Just about any graduate job requires you to have commercial awareness. This shouldn’t induce panic and palpitations! You’ll almost certainly have demonstrated commercial awareness already – both in jobs you’ve done and in decisions you’ve taken. Start by making sure that you’re able to talk about these experiences. Then, if you want a finance job, or plan to work in the City of London, start working on moving your knowledge and understanding to new levels.
So what’s this commercial awareness you’ve already shown?
If you’re not living in university accommodation, you’re likely to have put some commercial thinking into your choice of where to live. Did you balance rental costs against travel costs (in terms of time as well as fares or petrol)? Did you ponder the size of your room and the quality of the accommodation against the rent? How about the supermarket or bar job? Did you persuade a customer to buy champagne rather than sparkling wine, knowing that the profit margins were greater on the former than the latter? Congratulations! This is commercial awareness and you can use these examples as competency based answers.
Is this enough then?
If you want to work in the City you’ll have to move your commercial awareness to a whole new level. You’ll need to really understand what is going on in the business world. Pushing to find out what’s in the news just before an interview isn’t going to cut it. Both Sarah Cockburn from Allen & Overy recruitment and Claudine Vega from Linklaters are equally clear about this:
“If you start reading newspapers just before an interview, it won’t work. You won’t have the depth of knowledge we need and that will show as soon as we start asking you questions.”
It’s probably not a good idea to ignore advice from two top City law firms!
How do you go about becoming more “Commercially Aware?
If you think a City career could be for you, then you must get started. You might want to begin by reading the BBC Business News. It’s available on line and is pretty straightforward to follow. Pick yourself a few hot topics. Brexit /Grexit? Oil price fluctuations? Hopefully, if you want a City job, this already means something to you. Jake Schogger, Law and Business student, forthcoming City lawyer and editor of City Career Series suggests:
“Copy and paste major headlines from news websites into a Word document. When additional stories are published detailing developments on the issues captured in these headlines, paste these stories underneath the original headlines, creating a more substantial insight into topical events and issues. This really helps to boost your general knowledge and understanding of what’s going on in the world. On interview days, you can quickly refer back to remind yourself of recent developments on key topical issues. You’ll be building your own personal archive of the stories that (1) most interest you and (2) are most topical; the stories City workers would be expected to have a basic awareness and understanding of.”
This sounds like great advice. You should find both your interest and your knowledge increasing each time you visit your file.
And moving on?
It’s a good first step, but you should move on from here. You might want to start picking up current affairs radio programmes. Thank goodness for podcasts! They’re ideal for helping you wile away “dead time”. Subscribe, download and plug yourself in, it couldn’t be easier! Your next step might be The Economist, en route for The Financial Times. You should find that as your understanding increases, so does your enthusiasm to tackle new topics. Student subscriptions to The Economist are not too expensive or you can pick up library copies.
Have an opinion.
Don’t try to cover everything. Stick to a limited number of stories that you can talk about in detail and on which you can express an opinion. Here’s some great advice from KPMG LLP partner, Punam Birly, based on her experience of interviewing:
“Be prepared to have an opinion and back this up with your reasoning; making decisions will be an integral part of daily commercial life and sitting on the fence is not usually a safe option – rather it could weaken your demonstration of leadership skills….’
You don’t have to know everything!
You must be able to talk about the “basics”. EU issues, including the future of the Euro as a currency fall into this category, but application forms will normally let you pick an issue to write about. The same is generally true in interview. You might find that questions lead on from your application form answer, or that you are invited to get a discussion started on something that interests you. You’d be really unlucky to be asked to comment in detail on something you’ve never read about.
Yes, it is also really good to understand how the City and financial institutions work. What is an IPO, a derivative, a swap or an option? You could be asked. If your reading has not informed you on this, you could have a look at the City Career Series, or at books by Christopher Stoakes. He has written a number but “Know the City” could be a good starting point. You might also want to check out our previous posts on commercial awareness.
So what if you find all of this really boring?
You might need to think about your future! If business and financial news does not fascinate you, then it is likely that you will struggle to persuade graduate recruiters that a City or finance career is for you. Why are you planning this sort of career? Working in financial institutions and in the City might make you very miserable. It could be time to book an appointment to talk to your careers consultant about other alternatives.
City Career Series publishes guides and tips to help you to build the commercial awareness required for City interviews and internships. More information is available at: Facebook.com/citycareerseries.