27 July 2023

5 Ways To Develop Commercial Awareness

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Picture this: you’re smashing a final-stage interview for your dream job with one of the UK’s best employers. But you get asked one final question: “What are the biggest issues facing our industry today?” 

Suddenly, your mind goes blank. Your palms are sweating. You can’t think of anything except that terrible meal deal you had for lunch…

Beat the anxiety and get prepared for any interview question by developing your commercial awareness. No matter what role you’re applying for, this is one of the most valuable and essential skills employers seek in potential candidates today.

What is commercial awareness?

Commercial awareness means having an understanding of how businesses and industries work. This includes being current with the latest news and developments in your field of interest.

Let’s say you’ve just binge-watched Suits and decided you want to become a lawyer.

It’s essential to have commercial awareness so that you can speak with confidence about how recent global events have affected your industry and their impact on the clients you are representing.

Here are five ways to develop your commercial awareness:

1. Research, research, research

Commercial awareness is something you develop by doing research in your own time.

Other words for commercial awareness include “commercial acumen”, “business-minded”, or “commercial understanding”, but they all mean the same thing: employers want to see that you have taken the time to learn about the industry you’re applying for.

Get started by doing some research online. Some of the best resources for developing commercial awareness include:

  • News websites (like the BBC and The Economist)
  • Videos about your chosen industry (try YouTube or TikTok)
  • Podcasts (listen to some interviews with leaders in your field)
  • Email newsletters (for simple, easy-to-read news updates, we recommend The Know).

While doing research, get specific and dig deep when learning about a particular subject area.

TOP TIP: Many publications like the Financial Times and The Guardian offer students free or heavily discounted subscriptions. Check them out here!

2. Utilise social media

One of the best things about developing your commercial awareness is that it costs you absolutely nothing. In fact, it’s probably one of the easiest and most impactful ways that you can prepare for an upcoming interview or presentation.

Throughout the year, make sure that you keep up to date with the latest industry news through sites like Twitter and LinkedIn.

By following company accounts and influencers in the space, you’ll quickly gain an awareness of the industry landscape and current trends that will be a major help to you in future applications.

3. Learn EVERYTHING you can about your future employer

Researching your future employer is also an absolute must. Demonstrating that you’ve done your commercial awareness homework is one of the most effective ways to stand out in an interview. 

It’s really impressive if you can speak confidently about your future employer’s business, how they make money, and what ways the role you’re applying for contributes to the success of the overall business.

It’s even better to demonstrate commercial awareness by talking about how their main competitors are performing or how current affairs (like politics or global events) have affected the specific industry you’re applying for.

If you’ve done your research, show it off: written applications, interviews, or presentations are all great places to showcase your relevant knowledge.

4. Find solutions to problems

Another smart way to develop commercial awareness skills is by thinking about your industry’s biggest problems. 

Start by completing a simple SWOT analysis of the company you’re applying for: what are their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats? 

This is a great way to prepare for an upcoming interview.

Once you’ve got your foot in the door with an employer, you can use your commercial wisdom to contribute to meetings and provide valuable ideas based on the problems you’ve identified.

When it comes to overcoming challenges, it’s also a great idea to research how the company’s main competitors operate and propose alternative solutions based on what they are doing well (or struggling with).

For example, Ben Francis founded Gymshark in his garage at home because he was unable to find comfortable, affordable gym clothes made by any competitor in the industry. Sometimes the best way to solve a problem is by fixing it yourself!

5. Try to predict the future

Once you’ve picked up on the basics of commercial awareness, you can start trying to predict the future. And no, this doesn’t mean you can guess the correct numbers for next week’s lotto.

What it does mean is that you might be able to accurately predict global business or economic trends, which is a highly valuable skill in any industry.

Take the COVID-19 pandemic, for example. In March 2020, everyone suddenly had to stay inside for months, which led to a massive surge in demand for online shopping.

The most commercially-aware people were able to predict this trend and use it to their advantage. So the next time you see a major world event in the news, ask yourself: how might this affect the industry I’m interested in?

By asking yourself these questions and taking the time to research your potential employer and their industry, you will build a strong foundation of commercial understanding. 

And most importantly, next time you’re in an interview and they ask a difficult question, you’ll be able to relax knowing that you’ve taken the time, done your research and developed your commercial awareness.