Commercial Nous. What exactly does this mean?

By Jane Kennelly, Director Frog Recruitment

Consultants of all walks claim to have it, organisations want it, yet when you drill down most of us have a rather foggy notion of what it is.

We’ve noticed that the demand for/possession of ‘commercial nous’ [now featuring in the Library of Business Platitudes] has increased with prospective employers as they interview candidates. So, we decided to part the clouds and shed light on what exactly is meant by this phrase…

While the idea of ‘nous’ has its roots in neo-Platonism and metaphysics, the modern use of the word simply means to have intelligence or common sense. By adding the ‘commercial’ in front of it, we appear to have conjured a new class of business skill into existence, seemingly out of thin air – but  we do believe there is some real meaning to this phrase in the context of job interviews.

Commercial nous, to us at Frog, has two readings. Firstly, it means that a candidate is commercially minded and is able to translate their performance into tangible and demonstrable outcomes. And secondly, it means that they are aware of issues and current affairs influencing your industry.

Let’s consider how these two integrations of the phrase can play out in job interviews…

On the first interpretation, we will expect an interviewee to be able to measure and critique their own performance and activities; being able to explain the rationale behind their actions and decisions, and then translate these actions into bottom line gains.

By providing actual figures or metrics, a candidate should be able to prove their commercial common sense and intelligence when making business decisions, and show how well they can monetise their actions. In a nutshell – show that they are a commercial asset.

On the second interpretation, one of the problems with employers demanding commercial nous is that it is difficult to examine and demonstrate in an interview. Interviewers can explicitly ask about a current affairs item related to the industry, in which case a candidate would need to have read widely and deeply enough to form an intelligent opinion on a topic. This may be an unfair tactic by the interviewer, as it assumes that a candidate has followed a specific news item. However, if it is highly relevant to the performance of the job, it is reasonable to expect a candidate to be up to speed.

In the absence of asking a direct question about current affairs, an interviewee could be expected to sprinkle a few bits of current industry issues into their answers generally. For example, a reasonable question by a prospective employer may be concerning how a new project would be tackled. A candidate in response could say something along the lines of, “In light of the recent merger between Company X and Company Y, I would recommend…”

Our recommendation to interviewers; create an opportunity for a candidate to show that they are switched on and up to date in their business thinking:

  1. Ask questions that encourage a candidate to provide examples (facts, figures) with desired commercial outcomes
  2. Research news items affecting the industry and canvass an interviewees thoughts regarding these events.

So that’s our take. If you have a different interpretation you would like to share, or would like some other jargon cleared up, please leave a comment!


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