Discovering Your Specialty in Business Begins With a Self-Assessment

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Friday, November 12, 2021
By James Lewis
Photo by iStock/PeopleImages
When deciding on a business major, begin with a self-assessment to find your strengths.

Like so many college students, I started out in a major (engineering) that wasn’t the best choice for me. My dad was an engineer and suggested the same career path for me, so I gave it a try. After a spectacular crash and burn in advanced calculus, physics, and chemistry classes, I looked long and hard at my choices for the future. What I came to realize is that my true calling was in business. It could have been obvious all along if I had taken the time to do a careful self-assessment of my inherent skills, interests, and past experiences.

Hopefully this advice will help you set out on the correct path right from the start, whether you are a high school student thinking about majoring in business or a seasoned professional looking to upskill or make a career change.

List Your Strengths

Everyone has things they are good at. Knowing those strengths will help you gravitate toward the business majors and careers that will leverage those abilities. Take some time to make a “brag list”—a list of all accomplishments you’re proud of. Don’t hold back; you want your list to be expansive, and you don’t have to show it to anyone. The act of writing down your strengths, and underlining the ones you really relate to and feel strongly about, will help you focus your sights on a possible business school major and career path.

Value Your Past Experiences

I delivered newspapers, pumped gas, and mowed lawns in high school. Those odd jobs as a teenager established my entrepreneurial spirit early on and gave me experience at setting prices, collecting fees, marketing my services to find new business, and hiring helpers to expand my operations. Think about things that you have enjoyed and been good at doing in the past. How might those experiences translate into a future area of study or business?

Follow Your Heart

What brings you joy? What do you get excited about? If possible, channel your business school studies and career aspirations around things you love. And if you end up unsatisfied with your current path, know that you can always change course. Approaching the future with a mindset open to lifelong learning will keep you nimble and marketable. It’s never too late to find your passion.

What if You Still Don’t Know What You Want to Do?

The good news is that most business schools will require you to take a variety of classes in all areas of business before you must focus your studies on one area. You don’t have to know at the beginning of your studies what will resonate with you longer term. Explore accounting, finance, marketing, public relations, management, consulting, strategy, and operations classes. You’ll find that one or two will excite you. For me it was the marketing classes that dove into consumer behavior and market research. I felt a sudden clarity of purpose while sitting in on those classes—I finally knew what I wanted to do.

Do What Comes Naturally to You

Although business wasn’t on my radar as a possible college major at first, I was already pursuing business, naturally and successfully, in high school. I recruited and delegated tasks to friends to scale my lawn mowing venture; impressed my boss at the gas station to earn a promotion as manager; and reinvested paper route earnings to fund a better bicycle—growing my experiences as a business person. There are many ways that high school activities can be framed as business-skill incubators. For example, that super competitive Girl Scouts or Girl Guides cookie representative is probably going to make a fantastic sales executive. The compassionate human rights advocate raising funds for a special cause should think seriously about a nonprofit management and fundraising career. If you are the team member who volunteers to create data maps and graphs for your group projects, look carefully at business strategy and analytics specialties. You can turn any interest or talent into a business pursuit.

Change the World!

Free enterprise can provide solutions to many local, community, and global issues. You and your business school colleagues are an essential piece of the talent pie needed to bring world-changing goods and services to market. No matter what your specialty, you will have the potential to contribute to the process of identifying a need, assembling the technology and resources, pricing, packaging, promoting, and distributing solutions for the greater good. Business knowledge is power.

If you are still looking for that spark or inspiration to help you find your true business calling, stop reading and look inward. The answer lies within your own set of skills, interests, and lived experiences. The world can’t wait!

James Lewis
President, National Society of High School Scholars
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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