I recently went to a commercial awareness event at an international city law firm recently and the discussions were based on the big financial and legal stories of the last few months. Commercial awareness is an attribute that many graduate employers like to see (in all sectors ranging from law to engineering to marketing) candidates have. For some employers commercial awareness may mean reading publications like Financial Times daily and for others having an understanding of business efficiency. Commercial awareness is a vital skill to have as it will give you the ability to build solutions to problems and give you an understanding of issues affecting clients.
What is commercial awareness?
Commercial awareness is extremely important. The problem is that many of us do not understand what commercial awareness exactly is and how to apply it. I used to be one of those people, not having a clue what commercial awareness actually is. I used to think that the FT was the beginning and the end of commercial awareness. The commercial awareness event I attended recently made me realise how far I have come from those days. So what exactly is Commercial awareness? It can be defined as ‘staying up-to-date on daily happenings and developments in the business and commercial world’. It also having an in-depth understanding of the business to which you have applied for or work for and similar businesses. Its more than just reading the business sections of newspapers, its also showing practical examples. For example if you are a treasurer at your university society you are responsible for budgeting, how many is spent and that the society does not get into debt. Your extracurricular activates or your part time job could be used to show that you understand the commercial aspects of a business.
What employers are looking for?
- An understanding of their business– What do they do? What are their products and services? What areas do they practice in? What is their history? What is their strategy?
- An understanding of the marketplace– Who are their competitors? How do they differ to their competitors?
- An understanding of the industry– What are the recent developments in the industry? What are the future trends? What are the challenges the the industry currently faces?
How to develop commercial awareness?
Commercial awareness does not come automatically, it is a skill that is developed. It is an attribute that constantly has to be nurtured. Someone once told me that you have to act and think like what you aspire to be. This means that if you are an aspiring lawyer, you have to act and think like one. This means that if you are an aspiring investment banker, you have to act and think like one and so forth. As part of your profession, it is important to research and know what is happening within your industry. In particular what is affecting your industry, the economic and political influences, your competitors and so forth. This is not only important for knowing what is affecting your clients but the employer you wish to work for. Remember the employer you are applying to is a business too, will want to expand and be successful.
To keep up to date, improve and develop your commercial awareness I have listed websites down below that I think are helpful.
- http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business (When I first started out, I would read this before reading other websites. I found that it give me a foundation to the story)
- http://www.cityam.com/ (An easier read than the FT)
- http://www.lawcareers.net/Information/News/Law-and-business-commercial-news-round-up-051115-05112015 (Every Thursday lawcareers, rounds up the commercial news of the week)
- http://www.theguardian.com/uk/business (The Guardian has interesting opinion pieces)