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Starter for 10:
- What do most employers want and few students think they have?
- Commercial awareness.
It may be essential, but for many it’s an apparently elusive attribute, desperately hard to acquire without reading the Financial Times daily, checking the Dow Jones Index at regular intervals or realising that hedge funds have nothing to do with gardening. Although the preceding is non-negotiable if you’re planning a career in the City, for the average student it’s just not necessary. What is needed is an understanding of how the business world functions. A word to the wise: this includes those who intend to go into the third or public sectors – governments, charities and NGOs need to generate income and stay ahead of the game too.
At its most basic, commercial awareness is demonstrating that you know that businesses exist to make a profit, maintain / expand their client base and undercut the competition. Simple or what?
But how do you show this in applications, CVs, interviews if your experience is limited to the usual bog standard student job?
Don’t do this:
- “My part- time role at Tescbury supermarket, involves shelf- filling, serving customers and operating the till.”
Not only is it blindingly obvious, it shows absolutely no appreciation of the most rudimentary business principles.
- “I work part – time at Tescbury’s, which has a turnover of £x000 and a weekly footfall of y customers, which has taught me to work under pressure. Innovative staff training means I can deliver quality service and offer ideas for improving shop floor operations. Targeted advertising and price match discounts have seen us outperform other local supermarkets.”
See what I did there? Quantification, a hint of pro-activity, tactical use of business jargon, a dash of business insight.
Now ramp up the volume:
- promoting or running student societies / initiatives allows you to dazzle recruiters with your hands-on knowledge of finance, branding and contributing original ideas (all key to commercial success)
- a nodding acquaintance with the news headlines is equally useful. You might be asked how a current political, social or business issue will impact on a specific job or organisation. Wrong answer/ no answer/ total bewilderment = lack of credibility.
- would-be entrepreneurs should be able to provide evidence of investing time (not money at this stage) into exploring, researching, and, ideally, testing, the feasibility of their ideas
- volunteering gives you a certain cachet, especially in the not-for-profit sector. Showing how you took the time to look below the surface and see how the organisation operates, obtains funding and keeps ahead of its rivals, will put you in pole position.
Commercial awareness? Easy when you know how.
Gill, March 2019
Gill Sharp is Careers Consultant with SOAS Careers Service