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How To Become A Qualitative Researcher

Qualitative research is a burgeoning field, thanks to the proliferation of UX researchers, and the popularity of human-centered design and design thinking. For people who work in tech or are drowning in data at their jobs, qualitative research is a refreshing career path that puts people in-front of humans and helps researchers understand how people use products, think about marketing advertisements, interact with services, and perceive ideas.

Getting a job in qualitative research can be challenging, especially if one does not have the training or past experience in research. If you’ve ever asked yourself, “how do I become a qualitative researcher?” keep reading. This post will explore the key skills that qualitative researchers need — and this applies to people interested in working in user experience, qualitative consulting, or in marketing and ad agencies as a planner and strategist.

Key qualitative research skill #1: Curiosity

Qualitative research — regardless of the setting or whether it’s done online or in-person — involves studying human behavior. For those who didn’t study psychology, sociology, anthropology, or design, that’s okay. Qualitative research professionals often come to their careers through a variety of paths, even if it wasn’t through a traditional college major that focuses on human behavior.

A fundamental trait that qualitative researchers share is curiosity. Having a natural aptitude and disposition of curiosity is a huge asset for researchers, because qualitative research is all about inquiry: asking questions, observing, guiding, and wanting to dig deeper into understanding peoples’ behaviors and actions. Before you consider if qualitative research is the right career path for you, this is a good place to start: how curious are you? Is your curiosity a motivation that drives you to investigate, seek out solutions, and probe for better answers? If so, qualitative research can be a rewarding career.

Key qualitative research skill #2: The right training

Though many learn qualitative research on-the-job, by observing other researchers, there are still underlying skills, theory, and coaching that are crucial to develop the skillset and confidence required to be a great qualitative researcher. This requires training in how define and understand the study objectives; choose the right methodology; work with various stakeholders; write discussion guides; set up questions correctly when interviewing; build rapport with participants; moderate interviews (note that moderating groups versus individual interviews requires specific group training); communicate with clients key findings; and then distill the themes into an actionable report.

Whew! That’s a lot, right? Fortunately, there are specialized qualitative research training companies that focus on how to teach moderating skills, report writing skills, and the essential building blocks of qualitative research.

Key qualitative research skill #3: Experience in business, branding, marketing & technology design

Depending on where you desire to work in qualitative research, the best researchers come from backgrounds or have work experience in the underlying product output that is being studied. For example, those who have worked in marketing and advertising can explore jobs as ad agency planners and strategists; by being exposed to how marketing first works, and the teams and strategies involved, one can better understand how the research output will be used. Similarly, for those who have worked in tech, whether that’s through user interface design, software, or product management, they’ll have an advantage as a researcher since they understand the underlying components that go into technology. And for those who are working in-house for business products and services, having previous roles in business, or a degree in business, gives the researcher a foundation in how business strategy is applied.

Qualitative research is a growing field with a rewarding career — and great pay!

If you’ve read the above article and nodded your head throughout, qualitative research could be a great career path for you. If you’re interested in exploring research as a career option, start networking with researchers on sites like LinkedIn, and even see if you can job-shadow researchers at your current job. Another bonus is that researchers can make a great living! If you’re curious, have some business and strategy chops, and want to spend your time understanding how and why people make the decisions they do, you just may have found your next career move.