What is commercial awareness?

We all know you need this if you’re going to secure a graduate job. It’s up there with the list of key attributes, team-working, communication skills, attention to detail, analytical ability, but what does it actually mean? How do you get to be “commercially aware” and how do you display it?

It’s about the news

newspapers-pile300At the most basic level it’s about what’s going on in the world. Do you know what the lead national and international news stories are today? What about yesterday? Last week? Too busy with academic work? No interviews coming up, so no need to engage?

A knowledge of what is happening in the world can’t be built in a few days or weeks. If you’re going to show that you’re commercially aware you need to start engaging with the news. It’s never too soon!

So what news?

Young businessman sleeping on his deskIn our interlinked world all news is relevant and we all need a solid overview, but it’s worth thinking about the sector that interests you. If you want to go into Human Rights, then you need to be on top of news stories in that area. If you’re looking for something more commercial, then the business news is for you. So what if you want to be a commercial lawyer and yet you find yourself primarily interested in the human rights stories? Should you rethink your values and aspirations? Maybe. You ought to be fascinated and enthused by news which relates to the market sector you’re planning to enter. If you simply can’t muster the energy to follow news relevant to that career plan, then perhaps you should ask yourself why. You might also wonder how on earth you’re going to convince those canny graduate recruiters that you’re the right person for the job? It could be time for a careers appointment!

How to keep up with what’s going on

The great thing about the twenty-first century is how easy it is to keep up with the news. You can do it all day, with minimal disruption to everything else you wanted/ needed to do. I start when I get up. I read BBC and The Guardian news while I eat some cereal (showcasing excellent multi- tasking ability!) When I get to the office I’ll find newsfeeds for Finimize , Lexology and probably The Lawyer. The first gives me a quick explanation of  something in the news, Lexology tells me which firms are acting on what legal matters and The Lawyer keeps me up to date with legal gossip.

What about social media

reading-eating300This is another great way to keep up to date quickly with what’s going on. You can follow organisations or individuals on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. Quick links will keep you abreast of breaking news and comment and you can follow up in more detail when you have time. It isn’t just about the news, it’s also about keeping up with publicity machines. If you’ve a list of target employers in mind, it’s obvious that you’ll want to know what they’re putting out on social media. A word of caution though, don’t get overenthusiastic! Make sure that these chosen employers can’t see FB photos of some of your most exciting nights out.

And to follow up …

efiles300Just keeping an eye out for what’s going on generally might work for me, but I’m not planning to have to answer interview questions on international human rights abuses, or the latest fluctuations in the price of oil anytime soon. If you’re thinking about applications then now’s the time for a more structured approach to processing all the information coming at you. Chose some topics that really interest you. Fracking? Artificial Intelligence? Social welfare policy? It doesn’t matter what you choose, provided it’s broadly relevant to the area you think you want to work in. Start to collect information, articles and comments on your chosen areas. Look at relevant journals and publications, The Economist and the Financial Times are authoritative and will help you to form opinions. Try Huffington Post and The New Yorker, for human rights perhaps Amnesty or Liberty. Keep e-files (or paper if it’s your thing) and update them regularly. Do this and think about the news  you’re following. Work out why it’s important and how it might change markets or affect businesses. When it comes to application forms or interview questions about the news you’ll be ready, and what’s more you’ll inform other answers with all the information you’ve gathered. It’s a big step towards being obviously commercially aware!


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