How to increase commercial awareness

Over the last few years, you may have noticed more companies are advertising for commercial awareness when hiring prospective new employees.

I can tell you from personal experience, that lack of commercial awareness is one of the key reasons that good candidates are rejected at interview stage. “They were really great, but just lacked the commercial edge we were looking for.”

So what exactly is commercial awareness and knowledge, and is it something that you can learn?

First of all, yes, anyone can learn commercial awareness and knowledge. It does, however, take hard work and dedication to become good at it. It should be noted that commercial knowledge isn’t the same as general knowledge.

Commercial knowledge refers to a sound understanding of what a business does, how it makes its money, the market in which it operates and how you and your role can fit into it. Often this means considering things such as, how you can increase revenue or market share, customer service levels, improved productivity levels, a better and more efficient team environment, great levels of quality assurance, less waste – I think you get my drift here!

If you want to actively increase your commercial knowledge you can consider these top tips to help you get it right:

  • You must understand what a business does and have a good understanding of its competitor environment.
  • Do your research and look at their online presence e.g. Glassdoor, LinkedIn groups, Twitter, Feefo. These can give indicators of customer service levels and employee satisfaction rates.
  • Look out for important events. Are there any future projects a company is about to begin working on? What have they done in the past?
  • Be aware of how economics can affect that business.
  • Think about the challenges that a business could be facing and formulate ideas on how you can help solve them.
  • If you’re at an interview, a great way to demonstrate your commercial knowledge is to have a couple of ready-made questions prepared.

There is no quick fix for getting commercial awareness but by putting the effort in, potential employers will give you kudos for trying, even if you don’t get it 100% right! Good luck.

James Cumming is our MD, Interim and Transformation Search specialist. If you’ve got a hard-to-fill role and need some help, get in touch. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

Executive search – ‘worst-case’ interview scenario?

Everyone gets nervous before an important meeting or interview. It doesn’t matter how much you may have prepared, there are some common intrusive thoughts that always manage to worm their way into your head the night before and cause you to think about possible escape routes should the worst happen. Through our executive search experience, we can help.

But worry not, you don’t need a getaway car parked around the corner to survive an awkward interview. There are tried and tested things that you can do to overcome these embarrassing moments. And who knows, if you flip the situation successfully it could work in your favour and become an example of how you have managed uncomfortable situations.

The person that you are meeting isn’t focused on you

If you notice that the other person is frantically typing on their laptop and hasn’t said in advanced that they may be taking notes or replying to a work email, then your brain may go into overdrive and wonder whether they are mind-numbingly bored in your presence.

Read the situation and your audience, and if you’re still not confident that you’ve got their attention then politely asking questions to advance the conversation could resolve any worries that you may have. If they need to rearrange to a more appropriate time, then this gives them chance to do so

Being too early can be just as awkward as being too late

When travelling to an interview you can sometimes misjudge the traffic and end up an hour early…. It’s better than being late and although tempting, it might not be the time to show them how keen you are!

The chances are that whoever you are meeting is busy and won’t be sat waiting around for you an hour before (or after) your scheduled appointment, so if you know that you’re going to be too early go and grab a latte and steady your nerves. 15 minutes is plenty early enough to get there.

You forgot your presentation or interview materials

This problem can be easily resolved by planning properly. Try not to rely too heavily on paper materials, which can be misplaced or lost. Instead, ensure that you have an offline copy of your work ready and waiting on your laptop that you will be able to bring up regardless of the wifi situation.

And if your laptop dies, make sure that you’ve sent an email to yourself with all of the key documents on, so you can at least access them on your phone as a last resort. After your meeting, ask the person that you’ve been with if they would like you to email over a copy of any document that you’ve just used so they will be able to access them when reviewing your meeting.

Everybody has at least one awkward interview story, and how you deal with any embarrassment can say a lot about you and how successfully you manage situations. Also, a little bit of humour can go a long way, and we can all be united in our common awkwardness.

To have a chat about your interview contact me at

Carl Hinett is our Director & Executive Search Specialist. If you’ve got a hard-to-fill role and need some help, get in touch

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Interview prep: Questions you must ask at your next interview (and some you should steer clear of!)

Interview prep
Interview prep: Questions you must ask at your next interview (and some you should steer clear of!)

Interview prep:  One of the biggest mistakes that you can make in an interview is to not ask any questions.

Seriously… Changing jobs is one of the most life-altering decisions that you can make, along with moving house and having children (and trust me I have done a few of these recently!)

So, you can understand how strange it might be for an employer knowing this to get to the end of an interview and find that (before making that life-changing decision) – that the interviewee doesn’t want to ask you anything.

Let’s be clear…

Many hiring managers will reject a candidate for not asking relevant questions, and do you know what, I don’t blame them! The logic behind this goes a bit like this:

  • If a candidate was genuinely interested in the role they would want to find out more about it (and us – the hirer/leadership team).
  • If the candidate has listened and understands the requirements of the position, then they will likely want more information about the specific requirements of the role. This is called secondary and tertiary questioning… more on that later…
  • I want to hire people that will be engaging. Engaging people tend to ask good questions.
  • I want to hire someone who can challenge the status quo, and also bring people along on the journey. They probably need to understand where people are coming from first before making their decisions, and guess what, you need to ask probing questions to do this…

That’s why interview prep is so important. Here are some of the do’s and don’ts when it comes to asking questions during an interview:

  • “What’s in it for me” type questions. These are a big no, especially during the first stage of the interview process, as this isn’t what the employer wants you to ask. These questions can come across as very self-centred, so save these for after the interview if you get asked back for a second stage.
  • Probing questions. These are business-related and are your what’s, how’s, if’s, but’s… these can be more challenging but as long as you ensure that they are relevant to what has been discussed or your observations about the role, then ask away.
  • Secondary and Tertiary questioning. Getting them to go into more detail about particular aspects of the role that you might want explaining. These types of questions show that you’ve been active and engaged during the interview process, and taken on board what the interviewer has said.
  • Long-term questions about business growth, culture, future plans. These questions indicate your commitment to the role and your future loyalty to the company.

James Cumming is our MD, Interim and Transformation Search specialist. If you’ve got a hard-to-fill role and need some help, get in touch. Connect with him on LinkedIn.