ENTREPRENEURSHIP / JUN. 24, 2014
version 4, draft 4

Commercial Awareness: Are You Business Savvy?

Commercial awareness can sound vague and scary, much like interfacing or networking. 

Being aware of our commercial value and that of the employer we are applying to can be a tricky business. We can understand commercial awareness when thinking of a chocolate bar, for example, but it is a different thing to think of commercial awareness when relating to ourselves, or our employers. We are not chocolate bars, after all, and sadly our employers aren't always Chocolate Factories. 

Commercial awareness is confusing for most employees, despite being very important to most employers. 

To be commercially aware of your employer means to be aware of your employer and their business. To be commercially aware of ourselves means to be aware of our skills and how they meet the employers needs to succeed in business.

The Heat of Competition

We may not be chocolate bars, but we do have 'packaging' of sorts. We are competing for jobs in a difficult economy and we have a skills set that we need to draw the employer's attention to, and we have experience in different work situations that we need to highlight above that of others.  

Crème de la Crème 

If you want to be selected for a good job, you need to demonstrate this commercial awareness. It is, quite simply, the awareness of the business that you are applying to and the markets it operates in.  

It sounds simple and easy, and in many ways it is. It is also easy to fire out applications and CVs in general to lots of different employers - in doing this, however, we completely miss the opportunity to showcase our commercial awareness of a company. It makes the postage stamp, or the tap of the 'send' button a potential waste of our time if we only send employers 'general' CVs and don't get up close and personal. 

According to Kent University, commercial awareness is a big deal to employers, and a lack of it as a major factor in not selecting applicants for interview.  

A survey by the CBI reported that more than 35% of employers were dissatisfied with the business and customer awareness of graduates.  

What is Business Awareness and How Can I Get It? 

It seems easy enough to get business awareness when you work in business but what if you are just starting out - a new graduate, or a job changer? 

There are lots of ways that you can get business savvy.  

  • Reading - read the company website. Read their competitors. Use your friend Google to search for news articles that relate to the company and its business.
  • Research - find out who their employers are, what they want and what they don't want. 
  • Work experience -  there is nothing that employers like more than hands on experience. Arrange an insight day through your careers service for example.  
  • Forums - read forums that are based on the business. You can be a "lurker" rather than a "contributor" and soak up the developments.  

Why Do All This Homework? 

  • It shows that you are REALLY committed to a job in that field 
  • You will stand out from those that haven't done their commercial research (trust me, it shows) 
  • It will better prepare you for the interview, which they will not call you for

Kent University also found this, which I found quite surprising, and you might too -  

"One major consultancy felt that a detailed understanding of the company, the issues facing the industry in which they operate, professional qualifications offered and job roles within the company was even more important at interview than answers to competency-based questions" (Excerpt from Kent University Careers Resource).  

Is It Only Relevant to Businesses? 

Apparently no. If you want to be successful, you need to show awareness of commercial nature in teaching, journalism, social work, hospital administration and publishing.  

Commercial Awareness Example 

Here is an example of applying commercial awareness in preparation to an application for a job in a hotel. 

  • Read the hotel news to see what is affecting the business by visiting http://www.hotelnewsresource.com. I saw some surprising things, for example, fostering 'compassion in the workplace', news about family trips being on the rise and also spotted articles on marketing strategies specific to hotels.  
  • Visited the Prospects website to see what qualifications I would need for the job and field, as well as what the job can lead to in terms of career http://www.prospects.ac.uk/options_hospitality.htm 
  • Conducted a search on "hotel news" at the BBC to get an idea of the things that are affecting the trade (outside of the trade magazines, which can be overly controlled and difficult to read between the lines) http://www.bbc.co.uk/search/news/?q=hotel+news 

You don't need to package yourself like the next Cadbury’s chocolate bar, but you do need to know your strengths in terms of the employer you are applying to, and how their business works. 

If you would like any help in locating resources for specific job areas, do get in touch and I will do my best to help. 

Good luck!

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