Commercial Awareness – What is it and why do employers want it?

(Please note: These tips were inspired by a Bright Network webinar on Commercial Awareness)

When you think of soft skills that employers are looking for, you’ll probably think of communication, teamwork, self-motivation and organisation, alongside others. But there are probably some that you haven’t thought of.

Bright Network recently conducted a survey with both students and employers, to find out the skills that employers are looking for. Students put ‘a 2:1 or above in your degree’ as the first thing that employers value, but the same option came in sixth place when put in front of employers. One place above it sits commercial awareness (Bright Network, 2020).

What is commercial awareness?

Commercial awareness is an understanding of how businesses & sectors work e.g. how they make money and the challenges they face. When you are invited to a job interview, you are expected to have done some background research on the company you are applying to, but it is also useful to know about the sector and the business environment that you could be working in. This shows employers that you are passionate about driving their business forward and have already started to look at the sector and their competition within it. Commercial awareness also suggests to employers that you have an analytical mind, as well as problem solving skills (which is the third most in-demand skill).

What should I do to gain awareness?

If you are interested in a particular sector, look at the relationships between the firms in this sector, the work they do, as well as the departments within these firms and their remits. Look at the wider economic performance of the sector, such as the employment rates and inflation levels. Not only will this impress employers if you can use your research effectively in an interview, you will have gained knowledge that you can use in your career. In this digital age, it is also a great idea to research how firms are using technology in their practices!

Where do I find this information?

Keeping up with current affairs might seem like a pretty standard response to this question, but aside from news websites, be sure to read professional magazines which hone in on the sector you want to work in for industry insights. Browse organisation websites to find out their targets and where they are focusing their attention, and talk to the people in the industry using your network via LinkedIn, York Profiles & Mentors, as well as talking to people at events.

It’s interview time:

You’ve reached that interview. Time to impress those employers. Make sure you can answer most of these questions in your preparation:

Why do you want to work in this sector?

Why do you want to work for this firm?

What makes us different from our competitors?

How do we make money?

What areas do we work in?

Who are our competitors & clients?

What challenges do we face?

What opportunities can we take advantage of? (e.g. technology)

Who is our CEO/Director?

By building on your commercial awareness, you could impress employers and gain an edge over the competition. To find out more about this skill and how you can develop it, check out our webpage –