Updated 18 May 2020
Commercial awareness is a transferable skill that is a requirement for many jobs.
A commercially aware employee is one who understands the inner workings of both the organisation they work for and the industry it operates within.
This awareness not only improves their overall performance; it allows them to recognise the different trends (both political and economic) that can impact their workplace.
Commercial awareness is cultivated through research into the company in question, the industry to which it belongs, and the business marketplace in general.
In short, being commercially aware makes you a better employee – influencing both the way you work and the way you think.
Commercial awareness is an invaluable skill in a variety of careers, particularly ones such as law or engineering. As such, employers will often screen for commercial awareness traits in the application process.
A person who is commercially aware has developed a deep understanding of their industry and the marketplace in which it operates. This will affect the way in which they work and the decisions they make.
Staying aware of changes in an industry (or in some cases, being able to predict them based on current and past trends) is a characteristic that many employers value.
In an uncertain market, commercial awareness can help to both protect existing business ventures and create new opportunities.
Commercial awareness must be developed over time. While acquiring this trait may seem difficult, there are numerous ways for you to prove to an employer that you are commercially aware.
The simplest, and perhaps most obvious, way to gain commercial awareness in your chosen industry is through research.
Find resources, both online and in print, that analyse changes in the market and discuss trends in the business world.
If you are working for a company that sells products or services, read reviews.
Keeping up-to date-through news reports and articles is the best way to develop commercial awareness. The more research you put in, the more it will improve.
If you can, get industry-based work experience to acquire practical experience of commercial awareness on a daily basis.
Prior to an interview, make sure you learn as much as you can about the company in question. Understand the services it provides and the way in which it operates, so that you are able to ask relevant questions.
It is also useful to memorise key names and data, such as the name of the CEO and information about financials.
The interview itself is when your commercial awareness is put to the test. See below for ten key questions you may be asked.
If you are not asked questions that focus on your commercial awareness, bring it up yourself in conversation.
For example, if there were recent staffing changes or the company gained a new CEO, you could mention this and discuss what you believe it means for the future of the company.
The more effort you put into making these an excellent representation of your work, the more you can demonstrate how you are commercially aware.
This can be demonstrated in numerous ways – perhaps through a discussion of the costs associated with the project you are presenting, or by including a slide that discusses potential difficulties/flaws in your proposal, and how you plan to address them moving forward.
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Below are ten common commercial awareness interview questions, with tips on how best to answer them.
This question, while relatively straightforward, requires at least a base knowledge of the relevant industry.
The more in-depth your research, the better your answer will be.
Knowledge of current industry issues, as well as the changes made in the past, can help you to predict changes that will occur in the future.
For example, if you are seeking employment in the publishing industry, you will know that generally sales of ebooks and audiobooks have increased, while sales of physical copies have decreased. In your interview, you will be able to discuss this change and how it may develop further in the future.
Potential employers are more likely to hire an interviewee who demonstrates broad industry awareness as well as company-specific knowledge.
This question may not be posed so positively: they may ask you to discuss any flaws the company has and how you might resolve them.
To answer, you must know who their biggest opponents are in the market. Make sure you research this prior to the interview, so you can discuss the companies in relation to each other.
Do not take this as an opportunity to praise the company you are interviewing for while criticising the competiton. Instead, answer honestly and discuss what makes the company you are interviewing for stand out.
Not all of the interview questions will be subtle – some may ask you to directly discuss or analyse commercial awareness. The good news with this kind of question, of course, is that the answer ought to be simple if you’ve prepared thoroughly.
This question is not asking you what commercial awareness is but, rather, what it means for a company.
Avoid generic answers and make sure you analyse the benefits that commercial awareness has, for both an individual employee and a company.
Questions about current affairs are more general, but the nature of the issue they raise is likely to test your commercial awareness.
Questions could refer to stock market trends, CEO changes or political issues. The only way to prepare for this kind of question is to keep up to date with current news, paying particular attention in the run-up to an interview.
This question will likely be presented in a more specific way – for example, they may ask what kind of product or project you would wish to invest in, or mention a specific amount of money.
Think carefully about your choice and suggest the pros and cons of your decision. No project is without its risks, so discussing the potential cons is a great way to demonstrate that you are business-savvy and commercially aware.
This question shouldn't pose problems if you've been reading the most recent issues of The Economist, Newsweek or The Financial Times.
Although it may not seem like it, maintaining a positive relationship with clients is another example of commercial awareness.
Keeping customers happy is the only way to ensure a business continues to run, and you must be aware of this when interacting with them.
Make sure your response appears genuine but focused on meeting the customer's needs (as opposed to being dismissive).
To summarise, commercial awareness is a deep understanding of both the company you work for and the industry it exists within.
While this varies from job to job, commercial awareness is a highly transferable skill that affects the way in which you work – making you more efficient, trustworthy and, ultimately, more employable.
It is a skill which must not be downplayed or forgotten about.
If you are preparing for a job interview and want to demonstrate your commercial awareness, here are some quick tips to help you shine in the process:
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