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Four common commercial awareness interview questions and how to answer them

Four common commercial awareness interview questions and how to answer them

Harry Clark


As explored in other articles, recruiters will likely seek to directly test your commercial awareness throughout applications and interview stages. Here are four common commercial awareness interview questions and some tips for answering them!
"What do you think of 'X'? How will it affect our firm/the industry/our clients?"

Perhaps one of, if not the most, common commercial awareness interview question is a variety of the above. Recruiters love to ask this question because it tests your ability to understand not just what’s going on (ie, what the headlines are), but also what their real, commercial, 'so what?' significance is. To prepare, expect that blank ‘___’ to be filled with the most headline-grabbing moments of the year: covid-19, Brexit and election results to name a few. In addition, it’s also sensible to read up on the firm’s main practice areas, so that you can link the topic or talking point back to the business side of law and more specifically address the second half of that question (depending on the emphasis being asked for and how it is phrased, of course).

I’ve echoed in other posts the importance of taking a jack-of-all-trades to your commercial awareness, bar one or two exceptions for extended written application answers. If a topic comes up that genuinely stumps you, take some time to digest and think about how you’d structure your answer and still state something useful or valuable. For example, if you’re asked to comment on a recent specific technological development and are unsure where to start, begin by taking the talking points involved with that story (eg, tech use more generally in firms, the importance of efficiency, how it helps client problems/relationships and innovation generally) and broaden the conversation beyond the recruiter’s initial question. In doing so, you’ll hopefully be able to caveat your response and comment with a degree of insight relating to the proposed question if you admit you’re unable to answer it directly, drawing on other news articles and stories you’ve come across while doing so.

"What are the biggest issues our industry faces today?"

As discussed in prior articles, commercial awareness demands not just an understanding of the broader business world, but your own industry and business practices as well. This question is testing your ability to synthesise these two components into a coherent analysis. When setting out what your ‘big issue’ is going to be, consider the following:

  • Recency – if the story is ongoing, are we yet to see its effects in full? How might this story develop in the next one, five or 10 years?
  • Relevance – is this an issue isolated to the world of law in its entirety, a small subset or even other industries?
  • Other candidates – it’s worth considering how likely it is that other candidates will decide to comment on that given story in order to help make your answer a little more memorable.
  • Scale – how important is this issue? Consider its importance on one axis and urgency on another; where does this story fit into that matrix?

"How would you define commercial awareness?"

This question is quite interesting – as covered in previous articles, you can google the term ‘commercial awareness’ and find echoes of the same definition being repeated across different mediums depending on who you ask and where you search. Give your own personal version of this answer rather than memorising an online article. In addition, it can help to use this as an opportunity to evidence your ability to use your commercial awareness. For example:

“I think that commercial awareness encompasses [A, B and C]. This is primarily because lawyers need to be [X, Y and Z] when dealing with [parties]/[clients]/[fellow lawyers]. An example of when I put that definition into practice [OR] I first began to formulate that definition and understand commercial awareness when I [insert work experience here].

"Name a company you admire for its business strategy and tell us why."

Again, this is another really interesting question as it places the responsibility on you, the candidate, to define what you view as an 'admirable business strategy'. Is it increasing profits by a given percentage, year on year? Launching a new or innovative product? Or perhaps striving for sustainability and eco-friendly economic growth? Whatever your core ‘reason’ is, do your best to give some evidence and statistics that help to support your claim. In addition, using personal experiences or anecdotes interacting with that company – either as a consumer or as an employee – can help you to structure this answer by presenting your analysis as more of a ‘story’ with a more memorable personal connection.