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6 Ways to Develop Commercial Awareness at University

  February 8, 2017   

By Liz Bland, Careers Consultant at Aston University in Birmingham.

Are you commercially aware? Many employers include commercial awareness as a key requirement when advertising their graduate vacancies. In fact, the Association of Graduate Recruiters reported in the AGR 2016 Development Survey that nearly 80% of their members were seeking this employability skill. But what does it mean and how can you develop commercial awareness while you’re at university?

Commercial awareness defined

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines commercial awareness as, “knowledge of how businesses make money, what customers want, and what problems there are in particular areas of business”.

People who are commercially aware can look at situations from a business perspective and appreciate concepts such as profit, income generation and cost reduction. On a broader scale, they also have an awareness of the job they are applying for and the wider sector within which the company operates, key competitors and current market trends.

Top tips

Developing commercial awareness while you’re at university might seem like a daunting task and may well be the sort of thing which gets pushed to the bottom of your priority list. This might be even more the case if you have a disability or long-term health condition which takes up time for you to manage. Here are some top tips to help you with developing commercial awareness. You may find you’re already doing some of these things but hadn’t considered them to be about commercial awareness!

1. Get work experience

One of the most effective ways to build your commercial awareness is to get some work experience. It can be paid or voluntary. The important thing is to take an interest in how the organisation operates and the context it sits within.

For example, consider your answers to the following questions:

  • how does the organisation you are working or volunteering for fund itself?
  • does it aim to make a profit or does it operate on a not-for-profit basis?
  • who are its customers?
  • does it have any obvious competitors?
  • what sector does it sit within?

While you’re at work you could also look for opportunities to demonstrate your commercial awareness. Could you identify ways for the organisation to reduce their costs? Or perhaps ways for them to generate additional income and increase their revenue? It might be a small thing such as making a process more efficient and saving on the cost of printing documents, but in commercial terms, these small savings can soon make a difference and when it comes to graduate job hunting, they can be excellent examples to demonstrate your commercial mind set.

2. Read the news

Following the news is important but it doesn’t have to be time consuming. Little and often is a good place to start. Make your smart-phone work for you and set up alerts for news items relating to your interests. Google News can be useful for seeing an overview of headlines from news sources worldwide, displayed according to your interests. Sky Business News, the BBC website, The Guardian and The Independent will help you to stay informed of current affairs. For a daily digest of financial news you could sign up for a free subscription service such as Finimize. The Financial Times and The Economist are examples of business publications where you can access more in depth discussion and analysis.

3. Use your university library’s business research tools

Did you know your university library is likely to have business databases with information you won’t find via Google? Services can include detailed company reports, SWOT analyses of businesses and sector trends. This level of information great for compiling quality job applications which get you shortlisted and then go on to ace your interview!

4. Join clubs and societies – and get involved

Joining clubs and societies at university gives you an excellent opportunity to get involved in running events and managing budgets in a way that teaches you about commercial principles. The club or society doesn’t have to be business focussed in itself. You could be involved in the Harry Potter Society or anything related to your particular interests – if you learn about managing budgets, reducing costs or generating income then this experience is likely to be of interest to employers looking for people with commercial awareness.

5. Watch TV

Programmes such as Dragon’s Den and The Apprentice are a good light introduction to business principles while you take a break from your studies. For times when you want a more in depth perspective on current affairs programmes such as the Channel Four News at 7pm, BBC Two News Night and Question Time.

6. Listen to the radio

Radio 1’s Newsbeat might be your thing or if you want to hear more detailed news (perhaps in the run up to job interviews or assessment centres), Radio 4 has regular interviews with politicians and business leaders. If you commute to university, consider listening to news and current affairs podcasts.

Applying commercial awareness when informing an employer about a disability

A final point to consider is that commercial awareness is relevant if you have a disability and decide to share information about it with a prospective employer during the recruitment process. If you wish to talk about the support you may need, discuss your requirements positively and provide recommendations as to what you may require. Then concentrate on selling the abilities and strengths you have which will add value to the organisation.

Liz Bland is a Careers Consultant at Aston University in Birmingham and has a background in graduate recruitment

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