How to get commercial awareness

Contrary to popular belief knowledge is not generally absorbed through osmosis. When Willow woke up she was none the wiser!

So what is commercial awareness and why should you have it?

At a basic level it is having an understanding of the business or organisation you are applying to, the market / environment they work in and what impacts on that.

Employers want you to have it so that they know that you understand the nature of the work they do and are aware of commercial realities.

It doesn’t matter if they are a charity, university, retailer or investment bank the principals are the same.

  • Understand the sector – who are the key players / competitors?
  • What products / services does the organisation you are applying to offer?
  • Who are their clients?  What is their market?
  • What factors might have an influence on business? The economy, competitors activity, government policy etc.

So how do you find this out?

  1. Check their website – don’t just look at the graduate  or careers section, look at the client side. Imagine you want to engage their services or buy a product from them.  What do they say about themselves, what are their unique selling points?
  2. What are their business areas and where do they operate?  You may have applied to the Manchester office but if a lot of their clients are in Asia you may need to know about economic conditions there.
  3. If it is a business like a shop or bank or even a university or city council, have you had a look round their premises and experienced their services or products?
  4. If they make a particular product or range of products – what is their market segment?   e.g. Who buys Kitekat for their moggy is it little old ladies, the budget conscious? Don’t know?  Watch the activity in the store – who is looking at what?
  5. Google is your friend!   You can often find free reports and articles on the most random of things.
  6. What is their advertising strategy? Have you seen their adverts in print or on TV if so where and when?
  7. Have they been in the news?  Search newspaper articles.
  8. Understand something about the economy and its impact.  How has  business been over the last 5 years, what would you predict will happen next, what would have an impact on this?  You can usually find a company’s annual report somewhere on their website.  Professional bodies and trade associations are great for this type of sector based intel too.
  9. If it is a financial organisation read the financial times and the economist, other industries have their must read publications too, check out the journals we keep in the Careers Service.
  10. Attend our careers events and fairs speak to employers – what do they say about themselves – ask questions!

Yes this sounds like a lot of work to go through for every employer  – but if you are serious about a particular sector then much of that knowledge is transferable.

You can develop your own commercial awareness through work experience / internships, volunteeering and extra curricular activities

Think about times when…..

  • You were working in a bar / shop/ store and had to sell a product. Did you ever consider what sells best and why? Did you develop a strategy to help increase sales? What did you have to think about to do this?
  • You were on a student committee and had to get sponsorship or sell tickets for an event.  How did you target sponsors? How did you market the event at the right audience, what factors influenced sales?
  • In a summer internship or during some work shadowing what business processes did you observe?  How was the business doing? What factors made a difference?  It can be as simple as bad weather or a sporting event on the TV, small things can have a big impact positively and negatively on businesses.

What impact do you think the olympics had on businesses?  The answer will vary depending on the business!

All Undergraduate

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