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Off the Beaten Path: Career Advice from a Prospect Research Consultant

If you’re about to graduate from the Texas School of Information, or are on the job market, then you’re probably thinking about the direction of your career path. Should you aim for a more traditional career that iSchool graduates tend to seek, or should you venture beyond the perimeters of the traditional career path? 

A 2017 survey done by the iSchool’s Career Management Division revealed that the most common jobs that graduates seek upon graduation –and receive placement in include librarian, product management, business analyst, archivist, digital archivist, assistant professor, software engineer, research engineer, communication strategist, data integrity, data visualization, creative specialist, information architect, UX researcher, UX designer, UX specialist, taxonomy analyst, and taxonomy manager.

Based on Career Management’s experience working with Texas iSchool students, the top ten sought after positions include UX researcher, UX designer, data scientist, data analyst, archivist, librarian, product manager, information architect, and records manager (in no particular order).

These career titles all represent a more traditional career path for iSchool graduates. But what happens when transitions in the economy occur, or life-changing circumstances and relocations happen, limiting the possibility of finding a more traditional job? What happens when things don’t go according to our plans?

This was the case in 2008 when Roger Magnus relocated to a smaller city west of Boston to be closer to his family. Traditional jobs were scarce. “It was almost impossible to find a library position,” said Magnus.  

Having graduated from the Texas iSchool with a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree in 1997, Magnus didn’t anticipate the challenges he would face. His career started off on a more traditional career path where Magnus held several positions as news librarian, business librarian, and demographics and business librarian (over a 10-year period). After moving to Massachusetts, Magnus’ career veered towards more “non-traditional” with roles as a research analyst at a policy institute, a research director at a business newspaper company, and prospect research analyst at a school.  

In addition, Magnus had worked in a variety of industries including academia, public policy, media and education. He was very experienced and qualified, but when he hit the roadblock after relocating, Magnus knew it was time to think about job opportunities beyond the scope of the conventional career path.  

In spite of numerous twists and turns along the way, Magnus’ trajectory eventually led him to become a prospect research entrepreneur. In October 2017, Magnus decided to embark on the new field of prospect research. “I had enough training to do it, and it was what I wanted to do,” he said.

Today, Magnus is the business owner of Roger Magnus Research, a research and analysis consulting firm. Magnus helps nonprofits, for-profit organizations, and academic entities find information and data to facilitate better decisions and locate donors, while saving time and money. He offers several information services including using publicly available information to find potential donors or foundations that can help fund nonprofits, crafting news and scholarly articles, curating company and industry research, and conducting data and demographics research and analyses.

Having lived through the transition from a more traditional career path to a less traditional one, the Prospect Research Entrepreneur offered key pieces of advice to current iSchool students, as well as recent graduates who may be struggling to find more traditional job placements. 

Have an open mind

“Remain open-minded to new possibilities. Take as many different kinds of classes as you can. The information universe is broad, and you may find that you have a particular talent or interest that you never expected. You may never know when a class or work experience will become relevant.”

Be agile 

“For anyone following a similar career path as mine, adaptability and flexibility are important. I recommend being able to learn new ways of managing information and managing technologies. Be flexible and willing to continue learning new technology and new ways of working with information.” 

Anticipate change

“Expect many twists and turns in your career as the technology and its use for information gathering and organization keeps changing.”

Magnus also made several recommendations for those interested in pursuing prospect research as a viable career option. 

Develop and maintain strong networks

“In-person networking has helped a lot. My best way of finding clients is to meet them in person, through mutual contacts.” It was through a NEDRA (New England Development Researchers Association) luncheon that he was referred to his first client. Magnus had attended a NEDRA training event years before in Bostonwhere he had first heard about prospect research. “I didn’t think prospect research was something I wanted to do at the time of the luncheon. Network broadly and frequently.” 

Embrace complexity and ambiguity with patience

Magnus explained that prospect research is more complex than it looks. “Knowing what information to include and what information to omit from prospects’ profiles involves a lot of analysis, writing, and complex decision-making.” “It takes time to learn and to develop a feel for prospect research,” he said. “It’s different from traditional librarianship, where you’re providing a bunch of sources or a complete answer. There’s a lot of ambiguity as you figure out answers along the way, and it takes time, patience, and determination to know what you’re doing. Because it’s so much more than just research, it isn’t something you can just pick up. It’s not something you’re going to be great at doing after a month or two. It’s is a slow process and it’s not always easy.”

Continue to learn

“Get volunteer experience and more importantly, get involved, attend meetings, and listen to what professionals in the field have to say. I am still learning as someone fairly new in field.”  

According to Magnus, strong searching, analytical, and writing skills are key to develop for a career in prospect research. Although the iSchool does not offer a class in prospect research, Magnus believes that with librarian research skills and communication skills, prospect research can be a viable career option. All nonprofits need research to connect with their donors better and improve their fundraising appeals. In addition to nonprofit consultants such as Magnus, many larger nonprofits have their own prospect research departments or “shops” in-house. 

An independent consultant in the world of prospect research, Magnus was resourceful. His career path may have turned out very differently from what he had anticipated upon graduating from the iSchool, but he managed to find a way to apply his accumulated skillset, networks, and nonconventional thinking towards a new role, in a new industry.

“Graduates shouldn’t always look to traditional roles or career paths,” said Magnus. “If they stay open-minded and tap into the right resources, they can pursue their passion using the same skills, even if it exists in another field or another industry.”

March 31, 2019