How to demonstrate commercial awareness to an employer

It’s not easy to define ‘commercial awareness’ however it’s a skill that more and more employers are demanding across every sector, not just in business and finance. When faced with an interview question that asks you to talk about your commercial awareness even the most battle-hardened of candidates is liable to feel uneasy and perhaps lacking in confidence.

So let’s first consider what commercial awareness actually means. It’s both an abstract concept and a key employability skill that can be developed over time. We see countless articles dealing with commercial matters in the daily press and also numerous news stories that may, at first glance, appear not to have any commercial impact e.g the Ukraine Crisis was reported mainly in terms of the military campaign however it has had a big impact on the retail industry in the UK, especially the high-end sector. In a similar way, the Ebola outbreak has stimulated the pharmaceutical Industry to come up with an effective vaccine – a big commercial outcome.

Assessing commercial awareness

So how do employers assess commercial awareness at an interview? Roleplays are becoming increasingly popular as they are often viewed as one of the best ways to see if a candidate can, for example, understand the sales process and what it takes to actually buy something from them.

Good commercial awareness is understanding how an organisation works and what makes an organisation tick e.g employers will be looking for candidates that have an understanding of outcomes from a particular sales interaction, with a clear understanding of (profit & loss) P&L from top to bottom and a solid understanding of the core levers of business. Employers view candidates who can demonstrate commercial awareness as being able to add value to the business.

Performing at a job interview

When running through an example at an interview that demonstrates your commercial awareness, employers want to see a structural and logical response. They want to see your thought process in action. The best way to do this is to introduce a summary sentence initially rather than simply a ‘brain dump’ on the interviewer. It’s important to consider your points carefully along with the language that you will use to make points. For example if interviewing for a position with company X you would want to consider the headline areas that company X operates in. The best answers you can provide are clear, structured and logical. Confidence goes without saying and if you are making a commercial point in an interview you must understand it so that you can be better prepared for any challenges that the interviewers may counter with. It’s important, therefore, to be able to prepare the strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities within the sectors that company X operates in.

From a commercial awareness perspective, performing well at an interview requires research into the organisation and relating this to your past experience in the military, business and also your own personal qualities.