Many employers are increasingly asking candidates interview questions pertaining to “commercial awareness.” They are designed to see if the candidate can demonstrate a general understanding of business acumen and how it relates to current events. For example, a candidate applying for a consulting firm would probably be expected to know some of the major “mergers and acquisitions” that have recently been announced (that AB InBev is buying SABMiller in a combination that creates the world’s biggest beer company, for example).
Firms strive to test this knowledge in candidates because clients are demanding their service providers – such as lawyers, accountants and consultants – have a deep understanding of their underlying businesses. In many respects, all professional services are becoming, essentially, advisors in their particular field. An accountant who just crunches the numbers isn’t good enough (an Excel spreadsheet can do that; or there’s probably “an app for that”). He or she must be able to strategically identify the client’s priorities and advise on specific actions – and in order to do so, that accountant must be able to understand the client’s business. So, professional services firms need to have graduates that are capable of understanding the basics of business. And knowing what’s going on in the business world is students can illustrate, at least, that they have some fundamental understanding.
So how can candidates demonstrate commercial awareness? The best way is to keep abreast of what’s going in the world of business. That can mean reading publications like the Financial Times and The Economist routinely; it can also include subscribing to a publication such as Finimize, which is a daily email that briefly summarises and explains the day’s main financial news stories. It’s important to develop an ongoing understanding of the business world: reading the FT on the morning of the interview isn’t going to cut it.
You don’t have to know everything, but you should know a few current topics in-depth (even just the key storyline and main issues) while also being familiar with general themes and financial terms. A little bit of steady reading on a day-to-day basis (even just 5 minutes) will go a long way to preparing your commercial awareness knowledge.
This is a guest blog post written by Scott Tindle, CFA. Former Vice-President at Barclays. Co-founder Finimize. To sign up for Finimize’s daily email, click here.