“Can you give me an example of when you have had to demonstrate business acumen?”
This is a very common interview question liked by many employers. In the legal profession this is asked in almost every single interview for solicitors, paralegals and partners.
HR managers and other recruitment professionals in a whole range of different types of interview regularly ask about business acumen, whether these are legal job interviews, accountancy interviews, interviews for managers at a whole load of different levels.
Sometimes employers try to throw a spanner in the works and ask you what the difference is between commercial awareness and business acumen (there isn’t one!).
Quite a lot of people who have been in business for some years have no problem at all answering this question because they have an understanding as to what a commercial organisation is looking for, but students and new entrants to the job market struggle with the whole concept as well as quite a few non-professionals who are advising on careers.
The whole reason for employers asking this question is to make sure that the person they are interviewing actually understands the concept of working for your daily bread.
This means understanding that if you are being paid a salary and the organisation you are working for is dependent on making a profit in order to pay you that salary then you have to contribute to making the profit. If you do not understand this when you are not going to be much use to any employer.
It is a common fallacy amongst graduates that they are joining an organisation in order to further their own career and to gain good experience for themselves. It is often reflected in covering letters and emails and also in CVs. This is completely the wrong attitude to take to job searching. You have to consider every single job from the perspective of the employer. If you do not do this then chances are you will be rejected.
So when you are asked a question about business acumen think what it is you are being asked to understand. If you are speaking to a partner of a very senior organisation, he is expecting you to understand that companies are there to make a profit. Business acumen is demonstrated by understanding that the employer does this in certain ways through marketing, business development, selling to existing clients, performing a job effectively to get repeat business and successfully tendering for business as well.
If you are interviewing with a smaller firm then none of the above is particularly relevant. They are more interested in your own ability at marketing, business development, generating your own clients, making sure that your billing levels are high in order to ensure a good level of profitability and to understand that you are there to make your employer money so that he or she in return can pay you.
If you can demonstrate this very quickly through describing a situation when you have had to show business acumen, you will have answered this question well. This merely needs to be something along the lines of marketing, business development, increasing profits for a company or organisation, or being involved in sales.
Preferably, this needs to be in a work environment so if you are a student try to avoid going back to your young enterprise schemes at school and concentrate on any part-time work you have done where you have identified a way of improving profitability for that particular company.
If you are a professional in a business then try to concentrate on your most existing role and give a demonstration of when you have either increased profitability, increased sales, generated extra work, getting the client, boosted your billing levels or something similar.
Keep it short and sweet and straight to the point and you should have no problem at all with answering this question.