Knowing me, knowing you…

We are often told by employers that they are looking for commercial awareness and in turn, we as the Careers and Employability Service tell students that they need to demonstrate this.  What we get in response are usually nodding heads and glazed expressions.  So, I am going to try to tackle what commercial awareness is in a couple of short paragraphs and using examples from employers.

One of the most sought after jobs is ‘something in marketing’, which is great – but what does that mean?  And how would you demonstrate commercial awareness? Well, firstly, you need to know who the competitors of the company are.  That’s quite obvious, but it also helps to know what their strengths and weaknesses are, and which areas of the company are vulnerable.

Look long term – what are the emerging trends that could affect their business?  A short SWOT exercise will help with this.  I was recently involved in interviews for an internship for the South China Media Group and one of the key questions we wanted answered was ‘which publications do the South China Medis Group manage and who are their competitors?’  Working for this organisation is a huge privilege and yet some of the candidates apparently couldn’t be bothered to Google them!  The best answer we received talked about pagination, font, and profile of readers by publication.  They knew their stuff!  Which is just as well – the internship was for a few weeks, and why would the company waste time teaching these basics when there is real work to do?

Another marketing example – a local employer Amelix advertised a marketing role with us.  They had a budget for increasing awareness of their brand and wanted someone to come in and lead on the project.  At interview, they wanted people to pitch ideas of how they would get the name known.  This is the simple part.  The second part of the question was ‘and what would my return on investment be?’.  Too often, people pitch the big ideas but don’t have the commercial awareness to follow these ideas through.  The answers should have involved target markets and likely customers, research into communication methods and examples of whether similar ideas have worked or failed and why.

I gave a workshop on commercial awareness to some PGCE students once and one of them said that they ‘didn’t need commercial awareness – they were going to be teachers’.  This is frustrating and worrying.  As a teacher you will need to know about the law, government funding and policy, developments in technology and theories of pedagogy along with a whole heap of other stuff.  All professions need a wider awareness of the industry in which they work.

A great way of gaining commercial awareness is through reading a good newspaper, listening to radio shows like the Today Programme and reading professional journals.  To think wider and to prepare for an interview – try the PESTLE model. Commercial awareness is integral to understanding and succeeding in your future career.  Admittedly, the name is a bit off-putting – but look at it as understanding the environment that you work in.

My final example comes from a small business owner who said that a member of staff had lost their stapler and needed a new one.  He agreed to purchase one, provided the staff member could show how they were going to secure another customer that month.  A new stapler is £5 – about the level of profit they made per month on each customer.  When you have worked somewhere for a while or work in a big company with a cupboard of staplers, it is easy to forget that every action you make has an impact on the viability of that company.

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