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What is commercial awareness?

Organisations operate in a competitive marketplace and need graduates who can quickly grasp the internal and external challenges facing them, understand their customers and make good decisions on how best to develop their businesses. Commercial awareness is understanding what is happening in the world from a business perspective and questioning if activities add value to the business.

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

Many recruiters say that students and new graduates lack this important competency.

Application form and interview questions

Some examples of application form and interview questions which are designed to test commercial awareness:

  • What do you know about this company?
  • What do you know about the competitors in this business?
  • How would you sell our company to a potential customer?
  • Tell me about a recent business story that took your interest?
  • What are the greatest challenges facing our sector in the next five years?

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 employers.

Assessment centres

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 team.

Activities where you could develop your commercial awareness

The following activities may be a good ways to develop your commercial awareness:

Read newspapers, industry journals and professional body websites to find out what the latest developments are and the impact they may have on business.

  • Research the organisation and the role It will give you an insight into the sector, developments, pressures and competitors.
  • Use your networks Who do you know who works in the industry, get the inside track from them.
  • Understand business models such as Porters 5 forces It may help you to analyse commercial scenarios at interview or assessment centre.
  • University college modules check for courses that will expand your knowledge of the sector you are interested in.
  • Fairs, talks, workshops and skills sessions Talks, fairs and employer-led sessions offer good opportunities to develop commercial awareness for your target career. Some employers offer specific commercial awareness sessions. Check CareerConnect for upcoming events.
  • Work Experience Learn about the real world of work by experiencing it. Try to explore business processes and decision making from the inside.
  • Competitions & prizes Often based around real world problems looking for innovative solutions they look great on your CV. Even if you don't win you will have experience to talk about.
  • Subscribe to Finimize For simple to understand financial information on the markets and what it means. (Free service)