What is commercial awareness?

Commercial awareness is a phrase that carries several meanings and is certainly not just about flicking through the FT or Economist the day before your interview.

Many of you often ask us to define commercial awareness. Unfortunately, its one of those phrases that carries several meanings and is certainly not just about flicking through the FT or Economist the day before your interview.

The key is not to get too hung up about the definition and to think about how you can demonstrate commercial awareness, which is essentially a secret code for a candidate’s ability to show a genuine commitment to a career as a business lawyer. That means having a proper understanding of exactly what commercial law firms do and how they interact with other City players such as investment banks.

For instance, taking a list of deals that a firm has recently advised on from its website and reeling it off at an interview isn’t going to impress anyone. If possible, try to find out what role the firm played on the deal and why it was significant. Did it involve a key or new client or break new ground? You’ll be able to get a lot of this information right here on Lawyer 2B and its sister magazine, The Lawyer.

That said, being commercially aware is about much more than keeping abreast of the comings and goings in the City. It’s also about being able to show drive and ambition. During your interviews you should try to highlight situations where you really had to push yourself or achievements that you’re particularly proud of and are unique to you. I demonstrated this during my interviews for my training contract by talking about how I helped my dad with the book-keeping for his Indian restaurant.

It’s also definitely worth mentioning any experience you’ve had of commercial life including work placements or summer jobs that aren’t law-related. Frankly, working in telesales to fund your way through university will impress some graduate recruitment partners more than an overseas trip paid for by your parents.

Candidates who are commercially aware are also able to see the big picture and are appreciative of the long and short-term implications of a proposal. They are also aware of an organisation’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. For instance, think about why a law firm might want to open an office in Dubai or how it can prepare for an economic downturn.

Whatever you do, don’t ever tell an interviewer that you’re commercially aware as you’ll end up in the reject pile. You have been warned.

A must-view: Lawyer 2B’s webcast on developing and improving commercial awareness