Careers in Business Occupational Paths & Earning Potential

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts more than 600,000 new jobs in business by 2024, opening up opportunities for those with a passion for investments, real estate, marketing and human resources. Because the field of business is so broad, it’s worth exploring the different career paths and specializations available, what types of careers are emerging, and the skills or certifications necessary for various positions.

Career Paths in Business

Whether they have a head for numbers or a flair for marketing, students pursuing business degrees have numerous options in choosing a specialization that will best fit their strengths and preferences. The following are examples of concentrations in business and the specific careers they can lead to.

Business Administration

This concentration arms students with the skills and knowledge to work in government or the private sector as teachers, consultants and leaders in business. Coursework includes financial management, business systems, business analysis and decision making.

  • Financial Manager

    Produces financial reports, directs investments, and develops strategies to achieve long-term financial goals. Financial managers are responsible for the overall financial health of an organization.

  • Business Operations Specialist

    Works to ensure organizations are effective, efficient, and compliant with laws and industry regulations.

Real Estate

For those with an interest in one of the largest industries in the world, this concentration focuses on the skills and knowledge applicable to residential and commercial real estate, including mortgage lending, legal practices and financial markets. Coursework covers topics such as business communications, real estate investment, and real estate law.

  • Commercial Real Estate Developer

    Purchases land, prepares it for development, and manages the construction process. Duties include securing financing, negotiating projects, handling zoning or legal issues, and participating in public hearings.

  • Asset Manager

    Acquires, operates, maintains, and disposes of assets in a cost-effective manner. These professionals manage investments on behalf of both individuals and corporations.

Marketing

This specialty combines economic analysis with the practical aspects of business to prepare students to adapt to rapidly changing environments involving products, markets and technology. Coursework includes consumer behavior, international marketing and marketing communications.

  • Marketing Manager

    Coordinates marketing policies to create demand for products and services and develops pricing strategies to maximize profits. These professionals also monitor trends and contribute to product development.

  • Market Research Analyst

    Studies market conditions to determine potential sales of products and services. Market research analysts also help companies identify trends in public taste.

Human Resource Management

This specialization teaches students how to design and implement programs for the effective management of an organization’s employees. Key areas of study include staffing, training and development, performance management, leadership, and compensation and benefits.

  • Executive Recruiter

    Screens, interviews and recommends employees for executive and senior management positions. Executive recruiters also work with search agencies to create a pool of qualified candidates.

  • Human Resources Manager

    Plans, directs and coordinates the personnel matters of a business or organization. Duties include recruiting and hiring staff, planning long-term strategies, and serving as a liaison between employees and management.

Actuarial Science

Students learn the necessary skills to assess liabilities and risks a company faces when it offers an insurance product or pension plan. Course topics include statistics, actuary mathematics, and loss models.

  • Actuary

    Manages financial risks with the goal of helping companies grow. Actuaries compile and analyze statistics to accurately calculate insurance risks and premium costs.

  • Business Operations Specialist

    Works to ensure organizations are effective, efficient, and compliant with laws and industry regulations.

Outlook & Salary Potential in Business

The expected job outlook for business graduates is on pace with the economy as a whole. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts an 8 percent growth in business jobs from 2014 to 2024, translating to some 632,000 new positions. In addition, a survey by Michigan State University’s College Employment Research Institutes projects that very large companies—those with more than 10,000 employees—will experience an enormous 82 percent growth in jobs. The fastest growing industries in the United States include real estate management, financial services, manufacturing and nonprofits.

Increased demand for business professionals goes hand in hand with competitive pay rates. Salaries vary depending on education, experience, and geographical location, but overall the outlook is good. For example, business operations managers earn an average salary of $60,518 a year, according to Payscale.com, while experienced professionals in business development earn a median salary of $84,000.

Here is the outlook for several popular careers in the business world, with the 2014 median salary and the projected growth from 2014-2024, according to the BLS:

Actuary Median salary $96,700 2014 employment 24,600 Additional jobs by 2024 4,400 (+18 percent)
Market Research Analyst Median salary $61,290 2014 employment 495,500 Additional jobs by 2024 92,300 (+19 percent)
Benefits Manager Median salary $108,070 2014 employment 16,900 Additional jobs by 2024 1,100 (+6 percent)
Human Resources Manager Median salary $102,780 2014 employment 122,500 Additional jobs by 2024 10,800 (+9 percent)
Human Resources Manager Median salary $115,320 2014 employment 555,900 Additional jobs by 2024 37,700 (+7 percent)

Business Salary by State

As of May 2014, the median annual wage for business and financial occupations was $64,790, but as with any profession, location influences the numbers. The ten states with the highest salaries are as follows:

  • 1New York, Salary: $139,350
  • 2New Jersey, Salary: $138,750
  • 3Kentucky, Salary: $134,110
  • 4Delaware, Salary: $133,340
  • 5Connecticut, Salary: $128,210
  • 6California, Salary: $125,500
  • 7District of Columbia, Salary: $91,780
  • 8Virginia, Salary: $125,460
  • 9Massachusetts, Salary: $123,950
  • 10Maryland, Salary: $121,370

Top Skills for a Career in Business

It’s possible to build a career in business in virtually any industry, from real estate to retail, but it’s a process that requires nurturing a comprehensive skill set. Professionals who have a firm grasp on the necessary skills, and the ability to use them effectively in the workplace, may have an easier time climbing the corporate ladder and reaching positions that require more responsibility and pay higher salaries. Successful professionals share some of the following skills:

Organizational

Because working in the business world involves the management of large amounts of information and documents, as well as jugging multiple tasks, business professionals must develop an organizational system to keep things straight, as well as know how to set priorities and manage their time.

Detail-oriented

When a missed email can mean the loss of a client, and sloppy record-keeping can wreak havoc on the books, an eye for detail may mean the difference between a business’s success or failure.

Analytical

Business professionals are inundated with information of all kinds. It’s vital to be able to sort through information, understand its implications, and then apply it effectively.

Problem solving

Being able to find creative and effective solutions to problems is essential, especially at the managerial level. Successful professionals know how to examine variables and understand the consequences of various courses of action, and then make the best decisions for the organization.

Certifications & Licenses

Licensure or certification in a specialty area is usually not required in the business world—although actuaries are an exception—but the additional training and education necessary to receive certification can help individuals show increased skills and competency, and may help them advance in their careers.

Top 5 Certifications or Licenses for a Career in Business

  • Associate or Fellowship Certification (Actuaries)

    The Society of Actuaries (SOA) and Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) are professional societies that sponsor associate and fellow certification programs.

    SOA: Certifies actuaries who handle life insurance, investments, health insurance, and retirement benefits.

    CAS: Certifies actuaries who work in property and casualty areas such as automobile, homeowner, and workers’ compensation insurance.

    Of the two societies, only SOA offers five separate certification tracks for fellowship certification: finance/enterprise risk management, group and health benefits, investments, life and annuities, and retirement benefits. The only professionals who must become licensed are pension actuaries. Licensing begins with the passing of two SOA exams, followed by application to enroll in the Joint Board for the Enrollment of Actuaries, managed by the U.S Department of Labor and U.S. Department of the Treasury.

  • Professional Researcher Certification (Market Research)

    Members of the Marketing Research Association (MRA) may pursue this certification after obtaining three years of work experience in opinion and marketing research, and passing an exam. Twenty hours of continuing education courses are required every two years to renew certification.

  • SHRM-CP, SHRM-SCP (Human Resources.)

    Although most employers in the field of human resources do not require certification, it does show knowledge and professional competence across all areas of human resources. Several human resources organizations sponsor certification opportunities; for example, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) offers both the SHRM Certified Professional (SHRM-CP) and SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP).

  • Certification of Employee Benefit Specialist (Compensation and Benefits Managers)

    To recognize expertise and credibility in the compensation and benefits field, the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans offers four designations: Group Benefits Associate (GBA), Retirement Plan Associate (RPA), Compensation Management Specialist (CMS), and Certified Employee Benefit Specialist (CEBS), which encompasses all three areas. The CEBS program covers all aspects of benefits and compensation, with a strong focus on strategy and planning.

  • Chartered Financial Analyst (Financial managers)

    The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) certification is not a legal requirement, but does demonstrate a level of competence in the area of financial management. Offered by the CFA Institute, this designation requires a bachelor’s degree, four years of work experience, and the passing of three exams.

Emerging Careers in Business

The field of opportunities for business graduates is constantly changing, with the path to success no longer limited to traditional careers in business and finance. Advances in technology, for example, have spurred job creation at development and social media companies that are looking for specialty business skill sets—especially as hacking, terrorism, and cyberattack threats have brought privacy and security issues to the forefront. Business ethics is another growing area as companies adjust to changing societal standards and seek to protect themselves against lawsuits. Finally, as colleges and universities graduate business students with an increased sense of social responsibility, nonprofits are tapping into their ideal blend of solid business skills informed by a social conscience. The following positions are examples of some of the emerging careers in business:

Business Continuity Planner

The risk of cyberattacks, terrorism, and natural disasters means businesses stand to lose millions of dollars, particularly with the advent of expensive technologies over the past two decades. Business continuity planners specialize in risk assessment and business impact analysis to determine ways to mitigate the damage that catastrophes may inflict on data centers and essential business functions.

Business continuity professionals plan and conduct regular mock-disaster exercises to test how well existing plans and strategies would hold up during a disruptive event. The debriefing process then involves updating and adjusting procedures to recover from disruptive events as efficiently as possible, which includes identifying recovery time periods and necessary resource requirements. In the case of a true emergency, these professionals act as coordinators for continuity efforts. In many cases, business continuity planners also assume duties that once belonged to information systems managers, such as scaling technology as a company grows.

According to Recruiter.com, the overall outlook for business continuity planners has remained positive since 2004, with a steady growth rate of 2.89 percent per year. States with the highest job growth rate for business continuity planners are Vermont (65.96 percent), South Carolina (32.81 percent), Montana (31.31 percent), and New York (29.46 percent). The demand for these professionals is expected to increase 2.8 percent by 2018, with an additional 223,020 jobs filled. Payscale.com reports the average salary for these professionals as $63,222 per year.

Business Ethics Consultant

Business ethics influence every aspect of the business world. Organizations that engage in unethical business activities may not only lose sales and clients; they can also face fines and lawsuits, sometimes even resulting in prison time.

Unfortunately, it is common for employees from entry-level to middle management to fear voicing criticisms to their superiors, making it difficult for organizations to identify ethical breaches. Business ethics consultants are objective, outside experts who evaluate the ethical practices of individuals or organizations and compare them to broad, normative ethics information to identify issues. The need for these professionals is increasing as organizations grapple with issues in a world where privacy is increasingly difficult.

Many times, business ethics consultants not only identify issues, but investigate the root cause of unethical conduct. For instance, are employees too stressed or overworked? Are they being improperly trained? Consultants then meet with ethics boards within organizations to develop plans for training employees in ways that comply with the law and fulfill moral and ethical obligations to the company, clients, employees, and the public.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics groups business ethics consultants with other management analysts. The median 2014 salary of these professionals was $80,880 and the projected job growth is 14 percent by 2024.

Nonprofit Consultant

Business graduates who want to make a meaningful difference in society look for opportunities to use their business skills and knowledge to effect positive change—and nonprofits that promote social causes are embracing them in response.

Nonprofit consultants are business specialists who work with organizations in the social sector, providing skills in areas such as accounting, finance, human resources and diversity. Social enterprise, in particular, is an emerging area of business used to address societal shortcomings such as education disparities or problems like environmental challenges.

Nonprofit consultants work to help their clients develop social entrepreneurship skills and high-impact strategies for success, drawing on their background and knowledge of strategic planning, earned-income nonprofit models, cost-effective implementation and cross-cultural communication.

Salaries in social enterprise were once perceived to be well below the average of business school graduates. However, that is no longer the case. According to the Association of Fundraising Professionals Compensation Benefits Study, the average nonprofit consultant salary was $80,209 in 2011. Employment for these professionals is steady, with charitable organizations and nonprofits employing more than 17 percent of the workforce, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy. In addition, charitable work is growing in the United States, with the country’s more than 1.3 million charities representing an increase of more than 150 percent in the past 20 years.

Career & Job Resources

Whether you’re looking for your first full-time job, an internship or are making a move in your career, find out more about job searching before you start your hunt. There are many career-specific resources available to jobseekers today, from online job boards to resume builders.

careers & jobs

  • Industries at a Glance: Professional and Business Services

    BLS shares its outlook on job growth and median wage for business careers in this handy resource. There are a number of illuminating statistics that will help you decide whether or not a career in business is right for you.

  • Career Areas to Explore

    This website provides a breakdown of the different subsets of a business degree or job and illustrates the many opportunities available in the field.

  • Jobs You Didn’t Think Your MBA Could Land You

    Business careers aren’t always behind-the-desk and crunching numbers. This article sheds some light on different things you can do with a business degree.

  • Moster.com

    This is the king of job search engines. Simply type in “business” or whatever job title you are looking for (manager, sales associate, etc.), and you can find it easily and apply by saving your resume in your Monster account. This is a great way for potential employers to find you as well.

  • Best Jobs for Business Majors by Salary Potential

    This tool may help business majors decide on a career path after graduation.

  • 14 Best Paying Jobs for College Business Majors

    This list gives college business majors an idea of what to expect in the job market. It may even help current business students better target their focus area before graduation.

  • Best Business Jobs

    This four-page resource has a list of all of the best business jobs to help you choose a career path once you’ve become a business major.

  • Best Careers Decisions

    U.S. News has a host of career advice, resources and tips available to job-seekers in any field. Whether you need help with interview skills, prepping a resume or figuring out how much you should ask for, this guide has what you need.

  • Business Careers Archives

    If you prefer videos over written articles, this is a great source to illustrate the differences in any number of business careers.