What is commercial awareness and why is it relevant?

iStock_000009406551XSmall Commercial awarenessIf I asked you ‘what is commercial awareness’ would you understand what this is? Perhaps you have heard this phrase at careers talks, or on a job description for a role you want to apply to? Maybe you are not entirely sure? If this is the case or even if you think you may know already, here are a few pointers at what could be understood as commercial awareness, why it is important to build up these skills and some practical ideas of how you build your commercial awareness.

So what does it mean to be commercially aware?

Although definitions can vary, broadly speaking, being commercially aware can include having an understanding of how the business world functions as a whole; how this relates to the industry sector and company you are interested in.

Why is commercial awareness relevant and helpful to you as a student?

  • It helps you build your knowledge about a sector to demonstrate your interest in working in an industry or company when asked interview questions like:

‘What do you know about our company?’

‘Why are you interested in working in this sector?’

‘Why did you apply to this position?’ and so on…

  • Building an awareness over time helps you have a more rounded understanding and knowledge of the industry, rather than cramming information to absorb before an interview
  • Gaining commercial awareness will help you decide if the industry sector you have interest in meets your hopes and expectations and if the job is right for you.  Do you understand clearly what is involved in the role, company and industry?

Why is it important for employers to check your knowledge of commercial awareness?

It is important for the employer to see that you understand the business world at large, as well as how their company fits into the business world, communicates with its customers, compares to other competitors, as well as the employer’s key purpose and functions of their company services or products. It will help them to know that you can quickly fit into the role, the team and their business culture and environment.

Consider the following to get you thinking about commercial awareness and to help you think around the range of possible questions that could come up at interview for a job:

  • What products and services does the industry or individual company provide?
  • Who are the customers for the company?
  • What are the expectations and industry needs of the customer?
  • What industries work closely within the area that interests you?
  • Who are the competitors of the company you are applying to?
  • What are key expectations of the business culture to the industry you are applying?
  • Does the company have key concepts or a mission that are important to the individual company?
  • How will current news and government developments in business and the world as a whole affect the industry and companies that interest you?

Try and build your commercial awareness knowledge and understanding over time and build in tasks into your normal routine to fit around your studies to keep up-to-date. This will make it easier especially when you are preparing for an interview and you have already done the ground work research in the sector that you are applying to. 

How and where can I find out information to improve my commercial awareness?

  • Career sector pages – key source on the Careers Website as a starting point for industry sector information and organisations links to research further.
  • The Media  – both broadsheet newspapers including Financial Times,  The Economist and related TV channels and programmes – read through the current economist and business news regularly both in the UK and globally. It is important to think worldwide as this may affect some of the companies or sector you want to apply to depending on who and where their customers and services are based. Thinking globally is essential.
  • Find out about networking and training events within the industry sector – finding out more about your industry sector, relevant news and company both from events with employers on CareersLink,  professional bodies for the sector,  and industry journals
  • Create an account and good profile on LinkedIN to network and join your sector or career related groups and keep up with news, discussion, current trends and developments.
  • Engage with social media groups, online forums and webinars from key industry organisations and companies of interest. Find out more about what are their latest developments, what is most important to them as a company, how do they promote themselves and their services, any news about top companies in the sector.
  • Attend career fairs and find out more about what products and services companies provide from company representatives on the stand. Network with other colleagues who are interested or work in your industry area and attending the fair. Check out CareersLink advertised careers fairs
  • Apply to the Manchester Gold mentoring scheme. Having a mentor within the industry can be helpful to keep up-to-date with developments, industry expectations and news etc.
  • Gain some work experience or volunteering. Finding opportunities to be gaining experience within the industry environment helps you be in a good place to pick up information develop your awareness and how business works.
  • Research and compare what other organisations and companies say about the sector or  company that interests you. Compare it with what the company says about itself on their own website. Are they similar or are there any differences to be aware of?
  • Ask contacts that you know that work in the industry or company? Can they point you in the right direction about information company networking events or key company expectations and the business culture they work in.

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