Commercial awareness

Commercial awareness for investment banking interviews

In the hunt for a graduate job or an internship in investment banking, commercial awareness is crucial.

Here's how you can boost your commercial awareness, and turn yourself from a student into a potential investment banking star.

Stay up to date with the business news

There’s far more to commercial awareness than reading the news, but a good general awareness of current business issues and stories is an essential part of it.

You’ll get a good overview of what’s going on in the business world from The Gateway, but for more in-depth coverage you need to supplement it with a mainstream business publication – we’d recommend the Financial Times or the Economist, and all the national broadsheets also have excellent, if less extensive, business coverage.

Don’t forget the general business information available on TV and radio – information in these formats can be easier to digest than print. 

For TV, try the BBC’s business coverage, or that of specialist channels like Bloomberg TV. On the radio, BBC Radio 4 is a great place to start – the station’s news programmes always have a good sprinkling of business stories, and there are also great specialist shows like Money Box, In Business, and The Bottom Line. We’d also recommend US station NPR’s excellent Planet Money podcast.

To deepen your knowledge, also read finance industry publications, such as The Banker. Also look at industry publications for the industries you’d like to have clients in – for example, the OGM for the energy industry.

Keep an eye on lighthearted industry gossip websites, such as Wall Street Oasis, and also look out for novels, plays and films about investment banking. 

These sources won’t always give you gospel truth (the finance world is not exactly like The Wolf of Wall Street), but you’ll get unique insights that will set you apart from many other candidates, and some great talking points for when you meet graduate recruiters or other employees from investment banks.

Think about and discuss how what you're learning might affect the work of investment banks

It’s very important to not just absorb but also process and analyse commercial information. As you acquire new information, bring it together with what you’ve learnt from other sources and form your own opinions.

You could also set up a commercial awareness discussion group with other students interested in working in investment banking. Get together to discuss and share information on a particular commercial or financial topic, take turns to brief the others, or even role-play a commercial scenario.

As you become more confident in your knowledge and understanding, take every opportunity you can to discuss commercial topics with those working in investment banking. Chat to representatives from investment banks at campus networking events, mine your friends and family for connections, and try to use internship and graduate scheme interviews as learning opportunities.

Attending events, such as conferences and lectures, on investment banking and related topics can also be a great way to both gain new information about investment banking and to share views with others.

Get involved in a business

Remember that commercial awareness is as much a way of thinking as a body of knowledge, and one of the best ways to understand how people in the business world do things is to get involved in a commercial project yourself.

If you can think of a product or service that you could sell, why not set up your own small business? You can also get insights into the workings of a business by helping to run a university society. In particular, putting real or imaginary money at stake by trading shares or other assets as part of the management team of a university investment society will quickly sharpen your understanding of how the financial world operates.

Finally, don’t forget your part-time or holiday job – this experience will give you valuable first-hand information about a real business. Think about the strengths and weaknesses of the business and current threats and opportunities, particularly any finance-related ones, and also consider how it fits into its industry as a whole.