Commercial Awareness



Employers keep asking about “commercial awareness”: what do they mean and how can I show them that I have it?

Why is it important?

Is it only relevant to business careers?

 “Never say, ‘I want to be in publishing because I love books.

Of course that is important but you need to make it very clear that you understand publishing is a profit-orientated business like any other

.... Being clued up on the issues facing the industry—from the changing role of the author to digital rights and intellectual property—is impressive to an employer and work experience is often the best way to develop this commercial awareness". 

The Bookseller

It is relevant to every career!

See the quotes in the yellow boxes to the right.

Employers may look for evidence of CA in your answers to general questions:

Or you may be asked more specific questions to demonstrate your commercial awareness:

Questions about your work experience

For help answering these see our Answers to 150 common interview questions

Motivation-based interviews

Some organisations such as the Financial Services Authority (FSA) have changed their whole selection process to focus on motivation. The FSA reviewed their graduate selection process as applications had increased 300% due to the recession, costing more staff time and money.

Analysing candidate performance revealed that competency-based questions were no longer a reliable indicator of a candidate’s ability. Assessors were also surprised by the number of candidates who were unable to say


Many candidates had failed to research the organisation sufficiently, only looking at the company website and making no attempt to talk to current employees and alumni at the organisation or to understand the core values and culture.

Commercial awareness is increasingly seen as crucial for the functioning of the NHS ...  the new NHS Commercial Operating Model is changing the rules of procurement – and opening doors for the medtech industry.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants say that the big thing their employers feedback to them is that students need to improve their commercial awareness. ICAEW recommends following relevant stories on the news that interest you e.g. in the recent cases of well-known retail companies going into administration, find out who the administrators were etc. They also stressed the value of part time jobs for gaining commercial awareness.

As motivation and business acumen were the root cause of these issues, they looked at methods to test this at earlier stages in selection.

The following changes were introduced:

The recruitment team could screen out candidates who had not carefully considered the FSA as an employer or who did not have the capability to be successful.

Making the form harder also meant that candidates making lots of ill-considered applications (the scattergun approach) did not even complete the form: they had over six thousand unsubmitted applications.

This also resulted in:


Some other companies have reviewed their recruitment methods to take this into account. In these companies interviewers drill down to the core motivations of the candidate, leading to a higher percentage of offers of employment being accepted rather than applicants waiting for a better offer

Companies want to see that the applicant has gone the extra mile of meeting people on campus and has made a well informed decision on the companies they will apply to.

For more about motivational questions see our page on this


How to get commercial awareness:

Further information

Last fully updated in 2015