Earning a business degree can open up many doors professionally. For example, you may have an idea for an innovative new company or product but lack the skills necessary to bring it to life. Alternatively, you may already hold an entry-level position in the field of business but want to take on new responsibilities and earn more money. Whatever your motivation, a degree in business can help you develop the knowledge and skills necessary to achieve your goals. It can also prepare you to take advantage of exciting and lucrative opportunities across a variety of industries.
Before graduating, make sure to understand how to best position yourself for these opportunities. For example, determine what degree you need for your target career and understand the core skills you can develop and the specializations you can pursue in a given business program. Additionally, begin thinking about how to best market yourself to potential employers and clients.
Skills Gained in a Business Program
Working in business requires a diverse skill set. For example, accountants need to know how to keep track of revenues and expenses and clearly convey the consequences of this information to those in charge of decision making. In addition, sales managers require more than excellent interpersonal skills; they must also understand their client's fiscal situation so they can pitch the appropriate products or services. The list below contains five skills critical to success in business.
- Analytical Skills
Analytical skills involve the ability to collect, interpret, and use data to solve problems. For example, a business executive might need to research a new market by collecting and analyzing data related to costs, pricing, and consumer demand. Using this information, executives can determine whether their company can turn a profit in this target market.
- Communication Skills
To succeed in the world of business, professionals must know how to communicate clearly and persuasively. Business leaders need to explain complex issues and policies, negotiate with others, and give directions to those working underneath and alongside them. Executives typically possess excellent oral and written communication skills.
- Math Skills
Business majors should possess strong math skills to perform a variety of critical business functions, including creating budgets, estimating profit or loss, and managing risk. Executives who focus on areas like sales may require less advanced math knowledge than those working in accounting and actuarial science.
- Organizational Skills
Like most professions, jobs in the business world require strong organization skills. Organization involves setting and meeting deadlines, delegating tasks to a team, creating and achieving goals, gathering input to make decisions, and creating systems to manage projects and work. Executives at smaller companies must possess broad organizational skills, while those at larger firms may specialize in a particular area.
- Interpersonal Skills
Similar to communication skills, interpersonal skills describe one's ability to connect to and work well with others. This is often accomplished through verbal communication, but interpersonal connections also entail nonverbal communication, listening, empathy, and relationship building. Business leaders in particular must hold exceptional interpersonal skills to motivate and direct their teams.
Why Pursue a Career in Business?
The prospect of financial security draws many students to the field of business. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median wage for business and financial occupations exceeded $67,000 in 2017 — this value is roughly $30,000 higher than the median wage for all occupations in the U.S.
Working in business can also lead to exciting career opportunities. Many companies prefer to hire from within, meaning that individuals who start at the lowest levels of a firm may rise to high-ranking positions. For example, Jim Skinner began his career at McDonald's as a restaurant manager trainee. In 2012, he retired as the chief executive officer of the McDonald's corporation.
A degree in business also allows professionals to work in virtually any industry. Business graduates can bring their skills to an advanced technology job and work at the cutting edge of research and development. Or they may want to use their knowledge and business acumen to help lead a hospital and find ways to serve their community.
How Much Do Business Majors Make?
The average salary of business majors can vary widely depending on several factors. For example, professionals who work in a growing field like biotechnology may earn more than a similar position in manufacturing. Workers can also expect to earn less in entry-level roles or if they only possess a bachelor's degree. Location can also greatly affect an individual's earning potential. Companies in more urban settings typically pay more than those in rural areas to help offset the higher cost of living. Regardless, as shown in the tables below, business majors can pursue jobs with very high salaries.
|Career||Mid-Career Salary||Degree Required|
|Chief Accounting Officer||$198,000||Bachelor's/Master's|
|Partner - Accounting Firm||$196,000||Bachelor's|
|Chief Financial Officer||$152,000||Bachelor's|
|Internal Audit Director||$142,000||Bachelor's/Master's|
Meet a Business Professional
Eleni Cotsis Talent Acquisitions Professional
Eleni Cotsis is a talent acquisitions professional specializing in working with startups building remote teams. She graduated in 2015 from Seattle University with a BA in business administration, majoring in international business. A California native, she is currently located in Medellin, Colombia where she organizes the Women Entrepreneurs of Medellin community and runs a local job listing newsletter.
What would you say were the most useful skills you gained in your business program?
The most useful skills I gained in my business program were probably centered around project management, working with people to obtain a specific goal, and how to network.
What was the job search like after you graduated? How did you find yourself on your current career path?
I always wanted to live abroad and to work with an international company. I always loved working with entrepreneurs and startups. So, my job search after I graduated was skewed towards global and local startups with opportunities in other countries.
Currently, I am working as a talent acquisitions executive at a U.S.-based startup. I live in Medellin, Colombia and work remotely. I moved to Medellin in 2015 and was able to connect with local entrepreneurs as well as startups with remote operations. I started working as a freelancer in marketing and worked with U.S.-based startups with marketing operations in Medellin. I started doing some recruiting for them to build out their teams locally and in the U.S. and really started getting more interested in recruiting and employer branding.
What type of person thrives in a business program?
I think for a business program to be valuable, a student needs to find opportunities to apply what they learn outside of the classroom. That is where the best learning opportunities come from. Someone who would thrive in a business program would be someone who is a self starter and can get involved in activities where they can get hands-on experience.
What does continuing education look like for you?
Continuing education for me would need to be a mix of classroom learning, meaningful projects outside of the classroom, and long-term network building opportunities.
The Educational Path to a Career in Business or Finance
Minimum Degree Requirements
Jobs in business and finance do not always rely on strict educational requirements. For example, workers do not need a degree or certification to start their own company — of course, they do typically benefit from the knowledge and skills developed through a formal business training program. Some entrepreneurs may also seek out an associate degree in business when their company begins to grow and operations become more complex.
To get a job at an existing firm, however, aspiring professionals in the business field typically need at least a bachelor's degree. Most companies prefer to hire college graduates for entry-level positions, such as sales representatives or financial analysts. More advanced roles, including human resources managers and chief financial officers, may require a graduate-level degree. Many top-level executives earn a master of business administration (MBA).
In addition, some jobs may require specialized degrees or certifications. For example, a firm may choose to hire only certified public accountants (CPAs) or individuals who successfully pass the uniform CPA examination. Earning a graduate degree or advanced certification can lead to higher salaries and qualify workers for leadership roles.
How Long Does It Take to Earn a Business Degree?
On average, students can receive an associate degree in business in two years. Most learners graduate from bachelor's programs in four years, and the majority of MBA programs require two years of postbaccalaureate study. Additionally, earning a doctoral degree in business can take anywhere from 3-7 years of additional study.
Several factors influence the time it takes to complete a program. For example, students should decide whether they want to study part time or full time. Part-time students can better balance their education with other personal and professional obligations, but the overall time to graduation can increase appreciably. Additionally, learners should determine whether they prefer to study online or in person. Some online programs offer asynchronous and self-paced learning opportunities, meaning students can advance through the curriculum and earn their degree faster.
Individuals who plan to pursue a degree online should make sure to familiarize themselves with the different requirements of distance learning. For example, in asynchronous and self-paced programs, students tend to work alone and may not receive the daily support from classmates and instructors that learners receive in more traditional classroom settings. Online education also requires a great deal of self-discipline and strong time management skills.
Concentrations Available for Business Majors
Accounting involves the recording and analysis of financial transactions within a business. Accountants create budgets, track revenues and expenses, and submit reports to oversight agencies, such as the Internal Revenue Service. They may administer the finances of a single organization or work for an accounting firm that performs services for several clients.
- Business Administration
Students who pursue a concentration in business administration develop the skills necessary to manage teams and lead organizations. They typically understand all facets of a business, including finance and marketing, but they specialize in operational issues. Within larger organizations, business administration may also involve the oversight of middle managers who direct individual departments.
Economists study the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. They attempt to understand the behavior of individuals within a market, such as learning why a consumer chooses to buy a particular product. Economists working for a business play a central role in shaping that company's strategy, whereas economists working for the government create and implement broader economic policies.
Entrepreneurs design, launch, and manage new business ventures. Like business administrators, they must understand virtually all elements of their business operation, as they often need to perform many of these functions themselves. As a company grows, entrepreneurs may transition into senior leadership roles. They may also choose to sell their growing companies and focus on new business ideas.
Generally speaking, finance involves the management of money. When studying finance, individuals may learn how to increase revenues for a company or responsibly invest a company's existing assets. Some students focus on financial analysis or the evaluation of businesses and projects, while others specialize in learning how to buy and sell stocks and bonds.
- Human Resources
Human resources professionals hire, train, and support company personnel. They may also administer payroll, oversee benefits, and help resolve disputes between employees. Except for very small businesses, nearly all organizations require a human resources administrator or department, meaning that students concentrating in this area can apply for positions in a variety of industries.
- Information Systems
A concentration in information systems can prepare learners for many different roles. For example, graduates may pursue work as an information technology manager for a small organization, helping employees access the tools and networks needed to perform their jobs. Additionally, they could specialize in a particular area of IT at a larger organization, such as developing and maintaining databases that allow sales representatives to track the needs of clients.
- International Business
In an increasingly globalized world, companies need more individuals familiar with the laws and best practices associated with conducting business on the international stage. Students who concentrate in this area can choose to work for a multinational corporation or for a governmental organization, like the World Bank or International Monetary Fund.
- Nonprofit Leadership
Nonprofits need individuals with business expertise to help them achieve their missions. By studying issues like tax law, social impact analysis, fundraising, and public-private partnerships, students concentrating in nonprofit leadership can serve their communities by working at hospitals, schools, churches, and other nonprofit organizations.
Managers oversee projects and personnel. Lower-level managers need to know how to supervise employees and ensure that works gets done on time. Mid-level managers focus more on creating productive work environments, and senior managers set the strategic direction of their organizations, make decisions, and communicate with both internal and external audiences.
Marketing students learn how to promote and sell their company's products. This may involve conducting market research to better understand their customers' needs and desires or creating advertising materials to help convince individuals to choose a particular brand. Marketing jobs require excellent analysis and communication skills.
- Public Relations
While marketing focuses on the customer, public relations tends to focus on a larger section of society. Public relations professionals help businesses create and maintain positive public images through advertising, philanthropy, and education.
What Can You Do With a Business Degree?
Although professionals do not need a degree in business to start their own company, postsecondary education can position aspiring business people for a variety of exciting and lucrative opportunities in the field. An associate degree in business, for example, can qualify individuals for entry-level positions such as bookkeepers or office managers. After gaining some experience, workers can often advance up the corporate ladder.
Larger organizations may prefer to hire candidates with a bachelor's degree in business or a related field. Entry-level jobs for business majors with a four-year degree include marketing managers, human resources managers, and budget analysts. When applying for senior-level positions, such as chief financial or chief operating officers, applicants may need a master's degree — either in business administration or in a specialization like accounting or finance. Individuals who earn a doctorate in business often go on to pursue careers in academia.
Associate Degree in Business
An associate degree in business can prepare graduates for certain entry-level roles. Through these programs, students develop an understanding of basic business principles and practices, sharpening their skills in areas like accounting, business law, and marketing.
However, because more and more positions in the field of business require a bachelor's degree, many learners earn an associate degree as the first step in their undergraduate studies. By earning an associate degree at a community college, learners can complete many of the requirements for a bachelor's at a significantly lower cost. In addition, many associate programs allow for part-time study, meaning program participants can keep their current job as they advance their education.
- Office Manager
Office managers greet visitors and customers, solve small issues, and connect individuals with other departments. They often maintain budgets and office records and supervise clerical and other administrative staff. These workers may also coordinate office organization, purchase supplies, and maintain equipment.
- Administrative Assistant
Often working under the supervision of an office or administrative manager, administrative assistants answer calls, maintain schedules, staff meetings, make copies, and perform other clerical functions. In larger organizations, administrative assistants may support a single manager of executive, although they may support an entire department in smaller companies.
- Legal Secretary
Legal secretaries work at law firms and provide legal support services to attorneys. This may involve filing materials, such as memorandums or pleadings; scheduling appointments with clients; conducting initial interviews with prospective clients; or performing research to help prepare for a case. Most legal secretaries hold substantial experience in addition to an associate or bachelor's degree.
- Executive Assistant
Executive assistants share many of the same responsibilities as administrative assistants. However, because these workers typically support just one person, they often become more involved in their employer's personal affairs. For example, an executive assistant may work to ensure their executive's schedule does not infringe on pre-existing family commitments.
- Retail Store Manager
Retail store managers oversee operations at retail businesses, such as clothing stores. They interview and hire personnel, provide training, and create staff schedules. They also reconcile sales, ensure that their store adheres to company policies, and handle any customer issues that may arise. These managers may need to serve as retail staff during busy times or when an employee misses work due to illness.
Bachelor's Degree in Business
A bachelor's degree in business can prepare graduates for entry-level and intermediate roles like financial analysts, auditors, and administrative services managers. Moving beyond the introductory curriculum delivered in an associate program, bachelor's programs help students develop skills and knowledge in the areas of leadership, economics, and organizational theory. These programs also incorporate more diverse learning elements, such as business simulations, field experiences, and organizational consulting. In addition, bachelor's programs allow students to prepare for particular business career paths within the broader field. For example, learners in many programs can choose to specialize in areas like business administration, business management, or international business.
- Financial Analyst
Financial analysts help their organizations make responsible investment decisions. They study market trends, their company's fiscal position, and potential investment opportunities in order to make finance-related recommendations. Financial analysts typically hold at least a bachelor's degree.
Accountants often oversee payroll, budgeting, inventory, purchasing, and tax filings. To do so, they must thoroughly understand their organization's financial situation as well as all applicable laws and regulations. In addition to an undergraduate degree, many employers prefer to hire candidates with a CPA credential.
- Human Resources Manager
Human resources managers hold many responsibilities related hiring and supporting their company's employees. In bachelor's programs, they learn how to comply with state and federal hiring laws; how to best train and develop personnel; ways to resolve employee disputes; and methods to navigate complex systems, such as those used to manage payroll and benefits.
- Financial Controller
Financial controllers often serve in managerial positions. They typically oversee work related to accounting and budgeting. In larger organizations, financial controllers must communicate complicated financial information to those in the company without formal training in that area. Additionally, they must regularly produce reports for regulatory agencies.
- Marketing Manager
Marketing managers direct advertising and promotional campaigns. They often coordinate the work of researchers, creative professionals, market analysts, and sales representatives. The scope of a marketing manager's portfolio, such as whether they work on a single product or an entire product line, largely depends on the size of their organization.
Master's Degree in Business
A master's degree in business offers students advanced preparation in areas like business intelligence, corporate responsibility, human resource management, information systems, project management, and entrepreneurship. Beyond skill development, a master's in business opens up career opportunities in two additional ways. First, it serves as a signal to potential employers and clients that a degree holder is committed to the field, especially if a student's degree came from a prestigious institution. A master's provides a sense of legitimacy that might otherwise take years of experience to earn. Second, earning an advanced degree allows graduates to tap into a more dedicated alumni network. After graduating, a classmate's or professor's recommendation can make a big difference while searching for jobs.
Students pursuing a graduate-level degree in business commonly seek out an MBA. Developed in the early 20th century as a means to introduce a scientific approach to management, MBA programs provide students with core knowledge in statistics, ethics, finance, law, and other areas essential to succeeding in the world of business.
MBA students can personalize their course of study by choosing certain electives and/or concentrations. Learners typically complete core courses in the first year of their program and electives in their second year. The flexibility afforded by this degree allows graduates to take on a variety of roles.
- Vice President, Business Development
Vice presidents of business development help companies secure new business. They may direct the efforts of marketing departments, sales teams, and even research and development offices. These individuals must hold exceptional managerial skills, and they typically serve as a member of an organization's senior leadership team.
- Chief Financial Officer
A chief financial officer (CFO) oversees the financial operations of a company. They must work to both boost revenue and reduce expenses in order to maximize profit. Depending on the size of an organization, a CFO might be closely involved in matters of budgeting and accounting or serve as more of a representative of these departments to upper management.
- Marketing Director
Marketing directors, like marketing managers, direct advertising and promotion. At the director level, these professionals usually spend the majority of their time establishing strategies, managing personnel, and acting as a public representative for their organization. They may also use their understanding of the market to advise senior leaders on organizational strategy and goals.
- Director of Operations
Directors of operations work on issues related to personnel management and the maintenance of a company's physical assets. For example, the director of operations at a manufacturing plant may oversee the organization's supply chain, from ordering raw materials to transporting finished products to the consumer. They may also oversee individuals working on the assembly line.
- Human Resources Director
Human resources directors may work directly with company personnel, but their responsibilities lie primarily in hiring the right individuals and providing new workers with the tools necessary to succeed. These directors may create company policies, develop training sessions, or recommend incentive programs for high performers.
Doctoral Degree in Business
A doctorate in business administration teaches learners how to collect, analyze, and use data. As part of these programs, students typically conduct original research related to business knowledge or theory. They must use their findings to write a dissertation. Upon successfully defending their dissertation before a committee of faculty members, students receive a doctorate — the highest academic distinction in the field.
For the most part, graduates of doctoral programs work in academia, either as professors or higher education administrators. While not typically required, doctors of business administration can also assume senior leadership roles at businesses or nonprofit organizations.
- CEO, Nonprofit Organization
Chief executive officers (CEOs) of nonprofits lead organizations dedicated to public service rather than profit. Just like business leaders, nonprofit CEOs must understand how all parts of their organization function. They also benefit from the ability to measure the social impact of their programs through research and analysis.
- Professor, Postsecondary
College and university professors teach business principles to students pursuing postsecondary degrees. In addition to teaching and mentorship, professors often conduct research within their area of expertise and use their findings to write scholarly articles or books to help guide their field.
- Department Chair (College/University)
Within institutions of higher education, department chairs act as academic administrators. They oversee the work of tenured professors, adjunct instructors, and academic staff. They play a key role in hiring, and they must also manage their department's budget. Many department chairs also hold teaching and advising responsibilities in addition to their administrative duties.
Where Can I Work With a Business Degree?
With a degree in business, graduates can work in nearly any industry. However, a professional's earning power and the ease with which they can find a job varies depending on several factors. For example, more employment opportunities can be found in fast-growing fields like information technology, as compared to the fashion industry. Large cities with strong economies can also support more companies and feature more jobs opportunities than rural areas. Regardless, a business degree offers more flexibility than most other disciplines.
An individual's state of residence can impact their employment opportunities and their quality of life. For example, graduates may find more opportunities to work in the technology industry if they live in California. However, many people prefer to live in a state where they can be closer to their families or enjoy a significantly lower cost of living. Making this decision requires an understanding of one's priorities. Feel free to review the map below to learn more about what each state can offer recent business major graduates.
A worker's salary strongly correlates with the industry they choose. For example, individuals can typically find more lucrative careers in financial investment than they can in the fields of accounting and tax preparation.
|Accounting, Tax Preparation, Bookkeeping, and Payroll Services||$78,090|
|Agents and Managers for Artists, Athletes, Entertainers, and Other Public Figures||$91,660|
|Insurance and Employee Benefit Funds||$77,140|
|Securities, Commodity Contracts, and Other Financial Investments and Related Activities||$119,340|
|Monetary Authorities - Central Bank||$93,840|
|Securities, Commodity Contracts, and Other Financial Investments and Related Activities||$119,340|
|Other Investment Pools and Funds||$96,120|
|Pipeline Transportation of Crude Oil||$95,510|
|Monetary Authorities - Central Bank||$93,840|
How Do You Find a Job as a Business Major?
To find a job as a business major, graduates need to put together an effective resume. Individuals can visit the Purdue Online Writing Lab's resume workshop page to learn how to create a clear and compelling overview of their education and experience.
Networking and maintaining professional relationships is also important when searching for jobs. LinkedIn — a professional networking site — offers some tips on how to use their service to find new opportunities. Students can also talk to their school's career services office for more general advice on how to network in person.
Finally, know where to look for new professional opportunities. A good source is Indeed, which aggregates job listings from thousands of career sites across the web. A school's career services office can also help connect students and graduates with internship and job opportunities. It may even know of alumni involved in hiring. Additionally, many of the resources listed below feature job boards and career centers to help individuals find business major careers.
Professional Resources for Business Majors
- American Finance Association: Founded in 1939, AFA works to advance the study of financial economics. It conducts and disseminates research through the Journal of Finance; hosts an annual meeting; and features a job board where users can search for positions in academia, government, and the finance industry. Graduate students can submit their work for consideration at the annual conference and apply for a travel grant to attend.
- Accounting & Financial Women's Alliance: AFWA supports women in accounting and financial positions. It offers a host of scholarships to undergraduate and graduate students studying in the field, organizes regional events and the national Women Who Count conference, and maintains a job board. It also conducts an annual survey of accounting and financial firms to help members chart their business career paths in the industry.
- National Association of Black Accountants, Inc.: Representing more than 200,000 black professionals, NABA seeks to bridge the opportunity gap for people of color in accounting, finance, and business-related professions. It provides education and professional development resources, supports awareness and access programs for college students, offers more than $100,000 annually in scholarships, and hosts an online career center.
- American Marketing Association: AMA serves as a community for marketers and marketing academics. It publishes four scholarly journals as well as online case studies, whitepapers, and other resources. Aspiring marketers can review AMA's expansive career center, which features a job board, resources for students considering careers in academia, and advice on topics such as updating your resume and finding scholarships.
- American Management Association: AMA focuses on providing training resources to new and established managers. Members can read articles and whitepapers, listen to podcasts, watch webinars, complete online training modules, participate in web forums, and receive individual consultations. Business students can join for a discounted membership fee.
- Society for Human Resource Management: SHRM represents more than 285,000 human resources professional around the world. Its website features guides and toolkits for HR practitioners, career planning and professional development resources, and issue-oriented online communities. SHRM also administers two professional certifications to help members signal their expertise in the field.
- International Association of Administrative Professionals: IAAP helps administrative professionals develop and excel in their roles. It offers regional training and networking through 19 branch locations and hosts several national summits and conferences. IAAP also certifies professional development programs, hosts a job board, and gives achievement awards to exceptional administrative professionals.
- Entrepreneurs' Organization: EO acts a global network for entrepreneurs. Founded in 1987, it now helps connect more than 12,000 business owners and entrepreneurs across 54 countries. EO offers a paid entrepreneur training program; a free mentor matching program; and publicly available podcasts, webinars, and professional development resources. It also manages the Octane Blog, which discusses news, insights, and best practices in entrepreneurship.
- National Association of Sales Professionals: Serving individuals working in the field of sales, NASP offers online training resources on subjects like building influence and contact marketing. It also administers certification programs for professional salespeople and professional sales leaders. Additionally, NASP advertises job opportunities and allows members to post their resume on its website.
- American Production and Inventory Control Society: APICS represents more than 45,000 supply chain management professionals around the world. It offers three professional certifications in inventory management; supply chain management; and logistics, transportation, and distribution. It also hosts an annual conference, a regional seminar series on topics like demand management and material requirements planning, online training webinars, and virtual career fairs.