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What are commercial awareness skills?

Commercial awareness is one of the most sought-after skills by employers yet it's one that is often overlooked by job applicants.

Being able to demonstrate these skills can give you a huge advantage when it comes to completing application forms or attending job interviews.

But what is it exactly? In this post, we'll look at why commercial awareness skills are important and how you can develop them.

'If you haven't got a clue what commercial awareness skills are, it's about time you found out - because employers love them. Check out this guide'

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What is commercial awareness?

In a nutshell, commercial awareness is all about having a good working knowledge of the industry (area of work) that you're hoping to work in. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that the term is only concerned with big business or entrepreneurs, but this isn't the case.

Regardless of what industry you're hoping to work in, whether it's engineering, journalism, retail or medicine, it's important that you have a good background knowledge of the industry as a whole. This includes knowing what the business is worth (the money they make minus the costs they pay), how they make their money and what the current marketplace is like (what other companies the business is trading with, and how easy it is to trade).

Why are commercial awareness skills important?

Employers see these skills as being important because it enables them to hire candidates who might one day be able to take a step up the career ladder. It also shows that candidates are genuinely interested in working in a certain industry. Although employers look for people who are able to carry out the job advertised, they also want people who understand how things work in the industry, so that they have additional insights into the role.

Perhaps the biggest reason that employers see these skills as important is that it shows that you've done your homework. A lot of the time, school leavers will have limited awareness as they won't have experience of working in the industry. Most employers realise this and instead of looking for first-hand experience, they look for an awareness of what the role involves and how the industry operates.

What are some examples of commercial awareness interview questions?

It's important that you know when an employer wants you to demonstrate your awareness. To help you identify when you should show these skills, we've put together a list of commercial awareness interview questions and sample answers:

Q. What do you know about our company?

A. I understand that you are one of the largest (insert industry name here) firms in the UK and that last year you were awarded for your achievements in the field. The company was established in 1986 and you currently have 500 employees worldwide.

Q. Can you tell us a bit about the (insert industry name here) industry?

A. The (industry name) is very competitive and and there are approximately 50 companies that operate in the marketplace in the UK. I know that despite the recent economic downturn, the industry has continued to thrive and its net worth has increased to around £4 million in the UK alone.

Q. What are your salary expectations?

A. I understand that a comparable salary for an entry-level role as a (insert job title here) is typically between £20,000 and £25,000, therefore my expectation would be a salary somewhere in that region.

Q. Who are our typical clients?

A. Your typical clients are small and medium sized businesses who require your (insert specifics here) services. Most are based in the UK although I understand that you also have some clients overseas.

Q. How do you keep up to date with the (insert industry name here) industry?

A. I'm a subscriber to your newsletter as well as other companies in the industry. I have a Google alert set up for the (insert industry name here) industry and I always read the (industry name) section of the Guardian newspaper.

Q. Where do you see yourself in 5 years' time?

A. I'd like to have progressed from my entry-level role to one where I have more responsibility. In particular, I'd like to work in the (insert specifics here) sector of the industry as I have a strong interest in (insert specifics here). I understand that your company offers fast track schemes and this is something I'd be keen to be considered for after showing what I can do in the current role.

How to improve your commercial awareness

Whereas gaining first-hand experience as a school leaver can be tricky, developing your commercial awareness skills is a lot easier but does require a bit of research. Here are a list of ways that you might want to explore in order to improve your awareness:

  • Set up a Google alert on your phone for the industry you want to work in so you can keep up to date with the latest news.
  • Research the company you work for/are applying to and research their competitors too. It's important that you're aware of how the competition is performing.
  • Organise a work placement so that you have first-hand examples to talk about in your interview.
  • Speak to people you know who already work in the industry - they can provide you with some insider knowledge of what's happening in the marketplace.
  • Subscribe to industry newsletters and find out who the movers and shakers of the industry are.

Remember, as a school leaver, employers won't expect you to know absolutely everything about the industry. A lot of your industry awareness will come from actually working with a company. In the meantime though, doing your research and keeping up to date with the latest trends in the industry will impress any employer.

What other tips do you have for improving industry awareness? Do you have any more examples of commercial awareness interview questions that you'd like to share? If so, log in below and tell us your thoughts.

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