Who Gets Hired for Research Manager and Director Jobs?

We took a closer look at hundreds of online job postings for Market Research Managers and Directors and here are four things we found.

Educational Levels. 

Four in ten required no university degree at all. Half required an undergraduate degree and only one in ten required a Master’s or PhD.

Areas of Study. 

More than three out of four job postings listed Marketing or Business as the primary educational requirement. Fewer than one in ten asked for a degree in the Behavioral Sciences.

Industry-Specific Experience. 

Research jobs almost always demanded very narrowly specialized experience. Smaller divisions of large food companies wanted candidates to have not just food or snack research experience, but the highly specific salty snacks. One company didn’t just want beverage experience, but carbonated beverage experience.

Pharma wanted to hire people who study only digestive distress. Our favorite example will always be the company that insisted their researcher be well-experienced in studying gravel.

Organizational Hierarchy. 

Almost every job said the advertised position would report to a Marketing Executive.

Our thoughts on those findings.

Educational Levels. We were very surprised to see that nearly half of the research positions at Manager and above asked for no university degree at all.

This suggests that manager- and director-level research positions have little status in most corporate hierarchies, and are many layers away from the actual decision-makers. It also suggests that whoever is writing the job descriptions has little or no knowledge of what research involves.

Areas of Study. Marketing and Business programs typically involve little or no training in Anthropology, Sociology, or Psychology. Behavioral science programs devote years to training students not only in the art and science of measuring human behavior, but also in the deeper understanding of people’s attitudes, values, wants, needs, expectations, and behaviors. These human elements are critical to all real understanding, as without them, surveys are only exercises in mathematics.

Industry-Specific Experience. We know why micro-specialization is favored – many people believe we must know a great deal about a topic to be able to study it. Taken to the extreme, this would mean there is no point in studying anything we don’t already know, which pretty much puts the kibosh on the whole K-12 and university systems. Our position is that organizations always have plenty of product and category experts. When it comes to research, what they really need is someone expert in research theory, methods, instrument design, data collection, data processing, analytics, and reporting.

Organizational Hierarchy. A separate study of the organizational charts of 200 large companies revealed nine out of ten Market Research departments reported to the Marketing Department. One consequence is that Marketing becomes the gatekeeper, where the Research Experts never see firsthand what The Boss wants. And The Boss never sees what the Research Experts found.

The farther away the Research Expert is from the boss, the less valuable the information, the more it costs, and the longer it takes.

Who writes Research Manager and Research Director ads?

All kinds of people, including supervisors, subordinates, assistants, clerks, and others. When HR is involved, their primary concerns involve issues of legality, discrimination, and workplace behaviors.

Whoever writes them, most ads for Manager- and Director-level research jobs:

  • use terms that facilitate resumé scanning
  • are overwritten, trying to cover every eventuality
  • include boilerplate that has little meaning
  • reflect how little the ad writers know about research

In poker, a tell is a subtle clue readable by experts. In research, one tell is the heavy use of acronyms and jargon. When we see VOC, COE, NPS, SME, CRM, CEM, CLV, MLN, MVT, and the like in ads, we know these organizations care more about terms than the underlying concepts.

And when we see people who don’t know about research asking that candidates have experience with Big Data, we get the same laugh as we do when we see Barbara Walters trying to get in on a fist-bump.

After examining hundreds of ads for research positions, our panel of experts concluded only one was written by someone with an in-depth knowledge of research.

Observed academic backgrounds, degree requirements, and reporting structures indicate to us that when it comes to research, very few organizations understand the differences between amateurs, apprentices,  journeymen, and master craftsmen.

Reader note: When you look at this article along with last week’s article You Get What You Pay For, it raises a chicken-and-egg question. Does the increase in DIY affect the lowering of MR hiring standards, does the lowering of hiring standards increase the appeal of DIY, or is there a reciprocal effect?