What types of jobs and employers are there in business?
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Business is a very broad term that can cover any sort of activity that helps an organisation, big or small, to stay profitable and generate money. Most jobs involve some aspects of business whether you work as a lawyer, an engineer, a scientist or an accountant.
However, we’ve chosen to focus on five specialist business functions: human resources (HR), sales, marketing, public relations (PR) and management consultancy. All these roles support an organisation and enable it to stay in profit rather than actually creating a product or service. If you choose one of these careers you may be able to move between different types of business – eg from an HR job in a law firm to an HR job in an engineering company.
What is HR?
People working in HR deal with:
- recruitment and contracts – finding the right person for a vacancy and agreeing the terms of that employment.
- employee relations and welfare – ensuring that staff are happy in their roles and managing such issues as disagreements or changes in circumstances.
- employment law and health and safety – ensuring that the company complies with, and keeps up to date with, government regulations, such as those covering working conditions.
- pay and benefits – making certain that maternity and paternity pay, sickness pay, holidays, pensions and any other benefits the company offers are paid and that tax and National Insurance payments are made to the government.
- training, coaching and development – this may include telling staff about changes in industry practices, helping staff gain new skills to use within the company and developing staff through ongoing mentoring and training.
HR also covers disciplinary and redundancy proceedings and managing grievances, so it’s not just about helping people; you’ll need a thick skin and an ability to remain professional at all times.
Where you could work
Depending on the size of the business, HR professionals can cover all the above or specialise in key areas, such as recruitment or training. Most HR jobs involve working for just one organisation and being directly employed by it. However, you could work for an HR agency: these offer one or more of the above services to other businesses and charge a fee for each aspect of the expertise they use, such as for each vacancy filled.
What is sales?
Sales teams make money for an organisation by selling its services or goods to either consumers (B2C) or other businesses (B2B). The revenue that a sales department brings in funds all business costs, from the rent of the premises to staff salaries. Not all sales jobs are about working in a shop or call centre. B2B sales roles offer particularly good opportunities to climb the career ladder.
People working in sales deal with:
- meetings with new and existing customers and clients.
- giving presentations and communicating with customers and clients to help secure a sale.
- research to find new customers and clients for the business.
- their own marketing teams to research and monitor competitors’ products to see what else is in the marketplace.
They also need a good understanding of their own business and its products to ensure they are offering the right product, service or solution to their clients and customers at the right time.
Where you could work
Sales executives can work anywhere, from the offices of an estate agency to behind the scenes at a university or the events department of a stately home. They might sell pharmaceuticals, advertising space, engineering products or IT equipment and software. Sales executives may work via the phone, face-to-face and/or email and operate locally, nationally and internationally.
What is marketing?
Marketing is the ‘soft sell’ part of a business. It’s about understanding why people choose products or services and what they want from those choices, then finding ways to engage the customers’ interest to ensure that your company’s product or service is chosen above others on offer. According to the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), ‘Marketing is the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably’.
People working in marketing tend to be involved in one or more of the following:
- market research and monitoring
- branding and identity
- advertising and copywriting
- design and packaging
- promotion of goods or services and relationships
- communications, including social media.
Where you could work
Most organisations employ a person or team of people to promote that organisation or its products. Depending on the size of the organisation you might do a bit of everything or concentrate on just one of the roles above. You could also work for a specialist marketing company; some of these are small and niche, while others are global, all-encompassing agencies, such as WPP. A small agency may concentrate on just one aspect of marketing, such as copywriting, while a large agency will offer a wide range of services to clients.
What is PR?
Public relations, or PR, is about maintaining or improving the reputation of an organisation by influencing how other people perceive it. According to the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA), PR is about how organisations communicate with the public, promote themselves and build a positive image. There is crossover with marketing, since the influence gained may make all the difference when people are deciding which supermarket to shop in, or which company to do business with.
PR activity is usually planned in advance but a PR expert can also be called upon to manage an organisation’s response to a crisis.
People in PR tend to be involved in:
- copywriting and research
- drafting press releases and newsletters
- contacting journalists to try to persuade them to cover a new story
- public events and opportunities
- blogging and writing social media content
- online advertising – eg pay per click (PPC)
- search engine optimisation (SEO) – ensuring that clients' online content gets found and read by its target audience when they do a relevant web search.
A junior PR executive (as someone working in PR is often called) may start their career researching material for press conferences, liaising with journalists and monitoring the success of a PR campaign by keeping track of any subsequent coverage in the media. A senior PR executive may be in charge of several members of a team and have responsibility for managing budgets, getting new clients to use the company’s services (if you work for a PR agency) and successfully maintaining or enhancing a company’s reputation.
Where you could work
You could be employed by a PR consultancy (that will work for multiple companies) or work directly within an organisation (sometimes called working in-house) as its own PR expert.
PR agencies and consultancies can work across all sectors of business, from big corporations to charities. Some of the biggest and best-known PR agencies – Edelman, Weber Shandwick, Ogilvy UK and Freuds – cover many areas, but if you work for big agencies such as these you’re likely to specialise in one department or area of their business.
If you work within a local government department, or at a stately home, for a company’s own in-house PR team or for a small specialist agency, you may find yourself looking for new angles on the same subject on a regular basis.
What is management consulting?
Management consulting is all about solving problems for clients. A ‘problem’ doesn’t have to be something negative – it could be the desire to make more profit or expand into a new area of business. Consultants tend to spend their time:
- researching – carrying out research and collating information
- conducting analysis – working out solutions
- teamworking – participating in brainstorming sessions
- advising – presenting findings to clients and colleagues
- implementing change – organising training sessions for client organisation employees, monitoring progress and writing up results and solutions for future reference.
Where you could work
Some consulting employers specialise in offering particular services to clients, such as:
- implementation (putting a suggested change into practice, eg installing a new IT system and helping a client learn how to use it)
- operations and supply-chain management
Some focus on particular industries, such as:
- financial services
- public sector
So, for example, you could work for a consultancy firm specialising in a particular function (eg McKinsey & Company – strategy) and work across a number of industries, or a niche firm specialising in one function and one particular industry (eg FTI Consulting – strategy, finance). Many incorporate a variety of both, however (eg A.T. Kearney).
You could also work in the consulting division of a professional services firm such as one of the ‘Big 4’ (Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC), where consulting will be one of a number of services offered to clients. At the time of writing, school leaver opportunities in consulting are only available in professional services firms.