How to Learn Important Business Skills in High School
“We’re here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise why else even be here?” ~Steve Jobs, Apple founder
How to Prepare for Business School
Maybe you have a parent who is a CEO, or one who is an entrepreneur. Parents are often influencers when it comes to future careers. But, even if your role model is outside your family or within yourself, you’ll need to know the steps to take to prepare for a future in business. Similar to medicine, keep in mind there are a vast range of disciplines within the field of business—everything from finance and marketing to data analytics and product innovation.
They all require similar skills. If you are a high schooler with an eye for business, there are a wide range of abilities and interests that could lead to a future in business. If you can answer yes to any of the following, then it’s time to start planning your business career.
- If you love problem solving, product innovation may be in your future.
- If you’re drawn to television ads or social media product placements, then marketing might be for you.
- If you have a head for math, anything involving finance might be your thing.
- If logical decision making is a skill you possess, perhaps a future career in market analysis is for you.
- If you have a knack for persuading people, business sales may be your career calling.
So what steps should you take in high school to pursue your calling in business? Let’s take a look.
What are business skills?
Although the vast areas of business may mean your skills lean one way or another, according to U.S. News and World Report, any career in business will benefit from the top 10 following skills:
- Critical thinking
- Data analysis
- Financial literacy
- Emotional intelligence
If you see yourself with a future career in business, you’ll need both “qualitative” and “quantitative” skills. Qualitative skills, often called “soft” skills, are those that center on the ability to build strong interpersonal relationships. These skills include communication, leadership, and emotional intelligence. Business areas, such as management/leadership, entrepreneurship, and human resources rely heavily on soft skills. Quantitative skills, deemed “hard” skills, are the more technical abilities tied to business. These include capabilities in the areas of financial literacy, data analysis, and accounting.
“In business, both qualitative and quantitative skills are vital,” comments Dr. Patricia Grant, Senior Associate Dean, McDonough School of Business Undergraduate Program, Georgetown University. “Universities and colleges now tackle both in sync to ensure graduates are well rounded in both skill sets, which is optimum in today’s business world.”
Why are business skills important?
So, why are these skills so important? According to Indeed.com, business skills used effectively can positively impact the efficiency, performance, and productivity of a company, while the opposite can lead to catastrophic results. Let’s look at two examples:
In 2009, Tropicana Orange Juice made the decision to change their iconic packaging from a straw inserted into an orange to just a bold glass of orange juice. They lost $20 million in sales in the first month alone, after investing $35 million into the campaign - for a whopping total of $55 million dollars spent. After just one month, they reverted back to the old image. It has since morphed into a case study, being called the “worst rebranding in packaging history.” So what went wrong? Simply put, they changed too much too quickly, which led to brand confusion.
In 2012, Eric Yuan founded the communication platform Zoom as a daydream to help solve a long-distance relationship issue that required a 10-hour train ride to see each other.
Now, Zoom is used by more than 750,000 companies to keep their teams connected through video and audio conferencing, collaborative workspaces, chat, and more. The real-time, face-to-face aspect of Zoom makes it easier for companies to stay in touch, so people can easily work from home or stay connected while working remotely or across several office locations.
Tropicana and Zoom are examples of business skills that, in one case, were missing in action and in the other, leveraged to achieve global success. In business, mistakes are made, but, as you can see in the case of Tropicana, the consequences can be swift and substantial. It’s always best to test out your ideas before engaging in risk. All of these decisions come from the minds and accumulated skills of people working in these businesses. That’s why the mix of hard and soft skills are so critical.
How do you develop business skills?
Having a foundation in business can help anyone—regardless of the field of study—become more marketable in their job search and more effective in whatever position they finally fill. The first step is to assess your own strengths and weaknesses. Are you good with numbers? Are you a good communicator? Do you prefer working on a team, or do you prefer working by yourself? Is problem-solving a natural fit? Or is analyzing data your wheelhouse? By the time you’re in college, you should have a pretty good idea of your strengths and career preference.
According to U.S. News and World Report: “Business skills are essential for the success of any company and employee, but especially those in service-related fields where employees are often the first and most important interface between the company and its customers,” says Jim Glenn, faculty member in Walden University's DBA program. “In the U.S. today, services represent approximately 70% of GDP, which makes having good business skills even more important than in prior decades where manufacturing dominated the American economy.”
There are opportunities to build business skills while still in high school. Summer jobs are a great way to see firsthand how business works. Every organization—from a locally owned retail shop to a nonprofit or a Fortune 500 company—revolves around money: Making money, borrowing money, managing money. This means that no matter where your career takes you, business skills are what drive outcomes.
Business Classes to Take in High School
So what business skills are the most important to learn as a high schooler? How can you go about acquiring these skills? Should you take business-related courses and, if so, which ones?
There are many general courses offered at the majority of high schools to start your path toward a career in business. These courses may include:
According to Niche.com, there are also a host of national and local clubs available to high school students that will help you prepare for college and your future career. They include:
- Business Professionals of America
- Future Business Leaders of America
- National Business Honors Society
- Entrepreneurship Club
- Speech/Debate Club (most high schools have local debate clubs)
In addition, many top colleges are now offering online courses in a whole range of subjects, including business. Here are some examples of universities with pre-college programs and their business offerings:
Case Western Reserve University
Columbia Business School
Wake Forest University
Important Skills for Business Majors
Once you reach college and have chosen your major, you’ll be expected to develop skills that prepare you for your career. Some are actual courses, like math, finance, marketing or STEM, but no matter the major, you’ll be expected to attain basic skills through coursework and collaboration that make you a good job candidate. These skills include:
- Communication (oral and written)
- Decision making
- Critical and analytical thinking
- Problem solving
- Time management
- Mathematics/data skill
Highlighting Business Skills in Your Resume
Highlighting business skills on your resume should be as straightforward as simply listing them. Most professional resumes start with an opening paragraph highlighting skills and accomplishments. College applications also typically reflect this structure. Your college applications should include a resume that shows the classes you took and any extracurricular activities; particularly those related to job experience. Recommendations from business owners or people you worked for should be included. If you held an office in a club, such as treasurer, be sure to include that experience.
To sum things up, business skills are extremely vital to a host of careers—in particular those considered soft skills. But, if you see a future for yourself in the field of business, honing in on both your qualitative and quantitative abilities will put you in good stead for your career.