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How Can I Start to Develop Commercial Awareness?

Commercial awareness is the buzzword on the block in all things finance careers. In order to progress in finance you are going to have to develop a strong understanding of how businesses work and how social, economic and political factors impact a business and the markets themselves.

And you can’t just gain this understanding overnight, last minute exam cram style. This is something that you’ll accrue over time and improve throughout your career, like a fine wine or an exceptional cheese…

Now’s the time to get the ball rolling! Here are some pointers on how you can start to develop commercial awareness.

The Financial Times

If you want to break into a finance career then the Financial Times should be on your essential reading list outside of your school or degree studies. You come across many success stories in the City who don’t keep up with the financial world through the FT.

Don’t be deceived by its pretty pink pages. This juggernaut, casually referred to as the FT, is the publication in the finance world for business, economy and markets news and opinions. It’s a beast!

If you pick up a copy of the FT for the first time and find it an ‘easy read’, then you are probably the first person to have done so…or you are telling porkies. Initially it can feel like a never-ending labyrinth of jargon with some complex figures thrown in there for good measure. But don’t be intimidated. Learning the lingo is a great first step. Begin by getting your head around some key economic concepts, jargon and acronyms and you will start to see the light and understand just what it’s going on about. You can check out our Jargon Buster sections as a solid starting place!  

Know who’s in the game…

Do your research and get to know the movers and shakers in the industries that interest you. You can make efforts to find out about the kinds of clients potential employers work for and follow their progress in the news.

By watching the news and regularly reading the national press as well as the FT you can start to broaden your feel for an industry and your knowledge of its developments.

A daily dose of commercial awareness: engage with what you hear & read…

Commercial awareness is partly about the ability to interpret what you read and hear about on a ‘business level’. If a big story has broken about a company in your target industry or in related industries, ask yourself how might this impact them as a business? What kind of changes could it bring about?

Use your imagination!

If you have limited work experience it can be difficult to get a true sense of how a business functions and succeeds. If you are a school leaver in particular, it can be tricky to demonstrate that kind of awareness. It takes a bit of imagination and interpretation! Learn all you can about the role you aspire to do and imagine you’re doing that job when a story breaks. How might it impact what you do and how you will have to react?

What have you learnt from your work experience?

If you have had work experience in a financial environment, whether that be in a bank or even the local newsagents, they are all businesses and provide the opportunity to learn something about how a business works.

Apply your knowledge of what you find out in the news when you are in a work placement and talk to colleagues to find out how they keep up-to-date and utilise their commercial awareness in their roles.

When it comes to writing those job applications, you should be able to reflect on your experiences and unite them within your overall commercial awareness. Gaining an insider’s perspective on how a business (and perhaps you potential employer) works also counts as commercial awareness. Make sure it shines through in your application and interviews!

By Jos Weale, Editor, AllAboutFinanceCareers.com

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