Business jobs are diverse in practice but share a common denominator: money.
Some business professionals partner with companies to study the intersection between data and consumer behavior; the intent being to maximize profits from the masses through spot-on branding. Others focus on the finances of the few, dishing out advice on where and how individuals should invest their resources.
Meanwhile, those in the cashier profession interact with money in its basic form: the hand-to-hand transaction. But as our list of the Best Business Jobs shows, each profession plays a unique role in the business world.
Between 2010 and 2020, the business sector is projected to add 3.8 million new jobs, according the U.S. Department of Labor. Here's a closer look at five jobs expected to flourish, and what it takes to achieve success in them.
See U.S. News's complete list of the Best Business Jobs.
1. Market Research Analyst. Conducting polls, crunching numbers, analyzing human behavior--these are a few of the techniques market research analysts use to decipher the shopping patterns and trends of consumers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the field is expected to grow by about 41 percent in the coming decade.
A key driver of that growth is the business world's love of data. By dissecting and analyzing data, companies not only gain a strategy for increasing their bottom line, but for understanding what makes consumers tick.
"The more we have of data and the better quality that data is, the more useful it will be in creating strategy, and so I just don't see the market research analyst as a position going away anytime soon," says Joseph Cote, professor of marketing at Washington State University.
2. Management Analyst. Companies hampered by disorganization often turn to management analysts for thoughtful strategies to shave away inefficiency and increase profits. Between 2010 and 2020, employment in the field is expected to grow by 22 percent, according to the BLS.
Good management analysts, according to Cote, grasp how various organizational players create wealth for a firm. Another piece to that puzzle, he notes, is having the skills to manage stakeholder relationships to maximize a company's profits. "As you move into a more global economy, what we're seeing is that what makes a firm successful is understanding how to balance the [corporate] network or ecosystem around it," says Cote.
In that new business climate, "really understanding how an organization functions and how you structure an organization to gain its maximum value--I think that's going to become an increasingly important function," he adds.
3. Business Operations Manager. Leaving their imprint throughout several company departments, operations managers hire people, acquire materials for customers, and attempt to predict what products are most likely to sell.
The field can be characterized as high-demand and low-supply, with plenty of opportunity for those thinking of dipping their toe in it. "If we talk to any employer, that's the [position] they're most interested in, especially around the idea of project management," Cote notes. "So being able to run an operation and [in] particular, to manage complex projects, there's an increasing demand and fewer people there to fill it."
It's also a profession welcoming of individuals who possess the rare duel qualities of business instinct and a penchant for number-crunching. "It tends to require a blending of quantitative skills and qualitative skills, and that seems to be an area where people fall on one side or the other, but that middle road is not one people pursue," he says.
4. Financial Adviser. Mutual funds, asset classes, diversification--these are a few investment terms financial advisers break down as they direct you on where to allocate your money. Employment in the field is expected to grow by 32 percent by the decade's end, according to the BLS.
Thomas Blanchfield, managing director of investments for the private banking and investment group at Merrill Lynch, notes that the need for financial advisers has grown in part because employees are increasingly managing their own retirement savings these days, in 401(k) plans.
"I think that person is obligated to look after their own finances in a way that they perhaps weren't in a previous generation," he says. "For those people that don't feel they are prepared to do it themselves, they are seeking advice," he says.
While successful financial advisers are savvy money managers, they must also understand their clients. "The understanding of human emotions and how that affects people's desire, or lack of desire, to be an investor, is really an important part of the job," Blanchfield says.
5. HR Specialist. Depending on the size of a company, the responsibilities of a human resources (HR) specialist can include recruitment, hiring, training, employee benefits, compensation, job enrichment, relocation, performance, termination, and outplacement. Over the coming decade, the field is expected to grow by 20.5 percent, according to the BLS.
With a brighter economic picture, companies are seeking more HR specialists to help integrate new employees. "As we come out of the recession, companies are adding people, and you need HR people to take care of the people coming in," says Sharmyn Calhoun, president of the National Human Resources Association.
To achieve success in the field, Calhoun recommends a formal education and possibly a graduate degree in an area like human-resource management or labor relations. A law degree can also be a great asset if you work for a unionized company, she notes.
If the company you work for has a large staff and the area of your focus is singular, it's still important to be well-versed in all HR disciplines and know how they affect the company as a whole. "You have to be able to think strategically across all the disciplines to be successful in an HR specialist or generalist role," Calhoun says.