Commercial Awareness – what is it and how do I get it?

“Commercial awareness” is a buzzword that employers like to toss around a lot nowadays, but what is it and how do you get it?

Thankfully, gaining “commercial awareness” is a lot less scary than you think – all it really means is to have an awareness of what’s going on in the world and in particular, the business world. So, if you know who the US president is and what he’s done recently, you may have more “commercial awareness” than you think (because let’s be honest, who hasn’t heard about Trump’s policies?)!

For those of you who are still puzzled or (slightly worryingly) don’t know who the US president is, here are six easy ways to get “commercially aware” fast!

1. Finimize

When I first discovered Finimize, it was like a godsend – finally, financial and business news in a language I could understand!

For those of you not in the know, Finimize is a free daily email service that summarizes and explains the top financial headlines in a form that is quick and easy to digest – it even states how long it will take to read it (which is never longer than about 3.5 mins).

The email usually contains the two top business headlines of the day, either from around the globe or from your country depending on your preference, and it will recommend things to read if you want to expand your knowledge further. There’s also an inspirational quote thrown in there to get you motivated for the day (the email is usually sent around midnight so it will motivate you for a full 24 hours).

To sign up, all you need is your email and then voila – you’re already halfway there to being commercially aware!

2. The News

This should be a given but watching or reading the news is the easiest way to get an awareness of what’s happening in the world. It doesn’t matter what form you get it in, video, website, print, as long as you get the information. It doesn’t need to be The Financial Times or The Economist either – the Business section on BBC News or any other equivalent news site is equally as sufficient.

If you want to know more about a particular issue or want to see if your potential employer has been involved in anything of note recently, just type the keywords or the name of the company into Google and press the “News” tab – the most recent news will come up first.

If you want to stay ahead of the game and be informed of the news as it happens, you can set up a Google Alert on your mobile devices and your PC so that you’ll always be the first to know of any developments.

3. Social Media

If you didn’t know already, social media can be used for more than sending your friends funny pictures or mildly stalking your crush nowadays.

Major news outlets have their own “stories” on Snapchat for you to flick through, Facebook have trending issues on their sidebar and trending hashtags on Twitter usually means something big has gone down.

Furthermore, you can follow news accounts on Facebook and Twitter and be notified whenever developments occur – simply adjust your settings so that news stories appear first on your Newsfeed or get notifications when there has been breaking news. It has never been easier to be commercially aware, so take advantage of it!

4. Books

If you feel the need to hit the books, there are some very informative and easy to understand books out there that are designed specifically to make the commercially unaware exactly the opposite.

Know the City” by Chris Stoakes has been recommended to me several times by professionals and peers alike, and for good reason – it gives a high level overview of key financial concepts and products in a readable form.

Another book that’s been recommended to me is “The Money Machine” by Phillip Coggan; though I haven’t read it personally, the reviews on Amazon similarly say it was easy to read and it explains the essentials.

If you find these books too tough to crack, maybe it’s time to go back to basics – there’s no shame in revising those A Level Economics textbooks if it means you can actually understand what’s going on when it gets more complicated.

5. YouTube Videos

YouTube has a fantastic selection of videos that explain the basics of the business world, mostly created by people who were in your situation not too long ago.

There are videos that use cartoons to explain how a transaction works, video courses in finance featuring “Fault in Our Stars” author John Green (his series of Crash Courses is both amusing and informative) and there are vloggers dedicated to easing you into the scary world of commerce.

Some films are also good at explaining the complicated stuff– The Big Short explains the Financial Crisis of 2008 really well and in a quirky, breaking the fourth wall kind of way that keeps it interesting (and who doesn’t want to see Margot Robbie in a bathtub explaining mortgage backed securities?)

6. University

By university, I don’t mean you have to do another degree to be commercially aware but rather that you utilise the resources your university has.

For instance, you can join a finance or business related society – not only will it look great on your CV and demonstrate your passion for commerce, but the society will probably host talks and workshops that can help develop your commercial knowledge. Most speakers don’t assume all students have an understanding of business and financial concepts, so they will go over the basics before moving on to the more difficult topics.

Subscriptions to publications like The Economist will also be cheaper for students; if you think you will actually read them, ask around for your university rep and they will be able to offer you a much better deal than if you subscribed normally.

And that’s it!

Six (6) easy steps to become commercially aware even if you know absolutely nothing, and frankly, even by doing just one you’re already in a much better position than most!

Turns out “commercial awareness” is simply another thing employers have made to sound intimidating that in reality means very little. Plus, it’s unlikely they’ll ask you more than one or two questions about it at an interview anyway. So don’t stress – knowing a little will go a long way.

Vivien Zhu is a student studying History at the University of Oxford and is considering a career in Management Consultancy. She currently resides in Hertfordshire, England and is a regular contributor to student publications such as Spoon University and the Cherwell.

Image: Flickr