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Improving your commercial awareness

An introduction to this process that's key to getting a graduate job
Commercial awareness
Improving your commercial awareness

In the hunt for a graduate job, particularly one in the business and finance worlds, commercial awareness is crucial.

Here's how you can put your understanding of this concept into practice, and turn yourself from a student into a potential employee.

Get commercial information

There's far more to commercial awareness than reading the news, but a good general awareness of current business issues and stories is an essential part of it.

You'll get a good overview of what's going on in the business world from The Gateway, but for more in-depth coverage you need to supplement it with a mainstream business publication - we'd recommend the Financial Times or the Economist, and all the national broadsheets also have excellent, if less extensive, business coverage.

The Economist and the Financial Times are lengthy and dense publications, so to get the most out of them use a filleting strategy. Start by checking out their coverage of any stories that have caught your eye in The Gateway and articles on issues that are of particular interest to you. Then go to their summaries of the latest news - found on the front page of the Financial Times and in the first few pages of the Economist.

Next, look at what their editorial teams think is most interesting at the moment - see the Economist's cover story and the Lex column on the back page of the Financial Times. Finally, it's a good idea to keep an eye on key market indexes the FTSE 100 and the S&P 500, the price of gold, and two key oil prices, Brent Crude and West Texas Intermediate - how these fluctuate can tell you a lot about the health of the global economy and the business world.

Don't forget the general business information available on TV and radio - information in these formats can be easier to digest than print. For TV, try the BBC's business coverage, or that of specialist channels like Bloomberg TV. On the radio, BBC Radio 4 is a great place to start - the station's news programmes always have a good sprinkling of business stories, and there are also great specialist shows like Money Box, In Business, and The Bottom Line. We'd also recommend US station NPR's excellent Planet Money podcast.

To deepen your knowledge, also read industry-specific publications, such as The Lawyer, Accountancy Age or The OGM (for the energy industry). Look at publications for both the industry you want to enter and, if applicable, the industries you'd like to have clients in.

Keep an eye on lighthearted industry gossip websites, such as Wall Street Oasis (for bankers) or Roll on Friday (for City lawyers), and also look out for novels, plays and films about the industries you're interested in or the business world in general. These sources won't always give you gospel truth (high finance is not exactly like The Wolf of Wall Street), but you'll get unique insights that will set you apart from many other candidates, and some great talking points for when you meet those working in the relevant industry.

Get into the commercial world

It's very important to not just absorb but also process and analyse commercial information. As you acquire new information, bring it together with what you've learnt from other sources and form your own opinions.

You could also set up a commercial awareness discussion group with other students. You could get together to discuss and share information on a particular commercial topic, take turns to brief the others, or even role-play a commercial scenario.

As you become more confident in your knowledge and understanding, take every opportunity you can to discuss commercial topics with those working in the business world. Chat to representatives of graduate employers at campus networking events, mine your friends and family for connections, and try to use job and internship interviews as learning opportunities.

Attending events, such as conferences and lectures, on commercial topics can also be a great way to both gain new information about commercial issues and to share views with others.

Get commercially active

Remember that commercial awareness is as much a way of thinking as a body of knowledge, and one of the best ways to understand how people in the business world do things is to get involved in a commercial project yourself.

If you can think of a product or service that you could sell, why not set up your own small business? You can also get insights into the workings of a business by helping to run a university society. For the finance-focused, putting real or imaginary money at stake by trading shares or other assets, as part of a university investment society or on your own, will quickly sharpen your understanding of how businesspeople operate.

Finally, don't forget your part-time or holiday job - this experience will give you valuable first-hand information about a real business. Think about the strengths and weaknesses of the business, current threats and opportunities, and how it fits into its industry as a whole.