What are business acumen skills?
They can go by many names including business savvy or commercial awareness and all describe the same qualities – a strong understanding of the business world and an organisation’s market and environment, backed by a ready grasp of what the company needs to do to succeed.
This article explores what business acumen is all about, why it matters to employers, and business acumen skills examples you can use in a job interview to show hiring managers that you have what it takes to successfully land the role.
Business acumen skills – hard to define, essential to have
Business acumen skills is about know-how.
As a guide, candidates who have business knowledge understand how markets work, have insights into the trends or technology that are reshaping markets, and can identify how a company can tap into these trends to streamline performance, grow market share and outperform the competition.
For career-driven professionals, business acumen means being business literate and being able to make recommendations and forecasts for future business prospects. It involves recognising how different actions or strategies can impact a company’s profitability and cash flow.
It may sound like a tall order. But at the core of commercial acumen is being able to look beyond your immediate role or department, and take a big picture view of the organisation, while still aligning that view with the company’s strategy and values.
Why is business acumen so sought after by employers?
Clearly, candidates who possess business acumen can add considerable value to a business.
An intimate understanding of how markets work allows professionals to recognise opportunities for the company to explore new markets, work with changing legislation, or simply become more profitable. Understandably, these are all qualities that are highly sought after by employers.
Demonstrating business acumen skills (with examples)
It’s one thing to have business knowledge and expertise, but you also need to be able to showcase it to hiring managers. And that starts with having a strong understanding of the organisation that you are applying to work for.
The internet is a useful tool to learn about the structure of the organisation, what it does, who its customers are and the industry or sector it operates in. It can also help you research wider issues that may affect the company and its market – on a local, national and even global scale.
This research will be valuable in your conversations with a hiring manager, allowing you to stand out from other candidates by delivering responses tailored to the company rather than providing generic answers.
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As business acumen is often built up through experience, when you come face to face with a hiring manager, refer to your involvement in different projects. This can demonstrate your understanding of the business world while also allowing the hiring manager see that you take new learnings from every on-the-job engagement.
Be prepared to also provide practical examples of times when you have shown your business knowledge in a practical setting, for example:
Demonstrating new products, services or solutions with firm results such as a 10% return on investment or a 5% reduction in costs.
Financial planning and modelling:
Showcasing how you have used financial acumen to respond to shifting business conditions including examples of cash flow reports or applying business performance insights to hypothesise new revenue opportunities for the employer.
Show your understanding of planning frameworks or analytical models to breakdown a problem to provide a new solution.
Business Continuity and Disaster Response:
Using the recent impact of COVID-19, demonstrate how you have adjusted or could adjust supply chain or operational procedures to adapt to a hanging market.
Improving your skills
If you are just starting out in your career, or you feel your business acumen isn’t up to scratch, the good news is that there are steps you can take to develop your business savvy.
First and foremost, stay abreast with the financial press and current affairs. It’s a low cost way to familiarise yourself with the wider business community, and gain an understanding of the current economic climate and how it is impacting different businesses.
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Importantly, think about what you have learned from your previous job experience. It’s easy to get caught up with the day-to-day micro matters of a role but true business knowledge means being able to see how small steps taken by one department can impact the company more broadly.
It can also help to connect with a mentor. Many professional associations can put you in touch with a mentor, and it can be a great way to leverage the skills and experience of a more seasoned professional in your field.
Business acumen is a skill that will never go to waste. By taking the time to develop your business acumen you have a better chance of securing the role you want, and enjoying long term success in your chosen career.