Business is a highly sought-after degree subject, with degrees in the field making up almost 20% of degrees awarded in the US in 2019-20. There’s a range of specific types of business degrees with different focuses such as management, marketing, finance, logistics, and others.
Based on our career research, we’ve identified six of the top careers you can have with a business degree. But what makes these the top careers?
Well, at Probably Good, we believe that your career is a powerful tool for making a positive impact. That’s why we’re dedicated to helping you find a career that’s good for you, and also good for the world.
In this article, we’ll talk about four jobs that are some of the best we’ve looked into for people with a degree in business or a closely related subject.
Below, we’ll let you know what each job entails, the salary you can earn, and the amount of positive impact you could make.
Impact potential: high; Salary potential: high
What is a for-profit entrepreneur?
For-profit entrepreneurs found ventures that make a profit for owners and investors. It’s a challenging role that requires taking on various responsibilities, such as budgeting, marketing, sales, and product creation.
Some specific responsibilities include:
- Taking on all aspects of starting and running a business, including budgeting, marketing, sales, and creating your product.
- Raising funds, most commonly by finding and pitching to potential investors, as well as maintaining relationships with investors.
- As the business grows, founders will generally take on more managerial responsibilities such as supervising employees, ramping up hiring, and directing company strategy.
Though there are no formal qualifications needed to become an entrepreneur, a business degree will unsurprisingly serve as a great starting point. A business degree will help equip you with the fundamental skills for starting and running a business, such as finance, marketing, and management. You’ll still have a lot to learn through experience, but majoring in business is likely one of the best subjects you can take if you want to become a for-profit entrepreneur.
How much impact could you have?
There are two main ways that for-profit entrepreneurs can have a big impact: first, you can provide products and services that directly help people or improve the world in other ways. Getting the right product or service into the marketplace could produce the kind of impact many might not expect from companies, like saving lives, improving people’s health and quality of life, providing and improving education, and helping people to escape poverty. Our full career profile on for-profit entrepreneurship gives more examples of positive impact.
Alternatively, you can aim to generate money to donate toward effective causes and pressing problems. Donating millions to highly effective organizations can achieve a lot of good, like helping the global poor, improving the welfare of animals, or even helping to protect against catastrophic risks like pandemics and the effects of climate change.
However, the road to success in for-profit entrepreneurship is full of challenges. Research suggests 90% of tech startups fail completely, and that only 1.5% of companies reach a successful exit of over $50 million.
Entrepreneurs also run the risk of value drift; It’s easy for founders to start with good intentions, but the competitive incentives of business can make it difficult to hold on to these altruistic motivations over the long run, leading founders and companies to prioritize profit and growth above social impact.
For-profit entrepreneur salary
The salary of a for-profit entrepreneur is highly dependent on the success of the business – and you’ll be able to set your own salary (though you may be accountable to investors). The most successful founders can make truly enormous amounts of money (which you could give away to have a huge impact!). However, founders often pay themselves relatively little in the early years of a business in order to help their business. And, because of the high failure rates, many founders might not make very much at all, and might often lose money if they invest their own funds. So, for those less comfortable with risk, pursuing other business-related careers may be a safer option.
Impact potential: high; salary potential: moderate-high
What is a people manager?
People management involves managing others – whether that’s managing their tasks and responsibilities, keeping them motivated and value-aligned, providing whatever is necessary for them to perform their job effectively, and more.
People management isn’t a separate “job” or career path per se, because management duties are often tied to seniority and expertise in different career paths. Because of this, you’ll usually need specific experience in whichever career path you take a management job.
The daily tasks of a people manager might include:
- Meeting with employees to check on progress and form schedules.
- Hiring new staff and assisting with their training and onboarding.
- Setting your team’s priorities and strategies.
- Navigating potential performance issues and supporting staff, as well as mentoring them and helping them to develop.
- Setting goals and tracking progress.
Though it’s unlikely you’ll be able to take a management position immediately after a bachelor’s degree, business degrees are likely among the best subjects or majors for gaining management skills and learning best management practices as an undergraduate. Many business degrees, especially those specializing in business management, offer distinct courses on an array of the components involved in management.
How much impact could you have?
People management can let you help people at a really large scale and have lots of positive impact – if you find the right opportunity.
One reason people management can lead to impact is by working as a multiplier for the impact of others – particularly good managers seem to be able to increase the overall productivity of the team under them, sometimes by dozens of percentage points. If you’re in an organization that’s already doing lots of good (for example, an evidence-led nonprofit working in global health and development), this productivity increase could achieve huge amounts of impact.
Managers can also help an organization grow. Management is often a limiting factor in the number of employees who can be hired, so having more managers (even if they’re only passable) can help an organization to have more impact by increasing the number of people working there.
However, the impact of a people manager is highly dependent on the organization they’re in. Even a great manager might not be able to make a significant difference if they’re in a team that’s not working towards an important or useful goal. Because of this, it’s crucial to look for organizations that are focused on pressing problems where lots of impact can be had, and who are deploying effective solutions to these problems.
People manager salary
Because people managers can work in any industry and organization and at different levels of seniority, salaries will vary much more than in other jobs. The average salaries in specific industries are likely a better guide to salaries in this path than the average salaries of all people managers. However, management jobs tend to be senior positions, and so may often command a higher salary than the industry average.
It’s worth bearing in mind that at least some of the most impactful people manager jobs may be in nonprofit organizations, which tend to have lower salaries than other organization types.
Impact potential: high; Salary potential; limited
What is a nonprofit entrepreneur?
Nonprofit entrepreneurship is the founding of new nonprofits with the goal of solving important problems. Some specific tasks and responsibilities include:
- Any of the activities involved in creating and running a nonprofit, including administrative tasks, hiring and onboarding employees, and directing the organization’s strategy.
- Raising funds, primarily from foundations and individual donors.
- Build and maintain partnerships with external bodies such as government agencies, NGOs, and funders.
A business degree is a great background for nonprofit entrepreneurship for much the same reasons we gave in favor of for-profit entrepreneurship. Because a business degree will teach a range of skills relevant to running an organization, including finance, accounting, marketing, and management – it’s likely you’ll come out of a business degree with a good basis for further developing the skills needed for this career path.
How much impact could you have?
If you have the potential to be a great founder, then we think starting a nonprofit can be one of the most impactful options available to you, especially if you’re focused on making evidence-based decisions in high-priority cause areas. Some founders of effective nonprofits have been able to achieve a truly massive impact, like saving thousands of lives through deploying effective solutions to large-scale problems (read our full nonprofit entrepreneurship career profile for some inspiring examples!).
However, this path is highly demanding to succeed in, requiring a number of particular traits, like an exceptional amount of determination and resilience. It’s also quite high-risk – many organizations don’t work out as intended, meaning you can end up having little to show for all your hard work.
Nonprofit entrepreneur salary
Though it’s hard to get good figures, nonprofit entrepreneurship is not a path to take if you want to become wealthy. Early on, you will generally have a salary lower than is typical in the nonprofit sector, which is already low – the US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated (in 2016) that nonprofit workers in management and professional jobs are paid nearly $5 less per hour than counterparts in the private sector (taking into account salary and benefits). However, incubation programs like Charity Entrepreneurship might be able to take some of the risk out of this process by providing you with a stipend, networking opportunities, access to experts, as well as the possibility of seed funding.
Impact potential: moderate; Salary potential: moderate
What is a grantmaker?
Grantmakers help to decide where philanthropic funds and foundations spend their money, either by evaluating applications from organizations seeking grants, or by actively searching for potentially promising grant recipients. Grantmakers often have other administrative duties related to their grants, for instance monitoring the expenditure of grant money, and ensuring it is spent appropriately by the organizations they fund.
The finance skills you’ll gain in a business degree could help you better understand the financial needs of organizations – a valuable insight to have as the person who’ll be making important funding decisions. In some ways, the skill set that underpins grantmaking isn’t dissimilar from investment decisions – though, instead of optimizing for financial return, you’re instead trying to generate social impact. On top of this, the various management and administrative skills you’ll pick up may also help to better judge whether an organization is well-run or not, which can play an important part in deciding whether to approve a grant decision.
However, grantmakers generally also need expertise and experience in the areas they’re making grants in – especially at larger foundations. Because of this, you’ll likely need to spend time working in a field or cause area before you can take a grantmaking position, rather than a job you can take immediately after your bachelor’s.
How much impact could you have?
Grantmakers can achieve impact in several ways. For one, they can provide the funding needed for highly promising organizations to operate. They can also use their funding and grant process to influence nonprofits in their field to do more impactful work (or work on it more effectively). Additionally, they can focus on active grantmaking, connecting people, ideas, and opportunities to start new projects. These are all potentially great ways to have a strong positive counterfactual impact – in other words, to make a positive difference that wouldn’t have otherwise happened.
Importantly, though, the impact you can have as a grantmaker critically depends on how promising the opportunities you are able to fund are. If you can only give money to projects that don’t improve the world much, you won’t have much positive impact either. So, it’s really important to be able to fund projects that solve pressing problems, or that work in promising cause areas.
According to Salary.com, the median salary of a program officer (another term for a grantmaker) is $74,417. This is 1.37xthe US median salary of $54,132. However, salaries in some of the most promising philanthropic foundations, such as the Gates Foundation, GiveWell, and Founders Pledge, are often higher than this. We talk more about these organizations in our full career profile on grantmaking.
Transferable skills from a business degree
This has just been a short list of possible careers you can pursue with a business degree, but the true number of options is much higher. In fact, did you know that as many as 74% of university graduates go into careers unrelated to their degree subject or major?
The truth is your degree or major subject might not matter as much as you might think, and it’s often quite feasible to gain the education or experience necessary to switch jobs or careers.
Regardless, a bachelor’s in business, business administration, or business management will teach loads of great transferable skills that can help you with a range of different careers. Here are some of the skills you’ll get with a business degree:
- Management: Business degrees – particularly those that focus on business management – will teach you various management skills both in terms of the practicalities of running an organization and in the best practices for managing people.
- Financial literacy: By studying business, you’ll gain an understanding of financial concepts, such as budgeting, forecasting, and accounting, and how to apply them at the organizational level.
- Marketing skills: Business degrees typically teach marketing concepts, which will help you devise and execute marketing plans that can help an organization attract more potential customers – or in the nonprofit sector, potential donors.
- Strategic thinking: A business degree will help you think about organizations as a whole, and how the different elements of an organization must come together to reach a shared vision.
Our full list of career profiles gives lots of ideas for other career paths where these skills might be put to use, with a focus on having a positive social impact.