Ever wonder sometimes what the hell an employer is after? IF you do don't worry, often employers are speaking in their own little worlds and using a weird and wordy lexicon for different ends. Whether it is to give you the impression of a professional, regimented organisation or a fun laid back place to work, sometimes employers include requirements for you to satisfy and you don't have a clue what they mean never mind whether you fulfil it or not. While some of these terms are reasonably ambiguous or oblique, it is important to have some sort of understanding of what they are looking for. While definitive definitions are not likely to come along, you need to grasp the concept of some of these words and phrases. For the next few weeks, we will be picking apart these oblique requirements and mystery must-haves. This week we are looking at commercial awareness. Sometimes called commercial nous or commercial or business acumen. A common requirement for lots graduate jobs and graduate schemes, but what the hell is it?!

What is it

"Commercial Awareness" is an understanding of business and a sector, how a particular business operates in that sector and what place in the market a particular business operates in. This is a relatively oblique concept, but in general means an understanding of business who is asking for it, what they do, how they do it and who are their competitors. This is relatively straightforward on face value, but must be understood subjectively to the company you are applying to. What do they do? How do they make their money? What makes them different? What makes them different from their competitors? These are questions you need to ask and answer about the company you are applying to. When considering Commercial Awareness specifically, another thing this covers is trends and developments in that particular industry. This could new technology that has had an impact on the way things operate, broader political and economic impacts on the sector or business or what's "on trend" in that business area. It would allow you to also be aware of developments or future changes that will have a big impact on that particular area. This taps into a broad understanding of how business "works". This in itself is a bizarre concept because while nearly everyone understands about revenue and profit and overheads, it is more concerned with how the culture of a particular business works. This could be whether business operates through large lengthy deals, quick sales over the phone or through a consultancy project method. All these things vary from sector to sector and company to company, so if you're clued up on these things then you can certainly tick that box when looking over the job description.

Why you need it

Commercial Awareness or nous is a highly feature for graduates to have in their arsenal and if you are able to show it employers will certainly be impressed. In fact, Commercial Awareness was voted the top skill in demand, by the Association of Graduate Recruiters in their Skills for Graduates in the 21st Century Survey. The importance of having such key feature is so that employers can trust you if you were to start that you have the same values and direction as the company. Understanding the company and the direction and their values is really important for employers because there is a general trend of new graduate employees not really caring for the company they join, but taking the first thing that comes their way out of desperation or difficulty of cracking the tough graduate job market. Employers like to see that graduate recruits are serious about the position and not going to jump ship too early. Another reason that employers are so keen to see employees with commercial awareness is that it often comes from research into the company and shows dedication and thought has gone into your application. Because it can be so subjective, there is little blagging you can get away with. Commercial awareness is so vital in areas like Sales, Marketing or even more professional services related fields like Finance and especially Consultancy. This is for similar reasons because, in these sectors, an understanding of the functionality of businesses day to day is fundamental to many of the roles. It is also vitally important that your awareness stretches to consider the future too and employers love it when you have one eye on future developments so that you are ready to deal with the changing face of your particular industry.

How to show you've got it

This is a tricky one for you to exhibit. There is not Commercial Awareness certificate or award and there is no way you can just say "I've got commercial awareness." Like many of these oblique concepts it is difficult to prove exactly that you've got that base covered. But there are usually opportunities that can give you the chance to show you've done your research and you've your eye on satisfying this part of the job criteria. Firstly, in interviews or in application forms there will usually be a question about why you want to work in at this particular company. This will be especially noticeable when if you're looking at join some of the big accountancy firms for example, Why PwC not KPMG? Why Moore Stephens not J.P. Morgan? This is your chance to show you understand how your particular company of choice is yours, your chance to show you've done your research and understand what part of the market it sits in. Another question that might come up at some point along the application process could be about a recent development in the industry or some news which has emerged that could impact on the business or sector. This is your chance to show you are clued up and aware about what's going on. For top marks it would be ever so impressive if you had an opinion on it too. These are exceptionally vital points to make if you're looking for jobs in the Finance or Banking area and you are able to talk about market shifts for example.