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Top 10 Careers In Business

Business is the U.S. in on the upswing, according to Kiplinger's most recent economic forecast. National unemployment rates are expected to fall to 5.3 percent by the end of 2015, and businesses are expected to increase their annual spending by 5 percent over the course of the year. Major financial sectors including banking, life and general insurance, and investment management reported solid performance in 2014 and issued positive outlooks for 2015.

In light of an improving national economy, students considering a career in business — a varied field, if there ever was one — might be wondering which paths present the best opportunity. Not all careers enjoy the same competitive marketplace, growing projected wage increases or employment opportunities, but students can help set themselves up for success by identifying which ones could be a good fit.

To help clarify the picture, below is a list of the ten best business careers, ranked by earning power and career potential. We examined 113 business careers across a variety of industries, as defined by the Occupational Information Network (ONET), and considered five different factors based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and ONET. These include:

  • Median annual salary, 2014
  • Projected job growth, 2012-22
  • Number of new jobs due to growth and replacement, 2012-22
  • National employment level, 2014
  • Stressful Work Environment, which measures how frequently employees in each job need to deal with conflict and with unpleasant or angry people

Once the analysis was done, we used a weighted average to determine the final scores for a list of the 10 best business careers, and here they are.

> Read our full ranking methodology here

best business careers accountant

Accountants are financial and mathematical wizards, in charge of developing, managing and auditing financial records. They may examine documents, prepare taxes and assess a company's financial performance, among other duties. An extremely varied field, accounting allows for specialization in a range of areas, such as risk management, health care, assurance services, auditing, and more.

Why it's hot

The career numbers add up. Accountants ranked in the top 10 percent for the number of jobs that are expected to be filled between 2012 and 2022. The BLS predicts 13.1 percent growth for this massive occupational group; combine that with the need to fill existing jobs that will be vacated, and there are expected to be more than 544,000 jobs openings for accountants in that decade.

They also ranked in the top 20 percent for their work environment score: 43 percent of accountants surveyed told ONET that they only have to deal with unpleasant people once a year or more, and 82 percent said they don't have to deal with conflict more than once a month.

The salaries aren't too shabby either: Accountants and auditors earned median salaries of $65,940 in 2014, according to the BLS, and the estimated starting salary is in the $50,000 range.

Career path

A bachelor's degree in accounting is the primary educational path for employment in the field. However, additional experience and education is required to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), and that's a credential that many professional accountants find worthwhile.

Other credentials, such as the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) from the Institute of Management Accountants or the Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) from the Institute of Internal Auditors are available for individuals seeking professional development, career specialization or advancement.

best business careers accountant market research analyst

Tasked with the sometimes difficult understanding what consumers want, market research analysts are responsible for conducting a range of data collection to identify sales and marketing trends, consumer behavior patterns, overall market conditions, and the effectiveness of marketing strategies.

Why it's hot

Potent job potential. Market research analysts and marketing specialists ranked in the top 10 percent for their job growth: The BLS projects a phenomenal 31-percent growth nationally between 2012 and 2022. The job also ranked in the top 20 percent for the number of jobs that will need to be filled during that period (roughly 188,000).

In addition, market research analysts scored in the top 10 percent of the Stressful Work Environment category, with more than 50 percent of the analysts in ONET's survey reporting that they have to deal with unpleasant people or conflict at least once a year — but not every month.

Combine that amazing career potential and positive environment with median earnings of $61,290 in 2014, and it doesn't take a massive set of data to recognize that market research analyst is a career worth considering.

Career path

A bachelor's degree in fields such as mathematics, statistics, or business is the traditional path to entry-level positions in the field. However, a master's degree — such as an MBA or a degree in a related field — is often recommended for career advancement into the top positions in the industry, as well as for analysts doing highly technical research.

Some marketers may also pursue Professional Researcher Certification (PRC) from the Marketing Research Association or Certified Market Research Analyst (CMRA) certification from the International Institute of Market Research and Analytics.

Counseling people on how to save and invest their money morphed into a culturally relevant profession during the past 20 years, with people like Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman becoming celebrities in their own right. Personal financial advisers act as consultants to their clients, providing a range of financial recommendations and services, from setting up retirement plans to making recommendations for portfolio investments. Some advisers specialize in a certain field, such as risk management, retirement, or securities, while others focus on wealth management — only dealing with clients with significant capital to manage and invest.

Why it's hot

Need a job? Got a job. Personal finance is one of the hottest occupational fields in the country, and personal finance advisers ranked in the top 10 percent of occupations for their job growth: They're expected to see 27 percent growth nationally between 2012 and 2022, according to BLS employment data.

Like accountants and market research analysts, financial advisers also ranked well for their work environment. That doesn't mean the job isn't interesting and challenging, but more than 85 percent of financial advisers reported to ONET that they had to deal with conflict or unpleasant encounters less often than once a month. Coupled with median earnings greater than $81,000 annually, a career in personal finance advising can be a solid investment.

Career path

Employment as a personal financial adviser typically begins with completing a bachelor's degree in areas such as economics, business or finance, according to the BLS. Individuals who specialize in certain areas, such as bonds or stocks, must register with the appropriate state boards, as well as the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Certification is voluntary, but the BLS reports that for professional advancement, it's vital to the profession. A veritable alphabet soup of options exists in the field: Certified Financial Planner (CFP), Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU), Chartered Investment Counselor (CIC), and Certified Fund Specialist (CFS) are just a few of the potential designations.

best business careers data processing manager

These supervisors, also called computer and information systems managers, are often considered part of the tech world, as opposed to business professionals. But as technology becomes more and more intertwined with different aspects of life, there are increasing career opportunities for techies who also have an interest in the business world. Data processing managers are typically responsible for analyzing their company's tech needs, considering ways to upgrade existing technology, overseeing network and electronic security, and supervising staff, among other duties.

Why it's hot

Demand for data. This is one of the most lucrative careers in our analysis. Data processing managers rank in the top 10 percent for their median annual salary, which was more than $127,000 in 2014, the BLS reports.

They're also in the top 20 percent for both the job growth (15.3 percent) and the number of job openings (around 97,000) that are expected to occur between 2012 and 2022. Not all of that growth will be in the business sector, of course, but with the BLS tallying more than 330,000 people employed in this role in the U.S. in 2014, the field is far from small.

Career path

A bachelor's degree is the first step into this field, usually in computer science or a related field, but the BLS reports that at least five years of experience are typically required to move into a managerial role. Aspiring professionals who know they want to aim for management can consider a Management Information Systems (MIS), which typically includes business skills even at the undergraduate level.

However, some organizations require managers to have a graduate degree, so pairing an MBA or other master's degree with a background in technology can help make you a stronger candidate to move into management.

best business careers operations manager

Like data processing managers, operations managers can have careers in a range of industries not just in the business world. These executives may be responsible for creating policies, planning how to best use company resources, and managing daily operations — similar to what you might expect of a Chief Executive or Chief Operating Officer. The exact duties are likely to depend on what type of organization you're working in, but the core values of managing resources, personnel and operations are likely to remain the same.

Why it's hot

Job availability and a low-stress role. The projected job growth is above the national average, and because this is a broad career with a great deal of possibilities, general and operations managers ranked in the top 10 percent for both their national employment level and the number of jobs (more than 613,000) the BLS expects to be filled between 2012 and 2022.

Given the supervisory role and the fact that you may never know what's coming, this career ranked lower in the Stressful Work Environment category than the other jobs featured on this list. But for a business professional who thrives on adrenaline and loves a challenge, a career in operations management can be a great choice. And the high median salary — $97,920 nationally in 2014, per the BLS — doesn't hurt either.

Career path

As with all the careers on this list, a bachelor's degree is the first step into the field. Once you've decided what type of company to work for, you can begin gaining the vital experience that needs to be paired with education in order to be a good supervisor.

A graduate degree is typically useful, and in fact, some organizations may require it in order to employees to advance to this level. For aspiring operations managers in business, that typically means an MBA. There are also certifications that can help demonstrate competence, the BLS reports, such as a Certified Manager (CM) credential offered by the Institute of Certified Professional Managers.

best business careers cost estimator

Cost estimators have one of the more self-explanatory jobs in this analysis, but it's no less fascinating for being (relatively) easy to understand. Simply put, a cost estimator is responsible for figuring out the money, materials, time and labor that are required to make something, the BLS reports. That "something" could be a product, building or service, but regardless of the specifics, the required training and skill set is essentially the same. These professionals, also known as cost analysts, usually specialize in a certain field or industry.

Why it's hot

Surprisingly low-stress. The job ranks in the top 10 percent for its growth rate of 26.2 percent nationally between 2012 and 2022, according to the BLS. That's more than double the national average, and 118,000 jobs are predicted to be filled during that period. The median salary is also above the national average, coming in at $60,590 in 2014, the BLS reports.

The other great thing about being a cost estimator is the work environment. For a high-growth, good-paying job, this career scored unusually well in the Stressful Work Environment category, finishing in the top 10 percent. Upwards of 60 percent of cost estimators said they have to deal with conflicts or unpleasant people less than once a month, and 11 percent said those things essentially never come up, according to ONET.

Career path

These days, a bachelor's degree is the norm to enter the field, but that hasn't always been the case. In the past, experienced construction workers could qualify without a formal education, and in a limited number of cases, that could still be true.

However, the BLS reports that employers are increasingly opting for candidates who have a college education. And whatever subject you choose to study for your major, a strong understanding of mathematics is likely to be essential.

best business careers marketing manager

Marketing managers work with professionals like sales representatives, financial teams and art directors to figure out how to generate public interest in their companies. In the business sector, as in other areas, this can refer to either a product or a service. A career as a marketing manager can offer a great combination of challenges, as it may be necessary to not only direct the creation of a campaign but also manage the analytical elements, since as pricing strategies and market research.

Why it's hot

Strong salary and growth potential. The above-average job growth and low Stressful Work Environment score — both ranking in the top 20 percent among all the careers on our list — helped marketing managers make it into the top 10. But one of the best aspects of this career is its financial potential; according to BLS data, it can be quite lucrative. Marketing managers made a median annual salary of more than $127,130 in 2014, and the highest-paid 25 percent of professionals had annual salaries above $170,000.

Career path

The first step toward this career is a bachelor's degree, often in advertising or journalism. Whatever your major, the BLS reports that relevant coursework might include classes in communication methods, visual arts, market research and sales, among others.

Unlike some other managerial careers listed in this analysis, a graduate degree isn't the only way, or necessarily even the best one, to climb the ladder. Building your professional experience is key, and for students who want to look ahead in their career, it can also be worth taking classes in subjects like economics, finance and computer science, to build a broader skill set.

best business careers financial manager

In a nutshell, financial managers are responsible for keeping all things finance happy and healthy in their respective companies. It can involve long hours, but there are plenty of interesting challenges to keep your attention, such as directing investments, developing long-term goals and creating strategies to meet those goals. As supervisors, people in this career can likely also expect to be managing other staff members or assisting with their training.

Why it's hot

Money-making opportunities galore. Financial managers scored high in our analysis on both pay and employment potential. The median annual salary of $115,320, according to the BLS, ranked in the top 10 percent among all the careers considered. In addition, with both a high level of employment and a large number of new jobs (more than 146,000) expected to be filled between 2012 and 2022, the right candidates might find a world of opportunity out there.

Career path

A bachelor's degree in a relevant field — such as finance, business, economics or accounting — is a good first step, but the professional experience and, often, additional education is what will truly help someone aiming to snag this job. Many employers prefer financial managers who have an MBA or other relevant master's degree, as it means they've had a formal education aimed at teaching them financial analysis, the BLS reports.

In addition, certification can help demonstrate that you're a good candidate for this role. They aren't required, but credentials such as the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) or Certified Treasury Professional can be an asset as well.

best business careers sales manager

Like data processing managers, computer programmers might be more commonly associated with tech than business. But in fact, there's the potential for myriad opportunities in the business world, particularly in startup-heavy areas with small companies that might require their employees to wear a lot of hats. Computer programmers are typically responsible for writing and updating programs, doing systems analysis, and consulting with management to clarify a company's programming needs.

Why it's hot

Across-the-board perks. This career scored well in several categories in our analysis, finishing in the top 30 percent for salary, the current employment level, and the number of new jobs. The median pay for computer programmers in the U.S. was $77,550 in 2014, according to the BLS, and the highest-paid 10 percent of workers made more than $127,000 annually.

Plus, though it may seem unusual for such a lucrative job to be relatively low stress, this career also finished in the top 30 percent for its Stressful Work Environment score. Per ONET, 87 percent of computer programmers reported having to deal with unpleasant or angry people no more than once a month, and 85 percent also reported dealing with general conflicts only once a month or less.

Career path

An associate degree used to be a common way to get started in this field, but the BLS reports that nowadays most programmers have a bachelor's degree. In addition, those who are working in specific fields, such as accounting, may want to take relevant courses to supplement their degree and give them a greater understanding of their company's needs. Beyond that, it's all about experience.

best business careers computer programmer

Sales managers and supervisors are in charge of directing the sales teams within their respective companies. This usually includes developing training programs, setting sales goals and determining how to meet them, and analyzing data about pricing, performance and other factors. The BLS also reports that travel is frequently a requirement of this job, so it's a great option if you want to start racking up those frequent flying miles.

Why it's hot

High-paying possibilities. Based on our analysis, one of the best elements of a career as a sales manager is the pay. The median annual salary in 2014 came in at $110,660 nationally, and the BLS reports that the highest-paid 25 percent of professionals made more than $160,000 in that period.

The job growth is steady, though not exceptional, but there are still expected to be more than 358,000 positions filled between 2012 and 2022, which put sales managers in the top 30 percent overall in that category. Travel, good pay and solid employment prospects? Not too shabby.

Career path

Some sales managers or supervisors have a master's degree, but that graduate credential may be less important here than in other managerial fields. The first step into this career is most often a bachelor's degree, which, regardless of major, should include coursework in subjects like economics, finance, marketing, statistics and business law. Beyond that, one of the best ways to move up in the sales world, according to the BLS, is to gain significant hands-on professional experience as a sales representative.

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Methodology

> Return to top of 10 best business careers

For this analysis, we defined “business careers” as belonging to any one or more of three specific career clusters, as defined by the Occupational Information Network (ONET), with some exceptions (explained below under “Sample Size). The three career clusters are: Business, Management and Administration; Finance; and Marketing, Sales and Service.

This resulted in 113 careers to rank. For each career, we ranked the Bureau of Labor Statistics and ONET data listed below on a 10-point scale, and then obtained a total ranking score across all data based on the weights specified:

1.       Median annual salary, May 2014 (weight=30%)
2.       Projected job growth percentage, 2012-22 (weight =15%)
3.       Number of new jobs due to growth and replacement needs, 2012-22 (weight = 15%)
4.       Number of people employed in each occupation, May 2014 (weight = 20%)
5.       Stressful work environment (weight = 20%)

For items 1 through 4, each career was scored based on which 10th percentile increment its salary, job growth, new jobs or employment fell into. The scores were given as follows:

  • 10th percentile or below = 1 point
  • 11th to 20th percentile  = 2 points
  • 21st to 30th percentile = 3 points
  • 31st to 40th percentile = 4 points
  • 41st to 50th percentile = 5 points
  • 51st to 60th percentile = 6 points
  • 61st to 70th percentile  = 7 points
  • 71st to 80th percentile =  8 points
  • 81st to 90th percentile = 9 points
  • 91st to 100th percentile = 10 points

The Stressful Work Environment factor is based on the following two Work Context data from the ONET survey of people employed in each profession:

Deal with Unpleasant or Angry People:  How frequently does the worker have to deal with unpleasant, angry, or discourteous individuals as part of the job requirement?

Frequency of Conflict Situations: How often are there conflict situations the employee has to face in this job?

To calculate the score for each of these two work context question, the percentage of survey respondents who gave each answer was multiplied by the point value listed above, and the two resulting scores were averaged together. To get the final 10-point scale Stressful Work Environment score, the previously mentioned average score is then divided into ten 10th percentile increments with each interval getting a ranking score of 1-10.

Sample Size

Our final sample contains 113 business careers. The initial sample size was 195 careers, all belonging to the Business, Management and Administration; Finance; and/or Marketing, Sales and Service ONET career clusters. The following exclusions were made in our ranking analysis:

ONET survey data combination: Because ONET breaks up career classifications in more detail, 28 granular careers were combined into the appropriate higher level job-classification groupings, within the three Career Clusters chosen. (For example, Work Context data for “Financial Managers, Branch or Department” and “Treasures and Controllers” was averaged to create data for the umbrella career of Financial Managers.)

Education career exclusion: Five careers were excluded from the sample size because they were jobs in education, not business.

Nonspecific Industry Exclusion: Three careers were excluded from the sample size because they were broad umbrella careers that could pertain to a broad number of industries or included a number of non-business jobs within their data set.

BLS data exclusion: 16 careers were excluded from the sample size because the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not collect separate salary, job growth or employment level data for them.

ONET survey data exclusion: 33 careers were excluded from the sample size because they didn’t have detailed work context data in ONET.

Other exclusions: Two careers were excluded from the study because, while the umbrella career in question met the career cluster requirement, its subcareers did not and thus couldn’t be used for detailed Work Context data.

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Sources:
1. Kiplinger's Economic Outlooks, David Payne, Kiplinger.com, Accessed April 3, 2015, http://www.kiplinger.com/tool/business/T019-S000-kiplinger-s-economic-outlooks/
2. ONET OnLine, Occupational Information Network, http://www.onetonline.org/
3. Occupational Employment Statistics: May 2014 Occupation Profiles, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, March 25, 2015, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_stru.htm
4. "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/