I have attached a copy of the RICS recently released research (Commercial_Awareness_Graduates_090413_dwl_aj) that examines how and to what extent real estate courses equip graduates with commercial awareness. Commercial awareness is one of the skills that graduates need to demonstrate if they are going to secure that placement or graduate job. Unfortunately it carries several meanings, leaving many undergraduates confused as to what companies are actually looking for in their candidates.
So let’s be clear, commercial awareness is not memorising the list on the company’s website of deals it has recently completed or advised on, and then repeating it ad verbatim in interview. Nor is it a quick read of the Financial Times the day before your interview, although keeping your eye on the news in the months leading up to application season will certainly help and many an interview contains the sentences “Tell me about something in the news that interests you” or “What are currently the biggest threats/opportunities to the real estate market?”.
Generally speaking job applications calling for commercial awareness are simply looking for an interest in the business and the economics of that business. This should include:
- An awareness of the need for efficiency, cost-effectiveness, customer care and an understanding of how the company operates in both the wider environment and market place – this includes the current economic climate; competitors; suppliers; and customers.
- An awareness of the organisations strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
- An ability to see the benefits from both the organisation’s and the customer’s perspectives. This will help you apply a value-based approach to your work and ultimately the business.
- An ability to identify and solve problems critically – not simply accepting the information you’re given at face value without question or analysis. Remember the essential steps to any problem solving are IDEAL: Identify the problem and opportunities; Define the goals; Examine the options; Act on a plan; Learn from the results.
In addition those in the property sector are looking for further evidence that you have:
- an understanding that everything that affects the economy affects property;
- a general knowledge of trends and regulations specific to the property sector; and
- a genuine commitment to a career in real estate. So make sure you have a proper understanding of exactly what the company does and how they interact with other real estate players, competitors and customers.
Commercial awareness is also about showing drive and ambition. Try to highlight situations where you really had to drive yourself forward or achievements that you’re particularly proud of or that are unique to you. Remember they are not looking for the finished article.
It’s definitely worth mentioning any commercial experience you’ve had, including work placements or summer jobs that aren’t property-related. Stacking shelves to fund your way through university will often impress more than your overseas trip paid for by your parents.
Candidates who are commercially aware are able to see the big picture, its not just about knowing what you’re doing; you also need to understand why. There is a story that when work on St. Paul’s cathedral had begun, Wren went unrecognised to talk to the stone masons. He asked one of the workmen “What are you doing?” and he replied “I’m cutting a piece of stone”. He asked the same question to a second stone mason, he replied “I am cutting this stone into the perfect dimensions to fit in that wall over there”. Finally he asked a third workman the same question and the man answered, “I am helping Sir Christopher Wren build a magnificent cathedral.” Now chances are you will never be asked to build a cathedral but you may be asked to be a cathedral thinker and think beyond the immediate task at hand and your own individual involvement.
Often team sports, group course works, roles we have acquired through school and uni have helped us hone our leadership skills. What is a rarer commodity is the all too elusive commercial awareness but if you want that job, now is the time to polish your up your skills. Employers have a variety of ways to test the Commercial Awareness of a candidate, some are more obvious than others:
“Please explain why you wish to work for this organisation?” This is your opportunity to explain what interests you about the business and why you would be a good match for the company. Show them that you understand the difference between different real estate organisations within the sector and how they operate.
Competency-based questions This is when an employer asks you demonstrate skills such as communication, decision-making or problem-solving. This is to establish how well you think and articulate yourself.
“So what’s been interesting you in the news recently?” They’re examining whether you take an interest in the sector, whether you’ve got a story that references them, their clients or their industry, and whether you’ve understood the implications of events in the media.
“How could you demonstrate commercial awareness?” As well as any research, talk about work experience or part-time jobs. Think about the companies you have worked for and demonstrate your knowledge of how they operated.
Case Studies/Presentations: Generally speaking you get given a briefing of some kind about a business situation and be asked either individually or as a group to devise recommendations based on your analysis of that information.
E-tray exercises: These are simulations of a busy email inbox to see how you prioritise jobs and respond to different queries and pressures.