All 2 entries tagged Commercial Awareness

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October 09, 2012

Entrepreneurship – the alternative career path

EntrepreneurshipWarwick graduate Mahdi Shariff talks about the (career) path less travelled - entrepreneurship...

With a tough job market and tuition fee rises for higher education, the options for a fresh graduate seem to be narrowing; don't assume, however, that your options are confined to Milkround.com. An alternative - but frequently overlooked - career path is Entrepreneurship. Whether or not you have ever considered starting your own company, or even if you are dead set on joining the corporate ranks, by developing an entrepreneurial mindset you can determine your own success in whichever path you choose to follow.

What are your options?

Whether you're still studying or freshly graduated, securing entrepreneurial experiences will help develop the key skills and attributes that employers are looking for. These can come from a range of formal and informal experiences, so here are a few suggestions to get you started.

University societies & competitions

Entrepreneurial societies, such as Warwick Entrepreneurs and SIFE (Students In Free Enterprise), are great at nurturing entrepreneurial talent. By getting involved with these projects early in your university career, not only will it get you in the right mindset, but you will be given the opportunity to gain experiences outside of your comfort zone as well as introducing you to potential employers. The Warwick Apprentice competition (run by Warwick Entrepreneurs) is a perfect example of this. With over 100 students involved and teams being 'fired' at each round, it is a fiercely competitive challenge and a high pressure environment. Each team were given a new task each day for a week, ranging from sales and negotiation to investment and marketing, with the final teams pitching to four Managing Directors of Credit Suisse. Not only did they gain a unique networking opportunity, the winners (Yaw Okyere, Lexie Titterington & Mahdi Shariff) shared £1200 prize money and developed themselves personally through their involvement in the competiton. Getting involved with these activities early on in your university career will ensure you have the right kind of experience to help you establish your own business, secure further work experience and may even make the difference between graduate employment and the job centre.

Internships & start-up experience

Entrepreneurial internships and working in startups are great sources of experience for both graduates and undergraduates. Sites such as Enternships and Workinstartups have made the process of finding these startup opportunities even easier, and with positions across a range of functions and industries, you can now strategically plot your career path. Working in a startup not only gives you the chance to demonstrate your initiative and drive, but offers you highly differentiated and relevant experience, and exposure to roles and responsibilites beyond that of a normal entry-level graduate position. Even if you find that the path of the entrepreneur is not for you, your time will have been well spent gaining a valuable network of contacts in your industry, developing new skills and a better understanding of the career you wish to pursue, or at the very least, a set of perfect competency based examples that every graduate dreams of.

An internship in a startup is a great way to gain experience and learn about business. It can also end up as a permanent position, as many startups use internships as a way to find graduate talent - Rajeeb Dey, CEO & Founder, Enternships.com

Entrepreneur First

So graduation day comes and your heart is now set on becoming the next Richard Branson - but where do you go next? Your first port of call should be Entrepreneur First. This is a great government-backed initiative which is the first scheme of its kind to truly offer an estabished route to entrepreneurship for young entrepreneurs straight after graduation. The scheme works by equipping you with the skills, training and environment you need to succeed. They help to build startups that lead to economic growth and job creation by focussing on three things:

  1. Supporting people who have the ambition to build scalable businesses
  2. Only supporting startups that want to innovate
  3. Selecting people who have the skills (either technical or business-related) to make the first two things a reality

This highly sought after scheme also provides mentoring, office space, introductions to investor networks, and a warm welcome to a group of ambitious, dynamic young entrepreneurs. This could just be the place to find your next cofounder, discover an exciting business venture or even befriend the next Steve Jobs.

So why do we think EF is different? EF is designed to help build the type of startups that do lead to economic growth and job creation. So, if you have the ambition and the skill, EF is a great place to get started - Matt Clifford, CEO of Entrepreneur First

Supporting partners of the scheme include McKinsey&Company, Microsoft and Silicon Valley Bank, so even if things don't quite work out as planned, in true entrepreneurial form you can bounce back and use this experience to convince employers that you're creative, enterprising and prepared to take a risk. With applications opening from September, you can find out more at Entrepreneur First or get in touch with two of Warwick's own top grads @IsaacLewis @evidetta who are currently on the scheme.

Watch out for the band wagon

Although entrepreneurship offers a wealth of opportunity, it can be a rocky road, with successs some way in the future. And that's before we mention the hard graft - palatable to some, but not for the faint-hearted. So at this pivotal stage of your career, before you quit the job search and begin working on a start-up, think carefully - have you got the makings of an entrepreneur, or do you value security and certainty? The entrepreneurial lifestyle can be exciting and rewarding, but it's not for the risk averse.

High-growth entrepreneurship should be viewed as a high-skill profession. Initiatives that present founding a business as an accessible alternative to employment, particularly in a difficult economic climate, will tend to produce in aggregate a group of new firms that are not well equipped to scale - Peter Tufano, Dean of Oxford's Said Business School and Founder of the Harvard Innovation Lab Schemes

This is why schemes like Entrepreneur First are highly selective and prestigious - they only support individuals making a conscious decision to pursue entrepreneurship. And it works - some of the first graduates to complete the Entrepreneur First scheme are turning their backs on city jobs to pursue their ambitions instead. Being able to make these decisions requires a high level of confidence and assertion about your future goals and objectives. This is why gaining entrepreneurial experiences early on in your career gives you the grounding and confidence to make a measured and educated decision on which path is right for you.

The ball's in your court.

With your goal in mind, whether working in a corporate or with plans for entrepreneurial world domination - entrepreneurship offers a viable alternative route for those hungry for success. Get those skills out on the court and you might just find employers are more than willing to play ball.

Mahdi Shariff is a Warwick graduate, former winner of the Warwick Apprentice Competition and now works as a Corporate Finance Analyst at Ernst & Young. Read Mahdi's blog for further thoughts on life, work and social media.


August 15, 2012

Are you commercially aware?

Commercial awarenessCommercial awareness: don't start your job search without it. Whether your sights are set on the Square Mile or MediaCity, you'll need a good grasp of commercial awareness to impress potential employers. A recent CBI report (2011) found that employers were dissatisfied with the commercial and business awareness of recent graduates - don't be one of them!

So what is it?

Employers all have slightly different interpretations of commercial awareness, depending on the sector and focus of their organisation but the basic principles remain the same. There's no 'catch all' definition, but think of it as the ability to view organisations from a business or commerical perspective and you won't go far wrong. Which means:

  • understanding the organisation's objectives/mission/strategy
  • recognising the internal/external challenges facing the organisation
  • knowing who the key clients and stakeholders are (and what they want)
  • evaluating what makes a successful business/organisation
  • keeping up to date with trends/developments in the sector.

Underpinning of all this should be a general understanding of the market and how it works. This terminology may jar a little – particularly if your personal values don't quite fit with the profit motive – but it's worth remembering that all organisations are subject to commercial pressures. You can't choose to sidestep this issue and still compete for jobs. Laura, a Warwick grad and intern at TARGETjobs posted a great blog last week, Commercial awareness: the graduate holy grail, confessing her initial discomfort with – and relative ignorance of – commercial awareness. This is a personal journey with a wider message and it's pretty hard to argue with Laura's final conclusion that 'like it or not, every job role requires some commercial awareness and the sooner you get some, the better'.

How to develop it

There's no quick fix. Or app. But there are plenty of practical steps you can take to develop your understanding of business environments. Let's break it down a little further:

Get some work experience

  • If you haven't had any work experience yet, now is the time to start looking. If you can secure a work placement or internship in your chosen sector, great. This will give you a valuable insight into the company or organisation and provide rich material for discussion at the application and interview stage.
  • Don't despair if you haven't got a city internship lined up. What matters to recruiters is your ability to articulate and translate your experience(s). Working as a barista in Starbucks may not win out in the glamour stakes, but you'll still get a good grounding in business processes and customer service.
  • Make your work experience count. Be reflective and observant. Ask yourself: What was the company structure like? Who were the main competitors? And clients? What worked? What didn't?

Go extra curricular

  • If you're still feeling a little squeamish about big corporates then try volunteering. It might not seem an obvious path but consider this: our project leaders in Warwick Volunteers have to manage a budget, project expenditure, allocate resources. I think you get the picture...
  • Get involved with student societies. Perhaps you could pitch for a position on the Exec or manage a marketing or promotional campaign? If you're a complete financial novice, then why not step outside your comfort zone and offer to become treasurer?
  • You could always dip your toe into entrepreneurial waters and join SIFE. Ok, you might not become the Next Big Thing, but it's a sure-fire way to boost your commercial awareness.

Start reading

  • Read quality newspapers, particularly the business pages. You probably don't need to subscribe to the Economist or FT, unless you're hoping to work in the financial sector, in which case both are essential.
  • Most employment areas have specialist press, so make sure you know which journals and magazines to follow. If you're not sure, check our job sector pages.
  • There are some fantastic careers information sites out there - use them! A few of my favourites include TARGETjobs (great for sector specific commercial awareness tips and employer insights), Inside Buzz (especially the company profiles) and TheJobCrowd.
  • If you haven't heard of BizEd, go and have a look around. It's a pretty accessible site and you'll get a good handle on topical business issues.
  • As I've mentioned in a previous blog post, now is the time to set up news feeds and email alerts, as this is a quick and easy way to keep up to date with current and financial affairs.

Research employers

  • Try to bring it all together and make it relevant by following the financial fortunes of a company or organisation that you're interested in. This could be the RSC, a small tech startup or a big global player like Coca-Cola.
  • Develop your understanding further by performing a SWOT analysis: try MarketLine Advantage.
  • Don't forget LinkedIn and Twitter. If you're not quite ready to go public, don't worry - you can adjust the privacy settings and simply use your Twitter feed as an information digest.
  • Attend employer events on campus. Some of our graduate recruiters also run sessions on commercial awareness, so keep checking myAdvantage and the website for the autumn schedule.

Well, this has turned into a marathon post and I still haven't said it all. I hope there's enough to get you started, or at least get you thinking. And if you're still mystified then come and talk to us. We're here all summer and we're certainly not going anywhere during the autumn term...!


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