Careers in Business
In each employment sector—finance, healthcare, construction and so on—there are sector-specific jobs and careers available. However, almost every business throughout the world also employs people in specialist, but not sector-specific roles. From pharmaceuticals to IT, consumer goods to chemicals companies, these businesses employ people in roles such as sales, marketing, operations, human resources and logistics: the functions common to businesses in most sectors.
These roles are directly transferable across both businesses and sectors. They also apply to both small and large businesses, although smaller companies may have a single person filling several roles. These roles require specific skills, but these skills are not sector-specific. This page focuses on those ‘business’ skills.
Introducing ‘The Business World’
What do we mean by ‘business’ in this context?
We mean any organisation in the ‘for profit’ sector: a commercial organisation that exists to make a profit for its owners or shareholders. While some of the skills and careers described on this page exist in non-profit organisations, you are more likely to find them in companies and businesses.
Businesses may be both large and small, and operate in just a single country or even town, or all round the world. Walmart is both the biggest retailer in the world, and also the biggest company in the world in terms of revenue. It operates in multiple countries around the world and has more than two million employees.
However, a huge proportion of businesses globally are small or medium-sized enterprises—and these are often far more important to a national economy. In the UK, government figures from the start of 2022 show that more than 99% of businesses were classed as small or medium-sized, employing fewer than 250 people, and 74% of them employed nobody except the owner. These businesses provided three-fifths of employment and half of turnover in the private sector in the UK.
Roles and Careers in Business
There are three main types of roles in businesses:
1. Customer communication roles
The fundamental premise of most businesses is to sell goods or services to customers. They therefore employ people in several customer-facing or customer-focused roles, requiring a focus on communicating with customers.
These roles include:
Marketing is any activities or processes undertaken to encourage customers to buy products or services. It includes advertising, the preparation of materials to be used in sales work, attending or running conferences and events, preparing materials for publication to raise awareness of products or services, or to improve understanding of the company’s offering.
You can find out more about the skills required for this work in our pages about marketing, including Marketing Skills and Strategic Marketing. We also have a number of guest posts on marketing skills, including:
Sales is defined as activity involved in selling a product or service to a customer. It may include sourcing or exploring prospects, meeting potential customers, providing information (usually produced by marketing teams) and negotiating prices.
You may be interested to read some of our guest posts on sales and the skills required, including:
- 7 Skills You Need for a Successful Career in Sales
- 5 Key Skills You Need to Be a Top Salesperson
- Top 7 Skills You Need to Succeed in B2B Sales
- The Skills Every Successful Sales Team Needs to Have
- 8 Skills Every Great Sales Manager Possesses
Sales vs. marketing: what’s the difference?
Sales differs from marketing because it involves direct customer contact. You can also measure the impact of sales activity, because it directly results in sales to customers. Sales teams tend to be more comfortable having direct conversations with individual customers.
Marketing is more strategic, and focused on the broad market rather than individual customers. Marketers may of course talk to individual customers, but are unlikely to have the same close relationships with customers that are seen in sales. It is also harder to measure the impact of marketing, because of the broader reach, and greater distance from individual customers.
Customer service is any activity that involves delivering a service to customers. It may therefore include marketing and sales activities, as well as answering questions or solving problems after a sale. This has changed in recent years: it used to be considered a ‘post-sales’ function. However, there is now much better understanding that customers are customers, at any stage of their buying journey—and that happy post-sales customers are more likely to become repeat customers.
You can find out more in our page on Customer Service Skills.
Social media management
Social media has become such an important marketing and customer service channel in recent years that many companies employ dedicated social media managers. Others, however, see social media as simply one channel among many, and expect marketing and sales teams to handle social media.
Our pages on Social Media Marketing and Customer Service for Social Media explain more about these roles, and the skills required.
None of these roles require study of particular subjects, or degrees in a particular field.
You do not even need a degree in business to consider working in these areas. The most important aspect is that you have good communication skills, especially listening skills. You also need to be interested in people and in helping them to solve their problems, which comes under the broad headings of empathy and problem-solving. Good negotiation and persuasion skills are also useful, along with team-working skills.
2. Operations Management Roles
These roles are focused on the operation of the business, and the processes required to develop goods or services and get them to customers.
Operations management is the area that focuses on improving the efficiency of all the processes involved in creating and distributing products and services. Operations managers therefore manage all the day-to-day processes of production and distribution, including management of systems. These roles are most often seen in manufacturing organisations, or those with product production processes.
Operations management roles are often very practical, even though many processes are now automated in many businesses. They may therefore suit people with a more hands-on approach. Operations managers are often engineers by background, especially in manufacturing industries. Like the customer-facing roles, team-working skills are essential, and good problem-solving skills are also helpful.
You can find more about some of the skills needed for a career in manufacturing through our guest post 11 Skills Those Entering the Manufacturing Industry Need.
There are several areas within operations management, including:
Product design and development
Product design and development focuses on identifying customer needs and pain points, and then developing products that will effectively address those needs. It is often a matter of balancing cost with function, and therefore requires a good understanding of cost efficiency. Product designers need design skills, coupled with good customer awareness (although this may be supplied by the marketing team).
Logistics and supply chain management
Supply chain management covers the entire supply chain, from obtaining supplies for manufacturing from a range of suppliers, through to distributing your own product to your customers. It includes procurement and inventory management, or making sure that you have the right amount of supplies at each point in the supply chain. Too much, and you are wasting money storing goods. However, too little, and you may have people waiting to work. Logistics is concerned with the management of transport to get your supplies and goods from place to place.
You may be interested in some of our guest posts on these issues, including Essential Skills for Successful Procurement Professionals, and Skills You Need to Work in Logistics.
Quality control managers are responsible for monitoring the quality of goods and processes at each point in the chain of supply. Their aim is to ensure that the product or service delivered to customers reaches the required level of quality. They aim to avoid errors and problems during the manufacturing process.
Process improvement managers are responsible for looking at the business’s processes, and ensuring that they are as efficient as possible. This may mean tweaking existing processes, but it may also mean developing new processes that are more efficient or effective.
3. Internally-focused roles
Finally, businesses also employ people to manage the internal processes of the business, and focus on employees.
These roles include:
Human resources management
Human resources (HR) management is all about a strategic approach to the people within an organisation: its employees. Human resource managers work in organisations across both public and private sectors. In the private sector, their focus is the organisation of employees to give the company a competitive advantage.
Human resources managers deal with problems between employees when this cannot be sorted out through the line management chain. They may be responsible for the strategic deployment of certain groups of employees (for example, graduate trainees) or all employees.
Human resources managers are employed by the organisation to make sure that employees are managed efficiently and effectively, and used strategically for the benefit of the organisation. They are also responsible for ensuring that the organisation meets its legal obligations towards and around employees, such as health and safety legislation, or rules about hiring and firing fairly.
What human resources managers are NOT
It is important to understand that human resources managers are NOT ‘on the side of the employee’. That is the purpose of unions.
Human resources managers work for the organisation, NOT the employees.
Like the customer-facing roles, human resources managers do not need specialist degrees or qualifications, although some choose to undertake specialist qualifications as part of their personal development.
You may be interested in some of our guest posts on careers in human resources, including:
Financial management within businesses is similar to many of the roles encountered in careers in financial services. Indeed, many financial managers are qualified accountants or auditors. Financial managers are responsible for preparing accounts, and ensuring that the business or organisation fulfils its financial obligations.
You can find out more about these roles and the skills required in our page on Careers in Financial Services.
Payroll managers and administrators are responsible for ensuring that employees get paid the right amount on the right day. Payroll is often outsourced by organisations to specialist providers such as payroll administration firms, because it is a vital and skilled function, but not usually part of most organisations’ key competences.
You may be interested in our guest post on How to Become a Payroll Administrator.
Small vs. large businesses
In small businesses, several of these roles or functions may be undertaken by a single person, or even combined into one role, often the owner. In larger businesses, there may be whole teams or even departments employed to provide that function.
From Non-Specialist to Specialist
Most careers in business are non-specialist, in the sense that you do not need any qualifications in a particular field to enter those careers. There are no particular degrees required to become a sales representative, or a marketer, or to enter human resources management. Many companies prefer to employ graduates, but they do not mind about the degree subject.
However, once you embark on a career in one of these areas, it may be helpful to obtain specialist qualifications, such as certification from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development for HR managers, or from the Chartered Institute of Marketing for marketers. This demonstrates your willingness to learn and develop in your chosen career, as well as helping you to develop the skills to succeed in that area.