Succeeding in business with any degree

The Work Life

Graphic by Kelly Campbell.

There is more than one way to be a successful businessperson.

Most university programs have limited seats. This means not everyone will get into business school. The good news is that a commerce degree is only one route to a career in business.

Asper School of Business specializations can be sought through less competitive faculties like arts and science.

A LinkedIn search for marketing managers, human resources (HR) specialists, accountants, supply chain managers or financial planners generates a list of professionals with diverse academic backgrounds. What they have in common is a knowledge base built through extensive experience.

It is even possible to attain the same professional designations that are typically associated with a business degree. The Chartered Professionals in Human Resources Manitoba and the Chartered Professional Accountants (CPA) of Manitoba offer pathways to certification with any undergraduate degree.

To become a chartered professional in human resources, Manitoba’s HR association lists five paths to certification. Three of these pathways do not require formal HR training. Instead a combination of any undergraduate degree, a knowledge test and professional experience is required.

Many HR professionals are likely to have a degree centred on the study of people, like labour studies, psychology or sociology. Having a management minor with a focus on HR is ideal, however.

CPA Manitoba has a similar program allowing students to earn their CPA designation with any four-year degree, so long as certain prerequisite courses were taken to earn the degree. Once accepted, applicants enter the professional education program and log 30 months of relevant practical experience.

Instead of an accounting major, students who are interested in accounting but cannot get a spot in Asper might consider economics, agribusiness or statistics. From there, they can refer to CPA Manitoba to ensure they tuck appropriate accounting prerequisites into their minor and electives.

This creates a clear pathway to the world of business without needing a commerce degree.

All of this suggests the skills required to be a successful human resources manager or accountant do not necessarily come from a specific degree program.

Instead, they come from a particular skill set (built through courses or independent study) and hands-on experience.

Although these professional associations are open to a variety of academic backgrounds, the experiential requirements might be difficult for students to achieve without proper planning.

It is crucial that students take courses in their undergrad that will transfer to the requirements of the business world. Moreover, if a commerce degree is not possible, students might consider an additional diploma after graduation to achieve full business credentials and certification.

Make careful course selections to bolster required skills, volunteer in similar capacities, and try to get part-time or summer work that will get your foot in the door at a company of interest.

There are also plenty of one to two-year diplomas in marketing, HR and logistics that are an excellent complement to a university degree.

You might reflect on how you can find meaningful work in other sectors. If you are seeking leadership, remember that there are leaders in all disciplines from art to health to engineering. There is no degree for leadership. That is a cultivated skill, built by interpersonal experience, volunteering and a commitment to excellence.

If your goal is entrepreneurship, focus on the type of business you want to launch. What expertise is needed? Select a degree and the courses within it based on the skills you require for success. For example, to start a successful fitness centre, you might be better off with a recreation management degree, where you would take courses on program planning, leadership and physical activity.

You should also seek out campus and community resources that can support your goals. World Trade Centre Winnipeg runs free workshops on how to start a business in Manitoba. On campus, the Stu Clark Centre for Entrepreneurship helps students turn their business ideas into realities.

If you ever hit what appears to be a roadblock in your career, take a step back.

More often than not, there’s an alternate road to get you where you want to go. Careers are rarely straight lines.


Rebecca Balakrishnan is a career consultant. Her column appears weekly.