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14 April 2022
Contrary to popular belief, commercial awareness is not only for business students, but a highly valued skill for all roles in the employment market and one that will often help you secure graduate employment.
The dictionary definition of commercial awareness is: “knowledge of how businesses make money, what customers want, and what problems there are in particular areas of business”. In simpler terms, commercial awareness is all about displaying an interest in what is going on in the world around you, being inquisitive and understanding how current affairs and commercial issues can affect business and your field of work.
Employers will expect graduate candidates to demonstrate a thorough understanding of the organisation and the market it operates in. This includes knowing about their core values, their mission and culture, any projects, or initiatives they are involved in, as well as any challenges they have and main competitors. Being commercially aware demonstrates to a potential employer that you are truly interested and invested in your industry of choice and their business. Employers would want to understand your motivation for wanting to work in their sector and why their organisation.
There are a number of things you can do to improve and develop your commercial awareness; it doesn’t happen overnight, but it should be part of your ongoing career and personal development. The good news is that you don’t have to read the Financial Times every morning (if you don’t want to)!
Watching or listening to the news can be a quick and effective way of building your knowledge of what is happening in the world and current global affairs. You can also use social media to find information about businesses, read news and participate in the wider discussions. For example, LinkedIn allows you to follow certain hashtags which will highlight related content on your timeline. You can also join specific groups of interest on LinkedIn to chat with other professionals and find inside knowledge about the industry. Book a place on our LinkedIn Masterclass run throughout the year for help with using this social media tool to develop your commercial awareness.
When preparing for a specific interview, make sure to have a look at the company’s website, especially the careers page, where you are likely to find information about the recruitment process, their culture and what is it like to work for them. For larger organisations, there is usually a news and publication section where you can see what the business has been up to recently from a commercial and business news perspective. Keeping an eye on and having knowledge of the stock market can be useful for your own business knowledge but is also a great way to impress your potential new employer.
It is very unlikely that you will ever be asked a directly “What is your commercial awareness?”, however employers will expect you to use your commercial awareness when answering questions like: “What do you like about our company?” or “What do you think of current news story /issues? or “How do we compare to our competitors?” .... You can find more examples and tips how to answer this type of questions on the Career Centre.
Another way to demonstrate your commercial awareness at interview stage is by asking the right questions. Prepare relevant questions, that would demonstrate your understanding of the industry, business, and current affairs. Think about what is happening in the world right now and how this would affect the organisation. For example, has Brexit affected your chosen sector in any way (e.g., supply chain)? What does it mean for the economy? You could simply ask at interview: “Has Brexit affected your organisation and if so, how are you responding to the challenges?”.
Commercial awareness is something that you will develop and build in time by keeping on top of your industry news and events and using digital platforms to reach out to other professionals in your sector.
By Viktoriya Vladimirova, Employability & Careers Adviser
Our Employability Service works with students throughout their time at ARU and after they graduate. The Service offers careers advice, online resources, and help with job searches, applications and interview preparation. Our Employability & Careers Advisers may mention some of these resources and services in their blogs, to give you an idea of the careers support that's on offer at ARU. Some of these resources sit behind a log in and can only be accessed by current students.