Have you ever wondered why most college business majors are required to complete certain humanities courses, yet liberal arts majors typically don't need to take a single business course?

This is due to long-held beliefs that a humanities-focused education can teach students valuable skills in creative and critical thinking, which can translate to many different careers. One could argue that the same is true of business skills.

What Are Business Skills?

Business skills are essential to keeping an organization running smoothly. These skills help professionals understand both the internal and external factors that impact an organization’s success, as well as the processes involved in carrying out business goals.

The skills needed to be successful in business include soft skills, such as leadership and communication, as well as hard or technical skills like financial accounting.

Business skills are especially important for entrepreneurs, leaders, and managers, but a firm understanding of business essentials can benefit professionals in any industry.

Why Are Business Skills Important?

Having a foundation in business can help countless students—regardless of their field of study—become more marketable in their job search and more effective in whatever position they ultimately accept.

Every organization—from a locally owned retail shop to a nonprofit to a Fortune 500—revolves around money: Making money, borrowing money, managing money. This means that no matter where an individual eventually works, business skills are likely to play a very important role.

If you’re sold on the importance of business skills, you might be wondering: What business skills are the most important for me to learn? How can I go about learning these skills? Should I take a business course and, if so, which one?

10 Important Business Skills for Workplace Success

If you’ve ever looked at earning a business degree, whether as an undergraduate or an MBA student, then you’ve probably noticed that most degrees require learners to take foundational courses in accounting, economics, and statistics.

That’s because critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making, and time management are essential skills for any job. As an added benefit, they’re also very difficult skills to code into various automation technologies, according to McKinsey research, which means that workers who exhibit these traits may be poised to command higher salaries and job stability.

Some of the most important business skills which everyone should learn include:

  • Data analysis skills, to identify trends and make data-driven business decisions.
  • An understanding of economics, to understand pricing strategies and market demand, and develop your decision-making abilities.
  • Business management skills, to effectively manage organizational resources and implement managerial processes.
  • Leadership skills, to guide teams toward success while carrying out the business’s mission and vision.
  • Financial accounting skills, to understand the company’s current performance and future potential.
  • Financial management skills, to use financial tools to empower the decision-making process.
  • Communication and negotiation skills, to effectively communicate both internally and externally and work toward common goals.
  • Project management, planning, and organizational skills, to maximize productivity.
  • Emotional intelligence, to better manage professional relationships.
  • Networking, to make mutually beneficial connections throughout the company, industry, and beyond.

Related: 10 Business Skills Every Professional Needs

How to Improve Your Business Skills

Understanding what makes a business or organization tick can help all employees excel in their job, and can be even more valuable for those who aspire to be a leader or run their own business. Fortunately, there are many options for learning the important business skills you need.

One common method for developing business skills is to simply learn on the job. While this can be an incredibly effective way of picking up actionable and ready-to-use skills, it typically takes years to learn business fundamentals (and decades to become a business pro) this way.

Another option is to complete a business degree like an MBA. Those who complete a business degree will typically graduate with the business foundation they need to be effective in a range of professions and careers, and will have a credential they can bring with them if they were to transition to another company. Typically, earning an MBA will take between one and three years depending on the specific program you choose.

A third option is to sign up for individual business courses, which can typically be completed much more quickly, and cost-effectively, compared to earning a full-time degree. Because they are completed in weeks, not years, they also give students the opportunity to immediately put their knowledge into action.

Related: 6 Ways to Develop Business Skills for Any Profession

Harvard Business School Online, for example, offers many options for online business education, which can be beneficial to students of all backgrounds. One such option is the Credential of Readiness (CORe), a three-course bundle of Financial Accounting, Business Analytics, and Economics for Managers. It was designed to help undergraduates or recent graduates prepare for an MBA, as well as professionals at any level and in any field learn vital business concepts.

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The Importance of a Business Education

Even just one course can help professionals learn the language of business, boost their confidence, improve their effectiveness at work, and position themselves for advancement.

A 2018 City Square Associates study of past HBS Online participants demonstrated the value of a foundation in business. By taking just one HBS Online course, 90 percent of past participants saw improved confidence, 89 percent sharpened their business acumen, and 90 percent gained more clarity about their professional future.

“I manage construction projects for the City of Boise that require frequent communication and interaction with the City's financial team to set budgets and track expenses,” said Kyle Rosenmeyer , who completed CORe. “My ability to understand and problem-solve with my accounting counterparts has increased, and I think they see that too.”

Related: Why Healthcare Professionals Need Business Skills

Beyond work, basic business skills can be useful in managing essential aspects of life, including budgeting, buying a car or home, or investing in your future. If all that’s not enough, a basic business course can simply sharpen your Excel skills.

It’s become a data-centric world and successful organizations focus on the bottom line. So, the savvier you are in terms of helping an organization succeed financially, the more successful you’ll likely be in your career.

Which Business Courses Should You Take?

In the Forbes article, The Six Classes That Will Make Any College Grad Employable, Economist Bill Conerly said, “Even those who think they will live on the artistic side of life will end up on the board of directors of a church, youth soccer league, or food bank, where these skills will come in handy.”

Many experts agree that basic business skills all but guarantee post-grad employment. For those specifically pursuing a business career, the job market looks promising: The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that jobs in business and financial operations will grow 10 percent by 2026, creating 773,800 new roles.

In a CNBC article, Eric Greenberg, founder and director of education consulting firm Greenberg Educational Group, said, "Specific econ classes could be relevant no matter what your interests.”

Related: 7 Business Skills Every Engineer Needs

Conerly added, “Everyone in a position of responsibility looks at data. Not only do business managers look at data, but so do political leaders and nonprofit executives. A good statistics class will help the student become comfortable pushing numbers around and avoiding false interpretations.”

Do you want to take your career to the next level? Download our free Guide to Advancing Your Career with Essential Business Skills 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 June 16, 2020. It was originally published on April 16, 2019.)

Michele Reynolds

About the Author

Michele Reynolds handles brand marketing and PR for Harvard Business School Online. Prior to HBS Online, she led communications for TripAdvisor and Gazelle and has been widely quoted in national media outlets, including CBS News, Reuters, and The New York Times. Michele earned her bachelor’s degree from St. Bonaventure University. Outside work, she spends time with her teenage daughter, plays tennis, and visits her enormous extended family.