Being crowned the Ultimate UAE Explorer, Alec Haden enjoys a free apartment for a year in the Bonnington Hotel, a free car, some free flights from Virgin Atlantic and Dh50,000 to spend in the Adventure HQ store. Image Credit: Supplied picture

Alec Harden: Ultimate UAE Explorer

Imagine a job where your perks include a rent-free stay for a year in a plush pad with room service, a free car, free flights and free meals and where the biggest challenge is whether to go dune bashing or snorkelling over the weekend.

"I can't think of any other realistic way that I would be able to try out all the cool things to do, live in a serviced hotel apartment, drive a new car, get the best in outdoor gear and fly around the world - all for free!" he says.

So how did Alec Harden land the gig of a lifetime? It started with Explorer Publishing's competition to find the Ultimate UAE Explorer. Harden was shortlisted to do a hot air balloon ride and review the experience after his "rather silly" three-minute video won him a spot in the top five.

With his partner (now wife), Harden competed in an all-day race around the UAE and was crowned the Ultimate UAE Explorer.

His swag included a free apartment for a year in the Bonnington Hotel, a free car, some free flights from Virgin Atlantic and Dh50,000 to spend in the Adventure HQ store. What he most enjoys is doing reviews of activities such as snorkelling with sharks in the Dubai Aquarium or a beginners' photography course with Gulf Photo Plus — things he might never have tried before.

Harden still has his day job as a marketing manager at Technology Partners and his employers have been supportive of his need to take off to Ireland on a press junket, for instance, as part of his duties as the winner of the competition.

If you've set your sights on winning next year's title, here's some advice from the current champion: "I think you need to show that you're open to trying new things, not scared of making a a plonker of yourself, which I seem to do naturally, and that you don't take things too seriously."

Robert Bennett: A fishy business

There are over 250 species of fish and marine creatures in the Ambassador Lagoon at Atlantis, The Palm. The resort is home to one of the largest open-air marine habitats in the world. An 11 million-litre tank teems with sharks, rays, piranhas and more exotic fish, in lagoons and displays, including The Lost Chambers, which recreates a journey through the legendary island of Atlantis.

Robert Bennett was working for a large aquarium in his native UK for seven years, doing similar work. "I am not one for sitting at computers, so being able to walk away from my desk and jump in the water has to be the biggest perk," he says. He is proud of introducing devil rays to the Ambassador Lagoon, currently the only example of the species in captivity.

Bennett goes swimming with the sharks every day, so reactions to his job vary from outright disbelief to subtler queries about his sanity. But in a town filled with desk jockeys, it's no surprise most people tend to be quite envious. "My job can sometimes dominate conversations at dinner parties."

Apart from the obvious challenge of not becoming a shark's dinner, Bennett says that diving every day might not always be as glamorous as it sounds. "You really need to love your job. Sometimes the water is cold or you feel tired but there is still work to be done." For those who are angling for a job like this, Bennett has several tips. "Positions in the aquarium industry are few and far between, so doing some kind of volunteer work will get your foot in the door. But getting out there and learning to dive is a good start. I would recommend working your way up to Divemaster level."

Yuri Ova: The dolphin whisperer

While people travel across continents just to watch dolphins, for Yuri Ova it's just another day at the office.

Before his Dubai gig, Ova, 35, was the head trainer at another dolphin facility in his native Portugal where he conducted shows and interactive programmes. "No two days are alike. We work with marine life, which is unique, interacting with another species and sharing all of its qualities and complexities with the world," he says. "The advantage of working with marine mammals is the fact that we are able to uncover and learn more about different species. There is not a lot of information about the species of dolphins under our care. Observing them allows us to understand more about their behaviour. Also, you can apply the techniques used with marine mammals in your personal life experiences."

To be a dolphin whisperer, Ova says you need to be humorous, flexible, responsible, punctual and an extrovert. Additional qualifications in marine biology, zoology, veterinarian practice or some experience in research would help.

"In a dream job, the passion has to be dominant. If there is any advice I can give it is to never give up. If you fail, wipe your tears and start all over again from the bottom up. Eventually, if your passion, dedication and hard work are for real, you will succeed."

Anthony Prophet: The racecar driver

For Anthony Prophet, a 31-year-old race car driver and instructor at Dubai Autodrome, teaching Tom Cruise how to drive for the film Mission Impossible 4 was a highlight in his high-velocity career. Prophet works with teams, manufacturers, guests and drivers from all over the world at the Dubai Autodrome.

"We offer them a glimpse into the world of motorsport with them behind the wheel and me and the team on hand to offer any assistance to improve their circuit driving. If they leave smiling and with more knowledge than before - job done!"

He began his motorsport career at an early age. The son of racing driver, Michael Prophet, he was used to hanging around paddocks for years before making his debut drive in 1997 in the Ford XR Challenge. "I'll be forever grateful to my dad for the introduction to motorsport - without his willingness to share his passion for it, I would not have discovered all it has to offer," he says. Working in the motorsport business and out on the circuit gives him huge satisfaction. "Over the years we have worked with some fantastic drivers who have now gone on to international race disciplines representing the UAE around the world.

"Driving single-seater cars and Audi R8s is a great way to enjoy a holiday and I am lucky to share that experience with the guests and make it educational for them as well as a lot of fun," he says.

If you are considering racing as a career, Prophet recommends starting off with karting. "If you feel that you are quite good around a kart track then come along to one of many junior race meetings over at Dubai Kartdrome and speak to the drivers and teams. The camaraderie in motorsport is infectious and everyone is keen to offer any help they can. My advice for anyone considering racing - go for it!"

GM Souls: The game changer

For gaming addicts, it is the ultimate dream job - pop in a game, play for hours on end, and get paid for it. If 21-year-old games tester GM Souls is to be believed, it's also a lot of hard work and a career choice that most people don't take very seriously.

GM Souls (he will not reveal his real name for professional reasons and prefers to be known by this moniker) works as a game tester for Game Power 7, the first online gaming publisher in the region."Every day is a new adventure in this field. A typical work day starts with a visit to the virtual world to check on the players and see the atmosphere inside the game. Helping players is a daily task in this job apart from my main role, which is testing everything that is new," he says.

"Among so many perks, there are two aspects to this job that are my favourite: the smiles I see on players' faces after every successful event or on the launch of a new patch, and the fact that I'm always the first to see and experience the wonders of the virtual world." It can also be a pretty well-paid gig, with experienced game testers in the US earning up to $71,000 (Dh260,790) a year.

GM Souls' interest in gaming started in 2006 when he got hooked on to MMORPG (massively multi-player online role-playing game) - "a genre of role-playing online games in which a large number of players interact with one another within a virtual game world," he says.

In 2008, Game Power 7 launched Rappelz for Arabic gamers. For GM Souls it was a chance to face off against players from the region. The game paved the way for him to become a tester at Game Power 7.

So what skills do you need to play games all day and get paid for it? GM Souls counts them off: "Sharp observation skills and the ability to detect bugs - no matter how small the problems are, they could turn to disasters. Above all, a heart for gaming is essential for success in this job."