Understanding Commercial Awareness

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Commercial awareness is vital for graduates entering the job search. Three quarters of graduate employers who responded to the Institute of Directors survey on Graduate Employability said they viewed Commercial Awareness as either quite or very important.

What is it?

The first thing to understand about Commercial Awareness is that it is linked with a specific company and industry. To be Commercially Aware means to have an understanding of how a particular position fits into a particular company, how that company fits into a particular industry, where that industry fits into the overall market, and what is going on in that market at any given moment in time.

Commercial Awareness means understanding how a position fits into a company, how that company fits into an industry, how that industry fits into the market, and the state of the market itself.

It is also important to note Commercial Awareness is not purely related to "commercial" concerns - it is not just Sales and Finance. It is a part of virtually every industry that exists today.

The Commercial Awareness Checklist

  • 1. Know What the Company Does
    While you likely won't gain a thorough understanding of a particular organisation until you've worked there a while, it is important that you spend some time going over the basics of what it is that they do, how they go about doing it, and how they fit into the industry.
    1. Ask yourself:
    2. What does this company actually do?
    3. What are they known for?
    4. How do they make money?
  • 2. Know What the Company Offers
    Knowing that HP focuses on more than just their commercial streams demonstrates Commercial Awareness of the company, its finances, and what it offers to the world. It shows insight into the company's bigger goals, and what it hopes to one day achieve.
    Being able to demonstrate that extra bit of knowledge, understanding and research is exactly what employers want to see in their applicants.
    It is also worth understanding how a company interacts with its customers and its products. Is it a product - focused business that markets itself through retail premises? Or does it tender its services to people who visit client's sites, or conduct most of its day-to-day business through telesales? If you can't find this information online, try getting in touch with the company and see if you can learn more about what they offer and how they offer it.
    1. Ask yourself:
    2. What do they offer?
    3. How do they identify with their products?
    4. Do I understand their business process?
  • 3. Know Where the Company Sits in the Market

    Many businesses are engaged in fiercely competitive commercial markets. This is true of 90% of businesses, if not more, so graduates need to understand who the company's competitors are.

    Try drawing up a list of the company's direct competitors and lesser competitors. Think about what they are competing for, how they are competing, and why. In relation to direct competitors, what it is that makes this specific company different? If you know this, you will be able to show that you understand exactly what this company is about.

    This may be difficult for smaller firms and businesses. If it is, have a think about how that specific company operates differently to the norm. Perhaps they have a particular focus on a specialty service, or strong emphasis on excellent customer service. Whatever it is, it is important to be able to demonstrate that you understand what it is that makes them unique.

    1. Ask yourself:
    2. Who are this company's direct and lesser competitors?
    3. What makes this company different from its competitors?
    4. How competitive is the market this company operates in?
  • 4. Know Where the Market is at the Moment

    Understanding where a market, sector, or industry is at the moment is very important. Graduates who want to impress need to have their fingers on the pulse. It means staying on top of changes in regulations, new developments in technology, or changes to the big players in a particular field, as well as trends that need to be monitored.

    Keep in mind that things which may seem small to the consumer can have a big impact on the overall industry. This could be changes to the prices of oil, an increase in VAT, or something similar. While it might be thirty seconds on the news, it could mean massive changes to entire industries.

    1. Ask yourself:
    2. Has the company been in the news recently?
    3. What global, national, or local events might impact this company or sector?
    4. What challenges are the company and the sector facing?

Remember that Commercial Awareness is not black and white, but rather a graded understanding of how a particular business operates in the bigger picture. When doing research for an interview or before sending in an application, making Commercial Awareness a high priority will make you stand out.