According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job “Market Research Analyst” has a “much faster than average” growth rate outlook through 2022.”[1] In 2012, CNN Money put the job at number seven on its list of “best jobs in America,” for job growth and earning potential.[2] As a “job,” market research is certainly getting some visibility. But how do those already in the career, specifically in corporate research, feel?

Our survey
In February 2014, market research training company Research Rockstar conducted an online survey of 71 corporate researchers, drawing a sample primarily from their in-house list, plus some records collected through social media sites catering to market researchers.

While the sample size is small, readers will understand that this is a highly qualified population. A third of these corporate researchers identify themselves as market research project managers, 30 percent as market research executives, and 15 percent as junior staff, with the remainder fragmented among various other job titles. Half have been with their current employers for one to six years.

This data revealed some strong themes.

Areas of highest satisfaction
In many ways, corporate researchers are a fairly satisfied lot. Sixty percent or more report being satisfied with eight of fourteen job items tested (see Table 1, next page). Indeed, they report particularly high satisfaction in certain areas:

  • Interesting projects
  • Respect from colleagues and supervisors
  • Relationship with clients

Two items, however, jump out distinctly as the areas with which corporate researchers are least likely to be satisfied: opportunity for advancement and access to mentoring. Indeed, 44 percent report being dissatisfied with advancement opportunities.

Is it possible that corporate researchers love their jobs…but not their careers? One could argue that the difference between doing a job and having a career is in the employer’s longer term investments in professional development, an area that’s clearly lacking for corporate researchers. An interesting dichotomy emerges: Researchers feel respected for their work and find their work interesting, yet are not getting the career development they want.

Career development and mentoring are typically designed and delivered through an organization’s professional development or human resources function. In many companies, managers are trained to provide supervision, mentoring, and career planning support. This begs a question: Are corporate researchers working in companies that lack such programs, or are corporate researchers just being left out of them?

Does mentoring matter?
Corporate researchers are clearly dissatisfied with current mentoring access. But objectively, does mentorship really matter? Is this random buzzing from attention-starved worker bees, or a legitimate demand? Well, it turns out that our respondents are onto something.

In 2009, tech giant Sun Microsystems did an experimental design study comparing a test group of employees in a mentoring program with a control group that did not get mentoring. They found that 25 percent of employees in the mentored test group had a salary bump within the study’s time frame, compared with 5 percent of employees in the control group.

The mentees were also promoted five times more often than those not in the program. And wait, there’s more: Retention rates were much higher for mentees (72 percent) than for employees who received no mentoring.

Perhaps mentoring addresses both of these corporate researcher concerns – not only does it enhance employee satisfaction, it apparently has an indirect but definitive impact on compensation levels.

Clearly, the Sun Microsystems study was not conducted specifically among corporate market research professionals. Whether the results apply can’t be stated with certainty. But the research, which is consistent with other studies on the power of mentorship, suggests that corporate researchers aren’t just grumbling. Access to mentoring can be a career game changer and is a legitimate request.

Opportunities for advancement: A unique challenge for Corporate Researchers?
Do corporate researchers feel differently about their work than people in other careers? Are corporate researchers distinct in their dissatisfaction with compensation, support and advancement opportunities, as opposed to, say, engineers and salespeople?

Apparently not. Advancement opportunities are a universal source of dissatisfaction. In 2012, the Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement Research Report by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) shed some light on this issue. In a survey of 600 U.S. employees, only 18 percent reported being “very satisfied” with career advancement opportunity. Similarly, a 2001 study by TMP Worldwide had similar results. Of 4,000 employees, TMP found that they prioritized opportunity for advancement, even more than compensation and “satisfying work.”

So, yes; corporate researchers want opportunities to advance, as do most employees from various careers.

What about skills?
Are time management, writing, and insights development the foundations for research success? With over 60 percent rating these items as very important to their professional lives, (a number that rises well over 85 percent if we use a top 2 box approach), these do emerge as the universal skills of research success. Regardless of being a “quallie” or a “quantie,” the fundamentals are universal.

Nine other items tested, such as statistics, public speaking, and Excel, rated lower in importance. Not surprisingly, skills related to quantitative and qualitative methods drew varied ratings as some of our participants leaned to one side or the other.

If we look at the top three “important” skills and compare them to the corporate researcher’s self-reporting of their expertise level with each, we see modest gaps. Of course, one could also observe that of the top three skills at least 40 percent consider themselves less than expert. (See Table 2, next page.)

Takeaways for managers of Corporate Researchers
Based on these findings, two key recommendations seem obvious:

  1. Offer mentoring, but offer it well – make your program good and solid. Throwing together a program does not work. In a 2000 study published in the Academy of Management Journal, research based on a survey of over 1,620 professionals found that a poor mentoring relationship can do more harm than having no mentoring at all.[3]
    Alternatively, work with professional groups to create cross-company mentoring. If there are not enough mentors available in one company, perhaps collaboration can be created.
  2. Develop new models for career advancement. Can conventional thinking about corporate research career paths be challenged? Can a corporate research organizational structure be designed that supports the corporate research employees and offers options for career development? Now may be the time to consider such options, given other industry changes taking place (such as shifting roles and activities between corporate researchers and market research firms).

Corporate Researchers love the work they do, but not their career possibilities
Are corporate researchers being left out in the career cold? Compared to other professionals, are corporate researchers being unusually neglected by company policies and practices for professional development?

It does not appear so, as a lack of mentoring and career path stalling are common issues in a variety of fields. And really, isn’t compensation a hot topic for people everywhere these days?

Still, the Research Rockstar study, when examined in the light of these other findings, leaves us with a few burning questions, perhaps best tackled as a follow up project:

  • What percentage of corporate researchers have a professional development plan created by, or with input from, their supervisors?
  • Do existing plans offer specific skill development and career advancement path options?
  • What do corporate researchers want to see as available career path options?
  • What types of mentoring will be beneficial for corporate researchers?

Further exploration of these and related questions may shine a light on ways to make sure that corporate research professionals thrive within organizations, giving and getting the best value possible.

Footnotes:

  1. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/market-research-analysts.htm
  2. http://money.cnn.com/pf/best-jobs/2012/snapshots/7.html
  3. “Marginal Mentoring: The Effects Of Type Of Mentor, Quality Of Relationship, And Program Design On Work And Career Attitudes.” By Belle Rose Ragins, John L. Cotton, Janice S. Miller. 2000.