Careers advice: What is commercial awareness?

19 August 2016

WBS Careers Manager Simon Bason takes a look at 'commercial awareness', what it is and how to demonstrate your understanding of industry in order to really stand out as the right person for the role.

A recent Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) survey has indicated that the number one competency companies want candidates to have is ‘commercial awareness’. The challenge many find is working out what exactly this is and how you can start to build it.

The good news is, that if worked on regularly in small amounts, it can lead to being able to show that you have really thought about why you want to work in that industry, sector and company and why you are the right person for that role.

Having commercial awareness is about being up-to-date on what is happening in the world of commerce and business, knowledgeable about the big issues and having an opinion on them.

For example, one question I am sure that most students will be asked during this coming round of graduate recruitment will be to give their thoughts and view on Brexit. How do you think Brexit is going to affect us? What challenges or opportunities does it represent to us as a business?

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Why do interviwers ask questions such as these?

At its heart it’s about your ability to convince the interviewer that you have thought about the company you are aiming to join - its customers, its place in the market, to understand what it might be like to work for them and to demonstrate that  you are motivated to work for them.

In order to answer questions such as these you need to be well-researched and able to make links between current affairs, your studies and your business experience.

If you wanted to work in a marketing role within the FMCG sector, as a recruiter, I would be interested to find out what you know about the industry, the global or external events that we are facing, commodity prices and new products being launched in our sector.

There are a lot of changes happening at the moment. If you look at the automotive sector, think about market disruption, technology companies looking to move in such as Google, Apple and new companies such as Faraday Future.

Collage of social media apps
Image: Tanja Cappell Flickr
Get social: Social media and news are just a couple of ways to build commercial awareness

To start to build commercial awareness read everything you can and take advantage of opportunities to find out about the company and sector you are looking to join.

Newspapers and their websites, in particular the business sections, are a good place to start. Many journalists also write blogs where they give their opinions on what’s happening.

Most companies have a strong presence on social media, make sure you are following them, look at the stories that they post; YouTube is also another great research resource.

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Meet employers - once you arrive at WBS you have the opportunity to network with and talk to many different companies who will be coming on to campus at career fairs, sector insight events and other types of meetings.

The UK Highfliers Report ranks Warwick the third most popular university for graduate recruitment. This means that many top companies specifically come to WBS to meet people like you.

Talking with their representatives will help you learn about the organisation's culture, the challenges it faces, and the training you can expect.

You need to network; talk to people who work in your chosen sector. As a WBS student you become part of a family of more than 80,000 people who are now alumni. Many will be happy to talk about what’s going on in their organisation.

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Keep in mind commercial awareness is not something you can work on just once and then you know it, or cram the night before an interview. It’s an ongoing process that should start before you arrive at WBS and continues after you leave.

Things are constantly changing and recruiters expect your knowledge to be up-to-date, but for you to also know about less recent developments.

Once you arrive at WBS why not arrange regular catch-ups with your course colleagues and share stories about what you have learnt, you never know when that information will be really useful.

Read the Warwick Careers Blog for more on how to boost you job chances.


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