Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Nov-Dec 2019

Advice for the young

Afzal Hussain offers seven pieces of advice to young people entering the workforce.

Young people are the future of the workplace and the future of Pakistan. A strong influx of talented young people is essential for our advertising industry, which desperately needs to stay relevant in front of a predominantly young audience.

I have wanted to share my views with young people for some time. Although young entrants have several advantages, such as being the most educated and most tech-savvy generation to enter our workforce, they face many challenges that prevent them from achieving their potential. It is sad that a good education is no longer a guarantee of a good job and an entry into a reputable company is no longer a guarantee of a solid career. Things are less certain than they were in my younger days.

Let me begin with the importance of mentorship and how the right guidance can make the difference between those who excel in their careers and those who don’t. Just like in the army, not everyone can become a general. The first small steps into the corporate world are the most significant because they lay the foundations of one’s career. I was fortunate to have an excellent mentor to guide me through my tumultuous first steps. That was in the late noughties in Karachi when my late uncle instilled his wisdom into the lost young man I was then. My uncle had the honour of navigating through his own carefree youth, rising up to become the first chairman of Unilever in Pakistan.

I will share seven pieces of advice which I feel are the most relevant for young people. Some of it is specific to the times, most of it is timeless.


Afzal Hussain offers seven pieces of advice to young people entering the workforce.

1. Stop falling for the gloss on social media; learn from real people and real experiences

I love social media, but I also understand how to manipulate it to evoke the responses I want from my target audience. Many of the posts I see evoke feelings of ‘instant gratification’ which is like a sugar rush for the senses. Social media that is liked and shared conditions people to hear what they want to hear, rather than what they need to hear regarding the workplace. I fully acknowledge that you are special, that you deserve success, and you are entitled to your rights and workplace advantages. But the real world is tough and super competitive and not all of you are going to succeed in the workplace. Wrong expectations based on media conditioning can potentially set you up for failure. It will serve you much better to seek out credible mentors who have been through the grind. Experience is the best teacher; it is your choice whether you want to learn the brutal lessons yourself, or if you would like to benefit from someone else’s experience. This approach is sometimes known as standing on the shoulders of giants. Remember there are no shortcuts to success, only short circuits. Stick to candies if you crave instant gratification.

2. Don’t say what you think people want to hear during your interview; show us your genuine passion and energy

I have interviewed hundreds of people and can quickly tell when someone is trying to tell me the things they think I want to hear. I would much prefer hiring the genuine candidate with good energy over the cheeky know it all. All good companies believe in training and developing their people. Why would an employer expect a new candidate to be perfect from day one? We seek out the diamonds in the rough. Please don’t try to fake it during your interview. Learning the ropes is hard work and I need to be sure you have genuine commitment, energy and passion to go the distance. Tell your interviewer about your passions. Outward facing passions (that affect other people) are far more interesting than inward facing passions (that may be self-serving). We know that passionate people go further in their work life, and we know how to best channelise that passion into workplace success. Lastly, please refrain from name dropping. Contrary to popular belief, people like me look for genuinely good candidates and don’t appreciate candidates trying to shortcut the process (sifarish).

3. Think career rather than job

Think long-term career development, gratification will come to those who commit themselves to their work. In your initial years, focus on learning and development opportunities. Don’t start applying for your next job immediately after getting your first job; experienced employers find out every time! Frequent jumps can give you short-term monetary benefits, but the practice will bring your career to a grinding halt after about 10 years. Jumpers are not considered for senior management posts. Attitude counts. People who demonstrate a strong and compatible attitude towards work always trump more talented candidates with the wrong attitude. The right attitude is a cue for an employer to see you as an asset and start investing in your growth.

4. Greatness is always forged in fire

Be prepared to work really hard if you want to succeed. Your education, your intelligence, your presentation can give you an entry ticket into a great company, but the journey is always defined by hard work. Skills can be learned. Weaknesses can be overcome. Goals can be achieved if a candidate has the energy and passion to succeed. Workplace pressure can be daunting, but remember that it is a test. People who can take pressure are the ones who are marked for growth. The runners are written off.

5. Be ready for a lifetime of learning

The workplace has changed tremendously over the past 20 years and it will change a lot more. Nobody knows it all and nobody is expected to be an expert in everything. You will do yourself a huge favour by learning from your more experienced colleagues. Remember that learning is a privilege; you need the training and coaching, not your seniors; they invest their time and effort to train you, and they deserve your respect in return. Seek knowledge as if it were gold, because it is. Learn to listen before you talk. Remember, leaders are the ones who have the last word, rather than the ones who fire the opening shot. Lastly, learn how to take feedback graciously; treat feedback as a way to be better, learn how to stop your ego getting in the way of your success. You can bask in pride all you want, once you succeed.

6. Build character and humility

Learn how to take the ups and downs with grace. Learn how to deal with tough situations with character, rather than choosing the easy path every time. Learn how to stay humble and grounded when you eventually find success. These are the qualities companies look for in their leadership. Learn how to be good to people, and they will eventually respect you as their future leader. Nobody wants to report to an As&^%&.

7. Please leave your personal drama out of the workplace

Keep your parents out of work; we employed you and not your family. Keep your personal life within your personal time and your work within work time; bringing your personal baggage to work is considered a bad work ethic. We seek strong leaders at work, not drama queens.

I wonder if my uncle is still watching over me. The advice he gave is not very different from what I would like to impart to young people, although it was framed in a different era. It is no longer good enough to be talented; it is about how you are guided towards developing that talent as a means for your success.

Afzal Hussain is Chief Strategy Officer/GM, M&C Saatchi World Services Pakistan. afzal.hussain@mcsaatchi.com