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Commercial Awareness

Commercial Awareness: This is a key employability skill!

Being able to show that you that you have an understanding of the market place in which a business or service operates and an understanding of what makes a business successful is a key requirement in most occupations and is very important when applying for a graduate job. Careers and Employability can help give you some ideas to improve your commercial awareness and therefore your employability and your CV!

What Is Commercial Awareness?

Many graduate recruiters complain about the lack of business or commercial awareness in applicants- they want candidates who have an understanding of the market place in which their business or service operates and an understanding of what makes  a business successful. Recruiters are looking  for applicants who have a “business brain”- that is, applicants who demonstrate that they can exercise sound judgment and have a good work ethic. This is equally important whether the organisation operates in the public or private sector. You don’t have to be applying for a career in business or commerce to need business skills- even a journalist, arts administrator or a charity worker needs to show commercial awareness!

This might involve proving that you:

  • understand the organisation’s mission and aims    
  • understand the sector that the company/organisation belongs to    
  • are aware of the political and economic issues affecting the organisation    
  • are aware of the major competitors    
  • understand the commercial priorities of the organisation    
  • understand the importance of a good work ethic.    

The website of the University of Bradford Career Development Services has some useful information on the skills involved in commercial awareness.

Where To Start

Remember, you need to prove to employers that you have commercial awareness, with tangible evidence to back up your claims. So think about what you have achieved so far. If you are struggling to think of examples that illustrate your commercial skills, here are some ideas to think about:

Find Part-Time Work  

Not only a great way to earn money to keep you going whilst you study, part-time work will help you to increase your employability skills and will impress employers. Thinking about the wider environment that you work in, gives you an excellent source of material to impress a graduate interviewer. For  example,  if you work in a shop, can you talk about the shop’s immediate rivals or competitors? Can you discuss the wider issues facing the retail industry? Do you have any ideas about how your particular company plans to develop in the future?

If you have worked in a pub, you may be asked about the beer industry or issues facing the drinks industry.

Make sure you have some ideas at your fingertips. Being able to talk about issues like these will prove to a recruiter that you have an interest in how business works and an understanding of the importance of commercial awareness.


Not only can you help local groups, this will give you a chance to demonstrate that you have commercial awareness. You need to think about the wider sector that you volunteer in.

For example, if you volunteer for a local conservation project, think about the wider issues impacting on the environment or think about the way the organisation is funded. This will help show that you understand the implications of decisions that have been made or appreciate why particular priorities have been set. All key elements of commercial awareness!

Start Preparing Your CV  

If you are applying for a part-time job whilst studying at the University, many employers will ask you to send in your CV (resumé). Your CV is your marketing tool. It summarises your qualifications, experience and skills. If you start preparing your CV now, it can also act as a template that you can  develop  as you progress through University. This will save you a lot of time in the future if you have all your information collected in one place.

As you develop more evidence of your commercial awareness skills, you can add it to your CV and develop a strong bank of evidence that will help when you come to apply for graduate jobs.

Careers and Employability has a range of resources to help you to write a CV and/or covering letter. These can be picked up in person from Careers and Employability or found online.

Get Involved!  

Think about taking on a role within a society that demonstrates your commercial awareness; for example, you could take on a position such as treasurer, fundraiser etc. You could take part in appropriate workshops and activities, such as business games or entrepreneurial/start your own business competitions. For  example, Student Entrepreneurs Network Salford aims to provide a challenging environment to allow members to enhance entrepreneurial skills and develop knowledge and understanding of what is needed to be a successful entrepreneur. This can be a great place to gain  commercial awareness!

Keep Informed!  

To prove your commercial awareness, you need to know what is happening generally in the market place. Read the business pages of newspapers such as The Guardian, The Independent or The Times.

Online newspapers are also an excellent way of finding up to the minute details of a company's activities-impress at interview with your current awareness.

Many national newspapers can be searched online via the Infotrac databases, available via The Library at the University of Salford.

Check out the Business and Money section of the BBC website which is a good source of business and topical news. Make sure you do this regularly to build up breadth and depth of knowledge.

Read the Specialist Press!  

This is really important if you are interested in a specific sector. For example, the Society Guardian is really useful for background knowledge of the public sector, the Media Guardian will enhance your understanding of media developments and the Times Educational Supplement is an essential read for anyone looking for work in the education sector.

It is important that you are aware of any relevant professional journals such as New Scientist, Nature, Broadcast, The Actuary etc. for your particular sector. You can find out what  professional journals are  available by making use of your University library or the local public library.

You can save time in your research by making use of resources that other information professionals have put together. For example, the British Library provides a useful overview of sources - their industry guides will give you details of sources to check for competitors, the market and the latest news on your chosen sector.

Do Your Research!    

Good research demonstrates a practical grasp and understanding of the pressures organisations face and an awareness of external influences. It also shows you have a genuine interest in the organisation.

For example, if you are applying to a bank, you need to know general information about the financial markets worldwide and you need to know specific information on where your targeted organisation fits into the market place. Who are their major competitors, what market share do they have, what are their priorities and aims?

The Library at the University of Salford provides access to a range of company and market databases that may help when researching companies.

Databases of use include

  • Business Source Premier - this contains overviews of leading companies, providing a Datamonitor Report with a SWOT analysis (strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats) for the companies covered. This database also gives you access to the full text of over 8,500 journals - vital for up-to-date information on a company.    
  • Market research information often contains useful information on companies, giving details on competitors, an overview of the environment in which a particular company operates and future development opportunities. The most well-known examples are Mintel and Keynote market research reports.