Why commercial awareness is important for construction engineering jobs

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Guidance for Job Seekers | Interview Tips

Posted 31.07.19

commercial awareness

Graduates entering construction engineering fields are increasingly being asked questions to ascertain their commercial awareness. But not everyone understands what that really means, and therefore how to answer those questions or demonstrate their commercial awareness on a CV.

Here we explore what our clients in construction engineering are looking for, and how you can improve your chances of a) an interview, and b) a job offer by showing you have the commercial awareness needed to do the job.

What is commercial awareness?

Our clients want candidates that understand how external factors (such as the economy, industry regulations, government policies and the political climate) impact construction engineering projects, their business and the clients they work with. Crucially they want candidates who understand how these factors affect profitability both for their business (the employers’) and their clients’ and investors.

Secondly, our clients want candidates who understand how their role affects profitability. They will need to be able to show that they understand how the decisions they make in their job can impact the bottom line, and how commercial drivers are part of their decision-making process and day-to-day activities. For example, decisions about materials, how work is structured, the time allocated to get work completed etc.

How to prepare for questions about commercial awareness

General awareness about world affairs and news will help you keep abreast of the factors that may impact the construction engineering industry. To understand these in more detail, industry publications have analysis and comment on these subjects that will help increase your commercial awareness.

Industry publications also include more specific news and trends that you should be aware of, so subscribe to publications like Construction News. Professional bodies like the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) also publish news and insights on their websites, where you’ll find views that are more aligned with your discipline.

Before an interview, research the company thoroughly. Try to build a picture of the company’s business objectives / strategy, and its clients’, so you can relate your answers to any questions around commercial awareness directly to its business. News, both on the company’s website and on other sites, can give you some useful insight into how they are adjusting to external factors. For example, if the company has expanded into a new market or scaled back their operation in another, identify the commercial reasons for this and, more importantly, how that relates to your job function.

Interviewers will expect a general awareness of the factors impacting the industry as a whole; a more in depth understanding of key factors that affect their specific business operations; and a much more detailed understanding of how these factors impact your role and potentially the decisions you will make on behalf of the company.

How to demonstrate your commercial awareness

On a CV – if you have examples where you have made commercially aware decisions that have had a positive impact on profitability for your current or previous employers, or their clients, highlight them appropriately on your CV. Perhaps you’ve reduced costs, saved time or increased efficiencies that has led to larger profit margins or more value in other areas.

At an interview –  apart from answering any questions about commercial awareness to the best of your ability (don’t bluff if you don’t know or can’t answer the question logically), ask your own questions if you get the opportunity. You could ask about how specific factors have (or haven’t) impacted the business, or more generally about the objectives and strategy for the business.

Top tip: if you’re looking for a graduate engineering job or junior position, you might not be responsible for making decisions for the business that impact the bottom line. However, as you progress through your career and become more senior you will. Get an understanding of how your future role can have a positive impact on the company’s profitability and success, and use this knowledge to help inform your questions and answers about commercial awareness.

Please get in touch if you would like any further help with this.

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