Commercial awareness is one of those things that every law student, or student considering a corporate career, hears that they must finesse and be on top of 24/7. Whether it’s discussing the purchase of TikTok by Oracle or debating the economic issues that the current recession will bring to the aviation sector, you will have to research, debate and discuss topics in a confident way with potential employers. It is one of the key attributes that employers demand, but it is also one that many applicants will somehow fail to demonstrate properly.
Let’s go back to the basics for this article: ‘What is commercial awareness?’, ‘Why is it important?’, ‘How can I start to learn commercial awareness?’
Cambridge Dictionary defines commercial awareness as the “knowledge of how businesses make money, what customers want and what problems there are in particular areas of business.” To break that down further, it is understanding what makes businesses or companies successful through buying or selling products or supplying a service or in a certain market. For example, Apple provides an entertainment and technology service through their various iPads, iPhones and computers.
Understanding how businesses work and how they make customers want to buy their products is one of the main things you will deal with in a corporate job. It’s the bread and butter of being able to show clients and the superiors in your firm that you know what you are doing and have the ability to do a job properly.
How can you learn and improve upon your commercial awareness? The first is reading business pages such as Financial Times and The Economist, which have a subscription option for you to have round the year business news. These can give you an idea of the financial and economical situations around the world, allow you to see what sectors you may be interested in for a future career, and provide specialist articles and news for those specific sectors.
Researching the company or firm you want to apply to is incredibly important too. This provides you with the ability to find out the basic structure of the company, what they do, who their clients are, the sectors or practice areas they work in and any issues that may be affecting them at the moment. Look at both the company’s website and news sites and discussion forums for mentions of any issues they may have too.
Sign up to some commercial awareness websites and mailing lists too! Finimize is a great mailing list which provides daily updates that take under 5 minutes to read, so you aren’t spending hours a day trying to read the news. Watson Daily is also a brilliant business and financial news mailing list, which provides quick and easy to read summaries of the latest news and a weekly summary of the past week’s news called ‘Watson’s Weekly’.
Watching and listening to the news, be it on the radio, YouTube or on the television is also a great way to increase your commercial awareness. Living in a world with 24/7 news is both a blessing and a curse, so stay with the larger news agencies such as the BBC, ITV, Channel 4. Channels such as PBS are impressive broadcasters (but do try to avoid channels such as Fox News).
Taking on voluntary roles can also help with improving commercial awareness. Experience in roles such as a treasurer of a society or a project leader on a charity venture provide you with an understanding of how an organisation finds and generates money, as well as how to best use this money.
Commercial awareness is valued highly in the current job market. As public sectors face increasing numbers of competition and less jobs, and the current tightening of the global economy again, being commercially aware is a trait in a good candidate. It is a fairly easy skill to develop, provided you apply yourself to continually improve it. It will take time to hone this knack but soon, you will be able to explain issues such as how the hospitality sector will suffer greatly with the new 10pm lockdown restrictions and impress potential employers!