Commercial skills are an employee's ability to understand what makes a business or organisation successful, through either buying or selling products or supplying services to a market.

Commercial skills could include an employee understanding the organisation's aims, activities occurring within the sector their company operates in, issues such as political or economical changes that may affect the firm's performance, competitors and the company's overall work ethic and much more.

However, identifying staff who have an in-depth understanding of each of these points can be tricky, and therefore, HR professionals should understand the questions to ask at the interview stage of the training to offer, in order to align their workforce to be commercially aware.

Why are commercial skills important?

Commercial skills are important as they demonstrate an employee's understanding of the company and industry that they work in. It is vital for all members of an organisation, from the interns to the CEOs, to develop an active commercial skill set, to ensure commercial awareness within every process.

Due to the increasing competition and saturated markets, commercial skills are now more valuable than ever to business, in order to maintain a head on the competition.

How commercial skills are applicable across all sectors

Basic commercial acumen is transferable across industries, however, in some areas, such as engineering, strong applicants will be equipped with specific commercial skills, relevant to their sector. For example, engineers should be conscious of businesses that have won specific contracts and how these are relevant to their specialisms.

Additionally, all candidates should be able to speculate intelligently about the future. A good candidate will have some idea of what is going on in the world regarding geopolitical changes, varying economies and how that could affect developments in their business.

Candidates with commercial skills should possess an understanding of past failures, which will help to predict future issues and trends. It’s particularly useful for employees to be aware of the specific changes in the world that will affect the costs and supply of products used within their industry.

Increased costs of raw products and taxes will ultimately increase the cost price point of the final product; this should be a particularly prevalent skill for those in customer service.

How employers can determine commercial skills in interviews

Companies need to determine whether a candidate has an understanding of not only the role but also an up to date knowledge of current events. With the huge effect that political, economic and geographical changes cause within every industry, candidates should demonstrate a knowledge of past, present and predicted changes and the effects on their industry.,

As an interviewer, you should be asking questions which challenge the candidate's commercial skill knowledge. For example, “What significant factors have affected this industry in recent years?” or “What do you understand the role this firm plays in this industry?”.

It is also advisable to ask candidates to describe companies that they feel are doing well and badly within your industry, determining if their commercial awareness is expansive enough to identify both key players and smaller businesses.

Top tips for training employees in commercial awareness

Simple ways to develop commercial skills include encouraging staff to read and follow relevant sector-specific news and the economy.

You could encourage your employees to regularly brush up on fundamental basic skills such as numeracy, which can help when it comes to relaying sales projections and growth figures.

If you want to go one step further, it would also be good to develop the personal, commercial skills of your people in their natural work environment, covering everything from practical business writing, pitching, and negotiation through to risk management.