Business education and fields
Introduction to business and business education
You’ve probably heard a few of your friends or acquaintances say they plan to major in business. But what does that mean? What kind of job does a business degree prepare you to do?
A business degree offers lots of possibilities, thanks to the broad nature of the business world itself, and its wide range of career possibilities. Unlike degree programs that set you up for a fairly specific role, such as education or nursing, a business degree tends to be more versatile and flexible.
If you pursue a career in business, you could find yourself working at a Fortune 500 company, multinational conglomerate, small mom-and-pop shop, regional retail chain, or you might even end up an entrepreneur.
Let’s begin by defining business in more finite terms. “Business” generally refers to an organization attempting to make a profit by exchanging goods or services for payment. While making a profit is the goal, it’s not necessary to be considered a business. Rather, the pursuit of profit is what defines an organization as a business.
Profit doesn’t have to take the form of cold, hard cash. Profit can come in the form of securities, like stocks and cryptocurrencies, or a business may even operate on barter-style trades of a single good or service for another.
Although the following list is not comprehensive, most businesses fall into 1 of 3 broad categories:
No physical goods are transferred from buyer to seller. Service-oriented businesses might include anything from an airline or an attorney practice, to a bank, healthcare organization, insurance agency, or online school, as just a few examples.
Retailers sell finished products to customers. A retailer may be a single storefront, a multi-store international enterprise, or an online store that conducts business without a physical presence. These include pharmacies, department stores, convenience stores, clothing boutiques, hardware stores, etc.
A manufacturing business uses raw materials, parts, and components to make finished goods using tools and machines, human labor, and chemical processing. Examples include manufacturers of automobiles and parts, shoes and clothing, furniture, pharmaceuticals, food and beverage producers.
Types of businesses
Businesses can be legally structured in a variety of ways. The way a business is organized has an impact on taxes and legal matters. These business structures or types include:
Also known as individual entrepreneurship, this is an unincorporated business owned and operated by a single person, or a single person and their spouse. The owner has unlimited responsibility for any debts and losses associated with the business. A freelance graphic designer or a small catering company are examples of sole proprietorships, but there are countless others.
When 2 or more people share the funding, labor, ownership, profits, and losses that come with a business, it’s called a partnership.
Corporations are generally very large and owned by shareholders. Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, and Amazon are examples of corporations.
S corporations are essentially corporations that choose, for tax purposes, to pass income, losses, deductions, and any other credits through to shareholders.
Limited liability company (LLC)
LLCs share certain characteristics with corporations, partnerships, and sole proprietorships. Their primary feature is that the company’s owners are not personally responsible for company liabilities or debts. Each state has different rules for LLCs, with some offering tax benefits and other perks.
The anatomy of a business
Regardless of what a business sells or how it is legally structured, most have similar operational functions that need to be carried out on a daily basis. The size and scale of an organization dictate the number and type of roles required. Large organizations need specialized staff for handling everything from sales and marketing and employee benefits to regulatory and compliance matters, purchasing, and creating documentation. Startups or micro businesses may employ only a handful of staff members who are responsible for all functional aspects of the business.
The size and scale of an organization dictate the number and type of roles required.
Indeed, the organizational charts of businesses tend to be unique, although they do share some similarities. Learn more about the functions of business so you can determine where you best fit into the structure.
Employees at the executive level sit at the top of the corporate hierarchy. They help plan, direct, and coordinate operational activities with the assistance of subordinate managers.
This is not a role you can walk into simply because you have a degree in business. Rather, you should plan for years of experience and consistent advancement before you can expect a position in the C-suite. A business degree is a good place to start.
These roles include leaders of the various business silos. For example, the chief financial officer oversees all aspects of a business’s finances. The chief technology officer oversees information technology, communications, and research and development. A chief marketing officer handles sales, advertising, mass communication, and any activities related to increasing brand recognition.
Executives are able to evaluate diverse information to make decisions for the benefit of the company. They also carry out multiple projects while serving as a figurehead for the organization. Risk-taking is often a part of the job. An executive is expected to:
- speak in public
- be knowledgeable about laws pertaining to the business
- know the principles and procedures for recruiting, retaining, and promoting employees
- communicate well, both in writing and verbally
- serve as a team builder
This role requires a willingness to lead through bold and decisive actions. You must be willing to offer opinions and direction for the organization as a whole to follow.
Executives combine their creativity and reasoning skills to make autonomous decisions. As such, complex problem-solving is often a major focus of this role. Executives should also be exceptional leaders, have integrity and initiative, and be able to tolerate high levels of stress.
Executive-level roles are usually considered prestigious. People who work in this leadership capacity tend to value recognition and social status. They are results-oriented and trust employees to work independently to accomplish goals.
To serve as an executive, you need to earn a 4-year bachelor’s degree in business. If your goal is to work in the c-suite, be sure to select a school that offers a comprehensive business program that introduces you to all aspects of the corporate world.
Most people working in these roles also have post-secondary degrees. For example, executive roles usually require a master’s degree in business or another discipline or a Ph.D., M.D., or J.D. Often, graduate-level programs allow you to specialize your degree, giving you in-depth knowledge of an industry or area. For example, a master’s of healthcare administration would prepare you for a leadership role in a healthcare business setting.
Those employed in finance can occupy a variety of roles within a business. Accountants, auditors, bookkeepers, financial managers, controllers, and treasurers all fall into this category. In one way or another, they are responsible for the financial health of an organization.
People who work in finance monitor cash flow, determine profitability, direct investments, manage expenses, produce accurate financial reports, and create strategies to ensure the long-term financial goals of their organization. They also carry out various routine activities like cashing checks, processing payments, paying taxes, and recording transactions.
As you probably assumed, people who work in finance deal with numbers. Therefore, numeracy is key to success in this field. Accounting or financial software is usually part of the job. You should also be comfortable carrying out projects with minimal supervision. Other valuable characteristics include being detail-oriented and competent working with copious amounts of data, the ability to follow procedures and protocols, critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and a willingness to take risks.
People who work in finance must also have good interpersonal and written communication skills. Otherwise, the work they do may not be communicated accurately. Other important traits are persistency, reliability, and attention to detail. Being comfortable working in a challenging environment and being good at cooperating with colleagues are also important.
Since those who work in finance have intimate knowledge of a company’s financial health, integrity is a key attribute. Financial departments serve in a support capacity within a business. That means the information provided by the finance team is vital to the overall success of the company. People who work in this field should be result-oriented while maintaining good relationships with their coworkers.
To work in finance, you’ll need a 4-year undergraduate degree in accounting, finance, or economics. Since you’ll be working with numbers, it is recommended that you incorporate math and statistics courses into your bachelor’s program.
Some financial areas require certification following a bachelor’s degree. For example, accountants can be certified by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) or the Association of Certified Chartered Accountant (ACCA). There are also specialty certifications in such fields as management accounting, financial analysis, financial control, and auditing.
Sales and marketing
Sales and marketing includes a broad spectrum of jobs. Most of these jobs involve determining the demand for a company’s product or service and identifying potential customers.
Tasks and duties
More specifically, people in sales and marketing plan, direct, or coordinate the distribution of a product or service to customers. These jobs entail tasks such as:
- coordinating sales strategies
- setting quotas
- training sales representatives
- analyzing sales statistics
- monitoring customer preferences
- evaluating inventory
- establishing price points
- creating and launching mass media or social media advertising campaigns
- buying advertising
- crafting communications plans
The titles in these roles may include marketing manager, sales manager, marketing communications director, advertising manager, brand manager, account supervisor, public relations specialist, and store manager.
People who work in sales and marketing ideally possess a good balance between analytical and creative skills. Other skills needed for this field are computer literacy, critical thinking, social intelligence, persuasiveness, and deductive reasoning.
This work requires thinking with both the right and left sides of the brain, therefore sales and marketing professions are for people who straddle the divide. You need to enjoy talking to people, but you also need to be able to interpret a report to ascertain how sales are going in a specific department. Being an extrovert helps, but isn’t required. It’s also good to be skilled in teambuilding, offering positive reinforcement, and working independently as well as with a team.
Sales and marketing can be a fluid environment that takes you from sales meetings to down-and-dirty statistical analysis, often on the same day. The ability to adapt to different environments and working locations is required. Sales and marketing employees usually exhibit leadership qualities and show a great deal of initiative. They are also flexible, well-spoken, goal-oriented, and dependable.
Sales and marketing is a vital cog in the business wheel. Therefore, people who work in this area must be focused on getting results. If goals are met, the job usually comes with a good deal of stability.
Entering this field requires a 4-year degree in business, marketing, advertising, public relations, or a related field. In addition to business courses, you may want to consider taking public speaking, statistics, or human behavior courses.
Generally, a postgraduate degree is not required to work in sales and marketing, but anyone who wants to advance up the corporate ladder should consider pursuing a master’s degree.
People (Human Resources)
Human resources (HR) professionals serve the entire lifecycle of an employee. From hiring to onboarding, providing benefits and salaries, through to termination or retirement, human resources departments handle the associated transactions and paperwork.
Companies use various creative names for HR: human capital management, people operations, talent management, employee experience, people resources, employee success, and many variations thereof. The job involves managing employee acquisition, termination, training and development, community service, payroll, compensation, and benefits.
HR job titles can include a wide variety of roles, such as payroll manager, HR analyst, personnel officer, recruiter, training and development manager, and education director.
People who work in human resources play an important role in shaping the culture of the entire organization. If you’re fascinated by people, their motivations, and how they integrate into a larger organizational structure, human resources may be the right career path for you. Skills required for the job include critical thinking, active listening, good written and verbal communication, and interviewing prowess.
Human resources professionals are able to think creatively to solve problems that arise with employees or recruits. They also have the ability to mitigate conflict and find creative solutions to interpersonal disputes.
Did you have a hard time deciding between a psychology and a business degree? If so, you may have the aptitude needed for the human resources department. These professionals are approachable, know how to influence people, and can handle even the trickiest situations brought about by personality differences. Human resource professionals enjoy working with people, solving problems, and following routines.
Working in human resources requires particular attributes. Sensitive information is often handled by this department, so it’s vital you maintain employee privacy and confidentiality. Having integrity and being honest and ethical are also vital. Human resource professionals are able to cooperate and work well with others, pay attention to details and be thorough in documentation, and exhibit self-control and composure, even in difficult situations.
People in HR value relationships and the management support of employees. A social service orientation along with respect for coworkers and colleagues are vital for success. Human resources employees should also value company policies, personal growth and achievement, and technical details.
To pursue a career in human resources and people management, begin by obtaining a bachelor’s degree in human resource management, business management, organizational management, or a similar field. Courses in business, psychology, and sociology can also be beneficial.
Human resources graduates can seek certification through various university and professional association programs.
Popularity of business degrees
Because of its versatility, business is the most popular undergraduate degree conferred in the U.S. In the 2018-2019 school year, nearly 400,000 students graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business. A business degree offers the flexibility to work across various business functions like accounting, marketing, sales, human resources, or finance.
Business degrees can also be tailored to a specific job for greater employability. For example, actuarial science is a specialized business degree that prepares you to calculate business risk, using math and statistics to support the financial health and goals of a business. A degree in logistics and supply chain management, on the other hand, will teach you how to support overall business operations. Specialized degrees can help you reach your career goals more quickly following graduation, especially if you are already certain of the specific field that interests you.
Not only is it possible to engage in a wide range of careers with a business degree, business majors enjoy one of the higher starting salaries right out of college. A graduate with a business administration degree can expect to earn around $52,800 in the first year out of college. The number can be a little higher or lower, depending on the specific course of study. Actuaries earn a starting salary of $58,000, and a median of $97,000.
Should you pursue a business degree?
If you choose to pursue a business degree, you’ll be following in the footsteps of many notable people. There’s much to be gained professionally and personally in the business world. Whether you want to become the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or start your own business from the ground up, the first step is obtaining a degree. With it, you will have the knowledge you need to conquer the next business opportunity that comes your way.