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Preparing yourself to work in Dubai

Work Dubai

I would be the first to admit that I might not be the best person to write this post. I’ve only worked in the region for about nine months, and I’m sure there are others who are much more knowledgeable than I am. However, those people haven’t written us a blog post, have they? This is the post that I wish I had read before I moved to Dubai!

Disclaimer: this is based on my experience. I am sure others will have had different experiences, so don’t take everything I say as gospel. Do your own research, too!

If you are anything like me, you have come to support your husband’s career, but also to try to get some satisfaction out of working yourself. Great! Sounds easy, right? Well, not exactly. Dubai is certainly an interesting place. Here’s everything you need to know about work in Dubai. First things first…

UNLESS YOU ARE IN ANY OF THE FOLLOWING PROFESSIONS, DON’T WORRY ABOUT APPLYING BEFORE YOU GET TO DUBAI

If you are a doctor, experienced financial professional, teacher, health care professional (not pharmacist), lawyer or engineer, it could be worth applying before you get to Dubai. Otherwise? I wouldn’t bother. It is very unlikely anyone will take any interest with you outside the country. That’s not to say you won’t find a job – it is just there are plenty of other people currently in Dubai that are already looking for similar work.

BE PREPARED FOR YOUR CV TO BE CONSIDERED ALONGSIDE 700 OTHERS 

Yes, seriously. The average number of applications for most jobs is extremely high.

BECAUSE CV APPLICATION NUMBERS ARE SO HIGH, A ROBOT MIGHT DECIDE IF YOU ARE IN OR NOT

If you are really interested in getting to the top of the pile, try getting hold of someone at the company personally. If you can’t do this, get serious about carefully tailoring your CV to every job application. Make sure you have picked the key words out of the job description, inserting them into your CV and cover letter, which will help identify you as having the skills appropriate to be considered for a role. When your CV gets uploaded into the system, the algorithms should identify yours as being suitable. Avoid PDF versions for this reason – unless you are in the design area, you are best to supply a DOCX that can be scanned by a robot!

IT’S WORTH UPLOADING YOUR CV TO GULFTALENT

It’s a pain to set up, but I’ve had a few enquiries through there. Jobs on Gulftalent also, generally, seem to pay better than comparable job sites.

YOUR CV GENERALLY NEEDS A PHOTO

Sadly, I’m not joking. Just stick the darn thing on there.

COMPANIES IN DUBAI LIKE A LOT OF EXPERIENCE

This might be different in other countries, but in New Zealand, you can still be hired with only a few years of experience and a ‘can do’ attitude. You are assessed more on your ability to learn and commit to a role, and grow within it, then having multitudes of experience. This is less the case in Dubai. You need a minimum of three years experience for most roles, generally five, and for senior roles, up to ten years before you are even considered. As a comparison, I went from Advisor to Senior Advisor within two years in New Zealand.

IT’S ALL ABOUT WHO YOU KNOW

This is the key element. Don’t beat yourself up if it takes you awhile to find a job when you come here. The best way to get a job, by far, is to network. Talk to everyone you can. Relax for a while, and don’t stress if you don’t get something straight away. Focus on making connections, getting your CV out there, and hope that something comes of it.

THE WORKING WEEK VARIES

Anything from 40 hours per week to 50+ in some professions. Some jobs do work six days a week. There are certainly jobs that do less – I am contracted for a 40 hour working week – but in many roles, there is an expectation that you will work long hours. Add to that the need to commute, and you have a very long working day!

SALARIES CAN BE PRETTY GRIM

Remember, just because you don’t want to, someone will work 48 hours a week for 5000AED per month. There is no point getting upset about it. Keep looking around and have a base salary that you are not willing to settle below. I took a slightly lesser salary than I wanted, but the payoff was that I am allowed to be flexible on travel. It’s all swings and roundabouts – make it work for you.

EVER WANTED TO BE A TEACHING ASSISTANT?

This is a job that is popular among pilot wives. Okay, the pay isn’t amazing, but you do get school holidays off – even if it’s pretty hard to align these with your husbands peak leave. For primary school, you don’t always need a qualification, but for secondary school, you generally must be degree qualified.

CONTRACT AND PART TIME WORK CAN BE HARD TO COME BY

Although it is easier to get these roles if you are married and on a spouses visa, meaning the organisation does not have to pay for your visa approval costs.

YOUR HUSBAND MIGHT NEED TO SIGN A NON-OBJECTION LETTER FOR YOU TO WORK

But lets face it, is he really going to object?

HOLIDAY PAY INCLUDES THE WEEKENDS

I missed this one on my contract. If your holiday starts on a Thursday and ends on a Monday – with a weekend in the middle – the weekend days will come off your holiday pay. This is absolute rubbish, but better to know before you start planning your trips!

YOU CAN GET LOCKED INTO CONTRACTS

You need to be a bit careful when getting into an employment contract. Contracts are usually limited or unlimited. Limited contracts are for a specified period, and if you break the contract before that period is up, you might lose your end of term gratuity payment, and in some cases you might owe your employer money or have a labour ban placed on you. There is a lot of useful information on this possibility here. The good news is that bans aren’t always enforced. Even if they are, if you are operating in a freezone, the ban might only apply there. For unlimited contracts, you generally don’t get an ‘end of contract bonus’, but you can get out of them with a months notice. You are warned. Do some reading, and ask questions.

PEOPLE MAY TAKE YOU FOR A RIDE

I was offered a job at 12,000AED, and I requested 15,000AED. I was told that the 3,000AED extra per month would be paid as an accommodation allowance. Upon reading the contract closely, this was only payable on receipt of rent – which I don’t pay, as I live in company accommodation through my husbands work – and the prospective employer knew this. I could have signed a contract and been stuck for two years, and the company not required to pay me anything over 12,000AED. If it looks fishy, it probably is.

JOB TITLES ARE A BIT DIFFERENT HERE

I had several years experience as an Investment Manager in New Zealand. I was quite surprised when I wasn’t getting any interviews in Dubai. Turns out, no one knows what that job was. They could see I hadn’t worked for a major bank – I worked as an Investment Manager for the Government – and a recruiter in Dubai told me she thought I mustn’t be very good at managing funds, if I couldn’t even get a job at a major banking firm. Changing my role title to the more universally accepted Project Manager, which actually described the actions undertaken in my job, helped.

DON’T LET IT GET YOU DOWN

I had a really, really good job in New Zealand. I still struggled finding work here. Don’t let it get to you. It’s the nature of the place, not your skill set or ability.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. 

HAVE EXPERIENCE AS A PERSONAL ASSISTANT? YOU’RE IN LUCK!

If you have worked as a Personal Assistant for a high level Manager or CEO for more than five years, well done! You have experience in one of the few areas that seems to be reasonably well paid in Dubai. There are lots of recruitment agencies looking to place P.A. staff with experience.

KNOW A SECOND LANGUAGE? IT WILL COME IN HANDY

Any second language is good, but particularly French or German, or of course, written and/or spoken Arabic.

WORK FOR A MULTINATIONAL? HAVE YOU CONSIDERED A TRANSFER?

If you work for a major multinational company, you might be able to transfer to a branch in Dubai. It is well worth looking into – many major companies have branches here, and it’s certainly one way to beat the tough job market.

DUBAI IS A BIG PLACE

Jobs are listed everyday. Yes, there are lots of people applying, but if you persevere, there is work out there. I’m quite picky on how long I want to commute or the hours I want to do, making it a bit harder to find suitable work. If you are less picky, you are certain to find something.

KEEP YOUR LINKEDIN PROFILE UP TO DATE

LinkedIn is big here. It’s better to keep it updated – you never know who might be on the prowl for staff!

YOU MIGHT JUST LUCK OUT!

There are some people in Dubai with awesome jobs. They might know the right person, have a unique set of skills, or just be in the right place at the right time. Don’t give up, and don’t think yourself any less worthy if you struggle. We’ve all been there.


Most responsive recruitment agencies for ex-pats:

Irwin and Dow
Green Gulf Careers
Randstad MENA
Kingston Stanley

Best job sites:

Gulftalent
CareerDubai
LinkedIn Jobs

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