Are you commercially aware?
Commercial 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.
- 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.
- 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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