Survey researchers design surveys and analyze data. Surveys are used to collect factual data, such as employment and salary information, or to ask questions in order to understand people’s opinions, preferences, beliefs, or desires.

Duties

Survey researchers typically do the following:

  • Conduct background research on survey topics
  • Plan and design surveys and determine appropriate survey methods
  • Test surveys to make sure that people will understand the questions
  • Coordinate the work of survey interviewers and data collectors
  • Account for and solve problems caused by non-respondents or other sampling issues
  • Analyze data using statistical software and techniques
  • Summarize survey data using tables, graphs, and fact sheets
  • Evaluate surveys, methods, and performance to improve future surveys

Survey researchers design and conduct surveys for scientific, public opinion, and marketing research purposes. Surveys for scientific research cover various fields, including government, health, social sciences, and education. A survey researcher may, for example, try to accurately capture information such as prevalence of drug use or disease.

Some survey researchers design public opinion surveys, which are intended to gather information about the attitudes and opinions of society or of a certain group. Surveys cover a wide variety of topics, including political issues, social issues, culture, the economy, or health.

Other survey researchers design marketing surveys which examine products or services that consumers want, need, or prefer. Researchers who collect and analyze market research data are known as market research analysts.

Survey researchers design surveys and may conduct surveys in many different formats, such as interviews, questionnaires, and focus groups (in-person, small group sessions with a facilitator). They use different mediums to conduct surveys, including the Internet, mail, and telephone and in-person interviews.

Some surveys solicit the opinions of an entire population and others target a smaller group, such as residents of a particular state, a specific demographic group, or members of a political party. Researchers survey a sample of the population and use statistics to make sure the sample accurately represents the target population group. Researchers use a variety of statistical techniques and analytical software to plan surveys, adjust for errors in the data, and analyze the results. 

Survey researchers sometimes supervise interviewers who collect the survey data through in-person or telephone interviews.

Work Environment: 

Survey researchers held about 18,000 jobs in 2012. They work in research firms, polling organizations, nonprofits, corporations, colleges and universities, and government agencies. 

Survey researchers who conduct interviews have frequent contact with the public. Some occasionally work outside the office, traveling to meet with clients, or conduct in-person interviews and focus group sessions. When designing surveys and analyzing data, they usually work alone in a typical office setting, though some work on teams with other researchers.

Work Schedules

Most survey researchers work full time during regular business hours.

Education and Training: 

Although some survey researchers have a bachelor’s degree, most technical research positions require a master’s degree. In addition, employers generally prefer candidates who have previous experience performing research, using statistics, and analyzing data. 

Education

Most technical research positions require a master’s degree or Ph.D. Survey researchers can have a master’s degree in a variety of fields, including marketing or survey research, statistics, and the social sciences.

A bachelor’s degree is sufficient for a small number of entry-level positions. Students should take courses in research methods, survey methodology, and statistics. Many also may benefit from taking business courses, such as marketing and consumer behavior, and social science courses, such as psychology, sociology, and economics. 

Other Experience

Prospective survey researchers can gain valuable experience through internships or fellowships. Many businesses, research and polling firms, and marketing companies offer internships for college students or recent graduates who want to work in market and survey research.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

The Marketing Research Association offers the Professional Researcher Certification (PRC) for survey researchers. Although not mandatory, certification can show a level of professional competence. Candidates qualify based on experience and knowledge, including at least 3 years working in opinion and marketing research, passing an exam, and acquiring membership in a professional organization. To keep their certification valid, researchers must take continuing education courses and apply for renewal every 2 years. 

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Survey researchers must be able to apply statistical techniques to large amounts of data and interpret the analysis correctly. They also should be proficient in statistical software to analyze data.

Communication skills. Survey researchers need strong communication skills when conducting surveys and interpreting and presenting results to clients.

Critical-thinking skills. Survey researchers must design or choose a survey and survey method that best captures the information needed. They must also be able to look at the data and analyses and understand what can be learned from the survey.

Detail oriented. Survey researchers must pay attention to details as they work because survey results depend on collecting, analyzing, and reporting the data accurately. 

Problem-solving skills. Survey researchers need problem-solving skills when identifying survey design issues, adjusting data, and interpreting survey results.

Pay: 

The median annual wage for survey researchers was $45,050 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $19,640, and the top 10 percent earned more than $89,080. 

In May 2012, the median annual wages for survey researchers in the top five industries employing these workers were as follows:

Scientific research and development services $60,260
Educational services; state, local, and private 56,540
Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional,
and similar organizations
48,840
Management, scientific, and technical
consulting services
36,640
Other professional, scientific, and technical services 35,150

Most survey researchers work full time during regular business hours.

Job Outlook: 

Employment of survey researchers is projected to grow 18 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations. However, because it is a small occupation, the fast growth will result in only about 3,200 new jobs over the 10-year period.

Organizations throughout all industries are increasingly relying on data and information acquired through research, and survey researchers play an important role in the research process.

Governments, media, nonprofits, and other organizations will continue to use public opinion research to learn about citizens’ thoughts and perspectives. They use this valuable information to understand groups of people; measure a program’s effectiveness; or gauge support for people, policies, and actions. For example, public opinion research may help governments make decisions on transit systems, social programs, and numerous other issues.

Survey researchers also will be needed to design surveys for businesses and organizations. In an increasingly competitive economy, firms will continue to use market and consumer research surveys to help make business decisions, improve their products or services, and compete in the market. Many of these researcher jobs will be in consulting firms.

However, employment growth may be tempered by changing research methods. Research is an evolving field and companies occasionally adopt new research methods or adapt to new data sources. For example, collecting information from social media sites and data mining—finding trends in large sets of existing data—are expected to reduce the need for some traditional survey methods, such as telephone interviews.

Job Prospects

Job opportunities should be best for those with an advanced degree in market or survey research, statistics, or the social sciences. Jobseekers with strong statistical and analytical skills and research experience should have good job prospects. Due to the relatively small number of survey researcher positions, bachelor’s degree holders will likely face strong competition from more qualified candidates.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 2014–2015 Occupational Outlook Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/ooh.

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