What M&C Saatchi's Lara Hussein looks for when hiring a fresh graduate

M&C Saatchi has grown to become one of the popular creative agencies in Malaysia, working with local brands such as Axiata Group, Celcom, CIMB and Malaysia Airlines. Managing director Lara Hussein (pictured) has been with the agency for 14 years, aiming to encourage, nurture and empower young talent in the agency to become future leaders.

Lara told A+M in a previous interview that she practices a consultative and people-oriented management style in inculcating the spirit of unity among team members. As the saying goes, teamwork makes the dreamwork and the agency's employees also have a part to play in M&C's success. This year, it hired five fresh graduates on permanent and contract basis. The agency typically hires fresh graduates through LinkedIn, its HR portal and recommendation from trusted resources.

In this new series, A+M speaks to Lara to find out more about the HR side of things - what she looks out for when making hiring decisions, and the skills that fresh graduates need to succeed in today's ad world.

A+M: What do you look out for when hiring a fresh graduate/young executive?

What’s important for me is not just academic excellence but emotional intelligence. Being able to engage and have strong communication skills is key. Of course, I love those who are passionate and show their interest; expressing knowledge of our industry is important and knowing who we are and what we do! I also look for the X factor - what’s interesting about them, their experiences, hobbies and such. This for me shows their character. Relevant internships are also important.

A+M: What are some of the things that turn you off completely?

Coming to the interview not having done any homework about us and not taking the interview seriously. Lack of knowledge about the business. Also, poor engagement and lacking in communication skills. I don't like it when they talk too much and oversell themselves, there has to be a balance and this is where emotional intelligence comes. They need to gauge the employers reaction and know how to build chemistry.

A+M: What should fresh graduates expect or take note of when negotiating their pay?

They need to know what they are asking for is fair and not above market rate, do their homework. Also, do not be too demanding as gaining experience is what matters above all else.

A+M: How important is word of mouth references in general?

I like to judge quality of the person myself. Word of mouth is a good form of referral but I wouldn’t bank on it 100% as everyone has different benchmarks and opinions and your judgement of a person may differ, so always best to meet if you feel the paper CV is good.

Last but not least, fresh graduates need to up their game when writing CVs, many are not well thought through or put together. Some are too long and very laborious to read or too short with no real meat. So keep it short but "meaty".

You need to stimulate the reader about you and make sure salient points are in without generalising too much.

I haven't seen a great CV that jumps out at me for a while now.

A+M: What are the new skill sets required for fresh graduates to succeed in today’s ad world?

Good knowledge of digital of course, not just communication but also strategy, media and performance. Presentation skills is also important as that would make them stand out from the crowd.