Well that wasn’t what I was expecting!

by Kate Langford January 20th, 2017

I was invited into my local Grammar School by the careers department to give a talk to 16 to 18 year olds on Careers in Market Research. I jumped at the chance – I love working with young people and if I can inspire someone to consider a career in our fantastic industry then it would be a job well done.

The Careers coordinator assured me that posters would be put all over school advertising the talk and specific A Level subject groups, such as Psychology and Business Studies students, would be texted an invite.  When I arrived, I heard a description of the talk being broadcast over the school tannoy system, so I prepared to give a presentation to a packed room of interested students.

I was taken to a very large room that could easily have held 100 students and I checked through my presentation whilst waiting for the crowds to arrive.

I waited, and waited … 5 minutes, 10 minutes … no-one came.  By this time the Careers Lady was getting very flustered about how much work she had put into promoting the talk and telling me that they always get a roomful for Vets and Doctors.

Eventually one sixth former came into the room – I think he quickly realised his error when he walked into the vast empty space, but it was too late for him to back out.  My presentation became a one on one chat with an affable lad whose first sentence to me was that he wanted to go into accountancy.  To be fair to him, he did his best as I engaged him about life as a qualitative moderator, a quant researcher or social media analyst.  He seemed to have no idea that research, as I described it, even existed or could possibly be a job.  At one point, he did even seem genuinely interested and he was happy to take away my handout from the MRS website.  Who knows, maybe he might even read it!

So, what went wrong?  What is it about Market Research that seems so uninteresting to a group of very bright Grammar School students that they can’t even be bothered to listen to a 20 minute talk to find out more?  Perhaps it is a branding issue –  should I have asked the school to call my talk an introduction to consumer behaviour, insight or behavioural economics?  The Careers Lady seemed to think that the lack of interest must be to do with the fact that the opinion polls have a reputation for always being wrong – why would anyone consider looking to join a flawed industry?

I thought it was very interesting.  We, inside MR, know that the work is hugely varied, multi layered, challenging, important, and exciting.  We know that polling is one small element of a much larger industry but to those not involved or related to MR at all, well it clearly isn’t even interesting enough to bother to find out that you might not be interested in it.

So what more can we do?  There are lots of resources on the MRS website and they are clearly doing their best to engage the next generation but this is not filtering through to school level – well not this school anyway!  Does the industry need a total rebrand?

As a recruiter, I speak to people on a weekly basis who ‘fell into’ research rather than those who held a long desire to work in the industry.  Are we missing out on the best possible talent because students simply aren’t aware of what we do or associate us with getting things wrong?  There is no easy answer here but for my part, I’m going to try to engage with other local grammar schools and see if I can do the talk again to a timetabled group as part of a lesson – they’ll have no escape and I won’t have wasted my presentation – and you never know I may end up inspiring someone to dream of a career in market research.