How to get hired in the Middle East

ZaZa's picture
Rank: Baboon | 122

Andy note: ZaZa resides in Abu Dhabi and works as a recruiter for some of Middle East's largest sovereign wealth funds and investment banks.

Let's start with the basics - it's not like in the US. It's not like in Europe. The process sounds vaguely similar, the results more or else should be the same, but how you do it is way different. My first advice to you when you decide to come to the Middle East is start looking immediately. Do it whilst you still have a job or you are still in business school. It takes me on average, nine to twelve months to place a good candidate in one of the better sovereign wealth funds, banks or PEs.

The most interesting jobs out here are of course the sovereign wealth funds or other government entities, their contracts are government and that means even more paid in cash at the end of the month.

The split of pay works roughly like this: basic salary, housing allowance, transport allowance, end-of-service gratuity (this you get even if you leave on your own accord) and flights home. All of this is not taxed by the country at all, so depending on where you come from you will also save up on taxes. International companies work differently and on average pay lower in some cases significantly in comparison to the government entities.

In terms of salaries UAE -highest, Qatar - second, KSA is difficult to judge since sometimes it comes highest sometimes it comes lowest of the three. The rest of the countries in the region are currently not as attractive: Oman and Jordan are both very pretty for tourism, but unfortunately struggling for economy, Bahrain's and Lebanon's situation is unrest. Kuwait sounds pretty strict, dry and not great fun with lower salaries than KSA, so not first choice either.

Now once you have started, identify the companies you are interested in and don't forget the large corporates in that list. For example if you are a Power & Energy junkie you can look at a company like TAQA or if you are into your Oil sector go for ENEC or ADNOC, Defence - Tawazun. They will have their corporate development units, internal advisory and project financing - all areas of great interesting experience.

Next step - get yourselves a real good LinkedIn account and I mean a real good one. Put your experience, interests and most importantly areas of expertise on there. I do most of my successful headhunting research online, which means either the PEs websites (if you are senior enough I will find your biography there), conferences (again f you are senor enough) or LinkedIn (that's for everyone). So if you are in a top tier investment bank, FIG team, 2nd year analyst, let LinkedIn know about it (actually if you are that, please PM me your CV), so that I can find you when I need you. Now with LinkedIn we don't need your entire CV, we just need the general information, languages and education.

Once you have a good LinkedIn account (if you still haven't figured it out MENA hearts LinkedIn, just like Germans love their Xing) - start using it. Research the head of the team that you want to join and write him a beautiful introduction email. The response ratio here is so much higher than anywhere else I have been, you will actually get responses. If you don't want to pay for InMails, with most people you can simply guess their e-mail address. Read in the news: The new Head of Mergers & Acquisitions of National Bank of Abu Dhabi is... and you have a wonderful email address of [email protected]. Seriously done it before, it works.

Introduce yourself, in a wonderfully eloquent manner. If you happen to both love tennis talk about it, if you went to the same school say it, if you have nothing in common...you are not looking hard enough. I actually get so outrageous (I am ZaZa I can get away with it!) that I tell Italians how Italian food is the best in the world in my what-we-have-in-common part of my introduction email. (By the way the 'best food' works for most European Nationalities, except the British). Once you get noticed by a senior the process starts that is where you stay patient, keep in touch and go through the trials & tribulations they have in store for you.

Well this is nearly it, except I forgot to mention us the recruiters. We could sometimes be useful too, especially when you are taking your first steps in research, speak to us and we will tell you names of companies we work with, who is hiring. If we have the right opportunity for you, go through us its way easier than doing it on your own, but if we don't have it... trust only yourself. Simple example is that ADIA works with so many recruiters around the world, each team and sub division has their own preferred recruiter. I work only with the Private Equity, so I can easily not know what is going on in the Infrastructure team. This is where you come in and do it on your own.

Comments (48)

Sep 25, 2012

excellent, many thanks!

Sep 25, 2012

Thank you man. I'm extremely interested in a region dubbed MENASA (Middle Easter, North Africa, South Asia) I think it's gonna be at the top of most headlines during my adulthood. (I'm almost 21).

Anyways, what are you feelings on Abraaj Capital? It's one of the best PE funds in Dubai, and arguably a top 50 fund worldwide. Is there anyway I could break in as an undergrad for a summer analyst stint or FT? I go to NYU CAS fyi.

Thanks!

Sep 26, 2012
AQM:

Thank you man. I'm extremely interested in a region dubbed MENASA (Middle Easter, North Africa, South Asia) I think it's gonna be at the top of most headlines during my adulthood. (I'm almost 21).

Anyways, what are you feelings on Abraaj Capital? It's one of the best PE funds in Dubai, and arguably a top 50 fund worldwide. Is there anyway I could break in as an undergrad for a summer analyst stint or FT? I go to NYU CAS fyi.

Thanks!

We work closely with Abraaj and now is not the good time for them - they are restructuring and we should find out once they are done and start hiring. I would say getting a job with them as undergrad is quite difficult unless you can display some serious affection for the region and manage to speak to the right guys.

    • 1
Sep 25, 2012

I emailed a few people in the region without any results. I actually emailed one of the big guys at Barclays KSA. How can a college student wow any of the bankers in the region? I am really interested in working in the GCC especially UAE and KSA. All of the major BBs have branches in the region.

Any thoughts?

Sep 26, 2012
jpmoranmonkeysachs:

I emailed a few people in the region without any results. I actually emailed one of the big guys at Barclays KSA. How can a college student wow any of the bankers in the region? I am really interested in working in the GCC especially UAE and KSA. All of the major BBs have branches in the region.

Any thoughts?

Well I would say you will have a tough time to break into the international banks in the region at the moment since they are struggling. If they do hire, what they do is that they move the guys internally say from London so that they wouldn't fire them. RBS closed its M&A here, and it looks like other banks will follow. Unless you go for the Wealth Management in KSA and you are fluent in Arabic, it will be difficult to get a job in the BB. Do try the local investment banks though - Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank or National Bank of Abu Dhabi.

    • 1
Sep 25, 2012

Great post ZaZa. Thanks for the info. I am looking to make the transition from Project Finance to Private Equity, ideally through a UAE based position. I have some built up some experience in Energy (Power, Oil & Gas) and am hoping I can leverage this to make the switch. Have you ever seen this done? What would be my biggest challenges?
P.S. I have PM'd you my resume.

Sep 26, 2012
bananaman123:

Great post ZaZa. Thanks for the info. I am looking to make the transition from Project Finance to Private Equity, ideally through a UAE based position. I have some built up some experience in Energy (Power, Oil & Gas) and am hoping I can leverage this to make the switch. Have you ever seen this done? What would be my biggest challenges?
P.S. I have PM'd you my resume.

That should work quite nicely, as long as you go for the corporates - just as I mentioned in my post. They do look for strong project finance experience and hire for the investment teams.

    • 1
Sep 25, 2012

Is there any significant trading in the region at all especially in the UAE?

Sep 26, 2012
qweretyq:

Is there any significant trading in the region at all especially in the UAE?

Definite significant - for the local market its good, but I would say internationally it is not recognized. If you are a trader I would say you have better opportunities in ASIA, Russia or Europe & US. I am saying this without knowing your sector as well, so its just a general comment.

Sep 25, 2012

No thanks

Sep 26, 2012

ZaZa, thanks for an insight into Abraaj's current situation.

I was going through Abraaj's career page. A quick question, are Internships / Analyst positions at these PE firms like Abraaj processed through in-house HR department?

Sep 26, 2012
TwoNineSeven:

ZaZa, thanks for an insight into Abraaj's current situation.

I was going through Abraaj's career page. A quick question, are Internships / Analyst positions at these PE firms like Abraaj processed through in-house HR department?

In house HR - I would go through them.

Sep 26, 2012

Hey ZaZa, like the thread.

Three questions:

  1. Is there much happening out there in the way of sellside equity research or does it all tend to be buyside stuff?
  2. How highly regarded is the ACA accounting qualification out that way? I know in the UK it is looked on favourably but in the US it is unheard of and accountants get no respect. What is the case in MENA?
  3. How is big 4 experience viewed coming from a Transaction Advisory background? Is it possible to jump from Big 4 to banking / research / PE or is a stint in IB required first?

Thanks ZaZa

Sep 26, 2012
Maherj1:

Hey ZaZa, like the thread.

Three questions:

  1. Is there much happening out there in the way of sellside equity research or does it all tend to be buyside stuff?
  2. How highly regarded is the ACA accounting qualification out that way? I know in the UK it is looked on favourably but in the US it is unheard of and accountants get no respect. What is the case in MENA?
  3. How is big 4 experience viewed coming from a Transaction Advisory background? Is it possible to jump from Big 4 to banking / research / PE or is a stint in IB required first?

Thanks ZaZa

  1. Truth is I don't know, let me think about it and do some research. I will get back to you - very good question.
  2. Most expats here are from European/UK educational background (well professional expats), ACA is as recognized as other qualifications and as sought after as the US ones. The rest you learn on the job anyway.
  3. Very well, you can go directly into PE or go into the investment side of a corporate. There are companies of course who will ask for "only top tier investment banking experience", but there are plenty of other interesting players in the market who won't. As long as you have the right "investment banking culture" (which is the more difficult part) and the technical skills you will be fine.
    • 1
Sep 26, 2012

thanks ZaZa! very helpful post

WSO's COO (Chief Operating Orangutan) | My Linkedin

Sep 26, 2012

Any lifestyle tips for an American moving to the middle east? Outside of Dubai, that is.

Sep 27, 2012
D M:

Any lifestyle tips for an American moving to the middle east? Outside of Dubai, that is.

Oh I have plenty - do you have anything in particular in mind?

Best Response
Sep 26, 2012

I'm more concerned about the benefits. Does health insurance cover AK-47 and bomb wounds or are those considered cosmetic?

    • 3
Sep 26, 2012

FBI and CIA are closely watching a new breed of terrorism, called financial terrorism, which is reportedly working with premium financial institutions in laundering black funds and financing terrorists world wide, just saying.

Sep 27, 2012

I tried unsuccessfully to get a job at ADIA while a senior in undergrad. I heard pay for Americans was $160,000 tax free (or taxed at 2% or whatever they have to pay to the less fortunate).

My name is Nicky, but you can call me Dre.

Sep 27, 2012
aempirei:

I tried unsuccessfully to get a job at ADIA while a senior in undergrad. I heard pay for Americans was $160,000 tax free (or taxed at 2% or whatever they have to pay to the less fortunate).

That sounds about right - everything is tax free and the only tax you pay is depending on your personal codes in your home country. UAE does not tax anyone.

Sep 27, 2012

Any additional color on Abraaj, specifically interview process, people etc? Also more insight on their restructuring would be awesome. Thanks in advance.

Sep 27, 2012

I lived lived in UAE for about a year so I figure I'll throw my 2 cents in here. First is, if you're American (which I am) the US WILL TAX you!! You won't pay UAE taxes but you will pay US Taxes if you are a US citizen..which I believe is on like the first 92k you make but don't quote me on that as I'm not too sure what it is now. Dubai, where I lived, will seem really really awesome for like a couple of months and then you realize the entire place is a facade for tourists. Dubai is a transient town, people are always coming and going. You'll make friends but they'll leave to go back to the UK, South Africa, or wherever they originally came from usually. Not many Americans there compared to the overwhelming amount of Brits, Germans, and other Euro expats...Tons of Expats from all over the globe really.
I won't go on forever but I did enjoy my time there however, I was definitely happy to return to the States when it was time to leave. IMO, if you get like a year rotational thing out there, you have family out there, you are REALLY PASSIONATE about the ME, I'd go for sure. Some people love it there, some don't. I personally liked some aspects of it hated others, which I won't go into details about here.
Keep in mind the male to female ratio there is like 5:1, go to any place that serves alcohol around there if you don't believe me ( I think it's better in Abu Dhabi though). If you have any specific questions about living in UAE as an American though feel free to hit me up.

Sep 27, 2012

miz03 is right. My best buddy worked for some time in Dubai (I visited him regularly, hence I know a little bit about the region, too) and he said that the biggest problem is to make "real" friends over there. The people come and go, you will make friendships, but after a few months they'll leave the country again. That was the major drawback he mentioned about living in Dubai.

However, he was payed like a king and lived a nice lifestyle over there. But (again like miz03 said) he was very happy when he finally got back home. Dubai seems to be a nice plays to live for a few months (or for the occasional visit like I did), but I (and he) wouldn't want to live there for the long term.

Sep 27, 2012
above_and_beyond:

miz03 is right. My best buddy worked for some time in Dubai (I visited him regularly, hence I know a little bit about the region, too) and he said that the biggest problem is to make "real" friends over there. The people come and go, you will make friendships, but after a few months they'll leave the country again. That was the major drawback he mentioned about living in Dubai.

However, he was payed like a king and lived a nice lifestyle over there. But (again like miz03 said) he was very happy when he finally got back home. Dubai seems to be a nice plays to live for a few months (or for the occasional visit like I did), but I (and he) wouldn't want to live there for the long term.

That is true. I would only say Dubai more so than Abu Dhabi, mainly because well Dubai depended on real estate and when the crisis happened people thought that they weren't paid enough to support the heat etc and went back. Indeed in terms of society and culture and ever being part of it the ME still has a lot to learn. The lifestyle here can only be described as comfortable and unfortunately "comfortable" rarely breeds "progress , art or culture" ...

Sep 27, 2012

http://www.taxmeless.com/page2.html
US expats don't pay on the first $91k of income, even if that specific site isn't 100% accurate, I know the info is more or less reliable

Sep 27, 2012

I am active in private equity, I would recommend you follow Dubai Beat for some up-to-date information on the region.

Sep 27, 2012

Been to Dubai a few times. It's Vegas without the chicks, booze, or gambling. Not a good time.

Abu Dhabi is a 'real' place at least.

Sep 28, 2012
PetEng:

Been to Dubai a few times. It's Vegas without the chicks, booze, or gambling. Not a good time.

Abu Dhabi is a 'real' place at least.

There's booze in Dubai

Sep 28, 2012
D M:
PetEng:

Been to Dubai a few times. It's Vegas without the chicks, booze, or gambling. Not a good time.

Abu Dhabi is a 'real' place at least.

There's booze in Dubai

And chicks, too. Go to Barrasti sometimes, you will have plenty of both..

Oct 1, 2012
D M:
PetEng:

Been to Dubai a few times. It's Vegas without the chicks, booze, or gambling. Not a good time.

Abu Dhabi is a 'real' place at least.

There's booze in Dubai

So you've been? Of course there is booze, just not much. Thought that was obvious.

The 5/1 m/f ratio is not a joke. And 80% of the girls are pros.

Sep 28, 2012

ZaZa thank you so much for the post.

1 quick question:

What's the difference between these firms??

Abu Dhabi Investment Authority
Abu Dhabi Investment Council
Abu Dhabi Investment Company

Oct 16, 2012

Hey Zaza,

Ive been trying to contact people through LinkedIn and have had little success so far. I've followed your guidelines, are people in the region reluctant to network through sites like LinkedIn. Also are there any networking events in the UAE for consulting?

Oct 16, 2012
ninja_girl:

Hey Zaza,

Ive been trying to contact people through LinkedIn and have had little success so far. I've followed your guidelines, are people in the region reluctant to network through sites like LinkedIn. Also are there any networking events in the UAE for consulting?

Ninja_Girl,

Speaking from my limited experience of trying to do the same thing...

I have had mixed success using ZaZa's recommendations. By a stroke of luck, I was offered a 1 month job seeker premium package by LinkedIn a couple of weeks ago, so I had the opportunity to use 5 InMails in addition to the regular (character limited) connection requests.

I found recruiters to be fairly quick to connect but unresponsive to requests for advice or guidance. This doesn't surprise me, given that they can benefit from access to me and my network very easily (the click of a button) where as they have much less to gain from spending their time counseling me.

I followed ZaZa's advice re: contacting hiring managers that have an online bio that I could use to find things we had in common. I made sure I mentioned these points in my InMails. To give you an idea, these were often things as simple as the fact that they lived or were educated in the same country as me at some point in their lifetime.

Of the 5 InMails I sent to these senior professionals, 3 were responded to. I would describe the responses as lukewarm. One asked when I planned to next be in the region and the other two asked that I send them my resume. I resonded promptly and sent my resume to those that requested it but I have had no response as of yet.

I personally feel LinkedIn can be a useful tool in my job search and efforts to relocate to Dubai but, as with anything of this sort, it requires a significant amount of effort and persistence and a moderate degree of luck.

Oct 16, 2012

Thanks Bananaman123. Are you presently working in consulting in UAE?

Oct 22, 2012
bananaman123:
ninja_girl:

Hey Zaza,

Ive been trying to contact people through LinkedIn and have had little success so far. I've followed your guidelines, are people in the region reluctant to network through sites like LinkedIn. Also are there any networking events in the UAE for consulting?

Ninja_Girl,

Speaking from my limited experience of trying to do the same thing...

I have had mixed success using ZaZa's recommendations. By a stroke of luck, I was offered a 1 month job seeker premium package by LinkedIn a couple of weeks ago, so I had the opportunity to use 5 InMails in addition to the regular (character limited) connection requests.

I found recruiters to be fairly quick to connect but unresponsive to requests for advice or guidance. This doesn't surprise me, given that they can benefit from access to me and my network very easily (the click of a button) where as they have much less to gain from spending their time counseling me.

I followed ZaZa's advice re: contacting hiring managers that have an online bio that I could use to find things we had in common. I made sure I mentioned these points in my InMails. To give you an idea, these were often things as simple as the fact that they lived or were educated in the same country as me at some point in their lifetime.

Of the 5 InMails I sent to these senior professionals, 3 were responded to. I would describe the responses as lukewarm. One asked when I planned to next be in the region and the other two asked that I send them my resume. I resonded promptly and sent my resume to those that requested it but I have had no response as of yet.

I personally feel LinkedIn can be a useful tool in my job search and efforts to relocate to Dubai but, as with anything of this sort, it requires a significant amount of effort and persistence and a moderate degree of luck.

Thanks for letting me know how you guys are doing. 3 out of 5 for me is a pretty good success ratio :) In general indeed it does take a lot of time, but at least it gets to the right people. I would add here that in terms of internships and work experience the region is difficult. You do get offers, but in view of how difficult it is to get a work visa for a company as a seasonal worker a lot of companies prefer to hire people who are currently based already in the region. I would say to stick to the LinkedIN approach in my personal experience it is by far - the one way i get most of my placements, get my candidates and get new clients. in all your writing though - don't forget this is the Middle East. Things here move slower than anywhere else, and the "personal contact" is really important. If someone did respond and you have their details - pick up the phone and say "Hi, I thought I will be more convincing over the phone, here is my CV".

Ninja_Girl - consulting is more difficult. One I recruit mostly for the front office finance and investment, two the good consulting firms are the international ones and their way of working is the standard way in the US. If you want to go for a consulting role within one of the sovereign wealth funds - in this case you should be contacting people within these organisations. If you want PM me your CV so I can think of a couple of the local firms which will have teams for you.

Oct 16, 2012

No ninja_girl. I am currently living and working in Canada. Ideally looking to make the move to the UAE within the next year. My focus is more on the (energy) direct investments side rather than consulting.

Oct 18, 2012

Expats don't pay on the first 90+ and then you can usually deduct your housing expense as well if you're in a high cost locale, such as Dubai or Singapore, etc... assuming you pay 60k per year on housing, which you do if you run shit, then you get 150k per year tax free. So if you're making 300k (as an associate, lets say), you pay only like 18-20ish percent total including SS.

Oct 18, 2012

Yeaaa..

Nov 11, 2012

ZaZa - am a Manager at a Big4 house with 6 years of corporate finance experience in London (specialise in infrastructure). Following a re-org, my team are looking to send experienced staff from London to help grow the business in UAE for 18-24 months (based in Abu Dhabi but covering Dubai and also Oman where required). My thoughts are that while growth is slow in the UK this might be a good chance to get some different experience. I would really be grateful if you could share your thoughts on this role in terms of:

  1. improving employability in UK on return in 18-24 months
  2. job prospects in UAE if I decide to stay there
  3. impression on payscale for secondment

Please do feel free to PM me

thanks

Dec 19, 2012

ZaZa, can you please message me your email address? I can't send you a pm for some reason. I spent 2 years in i-banking in Dubai and am keen to explore sovereign wealth fund opportunities in the Gulf.

Thanks!

Jan 13, 2013

This thread is very useful. There's not a whole lot of info out there on the ME market.

I'm currently in a bulge bracket capital markets team in london and am considering the move into the ME. Could you enlighten us on the pay scale in firms such as Abraaj and Waha at the analyst and associate levels, so that we can compare this to US and European levels?

Jan 13, 2013
Comment
Jun 19, 2013

Pages