CAREERS BLOG: Demonstrating commercial awareness

UoY Careers Imagine the possibilities LARGE dark green Careers blog written by Kate Morris, Careers Consultant, Careers

Commercial awareness is a term many employers use, but what is it and how can you show employers you have it?

Commercial awareness is an understanding of how businesses work and what makes them successful. It’s key to be able to recognise a company’s external context and the pressures and opportunities it faces.

How can you demonstrate commercial awareness in an application or interview? 

  • It’s really important to give an opinion and try to answer commercial awareness questions. Employers would prefer you give an opinion and get it wrong, rather than having no opinions!
  • Take an interest in current affairs and the world around you, so you’ve got a basic understanding of key issues. This will help you if you need to improvise in an interview.
  • When reading news articles try to think about it from a business perspective. Don’t just memorise articles or stats and figures, try to analyse them and consider the implications as if you were already doing that role. Editorials are very useful as they have more analysis.
  • Find stories you are genuinely interested in! You will be able to write/ speak about them with more enthusiasm, which is something employers will be looking for.
  • Sign up to email alerts from the FT (or other business publications), reading it regularly so you’re familiar with business news items and follow up any stories of particular interest.
  • Develop your understanding of commercial terms, use if you don’t know what a word means. This really helps build confidence and is very useful at interviews and case study exercises.

Example commercial awareness questions:

“Where should we open our next office?”

To answer this you need to know: where does the firm have offices(!), where have they recently opened new offices, what’s the strategy of the firm, so you can then anticipate where would be a logical choice of location.

“What kind of clients should we be focusing on?”

You need to understand what the firm does in order to answer this. Who do they currently work with? What are the implications of engaging with new audiences?

“Talk to us about a news article that has interest for you”

This is deliberately a very open question. Theoretically you could pick anything, but what they are really looking for are candidates who focus on a story relevant to their specific sector.

“What do you think will be the key challenges facing our sector in the next 3 years ?”

Note the term “sector”, rather than “firm”- they are looking for an understanding of the market and context they operate in, as well as the implications for that particular company. To answer this you need to anticipate how broader issues like political, economic and/or legal changes may impact on this specific sector. Ideally you would relate your answer back to that specific firm, as well as the sector as a whole.

Visit the Your skills page on the Careers website for further suggestions about how you can develop your commercial awareness skills and understanding.