Put simply, being commercially aware means understanding how business works and how organisations operate within a specific industry or field. It means knowing about:
- The organisation - its products, services, clients and competitors
- Challenges facing the industry
- What's going on in the business press
- Finance, to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the job, e.g. understanding the difference between cashflow and profit or what the FTSE is doing and what that means for the economy.
With competition for jobs growing across all sectors – public, private and non-profit included – commercial awareness is becoming an increasingly sought-after string to the bow of any modern professional.
It's particularly conspicuous in its absence, especially in the early stages of one's career, or when applying for jobs. In a survey by the Association of Graduate Recruiters 67% of employers surveyed said commercial awareness was number one in a list of top ten skills shortages amongst graduates.
The good news is that commercial awareness is relatively easy to come by; it just requires a little time and effort on your part. Here are some easy ways you can start brushing up on your commercial know-how:
There are plenty of business publications out there to sink your teeth into. Focus on issues that are relevant to the sector you're interested in and don't forget to include trade and industry specific publications on your list.
Talk to people in the industry – friends, family, ex-colleagues, and seek to know what they know. You can also try making contact with professionals in your target companies within the sector or in other sectors via social networking sites such as LinkedIn.
Do specific research
If you've found a company you want to work for do some digging:what is the firm's business model or strategy? Who are its customers or end users and how does it differentiate itself from its competitors?
Offering up your time to a society or charitable organisation is a great way to broaden your horizons and get a different commercial perspective. Remember to ask questions that will help you understand the commercials wherever you work.
You don't have to be the most knowledgeable person in the room, but it's key at interview to show that you have an interest in the bigger picture. The more you find out the more it will make sense and the more likely it will be that you have a real and interesting opinion to offer a potential employer.