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The journey to become a back office executive usually requires a combination of education, experience, and personality traits, particularly where organization and people skills are concerned. The “back office” is usually thought of as the administrative heart of any corporate operation. Some of the most common jobs situated here are administrative, including support staff like secretaries and technical assistants. In almost all cases these lower-level employees are supervised or managed by a team of executives who are responsible for ensuring that their performance is both exceptional and truly useful. Sometimes these executives began in the positions they supervise, but not always. It’s equally if not more common for companies to assign leaders to the back office from other divisions or departments. As with most executive positions, getting started almost always begins with university education, usually at the graduate level; working at a lower level in the corporation is also commonly required. It’s usually really hard to be hired into this position right out of school, but in most cases it’s never too early to start planning for your future success.
Most companies operate most visibly through what’s known as the front office, which, as its name suggests, contains the departments and divisions most visible to consumers, clients, and competitors. The decisions made here are often immediately seen by many both inside and outside the corporation, and are what most people think of when they think about corporate work — but they only represent a piece of what’s actually going on.
Things are a lot different, though no less important, in the so-called back office, which is the division where internal affairs are managed and decisions essential to everyday operations are made. Executives here may not be as visible, but their jobs — which can include human resources and employee relations, technology, and internal administration — often help the company maintain the efficiencies that allow it to be profitable and successful out front.
The most common executive positions in the back office tend to be managers and vice presidents, most of whom are accountable to the corporation’s larger executive board. They may have voting privileges when it comes to major corporate decisions and they usually also oversee multiple teams of many individual employees. Assuming one of these jobs usually requires a lot of familiarity with what, exactly, the position is overseeing.
Depending on the corporation, these teams may or may not be located in the same physical space. Large multinational companies often outsource certain tasks, particularly information technology (IT), to locations — sometimes abroad — where labor is less expensive and more readily available. Executives in these sorts of management positions often work primarily to streamline processes and set policies that create a more or less uniform approach. If you become a back office executive managing a smaller company’s hiring practices you will obviously have a different set of responsibilities, but the main idea is the same, namely to create a positive and productive environment that will support the more directly profit-oriented goals of the company.
Education is perhaps the most important thing differentiating a back office employee from a back office executive. The jobs in these offices are often entry-level, and may not require much in the way of formal learning. Management is usually another story entirely. A bachelor’s degree is almost always essential, and a graduate degree, usually in business or a related field, is often required, too.
It’s often really difficult, if not impossible, to get hired as an executive in any field without first building up some relevant experience. Basic administrative work is often helpful, but if you’re really hoping to assume a leadership position you will probably need more than entry-level work experience. Looking for associate positions in companies in the sector that interests you most is usually a good place to start, and working as a business consultant can also help you build valuable and useful experience. The main thing you want to do is prove to companies that not only do you have the skills needed to work in a back office, but you’re capable of leading people, meeting goals, and implementing positive change.
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