Foundational business knowledge is valuable for professionals of all career levels and industries. According to a LinkedIn study, individuals skilled in management, leadership, and analytical reasoning are in high demand in today’s economy.

In addition, McKinsey projects that the need for people with entrepreneurship, creativity, decision-making, and similar business skills will continue to grow through 2030 as automation, artificial intelligence, and other emerging technologies reshape the modern workforce.

Whether you’re an engineer, healthcare provider, or recent college graduate, broadening your business acumen can help you accelerate your career and make an impact on your organization.

Here are the top business skills you need to succeed in any profession, along with six ways that you can develop them.

Important Business Skills for Every Professional

Business skills are among the most in-demand skills sought after by prospective employers. Having a strong business acumen can enable you to more holistically understand your organization and gain insight into how your efforts impact its results.

Business skills can be placed into two categories: hard skills or soft skills.

Hard skills refer to learned abilities that require technical expertise. These skills are often acquired through formal education or experience on the job. Some hard skills you might want to develop include:

In contrast, soft skills are intangible, non-technical abilities that represent how you work and interact with colleagues. While there’s a common misconception that soft skills can’t be taught, professionals can learn and develop them. A few helpful soft skills you might want to focus on include:

Related: 10 Important Business Skills Every Professional Needs

These examples are just a handful of the many business skills that can help you to advance your career, regardless of your industry. Below are five effective ways to start developing these business skills so that you can take your career to the next level.

How to Develop Business Skills

1. Earn a Business Degree or Certificate


If you’re interested in furthering your education, earning an MBA or business certificate may be the right move for you.

An MBA program can not only give you a framework for problem-solving and leadership but help you build a global perspective. By participating in rigorous academic activities and discussions with classmates from different countries and professional backgrounds, you can be exposed to a multitude of viewpoints that inform how you approach key business decisions.

Another option is to enroll in an online certificate program or course, such as those offered by Harvard Business School Online. For many working professionals, online programs offer the opportunity to acquire new skills in a way that’s flexible, convenient, and just as challenging as a traditional classroom environment.

Both of these avenues can help you develop the soft skills and technical knowledge needed to thrive at your company and lay a foundation for long-term career success.

Related: How to Ask Your Employer to Pay for Your Education

2. Leverage Your Real-World Experience


Every work experience in your career presents a chance to improve your business skills.

Demonstrating time management and strong communication skills in your daily tasks can help you prove you’re a capable employee and get ahead at work.

Even if you’re in a position that doesn’t seem quite relevant to your overall career trajectory, there are ways you can take advantage of the opportunity. Collaborating with fellow volunteers at a soup kitchen or coordinating activities as a youth camp counselor can be valuable, hands-on experiences that bolster your skill set and equip you with the capabilities needed to succeed as a leader in business.

This can be especially beneficial for recent graduates who lack formal business experience on their resumes but are looking to develop their skills.

3. Read Business-Related Articles and Blogs


As disruption and innovation drive change across industries, it’s important to stay up-to-date on the latest business news and trends.

Make it a point to regularly read publications and blogs that offer engaging, insightful content on the state of affairs in the business world. Some examples include the Harvard Business Review, Forbes, and Business Insider.

Being informed on the latest business news can give you an in-depth understanding of your company’s place in today’s market and broaden your knowledge of economic and financial terminology.

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4. Read Books to Self-Educate


It isn’t a coincidence that most highly successful business professionals set aside time to read each day.

For example, in an interview with the New York Times, Bill Gates said he reads 50 books per year.

Make a conscious effort to read high-quality, business-related literature as often as possible. Self-education is crucial for professionals looking to learn business fundamentals, as well as communication and leadership skills. Further, by prioritizing your time and committing to a reading schedule, you can gain valuable time management skills.

A good place to start is Working Knowledge's list of recommended readings.

5. Tap Into Your Network


Nearly 80 percent of professionals consider networking to be important to career success, and it’s just as important when developing your business skills.

If you’re aiming to pick up new skills in subjects like business analytics or financial accounting, evaluate your network and consider who might be able to offer advice and guidance on how to grow in those areas.

In addition to tapping into your larger professional network, identify a mentor at your organization who you can talk to about your career goals and objectives. Research by the Association for Talent Development shows that participating in a mentoring relationship can lead to greater professional development and a deeper understanding of organizational culture.

For David Lanre Messan, an idea strategist and former Disruptive Strategy participant, being part of the HBS Online Community has been a way to grow his network and gain knowledge from fellow online learners from all over the globe.

“People come with different perspectives to a subject,” Messan says. “Every day, there is something new to learn. That alone lifts my spirits. I’m challenged.”

6. Give and Receive Feedback


Professional development is a process. As you hone your business skills, seek out regular, honest feedback from your managers and colleagues so you can identify your strengths and weaknesses.

According to Gallup, team members who receive weekly, rather than annual, feedback from their managers are three times more likely to feel motivated to do outstanding work and over two times more likely to be engaged at their organization.

Peer feedback—even if it’s negative—can help you gauge your workplace performance and determine which areas you need to improve.

Be sure to deliver feedback as well. Doing so will enable you to develop emotional intelligence, setting you up to be an effective business leader.

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The Importance of Business Skills

Business knowledge can be an asset in any profession. With an understanding of how markets work, how to interpret data and analyze trends, and how to evaluate the financial health of a company, among other skills, you can drive strategic decision-making at your organization and develop the confidence needed to take your career to the next level.

Do you want to take your career to the next level? Download our free Guide to Advancing Your Career with Essential Business Skills and explore our Credential of Readiness (CORe) program to learn how enhancing your business knowledge can help you make an impact on your organization and be competitive in the job market.

This post was updated on October 5, 2020. It was originally published on August 13, 2019.

Matt Gavin

About the Author

Matt Gavin is a member of the marketing team at Harvard Business School Online. Prior to returning to his home state of Massachusetts and joining HBS Online, he lived in North Carolina, where he held roles in news and content marketing. He has a background in video production and previously worked on several documentary films for Boston’s PBS station, WGBH. In his spare time, he enjoys running, exploring New England, and spending time with his family.