Dubai : Compared to her seniors in college who had to wait one or two years before finding a job in their field of specialisation, Navneet Kaur considers herself fortunate.
Kaur graduated in September from Wollongong University with a Bachelor of Commerce degree, focusing on finance. She got a traineeship offer to be made permament after her probation period from a financial company within two months of starting her job search in June.
She had sent her resume to a few job search engines such as Monster Inc. over two months and finally got the call.
Despite her break, she thinks it is still difficult for fresh graduates to get that first job because the effect of recession still prevails.
"Due to the downfall in the economic conditions, I noticed there was hardly any response coming through from the finance industry," Kaur said. "Employers sought experienced individuals only."
She is quick to point out that she was well prepared for the test and interview. For the interview she did considerable research on the company and that helped clinch her the job.
When it comes to mid-level professionals, observers say experience is the much sought-after qualification.
Currently, jobs at various levels in the UAE are mostly in banking and finance, including insurance, Sharia compliance, construction, retail and services and the telecom sectors. Some recruitment companies agree with Kaur's opinion.
"Finding a job as a fresh graduate has always been difficult in the UAE with most companies looking for experience in addition to academic qualifications in their new hires," said Mike Hynes, managing partner at Kershaw Leonard, a UAE recruitment consultancy.
He believes the best route to employment for a fresh graduate remains a graduate training programme via either a multinational organisation or a government body. Ironically, he says, the recession has added to the possibilities these days.
"Many companies are still looking carefully at costs and perhaps see fresh graduates as cheaper alternatives that undoubtedly will need training but do hold the possibility of being molded into exactly what the company requires," Hynes said.
Some surveys exude a bit more optimism. Bayt.com's most recent Job Index Survey has found that 35 per cent of employers are currently looking to employ junior executives and 31 per cent are looking to hire on an executive level.
Amer Zureikat, Vice-President of Sales, Bayt.com, says the firm's latest poll series on fresh graduates in the work place shows that they are optimistic that post-recession, employers are more disposed to tap into this new segment of the work force and to invest in them.
According to Andrew McNeilis, Group Managing Director, Middle East and Africa, Talent2, there has been a cautious but steady growth in hiring.
"We are starting to see positive sentiment and positive confidence coming back into the Dubai market," McNeils said. "And clients are making decisions quicker."
When it comes to mid-level hiring specifically, "experience is king."
"Many of our clients have asked us not to send candidates to them who are not already resident here as they feel hiring from outside of the region is a more risky use of their limited headcount," Hynes said. "They are looking more for people who are already set up here with schooling, housing , bank accounts, etc. People who already know their way around their own particular business sector in this part of the world and who can hit the ground running."
Companies now prefer to hire the "Dubai survivor" but McNeilis also said there are some companies who have asked for those who left the country at the height of the recession.
Any expat who survived the last two years has got the skills and attitude that many companies want. "And so a lot of our clients are saying if you can't find talent locally, go and find people who came here, did a good job and went away," McNeilis said.
It is not just experience, it's also a question of attitude, whether young or experienced candidates.
"Employers are looking for really good attitude," McNeilis said. "One of my clients said to me recently about an engineering vacancy, ‘I just don't want dirt under their fingernails. I want splinters.' Also, they are looking for people who are committed to the long term, and not going to job hop — the days for someone moving for a 10 per cent salary increase every six months — have long gone."
For young college graduates to land a job, the attitude factor, besides the qualifications, is the defining trait, McNeilis said.
"What they are asking college graduates is to have their sleeves rolled up, work hard, have a desire to succeed and not expecting free ride. That's the big change at the moment."
Good communication ability in Arabic and English, team spirit and flexibility, overall personality, good leadership skills and trustworthiness are some of the other important qualities the region's employers are looking for, said Zureikat citing his company survey.
The hiring process has changed for the better and is more rigorous than what it was during the boom years and hence patience is a virtue when one applies for a job, industry insiders said.
Candidates should expect multiple interviews, lots of competition and very high expectations when applying for a position, said Hynes of Kersahw Leonard.
"Clients are much choosier about the criteria they are setting for candidates to meet and they have the time and the choice now to turn down applicants that do not exactly meet their needs."
"We have clients who expect us to not only do face to face interviews, but competency based interviews, psychometric tests, panel interviews, and then there is this deep reference checks," McNeilis said.
And finally salary structures have also undergone a change. The salaries from three years ago were "unrepeatable miracles" McNeilis said, adding that clients will pay an average salary.
From a salary perspective, Hynes said, many employers have now abandoned the multiple aspect package with separate amounts for housing and schooling in favour of one lump sum each month. More senior positions will still carry these incentives but they are often tied to performance.
"But if they meet an exceptional individual who can bring an exceptional value to their company, whether they are a graduate or a seasoned professional, they will still pay an upper quartile, over the odds salary for great talent," McNeilis said. "That hasn't gone away."
A snapshot of salaries in two sectors
Banking/Finance: For a fresh college graduate role*:UAE national would typically earn Dh18,000 to Dh25,000Expatriate would typically earn Dh12,000 toDh20,000 For a graduate with three to four years of experience:UAE national would typically earn Dh27,000 to Dh40,000Expatriate would typically earn Dh22,000 toDh35,000
Retail:For a fresh graduate role:UAE national would typically earn Dh20,000 to Dh30,000Expatriate would typically earn Dh12,000 toDh20,000 For a graduate with three to four years of experience:UAE national would typically earn Dh27,000 to Dh45,000Expatriate would typically earn Dh20,000 toDh35,000
*Graduate role refers to a specialised position which requires the fresh college graduate to have a specific skill. The candidate applying, for example, in the banking sector should have specialised in banking and finance when pursuing Bachelor of Commerce.
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