The Cardiff Award has just entered its 4th year; if you are a follower of our posts you will know that its aim is to develop employability skills that are transferable across industries, including COMMERCIAL AWARENESS.
We seek feedback every year and in the main it is positive; some students however feel the heavy focus on commercial awareness pitches the Award at business students. But this is such a misconception. This year I am making it my mission to demystify this term and make Cardiff students understand it is an essential attribute regardless of career choice.
Firstly, why does the Award focus on commercial awareness? A CBI survey in 2009 found that 35% of employers were dissatisfied with the business and customer awareness of graduates, and anecdotal feedback from Award sponsors and key recruiters is consistent with these findings. If the Awards aims to make its students more employable, then developing participants commercial awareness is a priority.
What is it?
Put simply, it is having an understanding of what makes any business or organisation successful and understanding the factors that influence this success. It is being able to demonstrate that you that you have an understanding of the market place in which a business or service operates. Understanding what makes an organisation or business successful is a key requirement in most occupations and is extremely important when applying for a graduate job
So, when applying for a role in an ANY organisation or business it is understanding:
- The sector and market place they operate in.
- Who their key stakeholders are (customers, suppliers, competitors).
- How they remain profitable/successful (all commercial businesses,schools, hospitals and charities have to perform to exist)
It is also understanding why you are applying to them, what motivates you, how much do you know about their values, their culture, the staff and the role you are applying for. Where might the position take you within the organisation/the industry.
It sounds complicated but it’s not! All it means is using the critical thinking skills you develop in your academic study to help gain an understanding of the career/sector/organisation/business you want to work in. Importantly, doing this will help you develop a better understanding of your career motivations too – is this organisation/sector right for you? Knowing about the organisation and why you want to work there is powerful in the application process.
This should apply to all roles, for example:
- Teachers need to be aware of current trends in education and political influences that may impact on what and how they teach.
- Journalists need to know who their customers are and how to keep them engaged, they should know who their competitors are and how to stay ahead of them; they need to understand and keep up-to-date with emerging technologies that may impact on their readership etc.
- Aspiring publishers need to know how the industry makes a profit, (it’s not enough to enjoy literature).
- Fundraisers for charity/voluntary organisations need to think about how they make their organisation stand out from the 1000s of others out there.
- Scientists need to understand the potential impact of their research
I could go on but hopefully I have made you think?
Developing Commercial Awareness
You don’t have to be working in a business to develop business/commercial acumen.
- You may work part time in retail or hospitality. Think about them in a business context instead of purely a financial means. Who are their customers, how do they make a profit (e.g. promotional activity) and how do you help with this? Who are the competitors, how do they differentiate themselves from them? What impact have you had on your department’s success (have you won awards for good customer service or have you been given extra responsibilities)? Are you aware of how your department combats losses? How have you helped with this? This can be easily articulated on a CV, or in an interview!
- Involved in a Society? – How does your society ensure sustainability? How does it generate income? How do you attract new members over other societies? What is your unique selling point? What activities have you been involved in that have impacted on the society’s success?
- As a volunteer what is your role? What do you do that impacts on the organisation’s success and how do you represent them?
- If you’re an academic rep then why is your work important to the University? In a wider context why is it important that the University satisfies its student’s needs? How are you impacting on this?
On a basic level make sure you keep up-to-date with current affairs. For example read the Financial Times or trade press for your industry (mention this in your CV by the way!) If you don’t keep abreast of issues in the industry you wish to work in then you should!
Prior to an interview or an application, research the company and role you are applying to and go deeper than looking at their ‘about us’ page. Use LinkedIn to follow companies; have they got a Facebook page that provides a discussion forum about the company and the role you are applying for? Is there a particular project that you have read about that impresses you? You should also be aware of societal or economic events / trends / news stories that have happened in recent years and affected the company or sector.
I could go on but this post is already too long! I hope this has made you think about how you are developing your commercial awareness through your everyday activities and now realise that it actually applies to students across all degree disciplines and for all roles.
Remember every organisation/business in all sectors needs to operate successfully to exist.