An army veteran, a medical practitioner, an engineer, a firefighter, and a police officer sit around a conference table.
What these people have in common is their decision to leave their chosen fields to earn a Master of Business Administration and follow one of the many high-demand MBA career paths in high-growth industries. The range of careers available to people who have earned an MBA degree is just as wide as the range of professional and educational backgrounds that can lead to an MBA.
The main reason for the enduring interest in earning an MBA is that it offers the business knowledge and skills that employers value most. Within the six MBA career paths examined in this guide are dozens of job titles that encompass diverse duties and roles in finance, accounting, marketing, supply chain management, information technology and business analytics.
Types of MBA Career Paths to Pursue
The key characteristic of an MBA program’s curriculum is its direct applicability to the duties and responsibilities that employers prize most in business managers and finance managers. The 2021 prospective students survey administered by the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC) found that 84% of candidates agreed or strongly agreed that a graduate business degree helps them stand out with their employers.
While industries and roles vary widely, MBA career paths often fall into three categories: project management, business development and account management, and strategic planning and operations.
Nearly every business runs on a project basis, which makes project management a core skill for all business managers. These are among the primary responsibilities for project managers:
- Organize skilled workers into teams, typically made up of members from multiple departments.
- Develop and implement plans for multiple teams that include clear short-term and long-term goals.
- Facilitate the execution of the plans by anticipating and overcoming obstacles.
- Monitor teams’ progress to ensure goals are met and the project stays on budget.
In addition to strong communication and motivation skills, project managers must exhibit leadership skills, organization ability and attention to detail. Senior project management positions have titles such as business development director and senior managing consultant.
Sales and Business Development/Account Management
Sales development and business development are often erroneously considered synonymous. While both areas are geared to growing a business, they do so in very different ways.
- Sales development entails researching, prospecting and qualifying leads prior to submitting them to a team of sales representatives who contact the prospects and close the deal.
- Business development involves expanding the organization into new areas by identifying, attracting and acquiring strategic business partners.
By contrast, an account manager manages day-to-day interactions with a company’s existing customers. The goal of the position is to ensure that all of the customers’ needs are met on a continuing basis. Account managers must have both financial management and business management skills to ensure that the company is able to retain existing customers.
Strategic Planning and Operations Management/Consulting
Strategic planning involves five distinct steps:
- Determine the organization’s strategic position.
- Prioritize its objectives.
- Create a strategic plan that will achieve the stated objectives.
- Implement and monitor the plan by measuring key performance indicators (KPIs).
- Review and revise the plan based on past successes or failures.
Operations management has a much narrower focus than strategic planning:
- It involves the administration of business practices to ensure the company is functioning as efficiently as possible.
- It oversees the conversion of material and labor into goods and services while balancing costs with revenue to maximize net operating profit.
- A key aspect of operations management is supply chain management to maintain inventory levels.
Management consultants, or management analysts, typically work on a plan or project basis and focus on specific outcomes. Consultants may specialize in certain industries or organization functions, such as human resources or financial restructuring. They often work directly with the organization’s leaders to identify problems, collect information and implement solutions.
The six MBA career paths explored here represent the range of career opportunities in industries and fields experiencing high growth. The demand for MBA degree holders in these and many other business sectors shows no sign of abating.
Accounting Careers with an MBA
One of the most popular MBA career paths leads to positions in accounting, whether as a certified public accountant (CPA) or as an accountant or senior accountant working in the finance or accounting department of a business. MBA accounting careers typically focus on specific functions:
- Reconciling bank and credit card accounts monthly, quarterly or annually
- Conducting annual financial audits to find income statement variances
- Communicating financial results to management
- Preparing and analyzing department and company budgets
- Documenting financial transactions
- Providing information in support of financial decisions
- Making financial systems and procedures more efficient
- Ensuring that the company complies with all federal and state tax regulations
Three specific accounting positions that MBA degree holders may qualify for are financial accountant, management accountant and tax accountant/internal auditor.
Financial accountants record, analyze and report on a company’s financial transactions by preparing financial statements, including income statements, balance sheets, cash-flow statements and statements of retained earnings. The reports written by financial accountants are intended to demonstrate the business’s financial performance and financial health, typically to parties outside the organization.
Financial accounting differs from management accounting in its emphasis on creating financial statements that are intended for external sources, including potential financial partners, banks and other lenders, and government tax agencies. By contrast, the reports prepared by management accountants are intended for internal use by department managers, company officers, and strategic and financial planners.
The median annual salary of financial accountants is about $56,000, according to June 2021 data from the salary survey site PayScale. Financial accountants with less than one year of experience have a median salary of approximately $48,000 annually, while those with 20 or more years of experience have a median annual salary of about $66,000.
Management accountants’ duties include recording and analyzing a business’s financial data, assisting in managing company investments, preparing budgets, managing risk and supporting managers’ and officers’ financial decisions. The skills required to qualify for management accountant positions align with those taught in an MBA program’s curriculum:
- A foundation in finance and mathematics
- Knowledge of business and production practices
- Familiarity with generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP)
- Leadership skills
Management accountants are sometimes referred to as cost accountants, managerial accountants or industrial accountants. Their median annual salary, according to June 2021 PayScale data, is about $62,000; management accountants with less than one year of experience have a median salary of around $50,000 annually, while those with 10 to 19 years of experience have a median annual salary of about $70,000.
Tax Accountant/Internal Auditor
Tax accountants differ from other types of accountants in their focus on preparing a business’s tax returns and other tax-related documents. They also ensure that all of the company’s tax obligations are paid. Tax accountants work for individuals as well as businesses, but the greater level of scrutiny that business taxes are subject to makes working for a company more appropriate for most MBA degree holders.
By contrast, internal auditors provide companies with independent and objective assessments of their financial and operational processes with an emphasis on corporate governance, which entails the rules, procedures and practices used to direct and control the business. While tax accountants ensure that their clients comply with all applicable tax laws, internal auditors typically work independently and are charged with confirming that a company’s financial statements and other financial matters comply with all laws and regulations.
According to PayScale, the median annual salary of tax accountants is about $58,000 and the median salary of internal auditors is about $60,000 annually, as of June 2021. Tax accountants with less than a year of experience have a median salary of about $53,000 annually, while those with 20 or more years of experience have a median annual salary of about $69,000. Internal auditors with less than one year of experience have a median salary of about $54,000 annually, which increases to about $70,000 annually for those with 20 or more years of experience.
MBA Accounting Career Resources
- Monster, “CPA or MBA?” — The employment site explains the pros and cons of earning an MBA versus becoming a certified public accountant, which typically leads to a more narrowly focused career.
- The Balance Careers, “Accounting Careers: Options, Job Titles, and Descriptions” — Among the accounting job titles presented in depth here are controller, auditor and chief financial officer.
Finance Careers with an MBA
MBA finance careers include a wide range of professional options for people seeking to enter the lucrative field of financial management. An MBA is among the most commonly held degrees by executives working for financial firms and in the financial departments of organizations. Among the job titles of MBA holders in finance positions are financial controller, investment manager, finance director and chief financial analyst.
Here’s a closer look at three of the most common corporate finance positions: financial analyst, portfolio manager and finance manager.
The primary duty of financial analysts is to collect and scrutinize a company’s financial information as well as data on markets and industries to identify opportunities for the business, evaluate potential outcomes of business decisions and determine the business’s most promising investment options. Among the duties of financial analysts are to research macroeconomic and microeconomic conditions, establish the soundness of the organization’s financial foundation and make buy and sell recommendations about potential investments.
An MBA degree is great preparation for a career as a financial analyst because it provides the skills and experience required to examine a company’s fundamentals and predict future performance. MBA graduates are often hired as senior financial analysts directly out of school because of their quantitative skills, problem-solving abilities, data analysis expertise and communications acumen.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the median annual salary of financial analysts as of May 2020 was $83,660. Financial analysts working in securities, commodities contracts and other investment-related fields had a median annual salary of $98,850, while those employed in management of companies had a median annual salary of $86,000.
The work of portfolio managers centers on devising and implementing investment strategies for the funds held by their investor clients. The funds they work on may be closed or open mutual funds, hedge funds, venture capital funds or exchange-traded funds. “Passive” portfolio managers tie their investment strategies to specific market indices, while “active” managers attempt to out-earn average market returns by making individual investment decisions themselves.
Among the skills required to qualify for positions as a portfolio manager are the ability to manage client relationships, a keen ability to conduct financial and investment research, and strategic decision-making skills to implement timely changes to clients’ investment portfolios. Portfolio managers often oversee a team of financial analysts and must communicate regularly with their clients as well as with analysts from investment banks and other sell-side firms.
PayScale reports that the median annual salary of portfolio managers is about $88,000 according to June 2021 data. Portfolio managers with less than one year of experience have a median salary of $61,000 per year, while those with 20 or more years of experience have a median annual salary of about $120,000.
Corporate Finance Manager
Corporate finance managers develop and manage the budgets of companies and corporate departments. They identify funding sources, determine the organization’s capital structure and support investment decisions. The overarching goal of corporate finance managers is to maximize shareholder value by establishing long- and short-term plans, including capital investments and investment strategies.
Among the skills required to qualify for corporate finance manager positions are an understanding of cash-flow strategies, the ability to analyze financial data and forecast earnings and expenses, and contract management and statistical and financial modeling capabilities. Corporate financial managers must also possess skills in leadership, interpersonal communication, mathematics, problem-solving and organizational skills.
According to figures compiled by the BLS, the median annual salary of financial managers as of May 2020 was $134,180. The median annual salary of financial managers working in professional, scientific and technical services was $154,790, and for those engaged in managing companies and enterprises it was $149,300.
MBA Finance Career Resources
- Financial Management Association, “Career Guidance for Undergraduate & MBA Students” — The association’s advice for MBA students includes a step-by-step guide to landing a job in finance and interviews with pioneers in modern finance such as Franklin Allen, John Bogle and Rene Stulz.
- Investopedia, “Investment Banking vs. Corporate Finance: What’s the Difference?” — This article compares and contrasts the distinct roles played by investment bankers and corporate finance managers.
Marketing Careers with an MBA
Technological innovations that affect media of all types are transforming the marketing industry. An MBA degree prepares future marketing professionals for careers that involve creating compelling online content, reinvigorating print advertising, and managing public relations and client relationships. MBA marketing careers encompass graphic design, copywriting, online sales management and account management.
Three of the most popular marketing careers for MBA degree holders are marketing manager, marketing research analyst, and advertising and promotions manager.
Marketing managers create and execute sales and advertising campaigns, whether as employees of a company or working for a third-party marketing firm. When working internally, marketing managers oversee all communications with the business’s customers and potential customers, including creation of promotions, cross-channel media publishing and social media marketing strategies. When they are employed by a marketing firm, they may specialize in one of these areas.
A wide range of skills may be required to qualify for positions as a marketing manager, including:
- Contract negotiation
- Promotion planning and execution
- Search engine optimization
- Social media analysis
- Time management and organizational skills
- Website optimization
The BLS reports that as of May 2020, the median annual salary of advertising, promotions and marketing managers was $133,460. Those working for advertising, public relations and related services had a median salary of $150,930 annually, and marketing managers working for companies and enterprises had a median annual salary of $126,420.
Market Research Analyst
Among the roles and responsibilities of market research analysts are conducting surveys and analyzing raw data to support business decisions. In addition to creating and implementing surveys, marketing research analysts collect data by conducting focus groups, questionnaires and opinion polls. They present their findings to business managers in the form of charts and other visual media to help them make better business decisions.
The skills required to qualify for a career as a marketing research analyst include business intelligence gathering, communications and data analytics. Necessary computer skills range from PowerPoint to visualization and statistical software. The position requires mathematics ability, interpersonal skills and the ability to manage multiple projects simultaneously.
The BLS reports that the median annual salary of market research analysts as of May 2020 was $65,810. It notes that a master’s degree, such as an MBA, is often required to qualify for leadership roles in marketing research and positions that require technical skills. Market research analysts who worked as managers for companies and enterprises had a median annual salary of $77,110.
Advertising and Promotions Manager
Advertising and promotions managers support marketing efforts for a company’s products and services by working directly with business managers to devise marketing budgets and plans involving various media. Among the promotional campaigns they plan and implement are contests, discounts and product giveaways that are promoted via traditional and online media. They are also involved in managing advertising campaigns, negotiating advertising contracts, conducting market research and developing pricing strategies.
The skills required to qualify for advertising and promotions manager positions correspond to those held by MBA degree holders:
- Advanced communication
- Background in computer, information and data analytics technologies
- Creativity and decision-making
- Interpersonal skills in dealing with people inside and outside the organization
- Budgeting and time management
According to the BLS, the median annual salary of advertising and promotions managers as of May 2020 was $133,460. Those working in advertising, public relations and related services had a median salary of $150,930 annually, and those who were managers in companies and enterprises had a median annual salary of $126,420.
MBA Marketing Career Resources
- GreenBook, “Career Advice to Becoming a Great Market Research Analyst” — This discussion of the work environment for market research analysts includes required skills and how to land an entry-level position as a market research analyst.
- The Balance Careers, “Important Marketing Skills That Employers Value” — Here is an explanation of the various tools that marketers use to drive a company’s sales, including advertising, public relations, customer support and market research.
Supply Chain Management Careers with an MBA
Interruptions in deliveries of vital products and equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrate the critical importance of supply chain management to industries and companies. An MBA degree provides the training and expertise necessary to thrive in a range of supply chain management careers. For example, an MBA curriculum features courses that examine the global economic environment, global sustainability, global trade logistics and supply chain risk management.
Among the many career options available to MBA degree holders pursuing supply chain management positions are buyer/planner, supply chain analyst and master scheduler.
Nothing stops the wheels of production faster than running out of key components. This fact was demonstrated recently when several automobile manufacturers were forced to shut down factories because of a dire shortage of semiconductor chips. Ensuring a steady supply of these and other critical manufacturing supplies falls to buyers/planners, who determine which materials a company will need, manage the purchasing process and maintain relationships with suppliers.
The Association for Supply Chain Management (ASCM), formerly known as the American Production and Inventory Control Society (APICS), offers certifications for buyers/planners and related logistics positions. The APICS buyer/planner competency model describes the skills required for a career as a supply chain buyer or planner, all of which are covered in the typical MBA curriculum:
- Scheduling techniques
- Materials requirements planning
- Inventory management
- Risk management
- Enterprise resource planning
- Supply chain management
- Process improvement and Six Sigma
The BLS categorizes buyers/planners as logisticians and reports that their median annual salary as of May 2020 was $76,270. Those employed by manufacturing firms had a median annual salary of $77,840.
Supply Chain Analyst
Supply chain analysts make a company’s logistics operations more efficient by enhancing its supply chain methods. They determine the staffing, materials and other resources that an operations project will require by analyzing a large amount of data and applying advanced problem-solving skills. Those in the position examine the manufacturer’s management structure, inventory and warehouse processes, and relationships with suppliers and carriers.
In addition to a background in business management, supply chain analysts must possess information technology experience, SQL and other data analytics skills, and the ability to communicate their findings to business managers and officers. PayScale reports that the median annual salary of supply chain analysts is about $61,000, according to June 2021 data; those in entry-level positions have a median salary of approximately $58,000, and the median late-career salary is about $69,000. Supply chain managers, a position that MBA degree holders may qualify for, have a median salary of about $84,000, which increases to about $95,000 for those later in their career.
Master schedulers plan, schedule, coordinate and monitor a manufacturer’s production operations to ensure the company’s processes are as efficient and effective as possible. The position entails working with sales, logistics and manufacturing departments to establish schedules and allocate resources to meet client and customer requirements. Master schedulers negotiate contracts with suppliers and ensure that vendors meet all delivery deadlines.
The skills necessary to qualify for positions as a master scheduler overlap with those taught in MBA degree programs:
- Project management
- Scheduling and forecasting using statistical and data analytics tools
- Organizational and interpersonal skills
- Experience with production planning tools such as MRP II
- Operations management and strategic information systems
According to PayScale, the median annual salary of master schedulers is about $72,000, as of June 2021; those with less than one year of experience have a median salary of approximately $56,000, and master schedulers with 10 or more years of experience have a median annual salary of about $80,000.
MBA Supply Chain Management Career Resources
- SelectHub, What Is SCM? — Here is a discussion of the principle duties of supply chain managers, which encompass optimizing the physical flow of goods and materials in a cost-effective and efficient manner.
- Anaplan, “What Is Supply Chain Management (Guide to SCM)” — This is a guide to supply management, demand management, sales and operations planning, product portfolio management and supply chain best practices.
Information Systems Careers with an MBA
One of the most promising and dynamic areas of business is information systems, which makes the MBA information systems career path an exciting one full of opportunity. The MBA curriculum bridges the worlds of information technology and business management by integrating finance, accounting and entrepreneurship with data analysis, decision modeling, data mining, predictive analytics and other technology subjects.
Among the information systems career paths available to MBA degree holders are information technology consultant, senior IT project manager and IT manager. Here’s a closer look at three information systems-related positions that MBA degree holders may qualify for: information technology director, senior business analyst and accounting information systems auditor.
Information Technology Director
Information technology directors manage the development and implementation of an organization’s IT department. Their duties encompass business continuity planning, analysis of IT infrastructure and systems performance, and planning and implementation of data security protocols, including leading investigations of data breaches. Those in the position oversee the hiring and training of IT staff, organize and assign IT project teams, and establish relationships with external IT vendors and suppliers.
Among the skills required to qualify for the position are proficiency with the latest technology and systems management techniques, organizational and interpersonal skills, and experience with advanced analytics. PayScale reports that the median annual salary of information technology directors is about $122,000, as of June 2021; those with less than one year of experience have a median salary of approximately $76,000, and IT directors with 20 or more years of experience have a median annual salary of about $133,000.
Senior Business Analyst
Senior business analysts’ duties range from risk analysis to strategic planning, with an emphasis on boosting a company’s revenue and profit by making its systems and processes more efficient. Those in the position interact with teams representing nearly all departments of a business to monitor and evaluate their progress toward achieving performance goals.
Senior business analysts must possess a variety of management and analytics skills:
- Master ETL (extract, transform, load) data integration to manage customer relationships.
- Work with IT and business process architects to ensure that systems achieve their functional purpose.
- Document existing business processes and develop and implement enhanced processes.
- Establish consensus among departments and executives on the goals of business process enhancements.
- Use SQL, SAS, VBA and other data tools to track the progress of projects and initiatives.
According to PayScale, senior business analysts have a median annual salary of about $86,000 as of June 2021; those with less than one year of experience have a median annual salary of approximately $71,000, and senior business analysts with 20 or more years of experience have a median salary of about $97,000 annually.
Accounting Information Systems Auditor
The role of accounting information systems auditor focuses on examining the accuracy and effectiveness of business information systems, including their built-in controls, data processing features, data integrity, security, operation and maintenance. Those in the position require both a general business background, such as that provided in an MBA curriculum, and training in specific information technologies, including statistical modeling, SQL and other database management tools, and systems analysis and design.
The data audited in accounting and finance information systems includes sales orders, billing statements, vendor invoices, purchase requisitions, inventory data, general ledgers, payroll accounts, timekeeping data and tax information. One goal of the audits is to ensure that sensitive customer information is protected, such as Social Security numbers, salary and personnel data, company financial information and data provided by vendors and suppliers.
PayScale reports that information systems auditors have a median annual salary of about $69,000, according to June 2021 data. The median salary of information systems auditors with less than one year of experience is approximately $57,000, while the median salary of those with 10 or more years of experience is around $90,000.
MBA Information Systems Career Resources
- CIO, “7 Ways an MBA Will Advance Your IT Career — and 5 Ways It Won’t” — This article explores the benefits of earning an MBA for IT professionals, including learning business and analytics skills, higher income and greater career satisfaction.
- Indeed, “21 Different Types of IT Jobs to Explore” — Among the MBA-related positions described here are IT director, management information systems director and IT coordinator.
Business Analytics Careers with an MBA
The world is awash in data:
- Each day, 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created. That’s 2.5 with 17 zeros after it.
- About 90% of all the data in the world was created in the past two years.
- The amount of data doubles every two years.
Data is a raw material that has no value from a business perspective until it is processed and analyzed. Business analytics professionals convert raw data into business intelligence. The number and variety of business analytics careers expands almost as rapidly as data itself. Among the business analytics career paths available to MBA degree holders are business systems analyst, business process analyst, business solution architect, technical data analyst, quantitative analyst and business analyst manager.
Three of the most common job titles associated with business analytics are data and analytics manager, business intelligence analyst and data mining specialist.
Data and Analytics Manager
Data and analytics managers, sometimes referred to as data analytics managers or analytics managers, use advanced data analytics tools to distill business intelligence from the data an organization collects. Insights gleaned from their data analyses support the decisions made by business managers and officers.
In addition to experience in preparing data for analysis and applying advanced analytics techniques, data and analytics managers require a background in business management, organization structure, marketing, corporate finance and business communications. All of these areas are covered in an MBA curriculum. Other necessary skills are statistical modeling, quantitative analysis, predictive data modeling and database management.
The median annual salary of data and analytics managers is approximately $98,000 as of June 2021, according to PayScale figures. Professionals with less than a year of experience have a median salary of approximately $73,000 per year, and analytics managers with 20 or more years of experience have a median annual salary of about $115,000.
Business Intelligence Analyst
The primary role of business intelligence analysts is to convert raw data into knowledge that supports business decisions. The position differs from data and analytics managers in its narrower focus on extracting business insights by carefully manipulating massive collections of structured and unstructured databases.
Among the tasks performed by business intelligence analysts are identifying sources of lost revenue, discovering opportunities to maximize revenue and profit, and testing the validity of the data used in the analyses. The technical, managerial and business skills required to qualify for a career as a business intelligence analyst correspond to the expertise gained by graduating from an MBA program, including data mining, predictive analytics, marketing analytics and customer equity management.
PayScale reports that business intelligence analysts have a median annual salary of about $70,000, according to June 2021 data; those with less than a year of experience have a median salary of approximately $60,000 per year, and business intelligence analysts with 20 or more years of experience have a median annual salary of about $92,000.
Data Mining Specialist
Data mining specialists perform a particular type of data analysis that focuses exclusively on extracting valid, useful data from massive datasets that extend across multiple structured databases. The resulting data is suitable for further analysis through the application of business intelligence tools. Data mining specialists typically present the results of their work in the form of graphs and spreadsheets; the data is usually converted to a visual form to make it simpler for non-data scientists to understand.
Data mining specialists must be adept in the use of special software to extract information from large data sources with the goal of making business operations more efficient and identifying new opportunities. The skills required to qualify for a career as a data mining specialist include programming, statistics, big data frameworks such as Hadoop and Spark, relational and nonrelational databases, machine learning, natural language processing and presentation software.
According to PayScale, the median annual salary of data mining specialists is about $67,000 as of June 2021.
MBA Business Analytics Career Resources
- Collabera, “5 In-Demand Career Paths for Business Analysts” — Here is a description of the roles of IT business analysts, data analysis scientists, business analyst managers, quantitative analysts and data business analysts.
- International Institute of Business Analysis, Business Analysis Professional Resources — Here are resources that include the “Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK) Guide,” a business analysis self-assessment tool and a description of the business analysis competency model.
Strong Demand for MBAs in High-Growth Industries
These MBA career paths represent only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the range of career options available to MBA graduates in finance, technology, health care and many other growing fields. As companies in all industries rely increasingly on the business, management, accounting and technology skills taught in MBA degree programs, the value of and demand for MBA holders will continue to expand.
PayScale, “MBA Paths and Their Payoff”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Financial Managers