Commercial Awareness – What it is and how to get it

Hey everyone – I bet, like me, you’ve come across this phrase in job descriptions and elsewhere. But do you know exactly what it means? Do you know it’s something you need to be aware of whenever you get to writing those job applications?

What is commercial awareness?

Having commercial awareness simply means having some understanding of the way a ‘business’ operates, whether you’re a student of business/finance/ management or other areas of work; or even if you’re going for a job unrelated to what you’ve studied. And when I say ‘business’ this can mean your typical corporate employer as well as any other kind – it’s all about looking at a situation with a ‘business head’ on, taking a commercial perspective. You’ll need to be thinking about questions such as what makes a business or organisation successful, and why? How is the company you’re applying for positioned in the market, and what are the implications of its market position?

Employers may well use interviews and assessment centres to suss out your commercial awareness. You might get asked, for example, to evaluate the commercial implications of a particular situation / scenario. One thing is for sure: the further your career progresses the more likely you are to depend on this knowledge in making professional decisions. Developing your commercial awareness will therefore be of importance throughout your career, particularly when you’re fighting for promotion.

How to improve your commercial awareness?

One of the most straightforward ways to improve your commercial awareness is to stay on top of the news. Get into the habit of reading quality papers, news journals or online services, particularly related to your field. Get informed about what the major companies in your sector are up to by checking out their websites. Find out about issues and developments that are influencing these companies and organisations.

You could also think about work experience as a way of gaining commercial awareness. Work experience will provide you with indispensible insights into the commercial prospects, challenges and opportunities facing the companies you work for, regardless of whether you work as a volunteer, part-time or full-time, or just over the summer holidays. Even if your work experience isn’t directly in or related to the field in which you want to eventually develop your career, you’ll still learn a lot just by being in a commercial environment. Make sure to ask plenty of questions when you’re there, and try to get your head around the internal commercial practices of the firm you’re working for. This will allow you, when updating your CV, to say that one thing you gained from your experience was insight into how an organisation works on a day-to-day basis – this is something employers like to see.

You might also find an opportunity to develop commercial awareness by getting involved in extra-curricular activities. Managing societies, organising and promoting events, or dealing with budgets and cost considerations will all help to give you an insight into the sorts of issues that play out for any company.

That said, I’m absolutely positive many of you will have some commercial sense and awareness already. So it might be a case of thinking about what you have learnt, where from, and how you might be able to illustrate all that when writing your next application or updating your CV.

Using your Easter holidays effectively

With the Easter break all but upon us, I’m sure you’re keen on taking some time out over the next few weeks. But don’t forget your career plans entirely: Easter is a really good time to take stock, get away from the daily pressures of classes and reflect a bit on where you’re going generally and where you want to go in the future. It’s also perhaps the best (and last) chance to finalise your plans for this summer – soon enough after Easter you’ll get caught up in preparation for your exams, then suddenly they’ll be over and it’ll be too late to plan anything effective. So yes, do relax and enjoy the break. But keep thinking, reflecting and find the odd moment for a bit of indispensible Google and other research…

Okay, so that’s me for a while – Have a great Easter and I’ll see you all again in May as we will then be fast approaching the Northern Ireland Graduate Recruitment Fair ( which will be taking place on Tuesday 12 June.

One Response to “Commercial Awareness – What it is and how to get it”

  1. Paul Walsh says:

    I agree; commercial awareness is an essential and is one of the key words employers look for. Its the extra stuff and being proactive that teaches it. An undergrad course alone isn’t quite enough anymore!

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