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Commercial awareness

From a recruitment perspective, think of commercial awareness as an employer wanting to see evidence of your general knowledge of business, your business experiences (or work experience) and, specifically, your understanding of their organisation and the wider industry in which they operate.

Why is it important?

  • Almost every role in every organisation around the world needs people who have some level of understanding about how a business works and the influences on a business which may govern or shape the way in which that business operates.
  • Commercially aware people are proactive thinkers. They are a force for positive change and they help drive teams and businesses forward.
  • Commercially aware people think of new ideas, develop new products, spot opportunities, help reduce risk that a business is exposed, make processes more efficient, improve customer service and deliver added value to a business. This is why it’s such an important skill and in-demand by almost every organisation.
  • You will need it to progress into management and senior roles.
  • You need to have some business acumen before you start work, rather than waiting until you are in the workplace to start becoming commercially aware.
  • It’s a key skill that is assessed throughout the recruitment process.
  • You will be expected to show evidence of your commercial awareness on your CV and job applications.
  • It increases the variety of roles you can apply for.

Is it only relevant to business and finance careers?

As we have seen in the list above, because commercially aware people are proactive thinkers, they are a positive force for change in any business and help drive teams and businesses forward. This is why having business acumen and being commercial aware is vital for almost every role in every organisation around the world. It is not just a skill that is needed for people who are interested in a career in business.

How do I get better at it?

Being commercially aware includes understanding a business, considering the factors that influence success, the ability to view situations from a commercial or business perspective and understanding the business processes, relationships, risks and costs.

Do a ‘SWOT’ analysis on a company or sector you are interested in. 

  • S= Strength
  • W = Weakness
  • O = Opportunities 
  • T=Threats

When considering the external factors that may affect that business or sector, the way that business operates and its competitive environment, think about the ‘PESTLE’ factors.

  • P = Political
  • E = Economic
  • S = Social
  • T = Technological
  • L = Legal
  • E = Ethical and Environmental

Read the business press, read the professional press or trade journals, watch the news, listen to business programmes on the radio, subscribe to a regular RSS newsfeed, download get regular updates from newsfeeds, access any free content from online business (or professional associations) libraries or forums etc.

Do some general research online.

You should always look at the website of the company you are applying for.

The company annual report or annual review is a great source of business information and a fantastic way to understand the core values and culture of an organisation. The annual report will usually have mission statements, business priorities, strategic priorities, financial performance information  and general facts and information from across that business and the industry in which it operates.

Talk to friends, family or people you know who work there, or have worked there.

Read this article from Inside Careers to find out more ways to develop your commercial awareness.

How can I demonstrate it in my job applications?

It’s vital that you can demonstrate your commercial awareness when applying for jobs. It shows your commitment to the job you are applying for, improves your knowledge of a particular company or industry and may help you identify other roles in that organisation (or similar ones) that you might not have previously considered. Showcasing your business knowledge could also help you secure a job ahead of your peers.  

Read this article from Target Jobs on the importance of demonstrating commercial awareness in your job applications and at an interview.

Here are some questions you may be asked at interview (or in a competency-based application) that require you to demonstrate your commercial awareness and business acumen. 

  • How do you keep up-to-date with developments in the business world?
  • What story in the news/press recently has interested you and why?
  • Why are you applying for this role?
  • What interested you about our business/organisation?
  • What do you know about our organisation (or business sector)? 
  • What do you understand about the environment in which our business operates?
  • What are our main products/services?
  • What do you see as our main business strength?
  • What do you consider to be the main challenges facing a business like ours/our industry at this time?
  • What have you learnt about the professional qualifications or training we offer to new recruits? 
  • Have you seen anything in the news/press recently that you think may impact our business or our industry?
  • What changes have there been in our industry recently? 
  • Who do you know about our competitors? How do you think we are different to them?
  • How do you think Brexit will affect our business, our industry?
  • What do you think the job involves?

Questions you may be asked about your work experience

  • Which skills did you develop from your work experience? How will you be able to use these skills in other roles (this is looking for you to talk about transferable skills)?
  • What was your biggest challenge you faced, and how did you respond to it?
  • What was your biggest achievement?
  • What appealed to you about working there?
  • Tell me about the company you worked for, and what type of challenges they faced?
  • Would you do anything differently if you worked there again?
  • Would you do anything differently if you were in charge?
  • What is the management structure of the company? How effective is this structure? 
  • Can you describe any good leadership skills you witnessed? 
  • Have there been recent changes in the industry the company operates in?
  • What are the pressures on that business?
  • What is the company's unique selling point?
  • Who are the competitors of that business? 
  • What was the most significant thing you learnt from your work experience?
  • What learning from that company will you take forward to your next role?