One of my colleagues recently attended a session delivered by Neil McGuire from Ernst & Young (EY). The feedback might give you some insight into that elusive skill, ‘commercial awareness’. Although he uses EY examples to demonstrate his points, his advice is relevant whatever sector you might be considering – including academia!
Neil’s definition of ‘commercial awareness’ included being interested in business, being able to relate to clients, and being able to ‘contextualise’ your advice ( ie showing you understand a particular business, its market place and the political, economic, social, technological and environmental factors that impact on it). Colleagues had provided him with a further summary definition that included: recognising industry leaders; being aware of market and financial trends; having knowledge of the business world; and understanding business issues.
A question that EY use at interview to assess commercial awareness is – ‘tell me about a company or brand you admire?’ Neil talked through how a good answer to this question might look, picking up on a popular choice of Apple, pointing out that rather than just saying ‘because they’ve got smart products like ipods and ipads’ a good response would consider how Apple addressed the dominance and challenges posed by Microsoft and IBM in the home computing market by investing heavily in R&D, demonstrating real innovation with its product design, and a major commitment to marketing & PR, as well as securing the appropriate supply chain to provide products at the high levels of demand they have generated worldwide.
He highlighted a number of good examples for how individuals can improve their commercial awareness including:
– Reading the FT – if have time for detail and need specifics on a sector or company (he said the Broadsheet newspaper business pages were probably better for providing analysis and comment, and that he rarely read the FT!)
– BBC News online – easy read at lunchtime – again looking for analysis wherever possible
– Sky News iphone App – read it on the go
– Metro – read it on the train
– Google – never to be under-estimated
– RSS Feeds – news, straight to your computer desktop
– Work Experience / Internships – an invaluable source of ‘real life’ examples
A group exercise involved considering a ‘fictional’ company from a list of 8 options (they were the equivalents of large organisations including Tesco, Diageo, Ryanair, Eddie Stobart) and the impact on that company of the following recent news items. The group had to identify the 2 key news items, and why they would be of interest and relevance, to their chosen company:
– Volcanic ash cloud disrupts UK flights
– BP oil slick
– Pound dragged down by Eurozone debt fears
– No fly zone in Libya / Middle East unrest
– Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami
– London winning the 2012 Olympic Games
– University Tuition Fees to Rise
– Australian Floods
– VAT rise to 20%