of the Work

Market and survey researchers gather information about what people think. Market research analysts help companies understand what types of products people want, determine who will buy them and at what price. Gathering statistical data on competitors and examining prices, sales, and methods of marketing and distribution, they analyze data on past sales to predict future sales.

Market research analysts devise methods and procedures for obtaining the data they need by designing surveys to assess consumer preferences. While a majority of surveys are conducted through the Internet and telephone, other methods may include focus group discussions, mail responses, or setting up booths in public places, such as shopping malls, for example. Trained interviewers usually conduct the surveys under a market research analyst's direction.

Market opinion research has contributed greatly to a higher standard of living as most products and services consumers purchase are available with the aid of market research. By making recommendations to their client or employer, market research analysts provide companies with vital information to help them make decisions on the promotion, distribution, and design of products or services. For example, child proof closures on medicine bottles exist because research helped define the most workable design; and the growing variety of ready to cook meals, such as microwaveable soups and prepackaged meat products, exist because of increasing public demand for fast and convenient meals. The information also may be used to determine whether the company should add new lines of merchandise, open new branches, or otherwise diversify the company's operations. Market research analysts also help develop advertising brochures and commercials, sales plans, and product promotions such as rebates and giveaways based on their knowledge of the consumer being targeted.

Survey researchers also gather information about people and their opinions, but these workers focus exclusively on designing and conducting surveys. They work for a variety of clients-such as corporations, government agencies, political candidates-gathering information to help make fiscal or policy decisions, measure the effectiveness of those decisions, and improve customer satisfaction. Survey researchers may conduct opinion research to determine public attitudes on various issues; the research results may help political or business leaders measure public support for their electoral prospects or social policies. Like market research analysts, survey researchers may use a variety of mediums to conduct surveys, such as the Internet, telephone interviews, or questionnaires sent through the mail. They also may supervise interviewers who conduct surveys in person or over the telephone.

Survey researchers design surveys in many different formats, depending upon the scope of their research and the method of collection. Interview surveys, for example, are common because they can increase participation rates. Survey researchers may consult with economists, statisticians, market research analysts, or other data users in order to design surveys. They also may present survey results to clients.

Work environment. Market and survey researchers generally have structured work schedules. They often work alone, writing reports and preparing statistical charts on computers, but they sometimes may be part of a research team. Market researchers who conduct personal interviews have frequent contact with the public. Most work under pressure of deadlines and tight schedules, which may require overtime. Travel may be necessary.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

While a bachelor's degree is often sufficient for entry-level market and survey research jobs, higher degrees are usually required for advancement and more technical positions. Strong quantitative skills and keeping current with the latest methods of developing, conducting, and analyzing surveys and other data also are important for advancement.

Education and training. A bachelor's degree is the minimum educational requirement for many market and survey research jobs. However, a master's degree is usually required for more technical positions.

In addition to completing courses in business, marketing, and consumer behavior, prospective market and survey researchers should take social science courses, including economics, psychology and sociology. Because of the importance of quantitative skills to market and survey researchers, courses in mathematics, statistics, sampling theory and survey design, and computer science are extremely helpful. Market and survey researchers often earn advanced degrees in business administration, marketing, statistics, communications, or other closely related disciplines.

While in college, aspiring market and survey researchers should gain experience gathering and analyzing data, conducting interviews or surveys, and writing reports on their findings. This experience can prove invaluable toward obtaining a full-time position in the field, because much of the work may center on these duties. Some schools help graduate students find internships or part-time employment in government agencies, consulting firms, financial institutions, or marketing research firms prior to graduation.

Other qualifications. Market and survey researchers spend a lot of time performing precise data analysis, so being detail-oriented is critical. Patience and persistence are also necessary qualities because these workers devote long hours to independent study and problem solving. At the same time, they must work well with others as market and survey researchers sometimes oversee the interviewing of individuals. Communication skills are important, too, because the wording of surveys is critical, and researchers must be able to present their findings both orally and in writing.

Certification and advancement. Market research analysts often begin their careers by assisting others prior to being assigned independent research projects. With experience, continuing education, and advanced degrees, they may advance to more responsible positions in this occupation. Those with expertise in marketing or survey research may choose to teach. While a master's degree is often sufficient to teach as a marketing or survey research instructor in junior and community colleges, most colleges and universities require instructors to hold a Ph.D. A Ph.D. and extensive publications in academic journals are needed for professorship, tenure, and promotion. Others advance to supervisory or managerial positions. Many corporation and government executives have a strong background in marketing.

Advancement in this occupation may be helped by obtaining certification. The Marketing Research Association (MRA) offers a certification program for professional researchers who wish to demonstrate their expertise. The Professional Researcher Certification (PRC) is awarded for two levels of knowledge: practitioner and expert. Prior to gaining certification, each level of knowledge requires certain criteria to be met, consisting largely of education and experience, and also previous membership to at least one professional marketing research organization. Those who have been granted the PRC designation require continuing education within their particular discipline, and individuals must apply to renew their certification every 2 years.

Job Outlook

Employment growth of market and survey researchers is projected to be much faster than average. Job opportunities should be best for jobseekers with a master's or Ph.D. degree in marketing or a social science and with strong quantitative skills.

Employment change. Overall employment of market and survey researchers is projected to grow 28 percent from 2008 to 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations. Market research analysts, the larger specialty, will experience much faster than average job growth because competition between companies seeking to expand their market and sales of their products will generate a growing need for marketing professionals. Marketing research provides organizations valuable feedback from purchasers, allowing companies to evaluate consumer satisfaction and adjust their marketing strategies and plan more effectively for the future. Future locations of stores and shopping centers, for example, will be determined by marketing research, as will consumer preference of virtually all products and services. In addition, globalization of the marketplace creates a need for more market researchers to analyze foreign markets and competition.

Survey researchers, a much smaller specialty, will also increase much faster than average as public policy groups and all levels of governments increasingly use public opinion research to help determine a variety of issues, such as the best mass transit systems, social programs, and special services for school children and senior citizens that will be needed. Survey researchers will also be needed to meet the growing demand for market and opinion research as an increasingly competitive economy requires businesses and organizations to allocate advertising funds and other expenditures more effectively and efficiently.

Job prospects. Bachelor's degree holders may face competition for market research jobs, as many positions, especially technical ones, require a master's or doctoral degree. Among bachelor's degree holders, those with good quantitative skills, including a strong background in mathematics, statistics, survey design, and computer science, will have the best opportunities. Those with a background in consumer behavior or an undergraduate degree in a social science-psychology, sociology, or economics-may qualify for less technical positions, such as a public opinion researcher. Obtaining the Professional Researcher Certification also can be important as it demonstrates competence and professionalism among potential candidates. Overall, job opportunities should be best for jobseekers with a master's or Ph.D. degree in marketing or a related field and with strong quantitative skills. Market research analysts should have the best opportunities in consulting firms and marketing research firms as companies find it more profitable to contract for market research services rather than support their own marketing department. However, other organizations, including computer systems design companies, software publishers, financial services organizations, healthcare institutions, advertising firms, and insurance companies, may also offer job opportunities for market research analysts. Increasingly, market research analysts not only collect and analyze information, but also help clients implement ideas and recommendations.

There will be fewer job opportunities for survey researchers since it is a relatively smaller occupation and a greater number of candidates qualify for these positions. The best prospects will come from growth in the market research and public opinion polling industry, which employs many survey researchers.