I specialise in recruiting mid to senior level accountancy and finance roles, working with newly qualified candidates through to CFO level executives in the Middle East. Since arriving in Dubai in January, from the UK, I have been contacted every day by people looking to relocate. Despite only having been here a short while, I am confident to say that demand for those looking to relocate is on the rise and with the current socio-economic positivity surrounding the Middle East, this looks set to continue.
This article will provide insights into the realities of the UAE accountancy and finance market, and give advice for those looking to relocate. Having worked in the London recruitment market previously, there will be some comparison throughout, but the points highlighted below will be just as relevant for those looking to relocate from elsewhere.
The realities of the UAE market
1. Month Notice Period
One of the biggest barriers to relocating to the UAE is your notice period. In the UK it is very common for candidates to have a 3-month notice. For most companies this is a non-starter. Companies aren’t willing to wait 4-5 months to hire somebody if you factor in the time it takes to complete the recruitment process.
“But Lewis my notice period is negotiable.”
Unfortunately, unless you get this confirmed in writing, in my opinion it’s more of a wish than a reality. Recruitment processes cost both time and money and most clients aren’t willing to take the risk, especially when there is great talent already based here in the region.
To overcome this, candidates are resigning from their roles and moving to the region without a job. Although a risk and I appreciate it requires a financial investment, this is the extent people are going to in order to find work here. This not only demonstrates commitment to hiring managers but also gives you the chance to meet people in person when you are on the ground. Although this still won’t guarantee you will successfully find work, it gives you a much higher chance than those based in the UK on a 3-month notice.
2. Permanent vs Contact/Interim
In the UK there is an established contract/interim recruitment market providing candidates the chance to work on several different projects across a range of industries. However this is not the case in this region, where most roles are permanent.
One of the challenges I’ve seen for those who have completed a significant number of contract/interim assignments, is that they may be perceived as somebody who doesn’t stay with a particular employer. As a result, you will need to convey the benefits of the contract/interim assignments and how this can add value to the prospective employer. Unfortunately, hiring managers aren’t always receptive to this and it can be a barrier.
3. FP&A Roles
“I’m looking for a role in FP&A”
One of the most used phrases when talking to accounting and finance professionals and to be honest, I get it. If I were an accountant, I would want a similar role. The reality is, there are fewer jobs like this than in London. In London, there are larger finance teams and often different teams for traditional controller-type positions and FP&A.
Although we are seeing an increase in the demand for FP&A professionals in the region, don’t be surprised if roles in the region are broader in terms of their responsibilities compared to elsewhere.
4. Industry Experience
“Finance is all the same what ever industry you work in”
A controversial topic for many, but in the majority of cases industry experience plays a factor. Typically, a hiring manager will identify the industry they want the candidate to have RECENT experience in. This will be the same industry that the company operates within or one which is similar. Unfortunately, auditing a company for a one-week period back when you were working at the big 4 doesn’t count….
This is one of the biggest differences from other markets that I have seen. In London for example, it was almost seen as a badge of honor that you had worked across multiple industries. In most instances clients are looking for someone to come in and hit the ground running with an existing understanding of the industry.
5. Regional Experience
Another challenge is the requirement for previous experience in the region. This is more common with senior level roles and is another factor that needs to be considered. This one is quite simple in my opinion, you either have it or you don’t. The culture and working practices in the UAE are different to the UK and although you can’t develop the experience without being given the opportunity, many clients don’t want to take the risk at the senior level.
The only element which could help your case is if you have worked in other countries/markets before, showing your adaptability and quick learning skills. My advice would be to do some research into the differences in this market to show your proactivity in understanding these nuances, although I can’t promise this will make up for not having regional experience.
6. Out of sight, out of mind
One of the biggest challenges to securing a role in the UAE is the volume of candidates looking to work here, you only need to look at a job advert on Linkedin to see this. As a candidate you are competing with people already based here, alongside the huge volume of those in the same position as you looking to relocate. Candidates often ask me if visiting on holiday will help their chances and although it won’t harm them, once you have left and return home it’s easy to be forgotten. Nothing beats physically being here. Once you return home don't just wait to hear from recruiters or hiring managers, be proactive and stay in contact regularly.
Abu Dhabi is growing in popularity with ex-pats who in the past may of only considered Dubai
What can you do to secure a new role in the region?
Having outlined the nuances of the UAE market, I wanted to share some advice on what actions can be taken to improve your chances. In this market there is a lot of emphasis on the candidate to make things happen, rather than waiting for opportunities to come to you. You need a multipronged approach and to not just rely on one method, for example only applying to job adverts on Linkedin.
1. As highlighted above, can you move to the region and be physically on the ground?
•The way the region is developing and already oversubscribed, it wouldn’t surprise me that before long that this is essential.
2. Does your current organisation have offices in the region, and can you transfer internally?
•Pretty self-explanatory but could you express your interest internally in relocating?
3. Do you have any contacts in the region and can they refer your details to those within their network?
•The power of networking here is huge and a referral can often allow you to ‘skip the queue.’ Breaking through the noise and getting past the first stage is often the hardest part and a referral can help with that.
4. Are you applying directly to job adverts on Linkedin and other platforms?
• Although job adverts aren’t overly effective in my opinion, there are cases when people do see success so it wouldn’t be wise to totally dismiss them from your strategy.
5. Do you have a realistic time frame?
•Things don’t happen overnight and can often take months to see traction, remain consistent!
6. Have you built relationships with recruiters?
•Identify recruiters within the region. Recruiters will often focus on a particular region or specialism. Look at building a relationship with those most relevant to you.
7. Are you visible on Linkedin?
• Ensure your profile is updated and look at contributing and providing valuable insights.
8. Are you building your network on Linkedin?
•If for example your experience is predominantly or most recently within retail, look at connecting with people within this sector.
•Identify those who have made the move themselves, could they share some advice?
9. Open To Work
•Does your Linkedin demonstrate to recruiters you are open to work in the UAE?
•Linkedin allows you to use this feature and only highlight this to recruiters
I hope this article has provided a useful overview of the UAE accountancy & finance market. Although there are several challenges to relocating, many people have successfully made the move and many more will continue to do so. The process may not be as simple as you had expected, and there will be times when you feel you are making limited progress, but I can assure you the effort required will be worth it!
If you are an accountancy & finance professional thinking of your next move, feel free to connect with me over Linkedin or via email at email@example.com