Why Dubai? Lessons I learnt on securing my first job.

The reasons vary for many. For my wife and I, we were newly married and wanted to chase some adventures prior to settling down and starting a family. We looked at all sorts of cities around the world and evaluated them on the below criteria.


  • International experience to help fast-track our careers.
  • Travel opportunities to countries within a 10 hour flight or less.
  • Higher salaries and lower expenses to help increase savings.
  • Predominantly English spoken.
  • Other like-minded expats chasing similar goals which would make it easy to make friends.
  • A safe place to live.


In context to the above list, it's important to note: My wife is a NZ trained primary school teacher with teaching experience, and I’ve built a career across the last 10 years in events, entertainment and start-ups.


When analysing cities like Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai and beyond, we then concluded my wife was more likely to gain a job offer first, as schools recruit new staff 6 months ahead of the new school year, reducing our overall risk and securing a work visa, housing allowance, flights for us both, alongside other various benefits.


During this period, we ended up narrowing our search down to various opportunities in Dubai (with Expo 2020 looking like an incredible opportunity for myself) and engaged an incredible agency called Search Associates (we cannot recommend them more highly). After a 3hr phone call with their regional rep, any concerns we had quickly diminished, and we booked tickets to Melbourne to attend their international job fair where my wife landed 10 interviews and 6 job offers. On accepting one of the roles, we still had 6 months to wait for the school year to finish up and Bek went relieving for the final six months. 


As the events industry moves at a different pace to that of schooling, I strengthened my LinkedIn profile and resume before reaching out to various kiwis who I identified as industry leaders in the region. Various emails, messages and conversations were exchanged and a strategy was identified to line up as many interviews as possible on arrival. 


Whilst waiting, we ensured we finished strong with our employers, engaged an accountant to ensure we could file as non-tax residents, hang out with families and friends, stored and sold a bunch of our possessions before spending time in Bali and Singapore for 3 weeks prior to landing in the sandpit of Dubai.


On arriving, I arranged 10 interviews with various companies and recruiters before receiving two offers for full time roles 3-4 weeks later. Those weeks felt like a rollercoaster of wins, roadblocks and challenges. Our recommendation is whilst you're navigating this period, focus on areas you can win in such as exercise, mental health, relationships and travel, and balance them alongside small goals you can tick off each day. 


Quite often the difference between those that win is that they never accept defeat, and never give up. If you feel like you’re continually hitting walls, pivot and reach out to your support system for advice and encouragement, as well as try different strategies. 


A few lessons I learnt through the job search process:

  • Many in my industry contract freelancers with short and long term opportunities. It can be difficult to land a permanent full-time role with no prior local experience.
  • The competition to land a role in Dubai is a lot harder than it was in New Zealand, due to the sheer quantity of people. Each advertised position is likely to have more than 1000 applicants (both international and local) and can close within 48 hours of advertising. Stay on the pulse daily!
  • Relationships are everything in Dubai. If someone can introduce you or open the door for you, it carries a lot of weight.
  • Having worked between New Zealand, Australia and Hong Kong, I had incredible international experience, however, many doors remained shut as I had no local experience. On accepting my first role, I saw what ‘local experience’ meant. Getting your head around what local experience means for your industry is crucial as you navigate your job search.
  • Many SMEs I’ve worked for required me to work across a wide range of departments, however, Dubai is more focused on specialization in a narrow field. On accepting a role, let time be your testimony. Show your team you’re an expert in the area they have employed you in, before you start throwing challenges out there. Others can feel threatened very easily.
  • Landing a job offer in-country is very different to landing a job offer internationally, especially with benefits offered. Do your research, figure out your non-negotiables and ensure you negotiate any and all terms prior to signing on the dotted line.
  • Your passport can often carry a large weight on your salary and benefits. If this is you, focus on the other positives your role rewards you with. Perhaps its networking, allowing you to create relationships for your next role down the road.
  • Make sure you research and read up on standard meeting protocols when meeting with people from different cultures that are different to your own. For example, never offer a handshake to a female emirati. This can be a simple stumble in a hiring interview.
  • No job is secured until you’ve signed the dotted line. It’s very easy for westerners to be led on by promising conversations but offers are never presented in timeframes you’re used to. Stay open to ALL opportunities until you’ve closed.
  • Various roles can be terminated on the spot if you haven’t stayed longer than six months. After this, notice of 30 days or longer (depending on contract) must be given by both parties.
  • Ensure you start and finish strong with integrity and respect. I’ve seen many who leave on bad terms. Dubai is a relatively small place. It doesn’t take long for word to spread.
  • Different people from different cultures carry incredible strengths that can be of significant value across various situations. Treat everyone with respect, and you’ll be treated with respect back.


We're working hard on producing our 'Working in Dubai' guide with a launch date forecasted for October 2020. Sign up to our email newsletter for tips and tricks we're releasing pre-launch.