Nearly half of the graduate employers surveyed by the Association of Graduate Recruiters in 2017 indicated that job applicants lacked commercial awareness. But what is commercial awareness, why do students need it and how can they develop it?
What is commercial awareness?
It has many names: business acumen, business awareness or commercial awareness but basically it refers to a knowledge of your chosen sector. It is a vital skill for anyone looking to get their graduate career started and to maintain and grow that career.
Commercial awareness is a skill and it can give you a competitive edge in your applications. It helps you demonstrate why this company is right for you, where it is placed in the relevant sector and the skill set you need to demonstrate. Of course, it is vital to demonstrate a range of skills to a potential recruiter. One of the key skills graduate recruiters tell careers staff that they feel applicants lack is commercial awareness.
So, how can develop company or a sector based knowledge?
Reading articles is one way. Using LinkedIn is another, attending careers fairs and conferences yet another. It is something you need to work on and stay updated on so you can consider what are the issues that might effect both the role and the industry. Brexit, for example, will potentially have a huge impact on UK manufacturing. At a graduate scheme interview you may face a question such as ‘what are the important issues facing the industry in the next 5 years and how would you see this impacting your role here?’ You would need to consider what Brexit means to the industry and its knock-on effects.
Think of your career path and then research it
Your starting point could be: do you know what you want to do? Maybe you already have some ideas but need to explore the options? Knowing what the industry offers in terms of companies and roles and the issues facing the sector is going to help you to decide what it is you want to do. Use a tool like Prospects to research more. Or visit Target Jobs for their employer section information. Speak to your Career Consultant and discuss your career ideas. If you are not sure what you want to do then explore ideas and opportunities.
Read articles that link to your interest
Having read thousands of CVs you get used to seeing ‘reading the Economist’ as evidence for commercial awareness. But if you want to include this, how often do you read the Economist? Or check the BBC news business pages? Could you answer a question on where you see a company and its products/services in five years time? Without waffling?
To develop a career plan work towards it by collecting knowledge and insights. If you are looking for ideas around business then you could do worse than read or check out the work of Christoper Stoakes or the JP Morgan suggested summer reading list
Engineering: Well, you can look at total professions Don’t forget that when you are on campus you can look at larger company data on the Market Line Advantage database and prepare a SWOT analysis. Additionally, you can search the Wikipedia entries for individual companies (produced by their own internal Communications teams)
Law: Check out the Guardian newspaper as well as ‘all about law’ and the ‘ultimate law guide’
Pharmaceuticals: look at Wikipedia or LEO as well as the Guardian and Telegraph
Publishing: ‘report linker’ Business info (‘business info’)
Marketing: Linked In
Network with people and organisations
Don’t be afraid to network to develop your networks. Treat any event as a potential networking opportunity as well as a chance to learn more about a company and if it is suitable for you. Think about networking as a conversation with a career focus. When you attend a careers fair talk to people and ask them about their career journey. Asking about their experiences and choices gives you insights that can prove very useful. Listen to their journey and their experience.
Use LinkedIn to research companies and see what events they are engaging with. When you want to connect to people on LinkedIn always personalise your request message and explain what you would want from them and what you feel you can offer them in return.
Join professional bodies and organisations and take the time to attend fairs and conferences
Professional bodies are organisations that can help you within key sectors. They offer you access to contacts, information and various forms of support. Often they will be involved in research, conferences, projects and discussions and can give you access to people who can connect you to more information, more opportunities and more people.
Ask questions and don’t be afraid to connect
When you attend any event you need to consider what you need to know and who you can ask. Think about what it is you would like to know? Is it the training offered by the company? Is it the ability to be involved on client focused work from day one? When you are considering who and where can you find the answers to these questions consider the role of the person you speak to on a stand. Ask them about their career journey, what degree did they study? What things did they learn along the way? Can you connect with them on LinkedIn?
Have you considered the E-mentoring scheme? This is a chance to connect with Warwick alumni and gain insights from them. You can keep growing your network through out your time at university (At some point in the not too distant future this may be Warwick students trying to connect to you).
Commercial awareness is a lifelong skill and it will grow with you and your career if you are prepared to put the effort and time into it.