Commercial awareness

What is it?

Commercial awareness is the ability to demonstrate your interest and understanding of the wider environment in relation to an organisation and/or position. You can do this by keeping up to date of current affairs, understanding of the sectors, and various competitors and issues.

Why is it important?

Many employers or postgraduate study providers value a student or graduates’ understanding of an organisation, the sector it operates in and the challenges it faces as highly as any other attribute. Being able to demonstrate a thorough understanding showcases your knowledge and commitment to the position and organisation you are looking to gain and is relevant for every career opportunity.

Students that have a great commercial awareness are more likely to succeed due to understanding the context in which the organisation operates. A strong sense of commercial awareness also helps improve performance when applying for jobs/courses, on application forms and interviews.

  • A study by the Confederation of British Industry’s (CBI) Education and Skills Survey 2014; Prospects and Work Ready Graduates, 2015, states commercial awareness was the most desired skill that organisations looked for in graduates.
  • The Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) further explained that employers want students who have ‘an understanding of the political, economic, commercial issues affecting an organisation’.

How do I gain commercial awareness?

Researching the organisation and the sector is vital and the organisations website should provide key information about what it does and the image it wants to portray to the public. Consider following the organisation on social media including LinkedIn for more professional information about the organisation and its competitors. Broad sheet newspapers are also extremely useful in gaining a greater understanding of what is going on in the sector as a whole. Attending events and careers fairs are very good opportunities to meet with the employer and ask questions of them directly.

Frameworks to develop commercial awareness

When conducting research for commercial awareness it is important to structure your approach to make sure you are collecting the right kind of information. Both PESTLE and SWOT are methods used by organisations to both research their competitors and gain a greater understanding of their own organisation, for example, what it does well and what it is lacking in. By using the two analysis tests below you can make sure you have considered the organisation and the sector in all aspects that it operates in and how it is challenged alongside what it is doing well.

How to demonstrate commercial awareness

The research and understanding you gain around an organisation can feed into two key types of question, on commercial awareness and your motivations. These can come in both your application, in interviews, as well as in assessment centres.

To show the commercial awareness you have built up, make sure you articulate your opinion in your answers and back it up with evidence. In a question addressing your commercial awareness give your own understanding and opinion on the issue, but show that you have considered both sides of the argument. For motivational questions you want to research about the organisation and the sector with evidence from your own experience that portray how your motivations match with the organisation you are applying for.

Typical questions you might be asked

  • What do you know about the organisation?
  • What are the problems and challenges that our industry is currently facing?
  • Who are our clients?
  • What evidence can you provide of your commercial awareness?
  • How do you think we can remain competitive and innovative in a difficult market?
  • What business story has interested you in the news recently?