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Beyond degrees: Challenging the traditions of market research firms’ hiring practices

The world of market research is often viewed as a domain exclusively for university graduates. A common perception is that market research firms require a prestigious degree to even consider applicants. Having had conversations with a number of business owners, this has been confirmed as either a practice they’re aware of or in fact adopted. However, while higher education undoubtedly offers valuable skills and knowledge, it is essential to challenge the notion that a university diploma is the only path to success in the industry. Is it time for a shift in the industry?

In this article, we will explore the reasons why some market research firms are becoming open to diverse hiring practices, extending opportunities to candidates beyond the confines of traditional degrees.

The issues caused by exclusively recruiting graduates

Hiring university graduates exclusively can present several challenges for employers. First, it may perpetuate a bias towards formal education, neglecting individuals with valuable skills gained through alternative pathways or work experience. This approach may overlook talented candidates who lack degrees but possess relevant expertise or an aptitude for market research.

Second, exclusive reliance on university graduates can result in a limited diversity of thought and perspectives within the workforce. This can hinder innovation and problem-solving, as different backgrounds and experiences often contribute to more creative solutions. From conversations, this sounds like it’s likely a cause and effect of utilising recruitment partners who will oftentimes prioritise candidates with degrees as they command a higher salary and therefore commission.

Additionally, hiring only university graduates can lead to a shortage of skilled workers in fields where practical skills are vital but may not be taught at universities. For instance, vocational and technical roles may require specialised training and certification that a degree does not provide. Moreover, this approach may exacerbate the problem of overqualification, as many graduates might accept jobs “below” their educational level, leading to high turnover and dissatisfaction.

Lastly, it can also contribute to student loan debt and education inflation, as individuals pursue degrees solely for the sake of employability. For example, we wrote an article recently on apprenticeships being a game changer for Muslims due to the limitations around university debt and Halal.

 

How are things changing?

The changing nature of work

In recent years, there has been a significant shift in the nature of work across various industries. Employers are increasingly recognising that skills and abilities often hold more weight than formal education. Market research firms are no exception to this trend. In the rapidly evolving world of data analysis and consumer behaviour, real-world skills and expertise are invaluable.

By focusing on the competencies and experiences of candidates rather than solely on their academic qualifications, market research firms can tap into a wider talent pool. This approach leads to greater diversity and inclusivity within the industry.

 

Emphasis on practical knowledge

Market research firms are driven by the need for practical knowledge and experience in their employees. However, for those new to the industry, a lot of these skills have to be taught from scratch. Candidates who have honed their skills through internships, freelance work, or self-study can be just as proficient as their degree-holding counterparts in this department. Many of these non-traditional candidates have experience in other synergistic fields that transcend academic learning, making them invaluable assets to market research teams.

 

The role of specialised training

In the age of online education and self-paced learning, individuals have access to a vast array of specialised training programs and certifications. Market research firms are beginning to appreciate that these programs can provide candidates with focused, industry-relevant knowledge. Certifications in data analysis, statistical modelling, and research methodology are increasingly recognised and respected in the industry.

Many professionals have successfully transitioned into market research roles by completing relevant training and certifications, proving that a university degree is not the sole pathway to expertise in the field.

 

Diversity and Inclusion initiatives

Market research firms, like many organisations, are increasingly prioritising diversity and inclusion in their workforce. The rigid requirement of a university degree can inadvertently limit the diversity of candidates. By removing this barrier, firms can foster a more inclusive work environment that values different perspectives and backgrounds.

Recognising the value of diverse teams, market research firms are actively seeking candidates from various educational backgrounds and life experiences. This approach enriches the industry with fresh insights and innovation.

 

Falling into market research

We’ve had dozens of conversations now with market research professionals, and during these discussions, they frequently mentioned that they essentially “stumbled” into market research. Furthermore, a key recurring theme in these conversations was the absence of a formal educational pathway dedicated solely to market research. Instead, candidates typically come from complementary backgrounds in the social sciences, data, statistics, and related areas.

Another noteworthy point that emerged from the majority of these discussions was the unanimous consensus that the often mandatory requirement for degrees when hiring couldn’t be adequately justified. In fact, it was widely agreed that having a degree played a relatively minor role in an individual’s success within the field. Instead, what seemed to matter more was the candidate’s aptitude, drive, and overall enthusiasm for the field and its various components.

Market research apprenticeships

An alternative recruitment avenue worth considering is the criminally underutilised apprenticeship route. Year after year, apprenticeships are gaining popularity, appealing to individuals from diverse educational and demographic backgrounds. Notably, there exists a specialised apprenticeship program that was developed through collaboration with several prominent market research firms, including Ipsos Mori, Maritz, Shift-Learning, Firefish Group, and the Market Research Society. Regrettably, this apprenticeship model has yet to witness significant adoption, which is unfortunate.

To wrap up

The market research industry is evolving, and so too should its hiring practices. While a university degree can certainly provide a strong foundation for a career in this field, it is no longer the sole criterion for success. Some market research firms are becoming more open to candidates from diverse educational backgrounds, provided they possess the necessary drive, elements of practical knowledge, and a passion for the industry.

By challenging the tradition that market research firms only hire university graduates, the industry will become more dynamic, inclusive, and forward-thinking. The focus needs to shift from “pedigree” to potential, ensuring that the field remains competitive and relevant in a rapidly changing business landscape.

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