Into the melting pot: working in Dubai

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Stephen Johnson: ‘I have social media to thank for this opportunity’
Stephen Johnson: ‘I have social media to thank for this opportunity’

An article by Stephen Johnson 

One year ago, with 18 months’ PR experience at a Newcastle-based agency, I took a one-way flight to Dubai to begin a new marketing career in the Middle East.

Within seven days of making contact with the company I now work for, I was on a plane, flying to Dubai to start work.

I have social media to thank for this opportunity.

In a previously much less globally connected world, this feat would be at best significantly more challenging, and at worst, near impossible.

It was never easy, though, as no worthwhile achievement ever is. I spent six months researching hundreds of companies, scanning thousands of job adverts, and made – what felt like – millions of Google search enquiries.

I also connected with hundreds of agency directors, managers and executives on Linkedin. My efforts culminated in three interviews and two job offers.

The first position I was offered was with social media agency McCollins Media. The job fell through due to Visa problems. I’d already put my notice in with my English employer, leaving me unemployed in the UK for three months.

I didn’t give up and returned back to the job search. I created a video CV, in an effort to stand out and find another position in the Emirates. It is important to note that many told me to quit at this point; I’m extremely pleased I didn’t.

In the end, hard work paid off.

The culture: work and play

There are differences between consultancy work in the UK and the United Arab Emirates.

The first is the melting pot culture. I work with one Arab, one Canadian, one Englishman, two Indians, one Pakistani and two Sri Lankans. The business languages are English and Arabic creating high demand for both, or ideally dual-language speakers.

The working culture is slightly more at ease. You will sometimes hear the phrase: ‘Insha’Allah’, which literally translates to: ‘If god wills it’ – but in a workplace context means: ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’. However, working hours are generally slightly longer than the UK.

The major draw on the Emirates, particularly Dubai and Abu Dhabi, is its huge wealth and the country’s rapid expansion and growth. Large pots of money are sometimes allocated by state-owned businesses, which help to support the private sector.

Occasional large client budgets allow practitioners to be more creative in their work to communicate a campaign’s message. Thus, building micro-websites, mobile or Facebook applications are not out of the question.

Realistically, to live a relatively comfortable life, you require a salary of around £1,600 per month or 10,000 Dirhams (the local currency). You should be asking for around this figure as a minimum starting salary if you have a UK degree. All salaries in the Emirates are tax free, which also helps. And always check to ensure your employer provides healthcare.

A number of people in the UK seem to think that alcohol is banned. Dubai is in fact a very tolerant Emirate when it comes to alcohol and nightlife is the same, if not better, than England.

Advice if you want to move to Dubai

DubaiStart by making a list of agencies you want to work for by researching on Google. Then, connect with the directors of those companies on LinkedIn.

It’s better if you have something to help you stand out, like a video CV, but if not contact them and ask if they can review your CV – also apply through the normal procedure.

Search and connect with other marketers in Dubai to ask for advice or to ask if they know of any available positions.

Research recruitment websites, such as BayT or social networks where jobs can be advertised, like Dubizzle.

If a recruiter asks you for payment then do not follow up with them – it is illegal in the UAE for a recruiter to charge a candidate for their services.