Commercial Awareness, what is it and how can you ‘get’ it?

‘Commercial awareness’ seems to be the latest thing employers are asking for along with the usual ‘communication skills’, ‘leadership skills’…..

But what is it? And how can you get it?

I attended a workshop for Careers Advisers last week and the view of employers seems to be that it’s easier to pinpoint what commercial awareness isn’t, rather than what it is:

Employers seem to vary in their view of what commercial awareness is, but most agree that simply by reading the financial news for a week and Googling a company the night before an interview wouldn’t count as commercial awareness.

Employers also don’t seem to be very impressed with candidates who state that they’re ‘commercially aware’ during an interview. The consensus seems to be that commercial awareness is something that comes from the heart and certainly can’t be faked.

Employers at the event were saying that candidates tick the ‘commercially aware’ box if they show a genuine interest in the sector, employer and commercial environment, something developed well before the job application stage.

An example:

Having a part-time job in a womenswear retailer:

An employer may say you possessed commercial awareness if you talked about things such as: the typical customer – age, lifestyle, which items had sold the most each month, the busiest periods for the store, who that retailer was competing against and why customers chose them when shopping rather than other retailers, what was the strategy behind layout and design of the shop, current fashion trends……………

The irony is that commercial awareness seems to be something students and graduates learn, often unconsciously over time, rather than something that can be intentionally ‘swotted up’ on when you find out you have a job interview.

Making yourself interesting by getting involved in lots of different activities including paid and voluntary work seems to be key to becoming commercially aware. And don’t forget to ask lots of questions.


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