Business Management Careers: 2021 Guide to Career Paths, Options & Salary

Business Management Careers: 2021 Guide to Career Paths, Options & Salary
Imed Bouchrika by Imed Bouchrika
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

A career in business management can be lucrative. It can also be pretty interesting and thrilling, especially on the edge of innovation. Good managers are valued in any business, non-profit work, and government. That is why business management graduates can get jobs in virtually any industry. Even though business management is quite a wide field and discipline, the core skills are the same.

Moreover, good business managers are in high demand. It is also a very popular degree. In fact, in the academic year of 2018 to 2019, there was an estimated 390,564 business-related degrees granted in the U.S., the most out of many disciplines.

Business management students are trained to be resourceful, creative, collaborative, and to be leaders. They are prepared to bring value to an organization through both hard quantitative skills and soft people skills. In this article, we will discuss the different possible career options for business managers.

Why pursue a career in Business Management?

Business management can be a fulfilling career in many regards—monetary-wise and when it comes to personal and social fulfillment. Managers in all industries are tasked not just to manage processes but people. And, for those who choose to be leaders and enjoy teamwork, a management job could be a great fit for them.

Furthermore, because of the dynamic nature of today’s social, economical, and political milieu, good leaders are in demand. For one, leaders are needed to navigate organizations into a post-pandemic world with new challenges. This includes the trending demand for businesses to be socially conscious.

In their IEEE Engineering Management Review article, “Managing in a Post-COVID-19 World: A Stakeholder Network Perspective,” Robert Hill and his George Washington University colleagues (2021) emphasized this new challenge in management.

Management, they state, needs “to offer a stakeholder network perspective on managing in a post-COVID-19 world, and an example of the tools available for the important work ahead. This perspective argues for the need for scholars and practitioners to embrace an inclusive stakeholder orientation, to better counter the pandemic’s unprecedented breadth of impact, especially its second-order network effects on unseen, hidden stakeholder populations, while being mindful of the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our modes of group sense-making.” 

To be able to do this, leaders need to make good decisions, especially in times of uncertainty. And, management education aims to do just that.

A business management degree program, put simply, trains students to make smart organizational decisions. And, management, as a discipline espouses a “holistic point of view” (Yu in Kowarski, 2020). So, students are taught to appreciate the many working aspects of a business and how they relate to the larger context.

Some schools offer a general business management education that integrates virtually all disciplines. Others offer specialized majors for specific business processes. But, in general, it is all about making the right choices in the right contexts. Morris (2019) captures this in his book Strategic Management where management, he stated, is “essentially about choice — in terms of what the organization will do and won’t do to achieve specific goals and objectives, where such goals and objectives lead to the realization of a stated mission and vision.”

Thus, business management degree programs prepare students to be able organizational managers through the different stages of an organization’s development (Kowarski, 2020). Also, in addition to this type of scientific management training, they also learn the art of managing people. Hence, many institutions offer leadership courses with real-life team projects to help students prepare for their future jobs.

Being in management can be very interesting, especially for lifelong learners. Managers walk a fine line between a generalist and a specialist. They are asked to see the forest but also to see the trees that make up their domain. This takes a great understanding of the whole process and a working understanding of the specifics. And, this gets more true when managers move up their ranks or move to different companies and industries. So, there is great learning involved. We sure do live in a market economy and managers have a chance to understand how this works better.

So, if you are a lifelong learner, a leader, and very driven to make a stamp in a company or industry, then business management is a good fit for you. This can also lead to other C-suite positions like CEO or CTO. Moreover, management skills can also be carried to other ventures. Many people started out their careers working in management. Then, they move on to be entrepreneurs. This is also a common business management career path. And, it can also be very fulfilling.

key management occupation statistics

Business Management Career Outlook

A business management degree is a recognized credential for many job positions. This includes being a non-profit manager, business analyst, banker, marketing analyst, and management consultant.  In fact, there are 14 concentrations and 21 related majors (College Factual, 2021). So, graduates can enter a wide range of industries from the military to tech, and from consultancy to academia. And, business graduates are in great demand.

In fact, producing business managers is also big business. In 2018 alone, the industry revenue of business schools, computer, and management training reached $12.67 billion (Statista, 2020). In 2012, it was only $9.89 billion. This is more than 28% growth in a span of just six years. In 2020, the revenue is estimated to have reached $13.27. By 2024, experts predict that the figure will reach more than $14.1 billion.

Business management is quite a general discipline. But, with many areas of specialization. Specializations include operations management, supply chain management, project management, retail management, and ecommerce. It is also related to many business disciplines like accounting and finance majors, marketing majors, and corporate communications specialists. Thus, students are introduced and trained in many areas of running an organization. So, the business management career path is very open with many possibilities. Below are the median salaries of different management occupations (BLS, 2021).

Online Associate Degree Tuition Comparison

Online Associate DegreeInstitutionTution
Weapons of Mass Destruction PreparednessAmerican Public University$285 per credit
Healthcare AdministrationCambridge College Global$1,455 per course
Accounting Ashworth College$69 per credit
Adult and Continuing Education Associate’s DegreeFive Towns College$228 per credit
Healthcare ManagementUniversity of Cincinnati$266 to $281 per credit
Sources: American Public University, 2021; Ashworth College, 2021; Cambridge College Global, 2021; Five Towns College, 2021; University of Cincinnati, 2021


Required Skills for Business Managers

It is easier for natural leaders to become business managers. However, leadership and management skills can be learned. Many of these are taught in business schools. However, much more can be learned and developed in practice. In this section, we will take a look at both the essential and general skills required for business managers.

Essential Skills for Business Managers

Business managers need high-level management skills to deal with interconnected processes for their organizations. (IMD, 2021). And, because of the dynamic nature of markets and industries today, leaders need to have these essential skills to pursue fruitful business management careers: (1) Vision, (2) Strategic Thinking, (3) Negotiation and Conflict Management, and (4) Team-Building and Interpersonal Skills.

Vision

Professor Hooijberg (in IMD, 2021) likened leaders to artists. Leaders, he stated, are inspired by a vision for their organization. And, they must galvanize others to execute their vision. Also, visionary leaders often think ahead of their time. They make market predictions and create strategic and tactical policies to navigate their organizations through a dynamic environment. To be able to do this, they must be able to visualize things that do not yet exist. And, they must be dedicated and passionate enough to make their visions a reality.

Strategic Thinking

Management is all about making the right decisions. And, it takes a great deal of strategic and future-forward thinking to pull off. Strategy, in the most basic sense, is the management of resources. And, this has its roots in the military. Nickols (2016) stated that “The concept of strategy has been adopted from the military and adapted for use in business. …In business, as in the military, strategy bridges the gap between policy and tactics. Together, strategy and tactics bridge the gap between ends and means.”

Hence, strategic thinking in business requires an objective assessment of the current market and making educated predictions of the future market state. This is in order to create a step-by-step actionable plan that will take the organization to a better future. Managers need to create a roadmap for value creation (IMD, 2021). This includes many aspects of business operations, from finance to human resources.

Negotiation and Conflict Management

This is absolutely essential for managers, as noted by IMD (2021) negotiate with people and manage conflicts all day long.  They exchange ideas, network, and collaborate with people in and outside the organization. So, it is best for them to have the necessary skills to maintain amicable dialogues that can create mutually beneficial results. This involves creating bonds with people, establishing dialogues, negotiating, nurturing a positive relationship, and using the concept of reciprocity. Of course, managers have to keep the initial cause in mind while dealing with others.

Team-Building and Interpersonal Skills

This is highly related to negotiation and conflict management. And, well basically, team-building and interpersonal skills are also constant negotiations. Managers need to build trust and shared understanding in order to get the best out of their teams. And, this includes creating both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. Extrinsic motivations include rewards and punishments like salary rates, benefits, and disciplinary actions. But, Professor Ben-Hur (in IMD, 2021) noted that extrinsic motivation can only work so far. Managers need to instill, nurture, and deepen the motivation of individuals to help them reach organizational goals.

General Skills

With the current state of the world economy, there are general skills needed for business managers, that intersect with rank-and-file employees. This includes high computer literacy, basic math skills, and business communication skills. Business communication skills include public speaking and presentation. Unlike other business positions, soft skills are a basic requirement when it comes to business managers.

Managers must manage human capital. And, as pointed out by Kucharčíková (2011), it is characterized as the “sum of the individual congenital and acquired skills, knowledge, and experiences of individuals … relevant for economic activity.” Managers need to efficiently direct human capital to reach their goals and visions.

Moreover, basic math skills are also required. This ranges from simple computations for accounting and financial projections. However, depending on how digitalized a company is, a basic understanding of computer-aided analytics is also a requirement.  This is also very true when it comes to specialized management jobs like financial managers, digital marketing managers, and the like.

required skills, business managers

How to Start Your Career in Business Management

There can be many starting points for a career in business management. But, as the table in an earlier section shows, the most common entry-level education for a management position is a bachelor’s degree. There are also exceptions to this.

For instance, the entry-level education for farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers is generally a high school diploma or something equivalent. On the other hand, the entry-level education for school administrators is a master’s degree. However, in order to enter management in other industries, is to have at least a bachelor’s degree. Some start out with an associate degree and not really have a management position.

What can I do with an associate’s degree in Business Management?

There are many jobs available for graduates with an associate degree in business management. However, graduates do not usually start with a management position. They need to work their way up and gain experience with the company or industry in general. Here are the typical jobs that they can get and their particular median business management salary.

Customer Service Representative

These professionals help customers or clients with issues in billing and product/service use (Indeed, 2021). They usually communicate with clients via phone. Today, however, with the prevalence of digital media, customer service representatives may offer support through all channels including new digital media like social media and webchat. They have decent annual pay (Salary.com, 2021)

Median Annual Pay: $34,965

Administrative assistant

These professionals help in the execution of various administrative tasks. This includes the scheduling of meetings, writing and answering emails, answering phone calls, organizing files, and setting up appointments among many other things. They are required to multi-task and may work for an organization or an individual. They make a bit more than Customer Service Representatives (Salary.com, 2021).

Median Annual Pay: $43,118

Sales Manager

Working in almost every industry, sales managers oversee the sales operations of sales teams. This includes meeting sales teams, setting objectives, reporting on revenues, making projections, and making sure objectives are met. Because of the social and collaborative nature of the job, sales managers need to be quality leaders. And, with many tasks and duties, they are usually eligible for bonuses and commissions much like their sales staff. They also have better median annual pay than most associate degree for business jobs (Salary.com, 2021)

Median Annual Pay: $119,113 

What can I do with a bachelor’s degree in Business Management?

Typically, graduates with a bachelor’s degree in business management handle more sensitive and important tasks than those positions held by people with associate degrees.  And, there are many lucrative options (Indeed, 2021).

Market Research Analyst

Research analysts employ data analytics to prepare reports for various business-related aspects, especially financial ones (Indeed, 2021). They look at various markets and analyze trends in order to create strategies to improve their firm’s profitability. They usually work with other departments from marketing to finance. A bachelor’s degree is required for entry-level positions.

Average Annual Pay: $65,815

Product Manager

They work with project teams to ensure the success of a product or service in a particular area. They make internal product reviews to find ways to improve the products for customers. They coordinate their team’s efforts and manage the progress of the project. Many technology companies have product managers to do just that. Companies require a bachelor’s degree and prefer relevant experience.

Average Annual Pay: $96,022

Actuary

These professionals help their organizations analyze and assess the financial risks involved in business actions. They use various mathematical and statistical tools to evaluate potential opportunities. Actuaries are also tasked to suggest policies and actions that can minimize identified risks. They use various models and methods to create projections using company data. They are usually employed in insurance companies but other industries also have high use for them. However, in addition to a bachelor’s degree, actuaries need to get certified through exams. This can last for four or five years.

Can you get a Business Management job with just a certificate?

There are many jobs for people with a business management certificate. It can provide entry-level positions in retail, bookkeeping, and, even, management. A business certificate is also useful for students who wish to further their education and earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree in the field. Certificate programs teach and help students understand the ins and outs of a business. They learn basic mathematical skills, advanced computer literacy, management theory, and business communication (West Hills College, 2021).

How can I advance my career in Business Management? 

Advancing your career in business management can take many routes. For some, they can work their way through the company ranks by showing that they can provide more value in higher management positions. And, this may not require them to upgrade their educational qualifications. Other companies, however, do require, or at the least, recommend for employees to take up graduate studies. This is especially true for educational institutions.

What can I do with a master’s degree in Business Management?

Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals

People in these management positions are required to oversee the daily operations of a school. This ranges from administrative tasks like purchasing and construction to academic management like making sure grades submitted on time and connecting with various institutions for mutual benefit. They also organize and hold activities like parent-teacher meetings, homecoming, and, even, sporting events. Principals also usually provide student services like academic consultancy and disciplinary actions.

Median Annual Pay: $98,490

Postsecondary Education Administrators

These professionals oversee the operations of an institution of higher learning. This includes faculty research, academics, and student services. Most work full time and may work for public or private institutions. Typically, the position requires a master’s degree. However, there are opportunities for those with only a bachelor’s degree. Institutions usually hire those candidates with work experience in a postsecondary education office like academic deans and registrars.

Median Annual Pay: $97,500 

What kind of job can I get with a doctorate in Business Management?

Professor or Postsecondary Educator

With a doctorate in business management, you will be an expert in various business functions. So, you can share this knowledge with the younger generation. And, this is really in demand with BLS (2021) projecting a 9% increase in demand from 2019 to 2029. This is faster than average for all occupations. Professors and postsecondary educators are required to administer classes, lectures, and other services like mentorship and consultation.

Median Annual Pay: $80,790

Top Executive

Top executives plan and coordinate various aspects of a business. Most of the time, it is highly specialized. For instance, a CEO, as the highest-ranking executive, create plans for the general strategy and direction of a company. They also handle most of the communication between with board of directors. The COO handles the day-to-day affairs and works with the CEO. They usually work in firms with intensive operations like the manufacturing and travel industries.

Median Annual Pay: $107,689

Which certification is best for Business Management?

As business management is a very general discipline with many specializations, the choice of which certificates to work on ultimately depends on which area of business you want to specialize in. It totally depends on your business management goals. For instance, if you want to work in logistics, then you have to get certificates that will help you understand the area better. If you are in sales or marketing, you might be better of with a certificate for various tools. Here is a list of certifications that are quite popular nowadays (Lindros, 2021).

Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM). The accreditation body, the Project Management Institute (PMI), has been around since 1969. They offer a certificate for up-and-coming project managers. In order to join the program, one must show a high school diploma, an associate degree, or some equivalent.

Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP). This is perfect for supply chain professionals or those that want to work in this area of business. Programs help students learn essential supply chain concepts, end-to-end operation strategies, and the popular technology involved in this domain.

Salesforce Certified Administrator. Salesforce, a popular CRM platform, offers a certificate for those who want to work in customer relations management (CRM). The certificate program helps students understand the platform and its functions deeper. The program usually consists of several workshops and classes before an exam.

Source: BLS, 2021

Alternative Career Options for Business Managers

Business management skills apply not only to for-profit businesses. Their skills translate to other endeavors that are not directly connected with running a private business. Social and technical skills carry over to many types of institutions. And, because of this, business managers can find jobs in virtually any industry. As good managers can lend their skills to a wide variety of human endeavors, they are in demand for non-profit administration, public service, consultancy, and other specialized management areas.

What else can a business manager do?

Non-Profit Director

These professionals manage and direct the operations of nonprofit institutions like foundations. They are tasked to strategize for the long term and even manage the day-to-day activities. This is especially true for smaller organizations. Typical tasks include objective setting, networking, collaboration, and strategic analysis. They may also be involved with fundraising and stakeholder relations.

Public Service

Intuitively, good business managers can also be good public servants–may this be in elected or non-elected posts. Just like their counterparts in private industries, public servants handle various responsibilities within their particular domain of administration. For instance, a mayor is the equivalent of a chief executive officer. They direct the administrative structure and can appoint or remove heads of departments. Business managers may also vie for positions that help elected officials like working as a staff, a consultant, or a cabinet member.

Private Consultancy

Managers with tons of experience can also lend their expertise to clients ranging from businesses to individuals. For instance, expert PR specialists can put up a firm or individual practice to lend their services. They can do this through full outsourcing or a consultancy capacity. This goes the same for expert marketers and finance professionals.

Entrepreneur

Business management professionals often become business owners themselves. Leveraging their educational training and work experience, they can start a business in an industry and market that they know best. For instance, a supply chain manager can put up his own supply chain management company or put up a tech firm that caters to the supply chain field. Also, many people take up business management to help with their family business.

Entrepreneurship is accelerating and with this, business management skills are crucial. In the third quarter of 2020 alone, more than 1.5 million new business applications were made in the country (U.S. Census Bureau, 2020). The same thing is happening around the world with an entrepreneurship surge. Often, they are fueled by harnessing newer technologies and the trend of intensifying social good efforts among commercial establishments in the light of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Entrepreneurship could help.

Researchers Gontareva and colleagues (2021), in their work, Correlation of Income Inequality and Entrepreneurial Activity, found that an increase in total early-stage entrepreneurial activity (TEA) may bring down the level of income inequality as tracked in the Gini index, wherein the lower the number, the better equality is prevailing.

They found that the Gini index is “significantly connected with the index of entrepreneurial activity” in the basis of the countries in their study, including the United States. They showed that the “total correlation coefficient between TEA – Gini shows a significant level of dependence (0.795).” In select countries, particularly Brazil and the Dominican Republic, the decrease in income inequality is correlated to increase in TEA. Both countries have inverse correlation with Brazil having -0.689 and the Dominican Republic with -0.996. This implies reverse causality. While income distribution inequality can cause social tension, the researchers argued that entrepreneurship can help soften this. They added that in some cases, “entrepreneurship could serve as a social lift for transition to a higher level of income distribution.”

Hence, an alternative career as an entrepreneur can provide business management graduates with fulfillment brought about by recognizable social contributions.

Is a business management career right for you?

If you are a self-driven individual with leadership skills and high strategic-level thinking, then business management may just be the right fit for you. There are plenty of opportunities. These are not limited to getting a good-paying job. This extends to creating a network for value creation—social contribution. Plus, it offers many valuable learning opportunities.

Maybe, the best thing for business managers is that their skills are translatable to virtually all human endeavors, ranging from home economics to government administration. However, taking a general approach in this career may water down your skills and value for organizations. So, it is highly recommended that managers specialize in one or a few areas.

If you are interested, read our business career guide to get to know the main requirements to start your career as a business manager. This way you can have a better business management development plan before diving in.

 

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