Commercial awareness

Commercial awareness is about understanding the context in which organisations operate, such as the internal and external challenges they face; their clients, customers and suppliers and their drivers for effective decision making. It is also about understanding world trends more generally (social, political, economic) and how these could positively or negatively be impacting an organisation and shaping their behaviour, too. Graduate employers look for graduates who have an interest in what is happening in the world and to the organisation they are applying to. This is often overlooked by many applicants, so is a good way to stand out.

Commercial awareness can also be termed: 'business focus', 'client focus' or a 'passion for business'.

Activities where you could develop commercial awareness

You could develop commercial awareness on your degree programme when looking at “real life” case studies or taking on projects looking to solve real world problems. Similarly, if employers come in to deliver guest lectures or talk about their job roles you could enhance your understanding. Other recommended ways to develop your commercial awareness:

  • Read about an organisation and the role If you are making an application or attending an interview, this will give you a crucial insight into their sector, developments, pressures and competitors. Use their websites, social media or LinkedIn.
  • Use your contacts Do you know someone who works in this area? Ask them about the priorities, challenges or latest developments they are aware of.

Fairs, talks, workshops:

Events hosted by the Careers Service Student Societies and directly by graduate employers themselves are designed to help you build your commercial understanding and contacts. Some employers offer specific commercial awareness sessions, look out for case studies and business games. Check CareerConnect for upcoming events.

Follow newspapers, journals and professional body websites:

Keep up to date on the latest developments and the impact on organisations. Some professional bodies hold events for student members.
Podcasts providing a recap of business news include “Business Daily” by the BBC, “The Intelligence” by The Economist and “Watson’s Daily business and financial news

Work Experience is an excellent way to learn about organisations and the reason it is so sought in applicants by employers. Internships, placements and even part-time jobs and voluntary work, it all counts, if it gives you more understanding. Virtual work experience is also readily available on sites like InsideSherpa and Forage. A popular option during the Pandemic and lockdowns.

It could also help to:

How is commercial awareness assessed in recruitment?

Some examples of application form and interview questions which are designed to assess commercial awareness in a candidate:

  • What do you know about our organisation?
  • Who do you think are our main competitors?
  • Tell me about a recent business story in the news that has captured your interest?
  • What are the greatest challenges facing our sector in the next five years?
  • How has the Pandemic / Brexit impacted on our business operations / marketing approach in the past 12 months?

If you are unsure how to structure an answer for either application or interview questions, visit the application and interviews section of our website and find out about the CAR (context, action, result) and STAR (situation, task, action, result) models. Our recommendations are based on feedback from graduate employers.

Assessment Centre exercises to test commercial awareness could include case studies or business scenarios, where you would be asked to analyse and make recommendations on how you would tackle particular business situations. Employers would assess how you interpret data, consider risk and financial implications, offer creative solutions and make sensible recommendations. These exercises could be done individually or as part of a group discussion.