A business degree offers a broad range of options in which you can specialize — from accounting to finance to economics and from marketing to business management. Many business specialties may apply to a number of roles within an organization. The business path you opt to pursue can direct the job roles you may be eligible for and your long-term career track. 

A general business degree covers a broad base of topics relative to several business areas. As a business student, it can also be important to find the right specialization in the business field you want to pursue. 

Later, when you’re applying for a position within a company, it can be useful to know which elements of your degree might provide a stepping stone to the roles you eventually want to claim. 

Selecting a business major

Selecting a concentration of study within a business major is important to your future and career satisfaction. When deciding on a major, it’s wise to imagine where you want to eventually be in your career. 

The same can be said about considering your first working business role after graduation. Where do you start to get to where you want to be? 

As you’re aware, most business graduates don’t start their careers at an organization’s top tier. An exception to that may be new business graduates who join a friend- or family-owned or operated business. 

Getting from here to there in business

Today, a successful business career is based on education and later, experience in the field. Say that your goal is to work in finance, international trade, or become a CEO or excel in international business. How do you get from here to there? Where might your chosen business specialty lead? What business specialties are necessary for the role in which you’d like to eventually find yourself? 

Which business degree is best?

The best business degree is the one that best fits your interests, talents, skills, and long-term career goals. Consider your areas of interest, intended career path, and your future as a whole. Let’s assume Business Specialty A pays the most and offers a natural path to the top; is that the one you should choose? 

Of course, it’s not all about business education. Other courses, such as learning languages that are not native to you, may contribute to landing a position with an international business. Let’s dig deeper into what to consider when answering some of these questions.

Undergraduate business degrees and first business roles 

A good thing to consider is where you want to eventually be in your career. Say that your goal is to work in finance, international trade, or become a CEO or global business leader. How do you get from here to there? Where might your chosen business specialty lead? 

Another consideration is to know what specific skills employers are looking for in business grads today and in the foreseeable future. To get where you want to be, strongly consider accepting a support-level role in the business area in which you want to succeed. Remember that success rarely happens overnight.

Settling on your concentration in business and the first roles you assume can be managed by knowing a few things to consider.  

Is passion more important than wealth?

First things first. When you’re considering which business degree or which business jobs to pursue, it’s helpful to know what’s most important to you. In considering future business careers, the money associated with some business specialities may seem like the right choice for you — at least at the onset. But that may be considered short-term thinking. A good question to ask yourself is whether that high-paying career is sustainable for you and your passions and talents. 

Consider this example

If, for example, the highest-paying job in the U.S. happened to be a zoo employee charged with picking up elephant excreta 40 hours a week, could you do it for several years? What satisfaction is it likely to bring to you, and what career advancements might it provide you? 

Unless you've already worked with elephants and are familiar with their habits, you may not end up sticking with the job long term. It may not be sustainable for you. The same reasoning could be applied to choosing a business area on which to focus that you aren’t likely to sustain over time, even if the pay and status are a tempting draw. 

The money will follow

There’s an old adage that says something like, if you choose an area in which you are most passionate, the money will eventually follow. This suggests that people may be more successful when they follow their natural slant. 

Henry Ford (1863-1947) is thought to have once commented that “A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business.” Substitute the word “business” in both instances with “career” and it makes a similar point. 

Of course, being fairly compensated for the work you produce is also important. It’s ultimately up to you to determine the right balance for you between passion and wealth. 

Business executive roles

Executive roles as you probably already know are the C-level or C-suite roles. These business leaders typically rank the highest in skills, experience, and qualifications because they make the most core decisions for the enterprise as a whole. While it’s reasonable to set your sights that high for the long haul, initially, you’ll have to earn your way to that ranking.

The CFO and CEO, chief financial officer and chief executive officer respectively, are generally the top and well-known tier of most sizable businesses. There are a slew of acronyms for those in C-suite roles. A few of the less common high-level roles include CDO (chief digital officer), chief technology officer (CTO), chief restructuring officer (CRO), CIO (chief information officer), and so forth.  

Knowing a few of the skills and responsibilities of these top roles may help shed light on your business educational choices and the introductory or support-level business roles you choose to accept. 

Do consider support-level roles

Don’t overlook support roles for higher-level business roles you eventually want to pursue. This can help you get a start on climbing the corporate ladder to your ultimate career goal. Look for  

Organizational business role tiers

Some of the typical business-related role tiers include:

  • C-suite roles or executive roles - CFO, controller, COO, CMO, CTO, president
  • Management roles - product manager, marketing manager, finance manager
  • Operational roles - customer service, administrative assistants, accountants

While not an exhaustive list, following are a few of the top tier roles in a business that you may consider working toward in a support or related role. 

Chief digital officer role

A business leader in the CDO role blends business expertise and digital acumen to help businesses make transformational change through disruptive technologies. 

Some of the business duties this role may encompass include analyzing trends, opportunities, and threats to create a digital path that aligns with an organization’s business goals. Solid business leadership, collaboration, technology knowledge, and research and forecasting abilities are recommended for this role. 

Chief digital officer business skills

Other necessary business-related skills, according to MIT, include:

  • Transforming current business models through digital transformation by disruptive technologies implementation.
  • Developing metrics to measure ROI of digital initiatives.
  • Applying digital solutions that address customer needs.

CDOs, McKinsey & Company says, are judged by their success at leading various teams, plus how they:

  • Guide projects
  • Overcome hurdles
  • Deliver integrated change

Roles related to CDO

A few roles related to that of a CDO include:

  • Vice president, business development
  • Operations manager
  • Program manager
  • Director, business development
  • Vice president, sales

Chief marketing officer role

CMOs manage all aspects of a company’s marketing efforts to promote sales of products and services. Product development is a strong foundation in this role. Today’s CMOs are adept at identifying technologies that can help businesses to reach the right customers for their goods and services. 

CMOs typically hold a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in marketing, according to Indeed, adding that some may require a decade of previous work experience, plus higher education.

Chief marketing officer skills

Some skills related to this role include:

  • Leadership
  • Project management
  • Market research and competitor analysis
  • Networking and leveraging contacts/sales leads

Consider accepting a job in marketing to begin working toward this career goal.

Roles related to CMO

  • Digital marketing manager
  • Product marketing or brand manager
  • Marketing director

Chief financial officer role

An accounting or finance-related bachelor’s degree is often the educational basis for most acting CFOs. McKinsey & Company relates that it can be a long process to reach this role. The number of roles reporting to CFOs has increased from four employees in 2016 to six or more within a few years.

A key function of the CFO today, McKinsey notes, is identifying the key business elements that provide value to the organization and those that don’t make the grade. Having leadership skills is also critical. 

Chief financial officer skills

Some typical skills and experience for CFOs to possess include:

  • Leadership
  • Management
  • Decision making and problem solving
  • Communication

Internships and applying business finance educational learnings to actual business situations can serve as a first rung on the ladder. 

Roles related to CFO

  • Operations manager
  • Finance manager
  • General business manager

Chief operating officer role

Among leading businesses in 2022, 40% employed a COO, according to McKinsey & Company. While the organizational role suffered a steep decline in 2018 among leading businesses with only 32% with that C-level role, it is enjoying a comeback, McKinsey notes. The majority of companies employing COOs were in the financial and energy sectors in 2022. 

Chief operating officer skills and knowledge

Successful COOs have a deep cognizance of all business facets, according to Indeed. Other skills include other some important aspects of business, such as:

  • Credible leadership experience
  • Advanced project management experience
  • IT/business infrastructure knowledge and analytical skills
  • Problem solving and decision making aptitude

Consider a project management role as a way to work toward this career.

Typically, organizations hire COOs who have a bachelor’s degree or a decade of relevant experience, which varies depending on the industry and company size. 

Roles related to COO

  • Chief technology officer (CTO)
  • Chief marketing officer (CMO)
  • Chief information officer (CIO)

Get guidance

Success in business, as in other things in life, doesn’t happen overnight. You can earn your way to success by having the right business education. Later, the initial roles you choose to accept in business can help you get started toward achieving your career goals. 

If you’re about to become or are a new business graduate, check out the 36 Tips for a Successful Business Interview guide, recommended by Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University. 

If you’re in the process of determining which direction is right for you, discover your path in business.


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