Taking part in UK focus groups with Saros Research Ltd

Saros Research is the UK's leading qualitative research participant recruitment agency, and has a register of members they screen for admission to research projects - such as focus groups, website testing, product sampling, etc. These tend to be highly paid - around £50 for 2 or 3 hours, as well as refreshments. Definitely worthwhile! However, a common complaint from Saros members is that they don't get chosen to take part in the projects they apply to. We interviewed one of Saros Research's Project Managers, and find out how to improve the chances of getting through.

"First, we really appreciate and regret the frustration people feel when they're not selected. We do our best to keep the application form straightforward and quick to complete, but we do know that isn't really the point - the reason people bother to fill it in is that they really want to take part in the project. SO naturally it's going to be really disappointing to miss out.

"The thing is, our clients - the market researchers - need us to supply participants that exactly and absolutely meet their needs- that's what they hired us to do. In order to do that effectively, we often have to hide exactly what those needs are (for example by saying 'what is your favourite fruit?' rather than 'do you like bananas best of all?'. Sometimes there are commercial confidentiality reasons for being vague about the requirements (eg a new flavour of fruit being developed?!), and other times it's simply to make sure the people applying to take part are for real - sadly, there are people who will tell lies to try and get selected, and this means we have to treat all the honest people in the same way, so that we can offer our clients a selection process that is totally fair and reliable.

"For example, to ditch the fruit analogy, we recently had to recruit some testers for a confidential new application being developed by a UK mobile phone network, for a specific model of smartphone. I still can't name the network, and we couldnt identify the handset, so we had to invite people to apply for research about their smartphone and tell us those details. This meant that over 85% of people were going to be ineligible immediately, in fact we had to screen hundreds of people to fill the slots with the right participants. This meant a LOT of disappointed Saros members unfortunately, but there is no other way to deliver the participants our clients required without breaching their confidentiality"

We asked Saros, do people really tell lies to try and get selected?

"Unfortunately yes. Thankfully, it is only a very small proportion of the overall population of honest people, but those few percent cause our industry massive problems. In the previous example of the smartphone project, we had one respondent abruptly drop out, once we explained he would need to bring both the handset AND contract with him - he'd obviously planned to bring a friend's phone along! The thing is, there's a cash payment involved - so some people will always try it on. Obtaining money by deception is called legally known as fraud".

So if we are an honest person who just wants to get selected for the right project, can we do anything to improve our selection prospects?

"first of all, make sure you are definitely registered with Saros! Go to http://www.sarosresearch.com/ and click the 'enrol here' links. Then make sure you check your email frequently and respond quickly, because whilst we try to give people as much notice as we can, we often have very little lead time ourselves.

"Do answer the screening questionnaire as fully as possible though, however quickly you fill it in - if you don't provide the information we ask for, we don't have time to call you and ask for it, our interviewer will just move on to the next fully completed response. In the example project we mentioned, the people who just wrote 'HTC' did NOT get a callback - we had specifically asked for exact model name, because there was only one of them that we could actually accept. After you've sent the form, make sure we can reach you easily by phone for the selection interview too - if you appear to match the eligibility requirements our interviewers will need to get hold of you fast - we can't hold places as time is too tight, and even if we leave you a message we will have to keep on calling other people. Place numbers are fixed by our client, and when it's full, it's full.

"If you do get rejected, whether its the first time or the 20th, and you send an angry email in reply, that does get saved in your profile - where it is visible to the next interviewer, whose task it is to select contributive, reliable, engaged and effective respondents for their client. If they decide to move straight on to the next eligible response it's hard to blame them. It is not the fault of our interviewer, who is just doing their job, and flaming at them won't help you get selected now or in the future.

"And when you get selected, then please pelase do commit reliably. There is no greater red flag to one of our interviewers than a respondent who has a history of last minute cancellations or heaven-forbid a no-show. Of course, we know that real people have real lives and sometimes thngs happen that are outside your control - but if you let us know we can update your record, and if we don't know we have to assume you're simply unreliable. If our participants don't show up, or turn out to be there under false pretexts, then not only do we not get paid for that recruit we might not get the next job either - we are only ever as good as our last project... so we can never afford to let someone let us down twice".

So there we have it - getting accepted on an well-paid project with Saros Research Ltd is all about keeping it real - being persistent, honest and reliable, nothing more.

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