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Careers Centre

Market research

Sector Overview

This page has been written by Liz Batterham, the relevant Careers Adviser for this occupational area. To see how you can meet Liz, or any of our advisers, visit our website.

Market research attempts to understand why we may want, need, buy or use a particular product or service. It is critical for business and government, helping them to test markets and informing marketing strategy and policy-making. There are two key types of market research – Quantitative and Qualitative. Quantitative research provides a statistical interpretation, whereas Qualitative Research attempts to analyse what people do, why they do it and how.

*An example of qualitative research is using a focus group with existing consumers to discover their feelings towards a change in flavour of a popular product;
*Quantitative research can be anything from an investigation into purchasing data to surveying a target group of customers about their shopping habits

The market research sector is worth over £3 billion a year in the UK and employs almost 60,000 highly qualified people. As an intellectually challenging industry that contributes to nearly every level of economic, social and political process, the work is fast-paced and can be pressurised owing to time-constraints, though as a vocation it can be extremely rewarding.

Market research relies on the collection and interpretation of reliable information. The work will include:

Most market researchers work for marketing agencies where the services of an individual or a team are utilised by an organisation, such as a business, an advertising or PR agency, brand consultancy, a charity, or in local or central government department. However, many market researchers work directly in-house for a single company, ‘client-side’. In both roles the researcher will collect different types of data, such as customer opinions and feedback or investment levels, in order to help the company make informed decisions about its products, procedures or progression.

Starting salaries for graduates entering a marketing researcher role can be around £20-25,000, though this can see significant increases are experience is gained, with the occasional senior level researcher receiving £70,000 and more. These figures are taken from Prospects and are accurate as of August 2015. Higher salaries can usually be found in London, but bear in mind that living costs there can be among the highest in the UK. Geographically, a significant proportion of market research companies are found in London and the South East of England. There is no standard size of agency, as some can be comprised of a very small team while other can be up to several hundred employees strong working in dedicated branches and offering specialist services.

Ripple Out Marketing - some interesting blog posts on the sector.


Market research attributes profile


 Key attributes/skills needed for the role
Where you could develop these skills or attributes
Very confident and articulate communication skills This is most likely to be developed and evidenced through your academic studies and work experience.
Attention to detail
Analytical, logical thinking and numerical skills
Flexibility, open-mindedness, and the ability to use initiative

CAPOD regularly runs courses covering these skills within its Professional Skills Curriculum.

Taking on positions of responsibility in student-run societies or conducting a piece of research for societies.
Organisational skills with the ability to meet deadlines and solve problems
Commercial awareness
Good interpersonal skills with a real interest in people and their behaviour
Research experience Undertaking a university project conducting research, gaining practical experience such as field or telephone interviewer eg Careers Centre DHLE Survey telephone interviewer team or Development’s telephone campaign team.

Other key attributes/skills demanded for the role: do you possess them?

  • An interest in psychology and behaviour
  • IT competent – able to use software to display and calculate market trends, forecasts, etc.


Nature of sector or roles

Most market researchers work in a market research agency or in the marketing divisions of large industrial or commercial organisations (eg Proctor & Gamble, Mars, ICI). Others work independently as consultants and some may also have an academic role though many tend to specialise within the sector, concentrating solely on aspects such as consumer or social research. The Government Statistical Service (GSS) is also known for its recruitment of market researchers into a range of divisions, such as finance, public health and housing, to manage and tabulate statistics.

Market research positions seldom demand a specific degree, but your degree discipline might prove more attractive to employers depending on their type of research vacancy. For instance, a degree in business/management, mathematics, statistics or economics would be advantageous for quantitative research positions, whilst degrees in subjects like sociology, social sciences, anthropology, psychology and geography might prove useful in applying for qualitative research jobs. Also, healthcare and pharmaceutical organisations might look for candidates with science degrees, industrial market research posts might look for graduates of degrees like engineering, and knowledge of particular software programmes might be necessary for other roles, giving computer science graduates an edge.

For a career in market research you will need to be good with both numbers and with people. Some desirable skills for marketing research positions include:

With enough experience, professional qualifications and good practice, market researchers can progress quite quickly in their career, with many advancing to a more senior post within only two or three years of entry as a graduate. By gaining as must experience as possible in different areas of the sector, market researchers can enhance both their career development and their future prospects - it also helps them to make a more informed decision on the line of work they would like to specialise in.

In their work process, researchers use the information gathered about the habits, thoughts, and needs of customers to design and launch new products and services, to improve existing products and services, to test the effectiveness of advertising, measure customer and employee satisfaction, and to understand public opinion and consumer behaviour.

Career starting positions include:

Visit the Prospects website for a more comprehensive overview of a Market Researcher. Other careers those considering market research might be interested in include Government Social Research Officer and Social Researcher.

The Market Research Society also has a list of job profiles.

Networks - why and how to use them

Networking is particularly important and can help you succeed with your applications. If you have been in contact with someone working for the organisation then you have extra information to back up your case for why they should employ you. Use social media sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook (many organisations have their own page) to connect with organisations. Recent St Andrews graduates have gone on to work for Millward Brown, TNS and The European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC). Alumni can make extremely useful contacts, giving you an "edge" with your applications and interviews. There are several ways to make contact with alumni.

Have a look at the Network with Alumni section of our website for more advice and information.

The Market Research Society’s R-Net for Young Researchers – a networking device for young researchers

How to gain experience/internships

For budding market researchers there are many ways to gain research experience whilst at university that can bolster your chances when searching for graduate work. Your experience of research, for example from a university project (designing or conducting a survey) or work experience placements, will enhance your chances. Vacation work as a field or telephone interviewer is helpful. There is relatively high demand for students to work in market research roles during their vacations or part-time during term time, although there are certainly fewer opportunities in and around St Andrews. Have a look at our Job Shop, St Andrews Summer Internship Scheme, and internships for more information.

The Market Research Society has a list of organisations offering relevant student placements.

Dunnhumby and YouGov offers relevant internships. It's also worth contacting the employers listed under 'How to find a job' to ask if they offer internships.

Students can also gain an insight into the industry by being a mystery shopper.

DJS Research – have an internship prospectus

How to get a (graduate) job

Most vacancies do not require a specific degree discipline but some organisations will look for the specialist knowledge base provided by a computer science, statistical or economics degree. Graduate trainee positions typically last 2 years, but this varies according to the individual employer. A trend in the sector to bear in mind is that most recent graduates enter market research as a trainee research executive, a market research assistant or as a research statistician/analyst.

Make sure you research companies before you apply to them – this way you will be able to select companies that fit your preferred work environment. Some features to bear in mind when deciding on the companies for which you would like to work include the size of the company – market research agencies/consultancies range widely in terms of their employee numbers. Another consideration is whether the company conduct qualitative or quantitative research – larger companies might do both, but other specialise.

Most market research firms only recruit up to six months in advance, though some recruit all year round. The Research Buyer’s Guide details statistics of research companies, such as their size and specialisations.

There are a number of organisations that offer Graduate Recruitment Schemes eg

The following market research companies occasionally advertise job opportunities:

Other sources of vacancies

Applications, interviews and assessment centres


Relevant Postgraduate Study

It is not usual for employers to request a postgraduate qualification for market researcher positions but postgraduate studies at Master’s or DPhil level, including research or statistics, can also provide a useful background. The Market Research Society (MRS) offers an Advanced Certificate in Market and Social Research Practice as a first-level qualification into Market Research. A number of employers include this as part of their training programme.

For further information on researching and planning for a postgraduate qualification, please visit the postgraduate study page.


The Market Research Society and the Chartered Institute of Marketing offer many opportunities for continued professional development in the sector.

Market Research Society’s Advanced Certificate in Market and Social Research Practice. The certificate is designed for those in the first two years of their research career or for those looking to enter the research profession. It is a degree level vocational qualification and some larger companies might incorporate it into their training scheme. The MRS also offer a masters program.

Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) Postgraduate Diploma in Marketing


Key UK links and resources

Careers Centre resources


Use CareerConnect, your central careers hub, to:


Related Careers A-Z pages:



General market research careers information

Professional Bodies, Trade Organisations & Journals/Magazines


USA resources

The USA job market and recruitment timetables, for both internships and graduate jobs, for sectors of employment often differ from the UK.

The Careers Centre subscribes to the reputable independent USA careers information and vacancy provider Vault. The link below will take you directly to Vault subscription resources which cover this sector. You may find further useful and relevant resources linked from there as well.