Commercial awareness

Employers increasingly expect graduates to show an understanding of commercial or business awareness. The Council for Industry and Higher Education (CIHE) describe commercial awareness as an understanding of the economics of the business, the business benefits and commercial realities from both the organisation’s and the customer’s perspectives. 

Understand it

Commercial awareness is just as relevant in the public sector as in industry and is about developing the following: 

  • An appreciation of business stories and their impact on a wider scale
  • An understanding of the issues facing an industry and an employer's competitors
  • A consideration of economic issues and concerns such as increased revenue/profit, decreased expenditure, increased productivity, improved company image and market share
  • The ability to analyse financial trends and forecast accordingly
  • An awareness of commercial activity, competitive products and services and market trends
  • Appropriate strategies for working within a limited budget

Develop it

You do not need to have studied Business or Finance or have worked in the city to develop commercial awareness. The following suggestions will help you to develop your understanding of business environments and enable you to talk more convincingly in interviews:  

  • Research the companies that interest you - identify their position in their sector, understand who their competitors are and the challenges they face in the economic market place
  • Follow a company in the press for 3 months
  • Analyse the performance of a company's key competitors
  • Review a company’s annual report
  • Regularly read the financial and industry press as well as websites of professional bodies - raise your awareness of relevant issues and who's in the news
  • Reflect on your current work experience - what would you do differently if you were the Managing Director of the company?  
  • Involvement in a family business may provide exposure to processes such as book keeping, accountancy and tax  

Demonstrate it

Employers are always hungry for hard evidence. A lot of selection and interview practice is competency based. Basically that means that employers score the evidence they find from your application form, interview and other selection procedures to come up with a final assessment of your suitability for the post.

You will need to be reflective in the way that you describe the examples you have developed. The STAR approach where you explain the situation, task, action and result will help you to articulate your evidence in a convincing way. Identify examples of your commercial awareness in the Identifying Skills work sheet.

Examples of competency based questions used by graduate recruiters relating to commercial/sector awareness:

  • Please list the reasons behind why you have applied to us and particularly what you think differentiates us from our competitors (Grant Thornton)
  • Please detail your understanding of the role you are applying to, the division and the professional qualification you would study (where applicable) (Grant Thornton)
  • What are the issues currently confronting the NHS organisation? How do you keep up to date with what is happening in the health service sector? (NHS)

The following sources of information will help you to develop confidence in this area:

Page last updated: Monday 22 July 2013