Have you ever conducted a job interview with someone who clearly wasn’t right for the job? Or have you ever interviewed for a job that you knew wasn’t quite right for you? If you’ve been in either of these situations, you know that getting or giving quality answers is very unlikely. 

The same thing can happen in a focus group or in-depth interview if a participant is recruited who doesn’t know enough about the subject, doesn’t fit the key screening criteria, or who lacks the capabilities needed to be a successful research participant (e.g., technology barriers for online studies, language barriers, etc.).

So, what makes for a good focus group or in-depth interview participant who will provide you with the most insightful information to inform your marketing efforts? Below are some common things to look for and questions to consider when screening participants for inclusion in a market research study.

Have You Found the Right Recruiting Specialist?

How are you going to find the participants for your focus groups or in-depth interviews anyway? Working with a recruiting specialist with expertise in finding hard-to-reach audiences, getting them to actually show up for their scheduled research session, knowing what to pay them to entice them to participate, and managing any tech issues that arise when conducting the focus groups or interviews takes a huge burden off of you and is key to successful market research. 

How do you find the right recruiting specialist for your market research project? As you vet market research experts, look for:

  1. Those offering an extensive database Do they offer a good local sample of those in your regional market? Do they also have the potential to recruit from a national sample? 
  2. Those using in-house recruiters – Do they have a qualified team of recruiters in-house who can ensure that the right participants are found for your market research study? A firm with in-house recruiters provides an elevated level of quality and expertise to ensure your project is being handled by seasoned recruiting professionals.
  3. Those with very careful selection processes for participants – Do they screen participants at least twice to ensure they’re a good fit? Do they carefully track past participation of their database members to ensure you’re not getting the same participants as a competitor or those that have recently participated in a similar study?

Do You Have Good/Clear Screening Criteria?

When meeting with a recruiting specialist, they will want to know exactly who you want to talk to based on the research goals/objectives you want to achieve. They will ask you a series of questions to assist them in developing screening criteria – information on who to include AND who to exclude from your study. Some examples of screening criteria might include:

  • Gender – Does the topic at hand require that you speak to a specific gender (e.g., men who drive motorcycles)?
  • Age – Do you need to speak with participants from a mix of ages or are you targeting a specific age cohort (e.g., first time moms, ages 25-34)?
  • Household Income – Do you need to speak with those in a particular income bracket (e.g., those with lower incomes to discuss public benefits like social security disability, Medicaid, etc.)?
  • Profession – Do you need to talk specifically with nurses? With CEOs? With teachers? Or engineers?
  • Other criteria specific to your research needs – Do you need to talk to someone with a certain type of insurance? Someone who has used your benefits program before? Someone who has never been a member of your association? Someone who has never visited your website?
  • Exclusion criteria – A key to successful recruiting is not only screening who you want to include, but screening out those that should be excluded. For example, if your study is focused on equity in healthcare from a consumer standpoint, make sure you don’t have healthcare professionals in your audience of participants.

The more specific and clear your screening criteria are, the higher the likelihood that your participants will be a great fit for talking about your brand, product, or services.

How Do You Know If Someone Will Be A “Good Research Participant”? – Tips for Screening


Washington, DC, data collection

Once you have solidified your specific screening criteria, how do you determine if those who meet that criteria are going to be “good participants” in a focus group or in-depth interview setting? The following tips and recommended questions can help to determine whether someone will be a good fit for market research:

  • Ask open-ended questions in the screening process. For example, what is your favorite hobby or leisure activity and why is it your favorite? Asking an open-ended question during the screening process allows recruiting specialists to determine if a participant can (and is willing to) express their thoughts in detail (i.e., more than one- or two-word answers) and in a way that is clear/easy to understand. 
  • Consider screening for creativity and brainstorming ability. If brainstorming new ideas or solutions is a critical objective of your research project, consider screening for creativity by asking potential participants to evaluate how well various statements describe them such as: I am a curious person, I enjoy coming up with new ideas, I consider myself creative and imaginative, I am usually among the first of my friends and family to try new things, etc.
  • Task participants with writing. If the research might require participants to express their thoughts via writing, consider a written screening exercise like asking them to explain “a typical day” in writing, or tasking them with providing positives and negatives about their job in bullet point list form.
  • Ask about their knowledge/expertise in the area of interest to the research. If you need to speak to higher-end shoppers looking for organic products, task them with sharing a list of brands of organic products they are familiar with or have purchased previously during the screening process. Or, ask them what they are willing to spend on a certain type of product to ensure they will have the knowledge/expertise you’re looking for on the subject at hand.

How Can I Get The Recruiting Help I Need?

Finding the right candidate, whether for a job or for a market research study, requires that you are clear about what you’re looking for, are asking the right questions, and are receiving the right answers. Fortunately, the recruiting services team at Limelight Insights checks all the boxes to be a good partner for your market research recruiting needs. 

With their extensive regional and national database recruiting capabilities, a top-notch, in-house recruiting team with decades of experience, and careful vetting and selection processes, Limelight Insights can ensure you find the right participants to help answer your business questions and help you reach your research goals. In addition, we also provide custom, full-service consulting for qualitative and quantitative marketing research studies. This includes everything from study design and data collection, to data analysis and preparation of reports and presentations including actionable insights and recommendations. For your next market research initiative, look to Limelight Insights and call (240) 380-1500 or email info@limelightbyshugoll.com.