Illustration by Mahgul Farooqui

The Post-Grad Series: Staying in the UAE

Challenges NYU Abu Dhabi graduates face while hunting for jobs in the region.

NYU Abu Dhabi graduates face multiple dilemmas: continue studying? Return back home? Go to the U.S. or stay in the region? The Post-Grad Series is The Gazelle’s latest column, aimed at helping current students get relevant information about professional life and postgraduate options at large.
“I think at the moment [the UAE] is the only country where I feel at home when I land. The friends that I made here, great prospects for [my] career, and the lifestyle all were determining factors for me to stay,” said Gulnoza Mansur, Class of 2017.
Mansur is a Deals Consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Dubai and, like 39.7 percent of employed graduates from her graduating class, she decided to start her career in the UAE.
Graphs by Joaquín Kunkel
The data collected by the Career Development Centre shows that in the past three years, 29.6 percent of graduates stayed in the UAE. Looking at the salaries range might suggest that NYUAD graduates staying are doing worse off than in previous years, but examining the hiring activity in the Gulf reveals that such changes are part of a larger trend. Due to weak oil prices, many firms reported a reduction in market activity that led to cost cutting practices, including a decrease in hiring. A study conducted by Hays, a leading British company specializing in recruitment, concluded that 37 percent of employers reported reducing the number of employees in their organization in 2016, in contrast to 17 percent in 2015 and to the 11 percent who anticipated a reduction when surveyed last year.
The near future, however, seems brighter — 72 percent of the organizations surveyed stated that they plan to recruit additional staff in the next 12 months. Almost half of the employers feel positive about their business activity in the upcoming year. The demand for tax professionals and financial analysts is also on the rise, given the introduction of Value Added Tax in the UAE.
Banking and Finance is, therefore, an attractive option for recent graduates — 18.5 percent of Class of 2016 alumni staying in the UAE found a position within this industry. This figure, when compared to the past, represents a large increase, as in 2014 only 7.5 percent of NYUAD graduates opted for a career in Banking and Finance.
While Banking seems to be increasingly appealing to recent graduates, hiring in Management Consulting dropped. In 2014, 22.5 percent of NYUAD’s graduating class worked in consulting. In 2016, only 3.7 percent found a position in this field. Percentage of alumni employed in Retail, Education and Engineering also decreased.
Other areas, however, witnessed sharp increases, such as the Arts, Public Relations, Media, Scientific Research and Social Impact, Policy and Research. Social Impact, Policy and Research is now the most common alumni destination in the UAE, with almost a quarter of 2016 graduates working in this industry.
Tax-free income is, of course, an important factor students think about when deciding to stay in the country. Still, alumni employed in Abu Dhabi and Dubai usually mentioned their attachment to the region as the primary factor they considered when making the decision to stay. One of them is Pablo Pacareu, Class of 2017. Pacareu works as an associate at AlphaSights, an information services company, in Dubai.
“I stayed in the UAE because, honestly, I’ve grown attached to the region; I feel very comfortable living here as a young professional. Also, the opportunity [I got] was amazing, [so] I wanted to work for this company and keep the relationships I developed at NYUAD at the same time,” said Pacareu.
Pacareu is still new to Dubai, as this week marks his second one working for AlphaSights. He noticed that the UAE is young-professional friendly, though.
“There are so many young professionals in Dubai. There are ways to rent apartments that are very flexible and good for recent [graduates]. It’s good to know people who are at the same life stage as you are,” noticed Pacareu.
Victoria Blinova, Class of 2017, agrees. Blinova currently works as a business consultant at an advisory firm in Dubai.
“The UAE is young-professional friendly, especially Dubai. Not everyone I see in and out of the office is a fresh graduate, but a lot of people are in their twenties or thirties, without families. They have either started their careers or are in the first five to ten years. A lot of people come to work in the region after attending [graduate] school. I'd say that due to the amount of expats that are more or less my age, it's quite easy to relate to people,” observed Blinova.
Her job hunt shows that traditional recruitment processes are not the only way to land a position in the region. Blinova recommends networking on LinkedIn.
“After applying to hundreds of companies and receiving tons of rejections and a few offers, I, ironically, ended up with a company I didn't fill out any application for. My employer found me on LinkedIn, emailed me and requested for an interview. After two interviews — one face-to-face and one [on] Skype — I was extended the offer,” wrote Blinova.
Mansur got accepted as a summer intern at PricewaterhouseCoopers after her junior year and says that her internship helped her land a full-time offer afterwards. She also mentions that the Career Development Center helped her throughout the process.
“They were very helpful in practicing case studies with me and advising me on which job offer to take that would align with my long-term career plans,” said Mansur.
Every region values different skills and the Gulf isn’t an exception. During recruitment, Blinova observed that the employers in the UAE value Arabic language skills.
“I do have to say Arabic helped during interviews — some companies expressed they wanted to hire me specifically due to knowledge of Arabic. Some companies mentioned the fact that language skills, to them, are somewhat an indication of a person's intelligence, curiosity and dedication to learning about a particular region,” wrote Blinova.
Mansur is in accord.
“Learn Arabic. It will increase your salary or at least boost your application,” she advised.
Pacareu noted that the pace of the market requires efficiency under pressure.
“I think what employers look for is adaptability. This is a region with high expectations for work; you need to deliver fast and produce good quality output because projects come quickly, and a lot of things are happening in this region,” said Pacareu.
When asked about their future plans, Pacareu, Blinova and Mansur noted that even though they are uncertain about the length of their stay in the UAE, they do not intend to leave soon.
“I don’t have a time limit for how long I want to stay here. Job opportunities are great and for now I’m not thinking of leaving,” said Pacareu.
Mansur advised seniors to equip themselves with a lot of patience.
“When I was applying I had [a] hard time communicating with Human Resources departments. It's a bit slower than anywhere else, but have some patience. It's all going to work out,” reassured Mansur.
Kristina Stanković is Editor-in-chief. Email her at
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