What is commercial awareness?

Book open Reading time: 5 mins

Commercial awareness is an understanding of how industries and businesses work. It’s about knowing what’s going on in the world and analysing the way it might impact your chosen sector and company.

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Being commercially aware is a core skill that most employers look for, particularly in the application and interview stage, so it’s essential that you’re aware of what it is and how it can help you stand out in the application process.

Person reading a newspaper to find out what commercial awareness is

Which sectors look for commercial awareness?

Commercial awareness is possibly the most vital skill for graduate roles in Banking, Accountancy and Finance, but it’s relevant for all applications you complete regardless of sector.

If you’re thinking about Law, for example, you’ll need to know how the legal sector operates, who the major players are, what recent economic, political or regulatory changes might have impacted the industry and what emerging challenges or opportunities for the industry might be.

If it’s Marketing, advertising or media in which you’re interested, you’ll need to know the latest advertising deals, the success of recent campaigns and movements within the industry.

If you don't know which career path to choose, try our career test.

Where might commercial awareness come up?

Commercial awareness can come up at any stage of the application process, from interviews and assessment centres to application forms themselves. It’s important to know how you can display your commercial awareness at each stage so you have all the chances of impressing an employer.

Read: How to demonstrate your commercial awareness and put your knowledge to good use.

Why is commercial awareness important?

Leading graduate employers expect you to have strong commercial awareness. On application forms and at interviews, firms are likely to test your knowledge of the sector and the environment the company works in. The strongest candidates will have a clear understanding of how the changes in the business world impact the firm. Plus, fully understanding their challenges and the marketplace they operate in isn’t just useful during the application – it will give you the upper hand when starting at the firm.

Five reasons why commercial awareness is useful

  1. It can help you become an expert in the industry or businesses you’re interested in.
  2. It allows you to intelligently speculate the future of an industry. 
  3. Commercial awareness helps you predict future trends by having an understanding of the past.
  4. You can better understand the marketplace.
  5. It can help you improve your knowledge of the top players or competitors in your sector or business.

How to improve your commercial awareness


1. Stay switched on and up-to-date

It's easy in the midst of university life to forget about the outside world. However, staying up-to-date doesn't have to be laborious, nor does it mean reading the Financial Times cover to cover on a daily basis.

Podcasts have increased in popularity in the past few years and are easy to access. We recommend "Thinking Commercially", Bright Network's own commercial awareness podcast in partnership with commercial awareness author, Christ Stoakes. Find it on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Google Podcasts and get monthly updates on what's going on in business and industry. 

Radio 4’s Today – their flagship news and current affairs programme, is a great place to find out what’s happening in the world. It’s on from 6am until 9am, but with iPlayer, there’s no excuse for those of you who aren’t early risers.

Other programmes on Radio 4 to look out for are Evan Davis' business conversations programme, The Bottom Line - great for gaining insights into strategy and business and The Media Show – all about the fast-changing media world.

Another excellent tip is to sign up for Google Alerts for top companies and leaders so that you receive breaking news directly to your inbox. 

Want to prepare for potential commercial awareness questions for your interview? Use our helpful practice questions to get started.

2. Read stories you’re truly interested in

Improving your commercial awareness doesn’t have to be a chore. Discover what you’re truly interested in and learn from there. When using story examples in an interview or assessment centre to demonstrate your commercial awareness, employers will be able to see if you’re truly interested and passionate about the topic. 

Learn how to demonstrate your commercial awareness.

3. Have a point of view

Knowing the facts about an industry is important but having a sound point of view on them will help you to stand out further.

Citing detailed regulatory changes is all well and good but what do you think it means for the industry? Is it good or bad and if you were CEO, what would you do? 

Start applying a spot of analytical thinking – and you’ll soon find yourself becoming more informed and connected to the industries or businesses you’re interested in. 

4. Do it yourself - get some experience

One of the best ways to learn more about an industry is to work in it. Whether it's an insight day or a week-long placement, experience helps you discover how a company runs on a day-to-day basis and will show you why they make certain decisions. In addition, you’ll strengthen your CV and start to identify whether you’re suited to and enjoy working in that industry. 

One of the best ways in which you can get to grips with a particular sector is to join sector-focused university societies and/or commercial awareness clubs. Take advantage of what university can offer you - reading about news and current affairs is only one part of it – you need to get used to talking about it too and that’s where societies come in. The more you can show you are keen to learn the greater your chances of success. 

Discover what you’re really good at and how to develop your skills.

5. Use your connections

Whether you’re a LinkedIn whizz or you’re new to building your network, this is a great time to make genuine connections with business experts or leaders in your industry who can offer you guidance for commercial awareness. Talking to experienced business leaders or those in your industry will help you grow your confidence when demonstrating commercial awareness at interviews. Use this time to be inquisitive and engaged with the discussion and make sure to form your own opinions too. 

Having this experience of discussing commercial awareness will help broaden your knowledge of your sector and it’ll show employers you know your stuff.

Improve your commercial awareness with Bright Network Academy

Take the Bright Network Academy Commercial Awareness course delivered by a commercial awareness expert and author, Chris Stoakes to learn how to develop your awareness and more.