Commercial awareness is a key attribute that graduate recruiters in all sectors are looking for. It is often tested during interviews and assessment centres.
But what is commercial awareness? And how do you develop it?
In this article, we look at what commercial awareness is and how to develop commercial awareness.
What is commercial awareness?
Firstly, let’s look at what commercial awareness is.
Commercial awareness refers to your general knowledge of business, your business experience and more specifically, your understanding of the industry you are looking to get into. In this instance, it is the actuarial industry.
If you have commercial awareness you will be able to look at situations from a business perspective. You should know what a company needs to do to be profitable, successful and serve its customers.
Why is commercial awareness important?
To compete in just about any sector of the graduate job market, from law to accountancy, you need to demonstrate commercial awareness when you make online applications, go to interviews and attend assessment centres.
Despite being a key attribute that graduate recruiters look for, they often report that applicants fail to demonstrate this knowledge throughout the recruitment process.
Why do recruiters want you to have commercial awareness?
Many companies see this as a key requirement in potential recruits. Commercial awareness shows that you have taken the time to understand how the company works and makes a profit and how it fits into the wider industry.
If you can demonstrate commercial awareness in an interview, you are showing that you have taken the time to understand how the company works and makes a profit, as well as how it fits into the industry as a whole. Recruiters see those who are commercially aware as motivated, more interested in the role and more likely to hit the ground running and able to make informed decisions right from the start.
How to develop commercial awareness?
It should be noted that you can’t develop commercial awareness overnight; it should form part of your ongoing development throughout your research, work experience and internships. Here are some of the ways you can help develop your commercial awareness.
Work experience and internships
Graduates who have gained work experience will have many examples to draw upon, allowing them to demonstrate commercial awareness at all stages of the recruitment process.
Think about your most recent work experience or internship and ask yourself the following questions;
- What are their main products/services?
- What are the problems facing the Actuarial industry at this time?
- Who are their competitors?
- Who are their customers or clients?
Once you have answered those questions, think about the company you are applying to work for and see if you can answer the above but relating to them.
Getting work experience is one of the best ways to learn about the actuarial industry and help you understand how various companies work.
However, your work experience doesn’t always have to be relevant. You can show you have developed commercial awareness at your part-time job. For example, if you worked at a bar and identified certain days were sales were higher and ensured there were extra staff working or increased your stock orders as a result of this, then this shows that you already have a requisite level of commercial awareness.
Read and watch the news
These days, it can often be harder to escape the news than it can to actually keep up with it. Reading the business pages of newspapers or subscribing to magazines such as The Economist will give you a good grounding in the general financial and economic situation in the world.
You should also look more specifically at the topics that are effecting the actuarial industry as a whole. Reading The Actuary will help with this and you can get their weekly newsletters sent to your inbox.
Watching TV shows such as Newsnight and listening to podcasts such as the Financial Times’ FT News are also good ways to understand the topics that are affecting industries today.
If you feel like something lighter, then The Apprentice and Dragon’s Den can give you a good introduction to business and might also help you answer some difficult questions!
Be aware, though, don’t just tell interviewers you read the Financial Times or watch Newsnight every night because anyone can do that. Instead, think about how it has developed your knowledge and how it has given you a greater understanding of the sector you are going into.
Join clubs and societies
Joining clubs and socities at university gives you an excellent opportunity to get involved in running events and even managing budgets. Many finance societies host events and talks by people in the industry which can be hugely useful in understanding the industry.
However, the club or society you join doesn’t necessarily have to be related to the industry you want to go in; as long as you have relevant experience. If you are treasurer of the Lacrosse society, for example, that still gives you experience in budgeting and having to generate income.
Have a point of view
It’s one thing knowing the facts about an industry or a topic regarding that industry, but having a point of view about that topic will really help you out when you are in an interview.
Read up on different points of view and come to conclusions of your own. Expressing an interesting point of view will show the recruiter that you have done your research and understand the industry.
What sort of questions might I get asked in an interview?
Now we’ve gone through the ways you can develop commercial awareness, how might this come up in an interview? Here are some of the questions you might want to look out for;
- How do you keep up to date with what is going on in the industry?
- What story has interested you the most recently? Why did you think it was significant? Who is affected and why?
- What was our share price this morning?
- What area of the business interests you and why?
Hopefully this has given you a good idea of what commercial awareness is; why recruiters see it as important and the ways you can develop commercial awareness. Another way to develop commercial awareness is to take a look at our Employer Directory; where you can read up on some of the companies that operate in the actuarial industry.