The one thing you need to do in your next interview

Have you ever had a job interview where they asked, “and what do you know about our company?”

If you managed to give a meaningful response rather than stare at them blankly while you desperately tried to remember the ‘About Us’ section of their website, you were demonstrating commercial awareness – a key employability skill most interviewers and recruiters are looking for in a candidate. When it comes to looking for your dream job after finishing AAT, it’s a vital competency to show off to potential employers.

What is commercial awareness?

Commercial awareness really just means being business minded and understanding what makes an organisation succeed or fail. Who are their biggest competitors? What industry trends might impact their profits? Where are they likely to be in ten years time?

Being able to answer these questions ­– or bringing them up even if interviewers don’t ask them – shows you’re curious, keen, well informed and know how to do your research. What’s more, it shows you’ll be good at the job you’re applying for. Understanding the company’s purpose and position, and your role in it, means you can jump in at the deep end and follow conversations with colleagues more easily.

Show interviewers you know your stuff

So how do you prove to employers that you’re commercially aware? It’s important to think about the bigger picture – what does the business want to achieve, how do they do it and how will you fit in? Most importantly, how will your role help them make money? You won’t be working in a vacuum, so it’s important to showcase that you understand the organisation’s needs.

A few things you should prepare to talk about at your next interview:

  • The company’s products or services and who they’re aimed at
  • Their biggest competitors (or potential competitors to watch)
  • Their unique selling point
  • How they market themselves – online, in print, on TV
  • Current news stories related to their sector
  • How economic and political factors might impact business

But how do you get commercially aware?

If you don’t have much work experience to call on in an interview, do some volunteering or get a part time job. If you work as a waiter in a restaurant, pay attention to which dishes sell best amongst particular customer demographics, and work out how much profit the restaurant makes on bottles of wine. If the papers have been spouting advice about getting your ‘five a day’ recently, note whether that’s having any impact on the food customers order.

Volunteering at a library? Read up on government policy and how that might impact funding for local libraries. Have any others nearby closed down recently?

It’s also important to read, read, read. Buy newspapers and specialist magazines on your industry – accounting and business journals, as well as anything related to the specific arena you hope to work in. Follow blogs, register for email newsletters and sign up for news alerts.

It’s easier than you think

If you’re passionate about the industry or sector you want to work in, this shouldn’t feel like hard work. It’s just about staying informed and understanding what the future looks like for the profession.

If it feels like a steep hill to climb, don’t panic. You’re probably far more commercially aware than you realise, but if you know it’s a skill you need to brush up on, there’s plenty you can do to impress employers. When you’re at work, volunteering, studying or reading, always keep your business brain switched on and think ‘what effect could this have on my job?’ If you’re still studying AAT, consider how the skills and experience you’re gaining will help you do your role better and what you can bring to an organisation.

Studying a qualification with CIMA and adding ‘CIMA student’ to your CV is a great way of showcasing your commercial awareness to potential employers. To find out more about becoming a Chartered Global Management Accounting, take a look at our video.

This article was provided by CIMA. 

Zarna Amin was the former Marketing Manager of CIMA.

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