What business acumen skills you need (with examples)

By Robert Half on 12 October 2023

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 Hong Kong 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, Hong Kong 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.

Jessica Yeung, Associate Director at Robert Half Hong Kong and specialised financial services recruiter uncovers some of the current in-demand business acumen skills.

"It is an AI-driven era, one of the most important business acumen is strong technology proficiency. With the increasing use of technology in accounting, it is important for candidates to be proficient in relevant accounting software, data analysis tools, and spreadsheet applications. Candidates need to be good at problem-solving, and they should possess analytical and critical thinking skills to tackle complex financial challenges and provide recommendations for improvement. Finally, I think continuous learning is also an important element. We should keep expanding our knowledge, actively seek opportunities for professional development and pursue new IT knowledge and skillsets.”

Related: How to apply for professional development training

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.

Related: How to plan your career progression

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:

Innovation:

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.

Business strategy:

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 in Hong Kong, 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.

Related: How to build your soft skills

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.

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