learn how to start a career in qualitative research

Do you love psychology and social sciences? Are you one of those people that is constantly asking why and is innately curious? Has UX research been something you’re exploring for a career? Or, perhaps you work in marketing and observe research teams and think … I want that job.

If any of the above sounds appealing, read on. We’ll discuss how to become a qualitative researcher, what types of jobs qualitative researchers have, and what type of training and experience is required.

First off: What do qualitative researchers do?

Qualitative researchers seek to observe and understand human behavior.

Qualitative research is a broad field, that ranges from jobs in academia as a researcher (anthropology, sociology, psychology) to focus group moderators, to in-house user experience researchers. Qualitative researchers are also employed by think-tank institutions, governments, and, there is a broad field of those who are self-employed and work independently, conducting research for other companies.

In contrast to statisticians, who seek to learn trends in data and analyze “how many” and uncover patterns, qualitative researchers seek to learn the “why” behind peoples’ behavior. There are numerous techniques for gathering qualitative research, but the most common methods are interviewing people (in-depth interviews, focus groups, dyads/triads), observational research (ethnographic research, user experience research), or social listening research (observing online conversations and themes).

Qualitative research is a fascinating field because it requires the researcher to have in-depth discussions and observe behavior. This data is then translated into themes, which is then translated into findings that can dictate things such as product design, marketing messages, and technology interfaces. Qualitative research can also be used to understand how teams interact and can be translated to change and improve corporate culture.

In fact, chances are, many of the products, services, and brands you interact with were developed using insights from qualitative research.

How do you become a qualitative researcher?

If the above sounds interesting to you, there are many paths to pursue a career in qualitative research — even if you didn’t study psychology, marketing, or social sciences in school.

The first step is to observe researchers and understand what their job entails. If you work in an environment with researchers, ask if you can shadow along. Seeing how research works, up-close, is a great way to understand if it’s truly a career path that would be a good fit.

There are also numerous books written on qualitative research that explain the fundamentals and best practices.

However, you’ll still need to get training and guidance in how to be a researcher.

There are qualitative research courses, taught by veterans in the field. First, start off with courses that teach you how to set up studies and moderate studies, as this is the foundation of qualitative research: being able to design studies and effectively interview people.

You’ll also want to take courses in how to write reports and translate the findings to teams — in other words, putting the research into action.

And then, once you’ve mastered the fundamentals, you can decide if you want to pursue a specialty: For example, social listening research, user experience research, or advertising/marketing research. If at all possible, job shadow as much as you can to find the best fit.

How to find a job as a qualitative researcher

Getting training and certified by taking courses will help your resume and job search. You can also seek out internships and entry-level positions to give you the needed experience to start a career in research. If you’re already established in your career and are interested in transitioning, enroll in training and seek out jobs that require less experience but that appreciate job experience from other fields. In fact, there is a lot of cross-over for people who have worked in technology, product development, and business strategy; having this foundation is extremely helpful for qualitative research in business settings.

Interested to learn more?

If you’re interested in pursuing qualitative research as a career, the last piece of advice is to talk to other researchers about their path and experience. You can find researchers through industry associations, such as QRCA, and you can even reach out to researchers on sites like LinkedIn to see if they’d be interested in sharing their path.

For qualitative research training, explore what InterQ Learning Labs offers >