Why Choose a Career in Market Research? – Answered by Sean Copeland

Sean Copeland

A couple of weeks ago I was contacted on LinkedIn by Kyle Collins, who is interested in pursuing a career in market research. Before he pursues this career, he is looking to answer a lot of questions that I also had before I began my career and of course I’m more than happy to help provide those answers for him. I hope this article helps to answer a lot of questions not just for Kyle, but also for other people out there that are looking to pursue careers in market research.

Here’s the paragraph that got me first thinking about the possibility of a career in market research:

What makes people tick? Are you curious about why people think the way they do? Do you like the idea of putting those findings to work? Georgian College’s post-graduate Research Analyst program may be just what you’re looking for. The students in your class will come from a wide variety of college and university backgrounds. What they’ll have in common with you is a passion for research and analysis. Many of them haven’t even considered this career path until they began looking into our unique program — the only one of its kind in Canada. – georgianc.on.ca 

Below are all of the questions that Kyle had asked me in an email and the answers that I provided him with.

Why and how did you pursue a career in market research?

I find that everyone I speak to in market research didn’t grow up thinking that they would be market researchers when they grew up, but rather it was a career that they naturally grew into over time.

Like many industry professionals, I worked in a variety of different industries before joining the market research world, including grocery, retail, eCommerce, computer repairs, property management, web design and marketing, and video and film production. I finally decided to pursue a career in market research because I found I always had an interest in marketing and business management, but I wanted to work with a variety of companies without having to go back to school for years to get my business degree and master’s degree. I came across the Research Analyst Post-graduate Program (RAPP) at Georgian College and decided to apply based on the online description, a college career assessment, and speaking with a few graduates of the program.

I have to admit  that it took about 6 months of working in market research to really start to learn what my strongest interests were in the industry and where I could be the biggest asset.

Why did you choose to study at Georgian College? 
More specifically, what stood out about Georgian?

Georgian College as a school didn’t stick out because of anything other than the fact that it was the only school that offered one-year program for people looking to be research analysts with an internship at the end of it. It also helped that my parents lived close by to the school so it offered me a chance to reconnect with them after living a few hours away for years.

In the end, Georgian College turned out to be a great school with TONS of academic and other supports offered for free to it’s students. The RAP program is also fantastic, but often students won’t realize how much they are actually learning in the program until it’s over and they get into their internships or first jobs. I think this is because the curriculum is very hands on, rigorous, team focused, and only 8-months long.

What career paths would a Georgian RAPP graduate be able to pursue? 
Primarily market research, or would it open other doors as well?

A graduate from the RAP program at Georgian College has a lot of opportunities because of the skills acquired during the program, but also because of the unique skills each graduate carries from previous employment and education. I know graduates with careers in medical research, program evaluation, the many diverse areas of market research, as well as marketing. Market research specific careers that are available after graduation can fall into so many areas including, but definitely not limited to, the following: project/field management, advanced statistical analysis,  field research/data collection, observational/ethnographic research, interview/focus group research, business consulting, text analysis, survey research, database management, and research sales.

What is a typical day like for you?

One of the first things you’ll learn when you start a job in market research is that typically there isn’t a typical day and that every workplace is very different. Most people who work in market research, other than a few in the largest global research companies, are multidisciplinary and work within their strengths to provide something unique within an organization’s  research team.

To shed a bit of light on what a “typical” day might look like for me specifically at Environics Research Group, I spend about 6 hours managing clients, preparing costs, writing proposals, designing questionnaires, testing surveys, monitoring sample, analyzing data, writing reports, preparing presentations and doing other project specific work. The other two hours of my day are typically spent in meetings or discussions to advance the research business in a variety of ways.

How easy was it to secure an internship?

It really depends on how many opportunities are presented to a RAPP class and that depends a lot on how well research companies are performing that year. That being said, I don’t think there has been a year where everyone didn’t get an internship.

Just to give you a better idea of what to expect, everyone got an internship in my year, and that was right in the middle of a recession (early 2009). I had four interviews and received an offer from one company, which wasn’t my first choice, but it turned out great. On the other hand, 4 of the 8 companies I applied to didn’t end up hiring anyone due to corporate hiring restrictions during the recession.

What is the starting salary for a graduate of the RAPP? 
What salary potential would a market/social researcher command when they are more established in the field? What kind of hours do market researchers work?

The answers to these questions can vary, but based on what I know from all of my contacts from the RAP program, most of us work anywhere from 35 to 45 hours a week on average. The closer you are to an advertising/marketing agency, and the more ambitious you are, the longer and more sporadic your hours will be, but for the most part it’s a corporate 9am to 5pm type of job.

When you graduate from the RAP program you can expect to be paid anywhere from about $32K to $44K a year depending on your previous work experience, education, and the employer. Typically after one year of experience a RAPP grad can expect between $38K and $50K a year and about $44K to $56K in their third year. Also, the average wage of a market researcher with 5 years of experience is $65K a year. Of course there are always exceptions in the industry where you may get paid a lot more for doing something very specific, and like with every industry, wages vary by region and country. (all salaries are before taxes and are in Canadian dollars)

What level of proficiency in statistics would be required to succeed in the RAP? 
My degree is in History and I have not studied math in over 5 years. Would this be a significant obstacle to success and would I be better served by taking prep courses prior to entry to the program?

I wouldn’t worry too much about the statistics portion of the program unless you’re looking to be a statistician. The courses are designed to teach people who have little or no background in the subjects. I came from a media background, but I was able to achieve A+ marks by working hard and collaborating with people who did have some background in the subjects.

What opportunities are there for advancement in the market research field and in your organization? 
I have an interest in consumer/social behaviour but I am especially interested in politics/social planning and policy. Would the program provide opportunities to pursue these interests?

Opportunities in the workplace depend a lot on your education, your work experience, your ambition, and your performance. I have moved around twice since I started my market research career (12 months at each employer) and it was always because I was being offered a lot more and better opportunities at the next workplace. As long as you stay informed and engaged in the latest in your field(s) of interest then you shouldn’t have any problems finding opportunities to pursue them. Just keep in mind that the first few years of your career you’ll most likely spend a lot of time learning what you really like and what you really don’t like, before you get a chance to really focus.

The RAP program has a major research project course where you get to choose the subject of the study, so even during the program you can pursue your interests.

What do you like most about your career?

I love the variety of clients and work that I get to be involved with. I also love the fact that I get to see and develop the confidential and actionable insights of so many different types of organizations. It helps that I get to work with some of the most intelligent people in the business.

What do you like the least?

I think what I like the least about my career will be quite different than what other people like the least about there’s because market research careers are so unique. However, I think one thing that the younger generation is universally facing in the workplace is a gap in attitudes of seniority versus ability. What I’m talking about is the fact that people are staying longer than ever before in the workplace and are creating a larger seniority gap between those who are just beginning their careers and those who have been in their careers for 25+ years. This gap can be good because it allows for the dissemination of information between generations, but it also creates a flawed corporate structure where hierarchy is dependent almost solely on seniority and wages are over inflated at the top end and under inflated at the bottom end. It will be interesting to see how corporations have to adapt over the next 10 years as Boomers retire or refuse to retire and Millennials become top leaders in the business world.

Would you recommend market research as a career and/or the Research Analyst Program at Georgian?

Yes, and yes! Market research is fun and highly engaging for anyone that enjoys questioning the purpose or reasoning of things and the RAP program at Georgian helps to lay the foundation for a career in this field. For more information on the Research Analyst Post-graduate Program at Georgian take a look at their website: georgianresearch.com

If you have any questions about a career in market research that I didn’t answer in this article please feel free to leave a comment below or contact me directly.


Sean Copeland is a certified marketing research professional (CMRP) known for his broad knowledge of the research workflow, his disruptive approach to problem solving and for building strong client relationships. In over 5 years Sean has developed, sold, executed, and managed hundreds of consumer research studies using a variety of new and traditional research methodologies.

Contact Sean Copeland:

T: 647-269-5085

E: sean@abacusdata.ca

W: http://www.abacusdata.ca

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