This involves being aware of how the industry fits together, the current business trends and their impact on your chosen industry or on your potential employers.
Commercial awareness will earn you serious brownie points amongst graduate employers in all sectors. This is what makes the difference between a good candidate and an exceptional one, and shows you’re genuinely interested in the area you’re applying for.
A lot of people haven’t developed commercial awareness, and if your studies haven’t lead to you honing the skill - there is plenty you can do to brush up your skills and impress the employers!
Whilst some finance employers will interpret commercial awareness as reading the Financial Times every day, for many employers they just like you to have a grasp of the market, functioning of the company and how a changing market may affect that.
What do they expect:
An understanding of their business, as you are applying for a job within it! This includes being familiar with the end product and a basic knowledge of activities specific to your role within the organisation.
Knowledge of some of their major competitors, how they differ, and an understanding of that marketplace.
Blow their socks off?
If you really want to impress them you should have an understanding of how the organisation's major competitors are performing currently.
Also, you should have the ability to speculate intelligently about the future, drawing on evidence from the past and current news, you could even touch on how you may plan for unexpected events.
Normally, commercial awareness isn’t tested too early on, so you have time to get on the ball! When you go to an interview you should know all the services the company provides in details, it's good to be able to incorporate some figures as well - make sure they’re correct, though!
It’s good to say ‘I started to notice some new trends in the market, so did some research and think that XYZ would be a good way to adapt to this’. They’ll be dead impressed with you if they see that not only are you observing trends, but also knowing how to act on what you see.
Avoid saying ‘I read the Financial Times sometimes’. Anyone can buy and read a newspaper. Show them that you have gained knowledge and noticed trends relevant to the sector from what you have read.
Developing commercial awareness
The best way to develop commercial awareness is practical, hands-on business experience. This can be through a part-time job, extracurricular activities, or work experience and internships!
You should try to keep up with industry relevant news, set up email alerts, and subscribe and read industry magazines. This doesn’t mean you need to be doing it all day every day - but a read through it with your breakfast, instead of Facebook, would put you in a good stead!