Become more commercially aware

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‘If you’re relatively inexperienced, demonstrate such awareness to potential employers by taking your time to research the organisation you are applying to and the market in which it operates,’ says Lee Owen, senior business director at Hays Accountancy & Finance. ‘Take time to learn about the sector, its regulators, competitors and the current issues facing the industry.’

But don’t wait until you have an interview for that dream job lined up, advises Jo Sellick, managing director of the Sellick Partnership.

‘Commercial nous is a skill that can be acquired even while you are studying,’ he says. ‘The best way to do this is through work experience and extra-curricular activities. Every period of work experience will help you enhance your commercial awareness in some way, and getting involved in extra-curricular activities such as societies at university or sector-specific networking events will also help.’

Keep up with the news

It is also incredibly important to know about the world you live in and to keep up-to-date with the political and economic climate, advises Sellick. So read newspapers regularly, discuss important events with your peers and ask questions where appropriate. This will give you a good understanding of the business world and help you in making important commercial decisions later in your career.

And the learning process doesn’t stop when you’re in a role.

‘Commercial awareness needs to be continually developed,’ adds Owen. ‘Once in a new finance role, you should do this by meeting staff from other departments to find out what they do and the challenges they face in order to equip yourself with a better knowledge of how the organisation operates.’

When setting your performance objectives, it’s also worth asking how they relate to overall business objectives, and ask your manager questions about business performance and strategy on a regular basis.

Unfortunately, many accountants get through their entire career without exposing themselves to a wider range of situations that could help them develop their commercial awareness, says small business expert and adviser Carl Reader.

‘So seek out opportunities to meet with clients and/or other businesses – whether themselves or by shadowing a colleague in a meeting,’ he says. ‘The more exposure you can get to the realities of running a business, the sooner your commercial awareness starts to get fine-tuned.’

Owen agrees, urging you to look beyond your own situations to find out what’s happening in finance departments in other organisations and industries, in order to get new ideas you can develop in your own work.

‘Attend events to build a network of connections in the financial world and beyond that will prove valuable for your future,’ he says. ‘The best accountants never lose their thirst for knowledge and make a point of developing their business and commercial acumen at all stages of their career.’

This article was first published in the August 2019 edition of Student Accountant magazine

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