6 Things You Can Do to Prepare for a Career in Business
By Sonia Kelly
As a high school student, starting a full-time job seems far in the future. It can be hard to imagine oneself in 2024 or beyond with a career. However, if you know where your interests lie, getting started earlier can make a huge impact on your career preparedness and potential job prospects after college.
I talked to some young professionals in the business world to ask them what students can do now to prepare for a business career. Beyond finding a mentor and utilizing your network, here are some things you can do — many of them from your own home!
Keep up with trends in the business world
Kipp Milone, a senior consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton and Embolden’s co-director of business programs, highlighted the importance of keeping up with current events and trends in the business world. “Although you shouldn’t just be reading headlines, there’s no need to read every article in the Wall Street Journal. In fact, start by signing up for a business e-newsletter, such as Morning Brew, which will provide quick, digestible content right to your inbox.”
There are clear, tangible benefits to staying up to date with the industries that interest you. Milone explains, “Staying up to date on business news gives you indirect exposure to a variety of industries and can serve as a starting point for research on topics that may interest you. As you spend more time reading, you may stumble upon industry-specific sources that you begin to follow. Additionally, developing this habit early on will serve you well in college when it comes time for interviewing and networking with potential employers.”
Conduct market research in areas you’re passionate about
At Embolden’s Business Careers Panel on July 15, Asher Smith-Rose, a senior product manager at Capital One, suggested talking to friends and family, as well as completing market research before diving into a business-related project. With a background in entrepreneurship, he explained that his interest in business came from first designing a product that was useful for him and others around him. Smith-Rose suggested starting from a place of your own interest, such as running, music, or cooking. However, he also stressed the importance of reaching out to trusted confidants in your network to see if there is a market for a product you’re interested in creating.
Market research and innovation can be lengthy processes, but if you have a specific corner of the market that interests you, beginning that learning process while you are still a student can put you at an advantage when you’re out of school and ready to become a full-time entrepreneur.
Master digital business skills
Wesley Garner, an advisory associate at Grant Thornton Public Sector and Embolden’s strategic planner, uses Microsoft PowerPoint every day in his job. Even though he used PowerPoint in high school, he says, “I don't think the little amount that teachers made me use it in high school and college really prepared me to make visually appealing presentations that prove my points well.” The program is likely to stay relevant in business for the foreseeable future, so mastering PowerPoint, along with effective presentation skills, can serve you greatly in both your role as a student and in your future career.
PowerPoint is not only most well-known as a tool to create presentations, but also has the capabilities to create flowcharts, graphs, and newsletters. Similarly, Microsoft Excel has a wide range of capabilities that go way beyond the spreadsheet and graph creation that is taught in school. Other tools common in the business world include Canva and Python. Having an in-depth knowledge of some of these programs can put you a step ahead of your peers.
Websites like Coursera and EdX have online courses that can help you go beyond a basic understanding of PowerPoint, Excel, and other digital business applications. You can also use these sites to learn more about effective presentation and public speaking skills.
Learn how innovators think with books and podcasts
In today’s world, there is a huge amount of information and advice available online just waiting for your consumption! This doesn’t mean that you must read everything that’s available on the internet about business, finance, and entrepreneurship. Instead, you should find sources and opinions that are credible and that you find entertaining.
Three of Embolden’s Business Career panelists, HaeMee Kang, a project manager at AvePoint; Katie Diasti, founder and CEO of viv for your v; and Gaby Watkins, a business intelligence analyst at Rebellion Defense, talked about some of their favorite books and podcasts covering all things “business.” They included "The Magic of Thinking Big" by David Schwartz, "The Compound Effect" by Darren Hardy, and "How I Built This with Guy Raz" from NPR. Here are some other book and podcast recommendations from team #EmboldenMe:
"StrengthsFinder 2.0" by Tom Rath
"HBR IdeaCast" from Harvard Business Review
"Robinhood Snacks" (also comes as a newsletter if you prefer this format)
"Brought to you by..." from Business Insider
Join pre-professional societies
Andrew Rossi, a senior analyst at the Northern Trust Corporation, emphasizes the professional development experience that is offered in pre-professional societies. “If you choose to go to college and major in business, try to join an extracurricular club directly related to your major such as finance and marketing associations. By doing so, you will have access to exclusive networking opportunities, and you will be able to practically apply the knowledge you learn in the classroom through exercises such as case competitions.”
When you get to college, there are hundreds of clubs and organizations to choose from. It can be incredibly intimidating and time consuming at first to find groups that fit your interests. However, it can be incredibly rewarding, both socially and professionally, to find a group of peers with similar interests and aspirations. Rossi emphasizes that the clubs you join don’t have to be aligned to your area of academic study. “If you don’t end up choosing a business major, you should certainly still consider joining these pre-professional societies. They may help answer whether you should take classes or apply to jobs in a certain field.”
Take advantage of your youth
Trinity Torres, a former global commercial strategist at Hilton and Embolden’s co-director of business programs, studied psychology and public policy in college, but quickly realized that business is connected to so many other academic fields. She said that some of her most formative experiences unfolded when she took advantage of the resources that surrounded her. She explains, “I have had so many doors opened for me just by reaching out to someone, either in person or on LinkedIn, and asking to chat. I landed my first job out of college through a LinkedIn connection. I had a phone call with a connection of a connection, who ended up hiring me as an intern, thus launching my career at Hilton. Never be afraid to put yourself out there, to ask questions, to learn more about other fields and industries. Find brilliant people and ask them questions – lots of them!” Torres has also gotten involved in multiple startups and non-profit organizations, including Embolden, through connections on LinkedIn.
Torres also makes an important point about the unique opportunity young people have in the business world. She says that, “If you are interested in starting your own business, if you have an idea, go for it! Now is the time to experiment, to take risks, and try new things.” Oftentimes, people are more than willing to help shape students’ careers. Whether it be offering an experienced voice or providing support on ideas or projects, there are so many people willing to help students and young professionals.
The business world is vast and wide, and innovators of all ages are expanding “the possible” in this world. If you are unsure of how to break into a career in business, these ideas should give you a few places to start. Most importantly, you should have confidence that the budding ideas you possess are no different from the ideas of those already established in business careers. The entire industry benefits from students and young professionals with the confidence to bring their fresh perspective, alter the status quo, and enact meaningful change.
Sonia Kelly is an Embolden intern and history student in the William & Mary/St Andrews Joint Degree Programme.
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