Commercial awareness

In the hunt for an internship or graduate scheme place in consulting, commercial awareness is crucial.

In the hunt for an internship or graduate scheme place in consulting, commercial awareness is crucial.

Here's how you can boost your commercial awareness, and turn yourself from a student into a potential consulting star.

Commercial awareness for a consulting interview step 1: 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.

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 consulting industry publications, such as Consulting Magazine and McKinsey Quarterley. Also look at industry publications for the industries you’d like to have clients in – for example, the OGM for the energy industry, or The Banker for finance. 

Also look out for novels, plays and films about consulting. These sources won’t always give you gospel truth, but you’ll get unique insights that will set you apart from many other candidates, and some great talking points for when you meet consultants or graduate recruiters from consulting firms.

Commercial awareness for a consulting interview step 2: 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 interested in working in consulting. 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 consulting. Chat to representatives from consulting firms at campus networking events, mine your friends and family for connections, and try to use internship and graduate scheme interviews as learning opportunities.

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

Commercial awareness for a consulting interview step 3: 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. 

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 and current threats and opportunities, and also consider how it fits into its industry as a whole.