By Charlie Brandon (Consultant, Nicholson Glover)
So it’s client-side you want, fair enough. Many of your co-workers have probably come to that conclusion already. This should give you pause for thought but really it’s not your immediate colleagues you should worry about most.
Employers will often travel the path of fewest question marks. As an agency-side researcher, one such question mark scribbled into the margin of your CV will relate to the fact that you’ve never worked client-side before.
An insurmountable Catch 22? Not necessarily. The path from agency to client-side is by no means untrodden. It is, however, a crowded path and not one that everybody reaches the end of. How can you ensure you’re one of the finishers?
Answer: give yourself the best chance of getting lucky. Some people will get lucky regardless but here are some of the best ways to maximise your chances:
Don’t be too picky
It might sound like an obvious start but really it’s an important point. Not all client-side roles are made equal-ly competitive. When facing less competition that no-client-side-experience question mark is more likely to be overlooked.
Certain sectors may prove less popular. This doesn’t have to mean sin sectors, a whole variety of industries will seem slightly drier and attract fewer candidates. The less glamorous brand could be your door to opportunity. The charity sector might be a slammed door slammed in your face.
Getting your foot in the door and client-side experience on your CV will mean that when your dream role does come up you can submit it question mark free.
Don’t be too cautious
Starting a new role with an end-date already set makes the fixed term contract a daunting prospect. However, with more cautious candidates put off, your path to the client-side could be made more of an afternoon walk through Clapham Common and less of a morning scramble for the Northern line.
Added to this, contracts are often to fill an immediate need and so require candidates immediately. Without the luxury of time hiring managers can be more forgiving and less choosey.
Contracting is a riskier, less secure option but there is a trade-off. You won’t receive the same amenities but you will likely find your day rate paying notably more than your colleagues’ annual salary.
It might also last longer than you think. Certain corporates will have bureaucratic structures that deny a hiring manager the headcount they feel they need. In this situation a contractor may in fact be a permanent member of staff in a freelancer’s clothing.
*Word of warning* (Keith from the Office style): all good things have a finishing date and this one may come before you have secured your next role. This is something you must reconcile yourself with before opting for the FTC.
Don’t work in London
The majority of researchers are based in London and so roles there are more sought after. However, many client-side roles are based outside the capital and if you can bear your work to be more than fifty feet from an artisanal coffee shop that could be a useful option.
This could mean relocation or, alternatively, the long commute. This may be more bearable than you think though. If ‘reverse commuting’ out of London then, with most commuter traffic going the other direction, you could be spread out on a table seat rather than pressed against a curved tube door.
Also, if you can’t already, it might be an idea to learn to drive. With many client-side roles beyond the Underground, the ability to travel by car could seriously open up your options.
Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty
Some insight teams- particularly large ones- will commission out pretty well all the research they run. However some- particularly smaller teams- will do most of it themselves inhouse. These more hands on teams will operate almost as internal agencies and so your agency experience will be more directly relevant and appealing.
Don’t be afraid of numbers
Numbers help stakeholders make key decisions. Qual can too, but often it’s quant that provides the justification they need. If you’ve been avoiding quant then I suggest stop and start to show the statistics some more attention. It might be possible to gain more quant exposure with your current employer or it may mean moving to another agency role as a necessary step along the path.
Don’t be hasty
Give yourself time. Client-side roles come up less frequently and so the more time you allow yourself, the more roles you can apply for and the more chance you have.
Don’t forget these
There are few other things to bear in mind: secondments are great if you get the chance, job titles can appear more junior on the client-side and prioritising short-term salary increases over long-term earning potential can have predictable consequences.
Don’t stop believing
Applying for job after job can be a gruelling and demoralising process. Don’t think you’re the only one though and don’t stop. It’s like that for pretty well everyone and whatever your chances you only need it to go your way once.