Unlike jobs based on titles, functional roles are those that relate to a specific business activity, such as accounting, human resources, marketing or sales. Within each department, or function, there might be multiple positions, depending on the size of the business. Understanding the various functional roles in the workplace will help you plan your career path, choosing between cocooning in one area or spreading your wings and creating a more expansive skill set.
Businesses create departments to handle specific activities, relying on professionals trained in those disciplines to handle that work. Common business functions include accounting or finance, administration, human resources, production management, logistics, information technology, sales, advertising, promotions and public relations. Your college degree might prepare you for a job in advertising, information technology or accounting. If you have a more broad-based degree, such as business management or communications, you’ll have a wider range of options.
Some functions separate related activities, with multiple functions under an umbrella department. For example, a marketing department might include sub-functions such as advertising, promotions and public relations. The information technology department might be split into a group that works on servers, systems and computers, and another that works on the company website and e-commerce.
Some departments are combinations of different but related functions, such as accounting and human resources. This often happens at small companies that can’t afford separate departments. For example, because human resources and accounting work together on employee benefits, payroll, tax issues and expense reimbursements, these functions are often placed into one department. A company with only one product and a narrow customer base might combine sales and marketing, putting the sales director in charge of basic promotional activities.
Specialization vs. Generalization
As you plan your career, consider whether you want to specialize in a specific function or develop more general skills. As a specialist, you have more in-depth knowledge in one area, such as advertising. This makes you more attractive to companies wanting an advertising expert, but can turn you into a one-trick pony. You might see less competition when you apply for a job, earn a higher wage than a generalist and have more job security, but you’ll also find fewer employment opportunities. If you take a more general path, such as into communications, you might not obtain expert status in any one area, but will be able to help businesses with their advertising, public relations, social media programs and digital communications. When your career focuses on one function, you can move from coordinator to manager to director or vice president.
Sam Ashe-Edmunds has been writing and lecturing for decades. He has worked in the corporate and nonprofit arenas as a C-Suite executive, serving on several nonprofit boards. He is an internationally traveled sport science writer and lecturer. He has been published in print publications such as Entrepreneur, Tennis, SI for Kids, Chicago Tribune, Sacramento Bee, and on websites such Smart-Healthy-Living.net, SmartyCents and Youthletic. Edmunds has a bachelor's degree in journalism.