Ask my four year old what he wants to be when he grows up, and he’ll say “toy seller,” “secret agent” or “actor,” depending on his mood. One thing he’ll never say is “market researcher.” As careers go, market research in general, and survey research in particular, is not a destination career. Few of us plan to be here: which is why it is so important for us to demonstrate our ongoing commitment to the craft of research. A great way for researchers to do that is with the Marketing Research Association’s Professional Research Certification (PRC) program.

PRC is a bit older than my son: in fact, it just turned five years old. At MRA’s Annual Conference last month, I had the chance to talk with the father of the PRC, Peter Van Brunt, a former president of MRA who spearheaded the creation of the program during his term. The driving force behind the program was the need for greater professionalism within the research industry, as expressed by leading clients and vendors. Unlike most professions, market research is a left-brain/right-brain activity, requiring an understanding of psychology, math and markets.

To become a certified researcher, you must have been in the research industry for at least three years and must pass a written, proctored exam. Once you are certified, you are required to maintain your certification by earning a certain number of “contact hours” for business, research and legal issues every two years. Many research conferences offer you contact hours for attending key sessions, and you can attend webinars as well.

So far, over 1,500 individuals have become certified, and many organizations now offer training that can be used for PRC contact hours, including Burke Institute, the Marketing Research Institute International and RIVA. Other industry associations that support PRC include ARF (Advertising Research Foundation) and AMA (American Marketing Association.)

Peter told me of a headhunter who recently called MRA looking for a list of PRC researchers, stating that her client was only interested in hiring “a PRC.” While that indicates great outside recognition of the value of professional certification, I wouldn’t be so extreme when hiring: if two candidates are equal in other ways, then naturally I would choose the one with the PRC vs. the one without, but there are many factors to consider when looking for the ideal employee.

You may not have always wanted to be a market researcher when you grew up, but earning your PRC indicates that you want to stay a researcher and that you invest in your growth and ongoing education.

Are you a PRC? What made you decide to receive the certification?