That’s how I felt when I first spent time around business majors at the Haas School of Business. This wasn’t your standard first day cocktail of nervousness and excitement. I was afraid.
I could hardly escape a conversation without my new peers asking for my major and (more importantly) my future career path.
For business majors, the intense entanglement of professional goals and academic demands accelerates the speed at which you are expected to have a solid career plan. This pressure exerted by your peers can make aligning with a career path seem daunting. By providing a basic framework for understanding the lingo and basic professional responsibilities of different career paths, I hope this article will give you the head start I never had.
The first time I heard a classmate talk about consulting at school was two weeks into my first semester. A junior noticed that I was also a student at Haas and asked if I had an internship lined up for next summer. In reality, it was a surreptitious way of informing me that he had an offer at McKinsey. At the time, McKinsey was a company I’d heard others talk about, and I feared being exposed as someone who was not up to speed.
Maybe my aversion to understanding consulting stemmed from how difficult it was to define in a narrow scope. At its core, consulting is an external service provided to companies who need additional expertise to solve a particular problem. Consultants can specialize in almost any field, but the biggest companies usually prioritize executive, strategy, operations, or tech-oriented services.
By hiring a consulting firm, a company is implicitly admitting that it cannot solve the problem at hand internally. It is up to the consulting firm’s project team to aggregate the analytical business skills of each member to reach a useful deliverable for the client. Maybe the company needs an edge to counter a fast-growing competitor. Perhaps a manufacturing plant needs to have processes streamlined in a way that reduces overhead costs. No matter what the problem is, the largest consulting firms typically have a practice that specializes in the client’s demands.
I would argue that consulting is the most direct application of a broad business background into a professional career. The sheer versatility of the career is its main advantage, as most consulting groups have the skill sets to work with a wide range of companies. If you are a student with diverse interests, consulting can be a great way to shift from industry-to-industry until you find a niche you really enjoy. Furthermore, consulting often allows you to work closely with senior executives at large companies, expanding your networking and exit opportunities. In fact, consulting is very similar to business school, where you are constantly learning by working in new industries on new challenges. Post-graduation, you will continue to do deep dives into unfamiliar markets while translating your education into concrete, professional skills.
Finance is a more technical field to enter, but is certainly accessible with either a general business or specialized finance degree. It is also a very interesting time to recruit for finance because of the diverse roles available to undergraduates, including investment banking, accounting, and an increasing number of private equity roles. In the Bay Area (and other metropolitan recruiting areas), the “standard” finance role is investment banking.
The financial network and management of capital between business entities can become immensely complex. With mergers and acquisitions, SEC filings, and corporate reorganizations, there is a steady stream of demand for investment bankers who are in tune with current economic trends. Most of the expertise associated with an investment banker centers around their ability to value a company accurately and project their growth, usually over a 5-year period.
Much like consulting, investment bankers will usually stick around for two years before transitioning to a more lucrative, less hour-intense finance position, such as Private Equity (PE). Private Equity is the management of capital that is not public-facing. It is an overarching term that includes specializations like Venture Capital, which is a form of investing that emphasizes startup opportunities with an extremely high growth potential. That said, the industry norm is now changing. Investment banking is becoming less of a prerequisite, as many firms now offer PE positions to undergraduates fresh out of college.
An undergraduate skilled in finance is in an excellent position because every business relies on accurate financial operations in its backbone. Like consulting, finance provides opportunities for graduates to work near high-level executives. You can also apply your entire business education to provide context for the more advanced skills required for these types of positions. For example, market research, financial projections, and understanding macroeconomic trends are all core business school concepts that are essential to making a correct value to a company. Breaking into finance certainly requires a more specialized set of skills and interests, but will reward students with a reliable career that can span across any industry and provide opportunities to learn about companies from a comprehensive perspective.
BUSINESS IN TECH
If you are interested in the intersection between technology and business, there are a wide range of job opportunities to apply here. One really good approach to finding one of these roles is positioning yourself as a versatile communicator between a team of tech professionals and a team of business professionals.
This type of cross-departmental setup can manifest in many ways, each of which cater to a different skill set. For example, if you lean towards being more of a tech-skilled individual, you might be a good fit to be a product manager. Product managers (in the tech and software world) lead development teams to build software services that fit detailed specifications. At a bigger company, a product manager might lead a team that manages just one function of a larger application. You need a strong technical background for this role with several computer science courses on top of your business education. The required coursework often incudes Software Engineering, Data Structures, and Design. Even though you will not be doing as much actual software development as a software engineer, it is important that you have the ability to understand the inner processes of how tech services are developed so you can effectively lead your team.
If you lean more towards the business side of things, then you might be better suited in a specialist role. As a specialist leader in data, for instance, you would be responsible for being the bridge between the data scientists and engineers who aggregate information and the executives who create actionable insights using data. These specialist roles often can be done with a less rigorous technical background and emphasize a general understanding and strong communication skills over all else.
Working in tech post-graduation does not offer the cross-industry experience that consulting or finance might offer, but it does have its own unique benefits. The tech sector is fast-paced and more startup-friendly than other markets, which provides more ground floor opportunities for the entrepreneurially-minded. Tech companies also can be more forward thinking in terms of benefits and flexible scheduling when compared to entrenched consulting or finance firms. In general, the tech industry is ripe for the taking for business students with a demonstrated interest in the field and an ability to interface between different teams.
It would be a gross overstatement to say this is a comprehensive overview of everything you can achieve professionally with a business degree. However, this article should certainly give you a head start in considering the best fit for your skills and interests. As a parting word of advice, try not to give into the pressure that you need to figure out exactly what you want to do as a career as soon as you enter business school. Focusing too early on a specific industry can lead you to miss out on trying new opportunities that could change your desired professional path completely.
My name is Jaden Bryan and I am studying at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley through the Global Management Program and double majoring in Data Science. Huge fan of marine science and In N’ Out Burgers. You can find me writing code, reading books, or enjoying any song with a soft voice and an even softer guitar.