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Salaries in the research sector and what this means for people changing jobs

Published on: 20 Nov 2018

Words by Stopgap research recruitment specialist Lara Fisher-Jones.

Given my role in market research recruitment I see and hear salary details on a daily basis.  I thought it worthwhile putting down my observations to help those searching for their next role.

To put things in context here are my observations on where we are today:

Movement over the years

There has been little movement, if any, in salary levels over the years.  After 12 years in research I moved across to research recruitment back in 2003.  Since then, freelancer daily rates at RE/SRE/RM levels have not changed.  Since then RE/SRE/RM permanent salary levels have broadly remained the same.  I have seen movement in graduate starter salaries and salaries at the more senior end of the agency scale but life in the middle has remained pretty much the same.  I appreciate we've been in a period of stagnant wage growth as a whole and yes, we went through the events of 2008, so probably no surprises there.

Given Stopgap's wider experience within marketing recruitment, I asked my colleagues for their views on changes in their sector/discipline.  The response very much echoed the above - my colleagues in FMCG marketing recruitment reported no change, in fact there has been a drop in salary at Brand Manager level. Broader marketing agencies - no change.   Another consistent theme was that where clients give salary ranges for a role, the candidate is usually offered at the bottom of the range whereas in times previous there was leeway to start mid-level or even top.

Salaries compared to other marketing disciplines/areas

Even though other marketing disciplines have shown little or no change over the years, they generally had a higher baseline to start off with when compared with research - an FMCG marketer will generally earn more than an agency researcher, whatever the level.  Base salaries in research/insights overall tend to be higher on the clientside vs agencyside. And a recent development has been a trend of classically trained researchers moving across to UX research roles - a) because it's dynamic and growing and b) salaries tend to be higher.

So against this stagnant landscape - what can you do to secure the absolute best starting salary?

  • Know your value through doing your research - use salary surveys, look at other live roles - have a firm and informed view on your worth and stick to it
  • Try to delay the salary question until late in the process - be sure you know everything about the role and company and ensure that it is a role of real interest to you.  Obviously you need to have checked that the salary is going to broadly fit within your requirements but otherwise leave the salary discussions to when you're sure of them/the role and they want you.
  • Don't accept an offer immediately.  Take time to consider the offer in full - consider other benefits in addition to base salary.  Some companies offer various attractive additional benefits which may make up for what may initially seem a lower base level salary.  Take the whole package into account.
  • Negotiate hard.  Allow leeway - propose an amount higher than you'd be happy with - at the top of the salary range on offer for example.  In most cases you should be moving for an increase on your current salary. If you don't achieve the base salary you wanted is there another way of making the package work for you?  Could you agree a time frame for promotion/future pay rises for example.
  • BUT handle the situation with respect - be enthusiastic and appreciative.  At no point do you want to put off a future employer by aggressively issuing unreasonable demands.
  • Some of the above also applies to those who are happy in their current role but just want to make sure they're being paid a good market rate - ensure you're up to date with information on salary levels for those at your level and use that as a tool in any discussions around salary rises.

I appreciate that money isn't everything and the candidates and clients I talk to truly enjoy the job they do - and that really is invaluable.  But you need to look after yourself and ensure you're paid your worth.

To discuss market research roles, please get in touch with Stopgap's research recruitment specialist Lara Fisher-Jones.