Commercial awareness is a key workplace skill that is valuable across many different roles. It may sound a bit intimidating, but having commercial awareness simply means that you have a thorough understanding of the wider market in which the company you’re applying to operates.
Being commercially aware shows a potential employer that you’re well prepared to enter the professional world and that you’re truly interested and keen to work in your industry of choice. Being able to show off this skill during an interview can therefore set you apart from other candidates.
When it comes to showcasing your commercial awareness, there are two main things employers are looking for:
1. An understanding of the organization: its product and/or services; its people; latest developments; challenges it may be facing; its position within the industry and where your role sits within the organization.
2. An understanding of the market it operates in: the current state of the industry and the events that have led up to it; recent trends, developments and technologies; major players within the industry and top competitors.
So how do you ensure you get this across during an interview?
Well, chances are the hiring manager will ask you questions that are intended to test your commercial awareness. These could be quite straightforward, such as the examples below:
1. ‘What is your understanding of what we do?’
2. ‘Who are our main customers?’
3. ‘Can you name one of the biggest trends transforming the industry today?’
4. ‘What do you think are the biggest challenges we are facing?’
5. ‘How do we compare to our competitors?’
Questions relating to your interests could also be used to gauge your commercial awareness, such as: ‘Which publications do you read to keep up to date on the latest industry news?’ or ‘What’s a news story you have read about the industry recently that has inspired you?’
Make sure you go into the interview armed with the knowledge to answer these questions. Do your research by investigating the company’s website and social media pages, look for news articles about the business, find out more about the key decision-makers, read industry-related business news or join a group on LinkedIn with other industry professionals: the possibilities are endless.
There are of course also ways to give evidence of your commercial awareness without being prompted by the hiring manager, for example by asking them questions.
You could ask about how a certain trend is expected to affect the business, for example, or the impact a recent piece of company news is expected to have on the organization’s growth. Don’t just ask for the sake of asking though, but make sure there’s a clear connection between your question and the role you’re interviewing for.
Being commercially aware isn’t so much about having expert knowledge as it is about being and keeping up to date about what goes on in your industry and, crucially, your potential employer. So make sure you get the basic facts about the business right and have a few key news stories about the company or industry up your sleeve and you’re well on your way to making a positive impression.
Thomas Wharton is President of LIFOCUS CAREER SERVICES an Executive Coaching and Career Coaching firm in Rhode Island, providing Career & Transition Coaching, Outplacement, Executive Coaching, and Assessments. Tom can be reached at 401.884.7959 • firstname.lastname@example.org. • www.lifocus.com •@careercoachTW