6 Market Research Participant Red Flags to Look for in Qualitative Recruiting

The quality of your market research findings is a direct correlation to the quality of your research participant. 

A few weeks ago we talked about the characteristics of a good research participant, but what should you avoid? 

In this blog post, our qualitative recruiting company describes 6 red flags that would make someone a bad candidate for research projects. 

The quality of your market research findings is a direct correlation to the quality of your research participant. Don't overlook these 6 red flags when finding participants for qualitative research.

Market Research Participant Red Flags

Red Flag #1: Unable to answer the questions being asked 

After an initial screener survey, our qualitative recruiting firm recommends conducting re-screening phone calls to perform additional quality checks.

The re-screening call should flow relatively easily and quickly. 

Participants are not a good fit for research if they consistently: 

  • Ask you to repeat the question or answer options.
  • Take extended time to answer straightforward questions.
  • Act distracted or uninterested in the conversation. 

At Drive Research, we use the re-screening phone call to confirm core qualifications. By the time we reach out, participants have already answered the questions we are asking. As a result, they should be able to provide prompt responses. 

There are some exceptions to this rule. For example, a bad phone connection or reaching a participant at a bad time. In these cases, it’s best to reschedule a call back for a better time. 

However, those who display difficulty answering questions during a re-screening and rescheduled call will likely demonstrate the same when participating in the research project. 

This is a major red flag for a potential market research participant and should not move forward in the process.

Red Flag #2: Google Voice or other app phone numbers 

There are many reasons why people may use an app phone number, and it doesn’t always mean something’s wrong. 

Though there are some possible harmless reasons, this could indicate that a participant is not being honest in their identity by attempting to mask or hide their real information. 

Considering the circumstances, it is always best to move forward with those who are providing you with full, honest, and accurate information. 

That’s a good indicator that they will do the same while participating in the project. 

Red Flag #3: Differing responses

Our firm utilizes a pre-screening questionnaire paired with a re-screening phone call for recruitment. This allows us to review both answers and ensure the data remains consistent. 

Some questions or small changes are less concerning. 

For example, when asking a question such as: 

  • How likely would you be to recommend [insert service] to a family member, friend, or colleague based on your experience?
  • A participant changing their response from “very” to “extremely” isn’t too big of a deal. 

However, when asking a question such as: 

  • How many times have you used sunscreen in the last month? 
  • An answer changing from every day to once a month would require digging a little deeper. 

Another red flag to watch out for with usage questions is checking logic. 

For example, say you ask “How many times have you purchased and consumed each of the following snack foods in the last 6 months?” and the participant answers “3.” 

Then you ask “How many times have you purchased and consumed each of the following snack foods in the last 3 months?” and the participant answers “6” 

The logic doesn’t match. Sure, maybe there was a misunderstanding. However, from our experience, it is a red flag that they aren’t being truthful and are trying to cheat the system to earn an incentive for participating in market research. 

Another possibility is that the participant is not putting thought into their responses -- and this is still a red flag. 🚩🚩

When this arises, recruiters should pay extra attention to the quality of additional responses to ensure the participant is able to provide thoughtful and truthful responses during the project. 

Red Flag: #4 Over-exaggeration 

Before we place re-screening phone calls, our market research firm analyzes screening survey data. One of the things we look for when doing this is over-exaggeration. 

Here are a few examples of possible over-exaggeration that would raise a red flag: 

Question: How many times have you purchased and consumed pizza in the past month? Response: 100 

Question: Which of the following medical procedures have you received? Read list. 

  1. Hysterectomy  
  2. Appendectomy 
  3. Cataract surgery 
  4. Mastectomy 
  5. Tonsillectomy 
  6. Cholecystectomy (Gallbladder removal) 
  7. None of the above 
  8. All of the above 

Response: All of the above 

Though not impossible, it’s much more likely that the participant is inputting responses they believe will get them qualified for the research project. 

Another possibility is that they aren’t paying close enough attention to the question to enter an accurate response. 

Both possibilities could lead to a low-quality participant and would be a reason to not place them on the project without further evaluation. 

A clear indicator for flagging lackadaisical responses is by including a red herring question. Here are 4 Red Herring Question Examples to Improve Research Quality.

Red Flag #5: Only interested in receiving the incentive 

Incentives are an important part of recruiting participants for a research project. If their feedback is valuable, so is the time spent for the participant to provide it. 

However, if a participant is only participating to receive the incentive and is uninterested in providing quality feedback, they should not be placed on the project. 

This can lead to rushed, vague responses during the research project. 

Learn more about why you should offer rewards for market research.

Red Flag #6: Those who are skeptical about the project, or research in general 

Understandably, participants may have questions. Especially for those who are new to market research. 

There is a difference between participant curiosity (why’s, what, who, etc) and participants who doubt the legitimacy of a project.

Those who are skeptical or unsure should not be placed on a project until they are confident they would like to participate. 

In these cases, it’s best to open a conversation where you can discuss anything that may be holding them back, and then allow them time to decide if they are interested. 

Those who are unsure about the process or project tend to be those who become unresponsive after the scheduling call. 

If they doubt the project is legitimate, they may also be operating under the assumption that their feedback doesn’t really matter. 

Tips to Remember When Finding Market Research Participants

Tip #1 Take your time 

A common mistake made by recruiters is just falling into a flow. When you’re re-screening, it’s easy to just ask the questions and accept responses without adding extra thought. 

However, this should be avoided and recruiters should always be trying to get a sense of who each participant is. 

Each re-screening call should be treated as a personal interaction unique from the last - even if the questions remain the same. 

Recruiters should avoid rushing through the process to move on to the next.

Instead, utilize every opportunity for red flags to appear by allowing participants to go off script and freely speak. Re-screening calls are a very short time frame to assess if they are a good candidate or not. 

Tip #2 Go in-depth on open-ended questions 

Give yourself the time to fully screen them out for being a bad candidate by allowing them to thoroughly answer the question. 

Ask multiple follow-up questions and allow the participant to elaborate on their own. 

A talkative participant is great, but it’s also important to test if they’re able to stay on topic. It’s also important to note if a participant can thoroughly answer a question versus providing one-word responses. 

Tip #3 Trust your instincts

If you have any doubt (no matter how small) that a participant is a good candidate for the project, don’t add them. 

Participants are on their best behavior during re-screening calls, so it’s always better to be cautious if you have doubts. 

If they raise red flags during a 5-minute re-screening call, they will likely be worse during an hour-long interview. 

Ask yourself “would I accept a ride home from this person?” If the answer is “no” there’s a reason why - and that reason would likely make them a bad candidate for research.

Find Quality Research Participants with Drive Research

Drive Research is a full-service market research company that can recruit valuable participants for your project. 

We fully vet our participants through a multi-step recruitment process to assess a participant’s quality before they ever touch your study.

Need more information? Contact our team today.

  1. Message us on our website
  2. Email us at [email protected]
  3. Call us at 888-725-DATA
  4. Text us at 315-303-2040


Ashley Reynolds

With nearly 10 years of experience in market research, Ashley has worked on countless quantitative and qualitative research studies. As a Fieldwork Manager at Drive Research, she’s involved in every stage of the project, especially recruitment.

Learn more about Ashley, here.

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