Commercial awareness: you what?

Katie Morley smooths out the confusion about this often debated and even dreaded concept
Commercial awareness
Improving your commercial awareness

If you want a job in the City, there's one thing that you can't afford to leave behind when you go to an interview - and that's your commercial awareness. Commercial awareness can be loosely defined as someone's general knowledge of business, their work experience and their understanding of the industry which they are applying to join. If you're clueless about the company you've applied to and its place in a wider business context, you'll be out the door quicker than a trader eats his lunch.

We spoke to three recent graduates who've all shown their future employees that they know a thing or two about business, and have landed top jobs. They share their experiences and tips about how they stacked up their knowledge and aced those interviews.

Name: Oliver Grant

Career: law

My first impressions of the term "commercial awareness" was that it was a nebulous one. I first gained an understanding of it through attending lectures hosted by law firms. Through this, I was able to work out what they were looking for - which, in the legal world, is an understanding of how business and law interact. They need you to have some knowledge of the corporate world so that you can understand a client's needs and apply the law accurately and effectively to their issues.

One of the things I was asked at interview was: "How will the banking crisis affect our firm?" I split the firm into its departments, and gave an answer for each. For example, I argued that the recession would be a good thing for litigation because people in a recession are more likely to sue each other.

For a couple of months before my internship, I spent all the time I'd normally waste on Facebook reading the BBC News website. Every story I was looking at, I was thinking: "How could this affect the legal world?"

Name: Emma Shower

Career: audit

I made sure I understood the business area I was applying for, as well as what was going on in the news and in the economy. I was constantly thinking about how what I was reading about could affect the firm and its clients. My main sources of news were newspapers, which I read on a regular basis. I also frequently checked various careers websites, which helped me prepare answers for interviews.

I think it's important to keep tabs on any changes that the firms or companies to which you're applying are making, or events to which they'll have to adapt. I was often asked to discuss a news article and explain how it would affect the firm or the firm's clients, so having a prior knowledge and understanding of it helped me feel well-prepared and in turn, gave me a real confidence boost.

Name: Ricky Ghosh

Career: law

I kept up to date by reading the BBC Business blog, and the business pages of the* Times*. While the FT is a great resource, I don't think its necessary to read it from cover-to-cover every day. It's more about being aware of the commercial rationale for deals rather than the small details of each one. You won't be asked specifically why one type of structure might be used for a merger rather than another. However, you might get asked a general question and if you've done your preparation, you may be able to select a news story and mould one of your answers around it.

Reading a firm's graduate prospectus can also prove to be relatively useful. For instance, if the one for the company or firm to which you're applying mentions that they do a lot of M&A work, it's great to incorporate that into one of your answers, by saying something like: "I'm really interested in mergers and acquisitions, because I like the way that two companies can have similar objectives and functions, and then combine together to become more efficient."

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