Whether or not you’re obsessed with becoming the next Sir Alan Sugar (or, for the North Americans among us, Donald Trump), a business degree is a great way to develop many of the transferable skills needed for use in a business environment.
There a number of types of business degree which you can undertake, one of the most common of which is an undergraduate business studies degree. Often a business studies degree will cover subjects such as accounting, finance, management and, increasingly, entrepreneurship. This wide range of subjects reflects the multidisciplinary nature of business, and the importance of understanding all the key elements needed to make a business successful.
If you’re looking for a degree which specializes more in a particular aspect of the business world (e.g. economics or marketing), consider taking a dedicated program in that area, or a joint honours degree (e.g. Business & Economics). The advantage of a joint degree is that you acquire general business skills along with more specialized ones, leaving you well placed when it comes to applying for graduate jobs.
What can you do with a business degree?
So, what can you do with a business degree? If you’re someone who enjoys the professionalism and high-powered nature of big business, then you’re likely to be considering a business degree as a stepping stone to a high-status, high-salary career. In today’s world, corporate business careers are available in pretty much every sector you can think of; all industries need strong leaders, managers, financial advisors and market-savvy decision-makers. For many business graduates, however, the traditional pathways still hold a strong appeal – including careers in the banking and financial sectors, consultancy, human resources and marketing roles.
If a straightforward corporate career is failing to get you excited, then a business program can also give you the skills to create your own business, or to take on business and management roles within more creative industries, be that fashion, media, or even the charity sector.
The good thing about a business studies qualification is that it can open you up to many entry-level roles upon graduation, while still allowing those who wish to specialize further the chance to improve their return on investment with a graduate degree (read: those who study to master’s level may see a much higher starting salary). Examples of postgraduate programs include Masters in Management, Masters in Finance and (for those who’ve gained some professional experience) the Masters in Business Administration (MBA).
For the purposes of this article, I’ll be focusing on business careers that can be gained via an undergraduate-level course, with and without postgraduate study. Read on for examples of typical and not so typical careers with a business degree.
Typical careers with a business degree
Don’t assume that studying business is a one-way route into business leadership and management roles – while this is a common path, business careers span multiple industries. Good business and management skills are key elements of any profitable company, and therefore effective leaders, strategic thinkers and financial experts are all in great demand. Big or small, global or national, companies all over the world are looking for business graduates like you.
Business careers in accounting and finance
Generalised business studies degrees will usually cover aspects of accountancy and finance. But if you wish to pursue a career in accounting or finance, you’ll usually need to gain further qualifications. A good option for business graduates is to apply for a graduate role, and complete a specialized qualification while you work. In many larger companies, the course costs will actually be covered by the employer.
If you do decide to go into accounting or finance, your job may involve reviewing your company’s financial situation both past and present; advising clients and colleagues on tax and expenditure; managing records and business transactions; playing a role in mergers and acquisitions; and taking responsibility for preventing bad practice as well as fraud and negligence.
Business careers in management
Becoming a manager is a tough job. There may be long hours, disruptive colleagues or simply a lot going on at once – but someone’s got to do it! The upside is that managerial roles are known for being higher-paid, as well as boasting many opportunities for career progression or even a career U-turn. Managers can be found across all industries and fields, and their job is to provide structure and strategy to a workplace.
Because of the responsibility of such positions, it’s unlikely you’ll find a managerial role without first gaining a further degree or a number of years of mid-level work experience. Despite this, business graduates are well-placed to become a managers later on in life, and with determination and steady career progression an additional degree may not be necessary.
Another option which may appeal is the field of business consultancy. This means working as part of a team, combining your business expertise and analytical skills in order to provide advice to other companies, usually focusing on how to optimise a specific project or part of the business. Projects and clients may vary widely, ensuring plenty of fresh challenges to get to grips with. Or you may specialize in a particular type of business, combining your business knowledge with a second field of interest, such as engineering or logistics.
Business careers in retail and sales
There’s much more to retail and sales than shelf-stacking and cold-calling, especially if you’re armed with a business degree. Opportunities within sales and retail teams are numerous, including shop-based and office-based roles, as well as travelling positions for which a good knowledge of global markets is a must.
For those looking to rise to the higher levels of retail and sales careers, large companies often offer the chance to undertake a graduate training program or trainee management program, in order to fast-track your position within the company. This can be highly valuable in gaining on-the-job experience, while continuing to develop your business and management skills in a commercial world. Such programs can be highly competitive and often require good grades as well as a proven passion for the industry.
Other common graduate careers with a business degree include roles within auditing, banking, communications, distribution, energy and utilities, hospitality and leisure, IT, insurance, journalism, law, logistics, manufacturing, media administration, production management, public relations, the public sector and defense, risk management and tax. As mentioned above, every sector needs good business brains!
Less typical careers with a business degree
And, you may ask, what can you do with a business degree without following the typical routes? Well, you can do rather a lot. Roles requiring business acumen and analytical thinking are innumerable, and your choice of which industry to head into is likely to be based on personal interests. It’s a cliché, but true – if you work for a company, product or service you truly believe in, you’re likely to be more motivated and effective in your role, and progress your career more rapidly.
Business careers in media
Although business studies degrees may not seem like the most creative of pathways, they can in fact lead to lots of roles within creative industries. Media is one such widespread industry, an umbrella term covering TV, film, online, newspaper and magazine publishing, events and more. While you’re unlikely to be directly involved in creative tasks such as writing, video editing or animation production, you’ll need a solid understanding of the media sector within which you’re working. Business careers in media include roles in sales, human resources, PR, finance and accounting, operations, marketing and branding, as well as overall management and strategic direction.
Business careers in marketing and advertising
Opportunities in marketing and advertising are numerous for business graduates, particularly for those with a bit of creative flair. In these industries, business graduates can use the analysis and report-writing skills honed during their degree in order to conduct market research, develop marketing strategies, manage client relationships, liaise with copywriters, designers and printers, analyze markets and evaluate campaign results. You’re likely to be working alongside specialists such as designers, video producers and copywriters, and will need to continually broaden your own skillset to keep pace with changes in technology and market trends.
Business careers in human resources
Business doesn’t have to be a dog-eat-dog world, and careers within human resources offer roles which require both business acumen and highly honed interpersonal skills. Recruitment, training and pay are all areas handled by the HR department. Great communication skills are essential, but you’ll also be expected to have a good basic understanding of business operations and management (which you should have gained during your degree), as well as detailed and up-to-date knowledge of employment laws and company regulations.
‘What Can You Do With a Business Degree?’ is part of our ‘What Can You Do With…’ series. We have also covered art, biology, communications, computer science, English, engineering, fashion, history, geography, law, marketing, mathematics, performing arts, philosophy, politics, psychology, sociology, chemistry, economics and physics.