What is commercial awareness and how can I get it?

Graduate employers always seem to be asking for commercial awareness skills, and students often ask me “What is commercial awareness and how can I get it?” Fortunately, there’s a great section on commercial awareness on the careers website, which explains what it is all about and includes links to online games which test and develop this skill (and some of these are actually more fun than you might think!).

So what is it?

The definition most often used is by Christopher Stoakes in his book ‘All You Need to Know About Commercial Awareness’:

“At heart, commercial awareness is about being able to talk to clients, finding out what they want, why they want it, what they will do with it and what they are prepared to pay, and then delivering it in the way they want.

To do that you need to understand how organisations work, the issues they face and the role of people within them.”

Isn’t it really just useful for graduates who want to go into business?

Actually, commercial awareness is important in all sectors. For example, Suzanne Collier, an experienced publishing professional and founder of  Bookcareers.com said:

“Publishing is an industry like any other […] People who have commercial awareness now are more important than people who love books.” (from Guardian Careers podcast, May 2010)

The same is true of the charity and public sectors – these organisations are no less accountable for how they spend their money, just because they are not generating profits for shareholders. Some graduates are surprised to find that charities talk about ‘competitors’ in a similar way to private sector organisations and that fundraising for large charities is big business.

So, apart from playing simulation games online, how else can I develop commercial awareness?

The best way is probably to get work experience in an organisation, but there are other ways to develop commercial awareness too, including:

Here’s what the Business Champions website says about the competition:

The Business Champions Competition challenges undergraduates to come up with a workable money making idea and make it a reality. Supported by seed funding [where necessary] and one-to-one support from an industry mentor, we want you to come up with a money making idea and put it into practice. Whether a business start-up idea, one-off event like a charity ball or sporting activity, or any ‘big idea’ you have up your sleeve, the challenge is to raise as much money as possible for the PwC chosen charity.

If you’re successful you could win a place on PwC’s Talent Academy or an internship, or be headhunted for your skills.

The competition is open to all current university students and you just need a team of 3 or 4 (and of course a great idea)!

Entry submission deadline is 19th November 2010.

Find out more at www.wix.com/bright_futures/businesschampions.

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