The Association for Qualitative Research
The Hub of Qualitative Thinking

Frequently-asked questions about careers in qual

These are some of the questions we are often asked by job-seekers and graduates considering a career in the qualitative research industry.

What is a typical research project?

A typical research project starts with a client brief, summarising their challenges. The agency follows up with a proposal outlining their approach. Once commissioned, the agency then undertakes their fieldwork (e.g. observation, interviews, online community) then produces a summary of the main points in PowerPoint. The project closes with a verbal charted debrief, the chance for everyone to discuss what to do next and why.

How much variety is there in qual research?

A lot! The majority of research agencies cover a wide range of categories rather than specialising in just one area. You might be working for a charity on a Monday then a bank on a Tuesday. It certainly keeps you on your toes.

What is the best way in to qual research?

There are multiple ways into the industry. Historically you needed a good degree and the main way in was the graduate scheme. Nowadays agencies are widening their intakes, encouraging applications from those without a degree, and formalising apprenticeship schemes. Curiosity and a proven interest in a research career are the most important points.

Do I have to live in London?

No. There are lots of agencies in London and the South East of England, but do some online searching and you'll see agencies across the UK. Edinburgh, Manchester, Leeds are hotspots.

How do I find a job? Is there a list of agencies?

Have a look online or at the AQR's list of agencies in the AQR Directory to get started.

AQR Qualitative Research Directory

What is the career path? How far can I get?

It's a hard question to answer, but you could end up running a division of an agency, heading up the research department of a client brand, or setting up your own research agency then selling it for big bucks.

How many hours do you work?

It varies. Some weeks are busy: you might be running several projects; you might be doing lots of fieldwork all over the country (or internationally); you might be working on a pitch for a major project. Other weeks you're between projects getting your admin sorted. Agencies know that their staff are their main asset so try to look after them (time in lieu and work life balance are much greater priorities now).

Do you work to tight deadlines?

Yes. But it all depends on the client, sector and context. The discipline of commercial pressure means retail projects are often urgent, whereas financial services tends to be more sedate.

What sorts of people work in qual research?

Well this one is hard to be objective about. As an industry we're known as being welcoming, open and collegiate. What unites us is curiosity and a desire to learn.

How old are people that work in market research?

Agencies often have a pyramid structure, with lots of junior people, then progressively fewer people at the ranks above, all the way to the MD.

Where can I go onto from working in qual research?

Put it this way: if you're working in an agency you're helping to run a consultancy business, running profitable projects, dealing with suppliers and looking after customers. You're a brilliant presenter, you can get on with people from the boardroom to the shop floor and you can deal with stressful situations calmly when they arise. You'll go far.