Commercial awareness is a key attribute that many employers look for in a candidate. One of the questions we get asked frequently by students is; “What do employers mean when they say commercial awareness and how can I show that I have it?”

In this bog post we will look to answer your questions and help you to understand what commercial awareness really means and how you can develop it.

  1. What is commercial awareness?

Commercial awareness could be summed up as an interest in business, with an understanding of the wider environment in which the company operates.

This means being aware of business trends in your chosen industry and understanding what makes the company successful. You should also have an eye on what their competitors are doing and economic, global or legislative changes that may have an impact on the goods or services that the company offers.

Commercial awareness might also be referred to as business awareness or organisation awareness.

  1. Why is it important?

Leading graduate employers will expect you to be able to demonstrate commercial awareness. Companies are likely to test your knowledge of the industry and the environment in which the company operates by a number of methods; application forms, cover letters and during the interview stage.

The strongest candidates will have a clear understanding of how the changes in the business world impact on the company. Plus, fully understanding their challenges and the marketplace they operate in isn’t just useful during the application – it will give you the upper hand when starting at the company.

  1. How do I get it?

There are a number of things that you can do to help improve your commercial awareness.

  1. Read the business pages of newspapers
  2. Watch or listen to news channels
  3. Follow companies on social media such as twitter and LinkedIn
  4. Keep an eye on the markets
  5. Think about what you have learnt from job or work experience
  6. Go to events and talk to people who currently work in that sector
  7. Volunteer

You can find lots of useful websites to help in your research on our insight pages.

Ask yourself and research the following:

  1. Does the company produce, sell or buy products? Or is it in the services or ideas business?
  2. Who are its customers? Other businesses or members of the public?
  3. What’s going on in the market sector? Are there legal or regulatory changes on the way?

Who are their competitors? What makes this business unique?

  1. How can I show it?

Commercial awareness can sometimes appear to be a concept that is shrouded in mystery. However, it is nothing more than having good practical knowledge of how businesses operate, coupled with a good understanding of current issues affecting the business world.

Different companies will have their own interpretation of what commercial awareness means for them and in their sector. For some, it will mean reading the Financial Times every day; for others, it will mean having a grasp of the importance of cost-effectiveness and the need for efficiency.

Generally speaking, employers will expect you to be able to demonstrate the following:

  • An understanding of their business. Familiarity with the end product, and a grasp of the activities of the organisation and the role applied for.
  • An understanding of the marketplace. Major competitors and how they differ from each other.

 A really impressive applicant might also:

  • Have an understanding of how the leading businesses in your particular industry are performing at present. In some industries, such as law for example, strong applicants will be aware of who is dealing with who and an awareness of new deals /mergers that the firm are currently involved with.
  • Be able to speculate intelligently about the future. To do this you’ll need to keep up with general news. If there is a major catastrophe somewhere in the world, a good candidate will have some idea of how that could affect developments in the business. They might even have some inkling about how they would plan for completely unexpected events.
  • Have an understanding of the past which helps them to predict future trends. It’s particularly useful to be aware of any typical cyclical patterns, such as how wider economic conditions tend to affect a particular industry. On a smaller scale, it could be helpful to be aware of the cycle of the financial year and the effect it can have. For example, local councils might attempt to spend any remaining budget before the end of the financial year, making this a busy time for a contractor who specialises in the type of work the council are looking to outsource.

– Tanya-Louise Rose, Applications Adviser