Discover IEUK: Your launchpad to career success

Join us from 17th - 20th June for a transformative 4-day virtual internship experience! Applications are now open. This unique opportunity offers you the chance to take part in real-life case studies and workshops, as well as network with top employers - including British Airways, BT Group, Clyde & Co and PwC. Don’t miss out!

What is commercial awareness?

Book open Reading time: 30 mins

Being commercially aware is a core skill that most graduate employers look for, particularly in the application and interview stages. It can help you stand out in the application process for jobs, placements and internships. So, what is commercial awareness?

Commercial awareness is an understanding of how industries and businesses work. It’s about knowing what’s going on in the sector and analysing the way it might impact your role and your company. Being commercially aware means you're on top of the latest trends and news in your field and you know who the major players are.

Join the UK's number one graduate careers network.

Becoming a Bright Network member is easy and free – sign up to get exclusive access to jobs, events, networking opportunities, advice and more.

Which sectors look for commercial awareness?

Commercial awareness is probably most vital for graduate roles in banking, accountancy and finance, but it’s relevant for all applications you complete regardless of industry.

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

If you're focused on marketing, advertising or media, you’ll need to know the latest advertising deals, the success of recent campaigns and movements within the industry. What's the recent advert that everyone's talking about? Who made it? And so on.

Many sectors are being impacted by new artificial intelligence technologies. If you don't know where to start with your research, think about how AI might be affecting the jobs and industries you're interested in.

If you're not sure which sector is for you, 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 the best chance of impressing a potential employer.

Find out how to demonstrate your commercial awareness and put your knowledge to good use.

A man reading a business newspaper

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, knowing the challenges of the marketplace isn’t just useful during the application – it will give you the upper hand when starting at the firm, too.

Five ways commercial awareness will help you

  1. Being commercially aware takes you one step closer to being an expert in your subject matter.
  2. Knowing the ins and outs of the industry lets you make informed predictions about the future.
  3. Commercial awareness gives you context of your industry's past, and why it is the way it is now.
  4. Understanding the marketplace you operate within helps you make smarter decisions.
  5. Knowing the top players or competitors in your sector or business keeps you sharp and ahead of the curve.

Where to go for commercial awareness information

Trade publications

Whatever your sector, there will be at least a few trade publications out there for you to keep up with. For example, if you're interested in advertising and media, consider checking out The Drum, Campaign or AdAge.

Once you find publications you like, you can follow them on other platforms, too – the big media firms will usually have social accounts, YouTube channels or even their own podcasts.


Listening to podcasts is an easy way to get your fix of industry updates. We recommend 'Thinking Commercially' Bright Network's own commercial awareness podcast in partnership with commercial awareness author, Chris Stoakes. Find it on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Google Podcasts and get monthly updates on what's happening in business.

Radio 4’s Today is Radio 4's flagship news and current affairs programme, is a great place to find out what’s happening in the world. It’s on live from 6 am until 9 am, and it's also available on iPlayer.

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

Social media

Follow a few people and pages that post professional content that interests you, and the algorithms will take it from there. LinkedIn is a particularly great place to follow thought leaders in your space and keep up with companies you're interested in.

If you don't know where to start, try searching hashtags for your field. Start with broad terms like #commerciallaw or #digitalmarketing, and you'll have found your new favourite accounts in no time.

Just make sure to check account credentials – YouTube, Instagram and TikTok can be great sources of knowledge, but you should make sure the creator checks out first, so you're only getting your info from the real experts.

Newsletters and email alerts

For commercial information that lands straight in your inbox, sign up for newsletters by thought leaders in your field, or weekly roundups from news organisations.

You can also consider setting up Google Alerts for breaking industry news, so you know as soon as new shifts take place in the sector.

Five ways to improve your commercial awareness

1. Make staying up-to-date a habit

It's easy to forget about the outside world when you're at university. However, staying up-to-date doesn't have to be laborious. There are plenty of ways to keep up that will suit your habits and your schedule. For example, you could use your daily bus ride to read up on industry news, or have your breakfast while listening to a business podcast. Once you incorporate it into your daily or weekly routine, commercial awareness will feel like second nature.

2. Read stories you’re truly interested in

Improving your commercial awareness doesn’t have to be a chore. Find out what you’re truly interested in and learn from there. Bringing up recent news stories or industry trends in interviews or assessment centres shows employers that you’re truly passionate about the topic. 

3. Develop 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 analytical thinking – 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. Work experience will strengthen your CV and help you decide what areas of the industry appeal to you most.

One of the best ways to get to grips with a particular sector is to join sector-focused university societies or commercial awareness clubs. Take advantage of what your university can offer you. Reading about news and current affairs is helpful, but you need to get used to talking through your thoughts, and that’s where societies come in. The more you can show you're 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 people in your industry will help you grow your confidence so you're more comfortable demonstrating commercial awareness at interviews. Be inquisitive and engaged when you chat to people in your field. Ask questions, and make sure to form your own opinions too. 

Having experience of discussing commercial awareness will help broaden your knowledge and show potential employers that you know your stuff.

Improve your commercial awareness with Bright Network Academy.

Our Academy's Commercial Awareness course is delivered by a commercial awareness expert and author, Chris Stoakes.