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Industry values curious cats

Published on Friday, 18 May 2012
Graphics: iStockphoto

"Curiosity killed the cat" may be a proverb used to warn of the dangers of excessive probing. In the world of market research, however, curiosity is a quality which is highly valued.

"Curiosity, or the ability to keep asking 'why', is one of the main character traits market research firms look for when they are hiring," says Dale Preston, greater China senior vice-president analytic consulting at Nielsen.

In its simplest form, Preston says, market research is the process of gaining a better understanding of a particular market or consumers. "Market research can be either a consistent measurement of what is occurring in a market, on-going tracking of retail sales, consumer trends or analysing competition," he adds.

In addition, optimised project research is also conducted to understand a specific issue, such as how to launch a product, improve performance in a particular area, and the search for ways to target a consumer group more directly. Preston says increasing volumes of information and data made available by using the internet, plus demand from clients for research-generated business solutions, is keeping the hiring landscape positive.

"The challenge to recruit and retain good people is a constant pressure. At Nielsen, we try to ensure our staff work in the areas that interest them and where they find satisfaction," says Preston.

He says tight finance and operating budgets mean that market research plays a crucial role in a client's forward planning, which brands or products to launch and the way a client optimises services. "Market research is exciting because it often involves discovering, analysing and presenting information to help clients make important decisions," he says.

As social media and online research continues to grow, Darlene Lee - managing director for Ipsos, Hong Kong - says that through their research work, employees become experts in different areas. "Market research covers such a large area that people can almost choose their own career within the industry," says Lee, adding that career openings are available in business consulting, quantitative research, support functions, marketing, advertising and analytics.

Lee says that at Ipsos, after gaining experience through assisting other staff, those with the necessary skills are often assigned to their own projects. When hiring experienced professionals, Lee says she pays attention to word-of-mouth referrals. The firm also takes part in careers fairs and conducts strategic hiring campaigns. Lee also welcomes applications from students seeking experience through internships.

"Young people don't need to wait until they have left university to find out if they want to pursue a career in market research," says Lee. "Internships are a good way for both parties to see if the dynamics fit, and for young people to see which area of market research might suit their personalities and skill sets."

Heather Payne, APAC chief marketing officer at TNS, says curiosity and passion are prerequisites for achieving success in market research. "Because the industry requires a broad range of skills, market researchers come to the industry from a wide range of areas. However, they must have

a desire to understand people, problem-solve and be prepared to dig into information to provide answers," says Payne.

The skills can be in marketing and business, maths, statistics and engineering. Psychologists and anthropologists are also in demand, given the need to talk with and understand people.

Payne says that when recruiting, TNS looks for employees who show an interest in people and what motivates them. "Our employees need to work as part of a team," she says.

Jobseekers should also be outgoing and able to work with clients and build a relationship to help with issues. "The ability to turn a project into a story and deliver it to the client so that the organisation can digest and understand the findings, is a sought-after skill," says Payne.

Robin Joffe, managing director, Frost & Sullivan (Japan), says not everyone is willing to participate in surveys, so the ability to accept rejection is a required strength.

He suggests a university degree in a relevant discipline as a starting point for joining the industry, but says it is inquisitive people who tend to make good analysts. "Some key analysts in new sectors like the internet never went to university," says Joffe, noting that graduates usually gain experience in primary and secondary research.

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