What is commercial awareness?

Commercial awareness is a key attribute that graduate recruiters in all sectors are looking for, and which is tested during interviews and assessment centres. Being commercially aware includes:

  • The ability to view situations from a commercial or business perspective.
  • Considering factors that influence the success of a business.
  • Understanding the business processes, relationships, risks and costs.

Why is commercial awareness important?

To compete in just about any sector of the graduate job market, from law to accountancy, you need to demonstrate commercial awareness when you make online applications, go to interviews and attend assessment centres. Despite being a key attribute that graduate recruiters look for, they often report that applicants fail to demonstrate this knowledge throughout the recruitment process.

How to become commercially aware

Part-time jobs and even voluntary work can help you develop in this area and graduates who have gained work experience will have many examples to draw upon, allowing them to demonstrate commercial awareness at all stages of the recruitment process.

How can I demonstrate commercial awareness?

If you have work experience or completed an internship in any industry, you are likely to already have a certain level of commercial awareness. It is now up to you to demonstrate it. For example, if you worked in the university bar and identified certain days where sales were higher (such as student nights) and ensured there were extra staff working or increased your stock order as a result of this, this could demonstrate to a future employer that you have the requisite level of commercial awareness.

Practice makes perfect

Employers will want to see that you have an understanding of their organisation and an awareness of the sector in which they operate. Before an interview, perform some research that goes beyond simply reading the company website.

Consider the following questions about the firm:

  • What are their main products/services?
  • What are the problems facing their industry or sector at this time?
  • Who are their competitors?
  • Who are their customers or clients?
  • Are there any market trends?
  • What are their recent developments?

Be prepared to think on your feet

Some examples of questions that you may be asked by interviewers:

  • How do you keep up-to-date with what is going on in business?
  • What story in the business press has interested you most recently? Why did you consider it significant? Who is affected and why?
  • What is the current Bank of England base rate?
  • How many euros would you get in exchange for £1 today?
  • What is the FTSE 100?
  • Did the FTSE go up or down yesterday?
  • What was our share price this morning?
  • What area of business interests you and why?

Six fun ways to become commercially aware

Well, this may depend on your definition of fun, but becoming commercially aware isn’t always about reading the Financial Times and watching Newsnight.

1. Watch TV (yes, really)
Programmes such as Undercover Boss (UK), Undercover Boss USA and Undercover Boss Australia are ways to learn about large businesses and the challenges to bosses, staff and customers. Dragons’ Den will give you an insight into small company financing, business dilemmas and how to answer tricky business questions! The Apprentice is top viewing for anyone interested in business, if only to laugh at some of the candidates.

2. Surf the net
Set up a Google alert for the firm you are interested in joining a week before the interview, or while you are in the process of applying to an organisation. Yahoo also has a good finance section with share price information.

3. Watch YouTube videos
We don’t mean the latest Miley Cyrus video, or a cat cuddling a laughing baby, but there are a variety of commercial awareness videos available here.

4. Get smart with your smartphone
Visit Google News daily, particularly the business section. Set up a bespoke Google news homepage on your laptop, iPad or smartphone so that you can prioritise the news you receive.

5. Get scribbling
Spend 10 minutes jotting down a PEST and SWOT analysis before completing an online application or before an interview. If you’re applying to an accountancy firm, you could do it on a client they audit or even the practice itself.

6. Listen to the radio
Listen to BBC1’s Newsbeat, as these 15-minute news updates often break down business and economic news in a simple to understand way.

A week before your interview, you should be well on your way to being a commercially aware graduate. Now it’s time to step it up a little – pick up a copy of the Financial Times and visit websites such as Bloomberg, which contains the latest financial news, including stocks and share prices.

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