A little job hunting of any type will bring you across the term "research analyst". They appear in all sectors but exactly what they do is a bit of a mystery. Research, obviously. Maybe a bit of analysis. But researching what and analysing it how, remains a mystery. As with all job titles, exactly what you do will depend on the company you join but the likelihood is that whoever you're working for your basic job description will be to gather market intelligence and present it in a way that your customers or colleagues can understand.
Market intelligence is a combination of research and consultancy, helping businesses to make decisions and set priorities. As a research analyst your job is to become an expert in a very specific sector. If you work for a company such as Innocent, you're probably going to be researching the food and beverage market, for example. But a good training is working for a market intelligence company. These are businesses which specialise in collecting information and then selling it to clients. Some market intelligence firms cover a whole range of topics — Datamonitor will sell you reports on everything from pet foods to car fleets — but many are specialised. Gartner and Forrester cover technology. Wood Mackenzie covers energy and metals. But in each firm, the individual research analysts will have their own patch, and customers will come to them for guidance on the marketplace.
What do budding research analysts need on the CV? They almost all work with numbers as much as with words, so Excel skills are important. The ability to write well is a plus, but accuracy and attention to detail is more important than a talent for creating achingly beautiful prose. Unlike journalism, where facts, figures and comments have to be attributable to specific sources, anything the research analyst presents will be their own work and their own take on the market. If it's wrong, it's on
your head. This makes for a more cautious outlook on committing words to paper, and a working culture which values precision and nuance as much as productivity.
It's a varied job and whilst there's a lot of desk-time, you also have to be happy discussing your area with anyone and everyone. If you specialise in IT and education, for example, expect to find yourself talking to schools and universities about how they use computers. Then there are email and telephone research campaigns to source more detail, talking to suppliers to understand their view of the market, and pouring through published data from a variety of sources. All this research results in dense reports and complex spreadsheets which capture insights into the market and future opportunities. But not all customers have the time to wade through these. So you'll need to explain it in a format that works for them — at conferences, in private briefings, through comment pieces and articles.
Research analysts may have a background in the industry that they cover, or might join market intelligence firms as a junior analyst or researcher. For those that want more reward and seniority, there will be opportunities in custom consulting projects or in establishing new research practices, but many are content to stay within their sector, building their knowledge and credibility with customers. Once they are recognised as an expert, there is little need for them to polish their CVs — job offers from rival firms are a perk or downside of the job, depending on your view of head-hunters.
If you're detail-orientated and enjoy being an expert on your sector, then a research analyst job might just suit you. It doesn't come with a fancy title and most people won't know what you do but for those that do, you'll be a invaluable part of their business. And for those that don't know, well, maybe they need to do a little research of their own.