Commercial awareness

What is commercial awareness?

It is hard to give an exact definition of commercial awareness. It certainly doesn't mean that you need to have studied business, finance or economics and is much broader than that. Some of the skills you have if you are commercially aware are

  • problem solving
  • analytical
  • innovation
  • creativity
  • understanding the connections between things

While different employers and sectors have their own interpretation of commercial awareness, they will generally be looking for graduates who have an understanding of the market they operate in as well as a general understanding of what makes a business successful. This includes understanding internal and external challenges and the needs of different stakeholders (staff, customers, competitors, suppliers). In practical terms it can be summed up as the ability to recognise the need for efficiency, cost effectiveness and meeting customer needs, as well as understanding the wider economic context in which an organisation operates and the risks and opportunities this offers. These skills are equally relevant whether the organisation is a small arts one, the NHS or an investment bank. A 2011 survey by the CBI said that 44% of employers were not satisfied with the levels of business and customer awareness skills among job candidates, so there is plenty of scope to make an impact in this area.

Commercial awareness 'behaviours'

  • Demonstrating an understanding of the organisation's mission, aims, markets, products and services
  • Understanding the wider sector in which the organisation operates, including the political, economic and regulatory factors affecting it
  • Knowing how a business is organised and who the key stakeholders (internal and external) are
  • Showing awareness of the organisation's major competitors
  • Understanding the commercial priorities of the organisation and likely future priorities
  • Showing awareness of some of the 'practical' things affecting a business, eg technology, restructuring, staffing, costs
  • Demonstrating well-considered views and opinions on commercial topics
  • Analysing and interpreting business data in different formats, eg charts, graphs

Commercial awareness skills development: examples and evidence

Commercial awareness examples and evidence
Academic related  

Attending LSE public lectures on business related topics

Doing LSE Library courses: Introduction to financial, market and company data; Introduction to social science and government data 

Identifying electives with a commercial or applied business focus

Going to sector specific career panels organised by LSE Careers, eg City Forum, Consultancy Forum, Arts and Heritage panel

Taking part in entrepreneurial activities through LSE Careers


Joining a business or enterprise based student society such as SIFE

Taking on a position of responsibility within a society that will involve you liaising with external suppliers/organisations, eg negotiating for a venue/sponsorship deal

Joining an occupational or sector focused student society

Work experience/volunteering

Taking part in case studies and other employer led activities designed to develop business and commercial awareness skills; typically these will involve you being given a business scenario to analyse and being asked to make recommendations

Using work experience to gain commercial insights, eg thinking about whether there are processes that could be improved, identifying competitors, considering if and how the organisation's image might be improved


Signing up for business news updates from the BBC, FT, Bloomberg, The Economist and other authoritative sources

Follow a market or sector that interests you, for example by reading specialist and professional publications

Researching sectors through specialist careers websites, eg Target Jobs and Inside Careers

Reading the Business and Money sections of the BBC website and major newspaper sites

Completing online in-tray exercises

Reading The Gateway student newspaper

Watching TV! Both Dragons Den and The Apprentice offer real insights into the commercial world. Working Lunch and The Money Programme are also useful

Finding a partner and practising case studies

Familiarising yourself with some common business frameworks, eg SWOT or PEST analyses

Brushing up on common business terminology and meanings