Commercial awareness: What is it and how do I use it?

I’d never really heard the words “commercial awareness” until earlier this year, let alone understood what it meant. However, as I’m soon to finish my degree and head out into the big wide world I thought it might be good to figure out what it is and how I use it in an interview situation. After seeing that it was being addressed in one of the Careers Network’s Skills Series  with PwC, I signed up and popped along.

After everyone had taken their place, the speaker started the session with a quick overview and my immediate thought was “Oh no… I’m in way over my head!”  I’m not a Business student and have never heard of some of the phrases she was using.  I began to think commercial awareness wasn’t relevant to me at all, but as she went on everything began to get clearer and I started to understand the concepts and why they’re not only important for students looking to get into business but could be relevant to everyone.

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So what is commercial awareness? In the simplest terms, it is the ability to understand the business, what’s going on in the sector and how this affects the employer. This includes trends, knowledge of competitors, hot issues and debates.

How do I develop it? Unfortunately, this bit isn’t quite as simple! This isn’t something that can be developed overnight. However by keeping up to date with news and current events, you should start to develop a broader knowledge of what’s going on in the sector you’re interested in.

So here are some of the top tips I picked up for developing my commercial awareness and showing it off in interview!

1)      Don’t just read The Financial Times before you go in! Interviewers will see right through it and you won’t be able to form a proper opinion. Instead, download a news app or sign up to industry magazines and follow the headlines. If you see something you find interesting, give it a read.

2)      When you find something interesting, dig deeper into it. Research further into all aspects of the topic and form an opinion.

3)      Don’t force yourself to learn about a topic you’re not interested in. If you don’t like it, you won’t be enthusiastic about it and this will come across in your interview.

4)      Try to incorporate commercial awareness throughout your interview so the interviewer doesn’t have to ask a specific question on it at the end. For example, when talking about work you’ve done on a committee, demonstrate how a particular issue affected your club and how you acted on it.

5)      Don’t freak out if the interviewer asks about something you haven’t read about. No one has the time to read everything! If this happens, it’s far better to explain that it isn’t something you’ve looked into and ask if you can discuss an issue you do know. This will mean you don’t fumble through talking about something you have no idea on and gives the interviewer an insight into what interests you and your personality.

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It turns out that commercial awareness isn’t that scary after all!

Zoe, 3rd year Psychology

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About careersbham

Student Engagement Officer for Careers Network University of Birmingham

One thought on “Commercial awareness: What is it and how do I use it?

  1. This is a really useful blog post Zoe, I’m going to share a link to it in our Career Planning Canvas course for Masters students. Thanks for writing!

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