Commercial awareness is a tricky one. You know what to do as you’ve heard it a million times: read The Economist, study the Financial Times and so on. But you might realise that it’s quite difficult to get to grips with those papers, or that at first you feel like you get it, but afterwards you realise you don’t know how to answer questions on how business works.
I’ve interviewed many people who’ve secured training contracts and vacation schemes. They’ve told me how they developed commercial awareness and how it helped them get top jobs at big firms. Here are three of the best tips I’ve found on how to develop commercial awareness.
There’s nothing like actual experience
Get a job. Aside from helping you cover some of your expenses, getting a regular job at a small business (perhaps part-time or on the weekend) is one of the most effective ways to develop commercial awareness. These less “glamorous” kinds of roles—such as working part-time as a waiter or doing the books at a car garage—give you the opportunity to understand the inner workings of a business, how it’s run and why certain decisions are made.
When you have a proactive role working in a business, you naturally begin to understand it in a way that you wouldn’t if you just read about it in an article. Doing a job like this regularly over time will increase your understanding of what drives a business, what concerns it and what it needs to do to grow or survive. Once you understand that on a small level, it becomes easier to understand big businesses.
Reading isn’t the only way to consume information
A misconception that students have is thinking they need to read to become knowledgeable and understand business. The problem with this is that, if you don’t enjoy reading or find it more difficult to understand, you’ll end up giving up on it altogether. In today’s climate, you don’t need to do this.
You can learn about business in a million ways. There are podcasts that you can listen to on the way to work. You can have a chat with someone about a topic in the news or join a discussion group where you might make friends in the process. Don’t forget YouTube either—there are thousands of videos on topics such as how the economy works, current-affairs stories and light-hearted videos that explain business jargon with clever animations.
It doesn’t have to be about complex business
Don’t forget that while all industries and businesses work differently, they’re all businesses; you don’t have to learn complex stories about finance or debt restructuring to develop commercial awareness.
One of the best ways to develop an understanding of business is to pick an industry you’re genuinely interested in. It could be a player in the music industry or a football club you support. Follow them, look at the deals and decisions they make as a company, and think about why they’re doing that. You’ll learn to understand business better by doing this than if you tried to read up on an obscure but seemingly important business story you have no interest in.
To sum up: find the industries you’re actually interested in and discover the way you learn best. Also consider getting a part-time job if you have some spare time. It takes effort to develop your commercial awareness, so make sure you find a way to enjoy it.