Description of the Field
Economic majors acquire many skills that make them competitive candidates for jobs in the business world. This is because most employers and large business corporations value the broad analytical training pursued by economic majors. Economics majors also have generally studied topics relevant to careers in business—demand theory and estimation, important economic drivers, production and cost theory, analysis of market structure, antitrust policy, government regulation of business, capital budgeting, inflation theory, unemployment, the determination of interest rates, and international economics. Employers know that this knowledge will enhance their performance in decision making at the entry and managerial levels.
Economists seek to understand the decisions of businesses, consumers, and current economic issues by developing a systematic and thorough understanding of precisely how the economic system operates, including the mechanisms by which resources are allocated, prices determined, income redistributed, and economic growth promoted. Business economists are prepared to help firms understand and adapt to a changing economic environment. They often interpret and forecast the general economic climate, analyze conditions specific to their firm and firm’s market, and also aid the firm’s operational efficiency. Business economists also provide the analysis required to make optimal decisions in all major aspects of business activity.
Economics students interested in business careers generally find private sector jobs in banking, consulting, insurance, real estate, brokerage firms, marketing, data management, budgeting, general management, sales, ratings agencies, and in high-tech industries. Some may pursue opportunities with business-related associations and government entities that are associated with private sector employers.
On the Job
Some of the higher paying areas, such as financial services, in the business sector may have either very long work hours or high-pressure working conditions, or require very specialized technical skills. Some of the lower paid entry-level areas (typically because supply is much greater than demand and there are fewer technical skills requirements) like advertising and public relations are appealing and interesting to large populations. The work is creative and often fun. These professions also can be highly remunerative once advancement takes place.
- Business Development/Sales
- Business management
- Economic forecasting
- Financial services
- Industrial relations
- Management in any type of firm
- Market analysis
- Public administration
Salary also ranges in the world of business. Median salaries (without bonuses) for the following sectors are estimated below. These salaries include employees with diverse years of experience.
Analyst-Investment Banking: $88,000
Venture Capital: $72,500
Sales and Trading: $72,000
Strategic Consulting: $71,350
Real Estate: $63,800
Investment Management: $ 63,600
Technology consulting: $ 62,200
Tax-Public Accounting: $61,500
Corporate Finance: $60,900
Financial consulting: $59,100
Market research: $58,200
Business/Systems Analyst: 55,700
Product/Brand Management: $55,300
Audit – Public Accounting: $53,000
Operations Management: $47,100
Services Marketing: $43,000
Sales: $42,500 (does not include compensation, often 30-50% of base)
Advertising/Public Relations: $38,500
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, July 2015
Qualifications Necessary to Enter the Field
A bachelor's degree in economics is sufficient for many entry-level research, administrative, consulting, actuarial, and management trainee jobs. However, to work as an "economist" for a business one generally must hold an advanced degree. Candidates for a graduate degree in economics should have a strong mathematics background with courses in differential, integral, and vector calculus, linear algebra, differential equations, statistics and econometrics. Graduate training is required for some positions and for more rapid advancement. Critical thinking, analytical and research skills are key traits to succeed in the business world. Also you should be able to cope with the long hours and high-stress environment.
A bachelor’s degree in economics supplies basic skills for many jobs in marketing, finance, business management and human resources. From there, you may decide which specific career path you want to pursue. You may then go on to advance in a business career by obtaining an MBA, or a master’s degree in a business related field.
A strong candidate for a job in business or management is analytical, detail-oriented and possesses strong leadership and communication skills. A manager oversees the rest of the company’s administration, or if the company is large, is assigned to a particular department. A master’s degree in management will qualify you for top level management positions, which are among the highest paid jobs in the country. Employees may seek an MBA at anytime in their career, but it is typical to return to school for an MBA after two to three years of work experience.
Graduates with mathematics or accounting backgrounds may be particularly good candidates for financial business roles within firms. Such candidates may pursue roles to manage company financial records, manage risk, file taxes and ensure that organizations are in compliance with state and federal tax laws, analyze company business and balance sheets, or engage in analysis of a firm’s products. Becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is not required, but is strongly encouraged if planning to advance your career.
Most people pursuing a career in accounting pursue an undergraduate degree in accounting. However, there are also career opportunities for those who have accrued enough accounting courses without majoring in accounting. In fact, taking even just two semesters of accounting increases your competitiveness for many jobs in business, especially in the financial services industry. Recent economics majors have found success working for a big accounting firm in the transfer-pricing area.
While many businesses sell products or services, consulting firms primarily sell knowledge. Large consulting firms cover different fields of consulting, including management consulting, human resources consulting, marketing consulting, technology consulting, and economic consulting.
Consulting is a very popular area of work for economics majors. But “consulting” is a broad term and often not well-understood until a student begins the interview process. Typically, economics majors enter into management/strategy consulting or economic consulting, also known as litigation consulting. An entry-level employee in a consulting firm is often referred to as an analyst or associate (this language will depend upon the firm). Entry-level employees are typically hired after completing a four-year bachelor’s degree and are hired for their analytical, research, and communications skills.
Management/strategy consulting firms help to improve an organization’s structure, management, efficiency, and profits, and plan strategies for short- and long-term development.* Within management/strategy consulting, students may be hired into a federal practice (clients are typically government agencies or organizations) or commercial practice (clients are in the private sector). The work is often similar, but the cultures may vary greatly.
In economic consulting, (sometimes referred to as forensic and litigation consulting) firms advise corporations and government organizations regarding the intersection of business, economics and law. This may involve assessing the damages when a firm is accused of doing economic harm to another firm, forecasting current and/or future liabilities stemming from an environmental product liability, or determining whether price movements were consistent with an alleged manipulative scheme in a particular market, such as energy. Please see the Management Consulting career overview and the Economic Consulting Overview for more details and lists of sample organizations.
Human Resources (HR) Consulting and Information Technology (IT) Consulting are other major employers of consultants. The latter requires technical skills such as coding and software/hardware development experience and often a rich source of opportunities for engineering graduates.
Human Resources is also a specialized area across industries and sectors. This is not to be confused with HR consulting. “Human resources is the department or division of an organization that manages all aspects related to its personnel, including recruiting employees, training and career development, overseeing compensation packages, managing benefits plans, and other duties that serve to maximize a company's business and its employees' satisfaction with their jobs.”** A career in human resources is often sought by graduates with a degree in the field, but with strong communications skills, a good GPA, and evidence of leadership experiences, human resources is a possible career for many graduates. Because UVA does not have an HR degree program, many employers who hire in this area may not advertise their jobs with us. The ECO encourages majors to research opportunities with large firms if you are interested in HR. Graduates often enter the field through Recruiting/Talent Acquisition roles. During a strong economy, recruiting and staffing jobs tend to increase but when the economy is weaker and hiring slows or ceases, recruiting jobs are hard to come by.
If you are interested in a marketing career, you may spend much of your time helping to sell products to consumers. Job competition upon graduation is fierce. As with human resources, an internship while you are still in school is recommended to increase your job prospects. Majors may consider an internship or job with a marketing agency, the marketing division of a manufacturing or consumer goods firm, or as a marketing researcher. Many students pursue a bachelor’s degree in marketing, although economics majors have strong backgrounds to conduct marketing analysis and with a minor or double major in psychology, or cognitive science, may be well-suited for an entry-level job in marketing. Additionally, many students approach marketing through roles in sales/business development.
Economics majors are often well-suited for a career in finance or financial services. Please see the handout titled “Careers in Banking and Finance” for more information. Fields often include investment banking, asset management, insurance, commercial banking, and corporate finance. Many firms focus their recruiting on students with either business or economics degrees, although there are an increasing number of firms scouting for students with math, statistics, and engineering backgrounds. Familiarity with data analysis packages, accounting, and various computer software programs may increase your competitiveness. In financial services, experience and interest in the field is often as important as one’s major.
Finally, more economics majors have considered work with start-ups to launch their careers. Working for a start-up may give those interested in owning their own future business an insider’s perspective while also providing a breadth and depth of experiences. The down-side to consider is the potential instability of a start-up, potential pay as an intern, and compensation for full-time work. Be sure to determine what your needs are as you evaluate the feasibility of this option.
Sample Group of Employers
Boston Consulting Group, Inc.
Deloitte Consulting LLP
Ernest & Young LLP
IBM Global Business Services
McKinsey & Company
Procter & Gamble
Government Agencies Involved with Business
Better Business Bureau
Federal Drug Agency
Department of Commerce
Internal Revenue Services
U.S. Small Business Association
Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC)
Small Business Administration (SBA)
Department of State
Trade and Development Agency (TDA)
Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR)
Department of the Treasury
Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Federal Communications Commission
Federal Trade Commission
Economic Development Agencies in states and municipalities
Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im Bank)
U.Va. Courses to Consider to Gain Exposure to This Field
ECON 4170 - The Economics of Information and Uncertainty
ECON 4190 - Industrial Organization
ECON 4200 - Anti-Trust
ECON 4210 - International Trade: Theory and Policy
ECON 4220 - International Finance and Macroeconomics
ECON 4340 - The Theory of Financial Markets
ECON 4350 - Corporate Finance
ECON 4365 – Global Financial Markets
ECON 4390 - The Economic Theory of Advertising
ECON 4559 – Hedge Fund Economics
ECON 4720 - Econometric Methods
COMM 2010 - Financial Accounting
COMM 2020 - Managerial Accounting
Selected U.Va. Organizations/CIOS
For a full list of organizations at UVA, please see: https://atuva.student.virginia.edu/Organizations
AIESEC at UVA
Alpha Kappa Psi
Alternative Investment Fund
Business Ethics Society
Future Business Leaders of America, Phi Beta Lambda
Global Markets Group
International Business Network
KiVA Microfinancial Action
Smart Woman Securities
Sports Business Society
Student Entrepreneurs for Economic Development (SEED)
Virginia Venture Fund
Women’s Business Forum at McIntire
Sample UVA Career Programs
IBM Global Business Information Session
Business Community Office Hours
Business for All Majors
Business and Consulting Career Panel
CCS Exploring Business Careers
MarketBridge Business Analytics Information Session
Resources for Additional Information
- Career Options for Economics Majors - https://www.econ.wisc.edu/career-options.htm
- In Demand Careers in Business - http://www.campusexplorer.com/college-advice-tips/37EDB6AB/In-Demand-Careers-in-Business/
- Guide to College Majors in Economics - http://www.worldwidelearn.com/online-education-guide/social-science/economics-major.htm
- Vault Guides
- Best Entry-Level Jobs, 2008 Edition, Princeton Review