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Job Interviews in Dubai - Everything You Need to Know

Hannah Mason
Dubai

Job Interviews in Dubai - Everything You Need to Know

Hannah Mason • Jan 10, 2023

A job interview in Dubai can be intimidating, it’s a new country with new cultures and it’s difficult to know what to expect.

As an interview coach and former Dubai recruiter, I’ve successfully guided many people through the Dubai interview process.

In this article, I’m going to share my top tips so you know exactly what to expect from a Dubai job interview in 2023.

We'll cover:

• What to expect in a Dubai interview

• How to prepare for an interview in Dubai

• How to calculate your cost of living in Dubai

• How to discuss your salary expectations in your interview

• How to spot red flags and warning signs during your interview

What can you expect in a typical Dubai interview?

Your first question may well be ‘what does a typical Dubai interview look like?’. A fair question, but here’s the thing; there is no such thing as a typical Dubai interview.

Dubai is a melting pot of different cultures and each interviewer and hiring company contributes their own style. Dubai also has very relaxed employment and hiring regulations compared to many countries, meaning that interviewers can (mostly) ask whatever questions they believe are necessary to hire the right candidate.

Dubai job interviews vary enormously

I’ve seen it all, from very structured interviews where every interviewee is asked the same set of questions to boundary free chats over cigars and whiskey.

Knowing what type of interview you are walking into can save you from a lot of mis-steps and can help you focus your preparation time.

A simple question to the person scheduling your interview can offer much useful insight

A great way to get clarity is to ask, “Could you provide some further details about the interview format so I can prepare accordingly?”

Alternatively, there will be many details of your interview that will reveal clues.

Indicators that your Dubai interview will be formal & structured include:

  1. It is with a large international company
  2. You’re meeting with a human resources team member
  3. Communication to schedule the interview has been formal and well-organised
  4. You are interviewing at the company offices (although informal interviews can happen at offices too)

If you suspect a formal structured interview then it is best to prepare answers to common interview questions.

You should also consider reviewing the STAR technique to talk through specific situations you have handled.

Indicators that your Dubai interview will be informal & conversational include:

  1. It is with a small start-up or local company
  2. You’re meeting with the MD/CEO or business owner
  3. Communication to arrange the interview has been informal and unstructured
  4. You are meeting at a neutral location such as a coffee shop

If you suspect an informal or conversational interview then it can be helpful to focus your preparation on the hiring company, your interviewer, general market trends and current industry news.

Be prepared to answer a wide range of questions and to have a freer flowing conversation where you ask plenty of questions too. This type of interview is pretty common in Dubai, especially if you are targeting senior roles.

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How to prepare for your Dubai Job Interview

Regardless of what style of job interviews you encounter in Dubai, you should always make sure that you are prepared.

The most effective way to prepare for a Dubai job interview is by practicing with an experienced coach, someone who understands the Dubai market.

If you would like to schedule an interview preparation session with me, click here.

Seven steps to preparing for your Dubai interview

Research your interviewer

Researching your interviewer is useful wherever in the world you are interviewing, but especially so in Dubai.

90% of the Dubai population are expats meaning you could be meeting someone from anywhere in the world. Therefore, it can be helpful to learn about their background and consider their cultural customs before you meet.

One of the beautiful things about living in Dubai is that you learn to appreciate cultures from all over the world, you gain greater insight into what we share as humans and also what we can offer one another.

Whilst generalizations and stereotypes can be wrong, it is still a good idea to consider your interviewer’s background to avoid any faux pas and to increase your chances of forming a stronger initial connection.

LinkedIn is a great resource for interview preparation, to learn more, read this dedicated article.

Check the location of your interview

Whether you are new to Dubai or have been living in the city for a while, it’s important to ensure you have all the details you need about your interview location.

There is nothing worse than encountering unexpected traffic, getting lost or failing to find suitable parking – all things I have experienced first-hand in Dubai!

It’s simply not enough to print out the address and hand it to a taxi driver. The city is constantly changing and developing and many locations can be tricky to find.

The best approach is to get a Dubai sim card with some data and find the location on google maps or similar, real time directions will help tremendously in guiding yourself or a driver.

You should also check whether you need any ID or permits to access the office building. Most corporate locations have some form of security so be sure to arrive prepared.

If you are driving yourself then it’s wise to leave plenty of time to park. A lot of office locations have a limited number of parking spaces that fill up at the beginning of the work day.

When you also factor in that any walk from your car will likely be in scorching heat, you can see the importance of giving yourself time to find a space and perhaps even freshen up before your interview.

Pick the right outfit

We all know that first impressions are important for interviews so if you haven’t already thought about your Dubai interview outfit then now is the time.

The business attire in Dubai is mostly western-style office wear or Middle Eastern national dress and these would be the most appropriate choices for an interview in Dubai.

If you are a man, then a suit and tie is the safest option, even if it’s 50 degrees outside. In my experience, most offices are highly air conditioned so you want to dress for the indoor temperature not the outside temperature. If you’re a woman then formal office wear is ideal.

Generally, Dubai is less conservative than most outsiders think it is and it is absolutely fine to have some skin on show as long as the overall outfit is professional.

If you are really in doubt of what to wear for your interview, then head to the office location a few days before and watch how people dress, this will give you an idea of the work culture in that location.

You can also look at employee profiles on LinkedIn to understand what the typical employee might be wearing in the office. The main aim is to look like you have made an effort but also to indicate that you would fit in well with everyone else on the team.

Know your salary expectations

Salaries vary widely in Dubai, as do living costs. Before you go into any interview in Dubai, you should know what salary is appropriate for your job level and your lifestyle.

Whilst it’s unlikely that you’ll negotiate the final package in your first interview, it is quite possible that there will be some discussion about your expectations.

If you open with too low or too high a number in those initial discussions then you risk underselling or overselling yourself and potentially costing yourself a job offer.

In Dubai, it is not required for companies to display a salary on a job advert. What’s more, many packages can be structured in complex ways, making it more difficult to make comparisons between offers. So how do you know what salary you should be paid in Dubai?

Do lots of market research

The role you have applied for might not have a salary displayed but there will be market data available. Look at similar roles and note any salary details displayed.

Many recruitment companies and local publications also release yearly salary surveys that break down trends across the most common job titles. You can often request a free salary survey by visiting the website of a recruitment agency that covers your sector.

Discuss your Dubai interview with your network

Online market research can offer some useful information but it’s quite likely that you’ll discover a big range between the top and bottom salaries for your target positions.

If you have contacts in Dubai then it is very worthwhile discussing salary expectations with them to get a more precise and accurate range.

If you have the opportunity to speak to a recruitment consultant who works at an agency (hiring roles across many companies) then you should also ask them for guidance.

Practice with an expert

If you are applying for a role with the help of a Dubai recruiter you should make sure that they take the time to help you prepare and also rehearse some key interview Q&As.

If you have applied directly, consider employing the services of an interview coach who will run through practice questions and give feedback on your answers.

A job interview in Dubai should never be left to chance, they don't come around often, competition is stiff and you never know what you're going to encounter.

Click here to explore my interview coaching services.

Calculate your cost of living before your Dubai interview

You may think that a straightforward currency conversion based on your current salary is sufficient to land on a Dubai salary that will offer you the same lifestyle as your home country, but this rarely works.

There are some important expenses that you should thoroughly research in order to work out your desired salary level.

Accommodation costs in Dubai

Accommodation will be one of your largest expenses in Dubai.

Sites such as propertyfinder.ae will show you today’s rental prices.

Begin by figuring out which part of the city you want to live in, Dubai is very diverse and some areas of the city can be vastly different from others.

Schooling in Dubai

Most schools in Dubai have a schedule of fees on their website. This can be a large expense that is important to consider if you come from a country where schooling is provided free of cost.

Ask if the company that you are interviewing with provides any support with education cost. This is only likely to be the case if you are applying to a senior position.

It is also more likely if you have been headhunted from abroad to fill a senior role with an organisation.

Healthcare

Employers in Dubai must provide their employees with health insurance but fewer and fewer offer family plans so you should look into getting estimates for your dependents.

Again, check the organisation's policy regarding family healthcare.

Dubai visas

Your employer will pay for your visa in Dubai but most do not pay to sponsor family members.

This is an often unexpected cost that people fail to consider.

Tickets home

If you intend to return to your home country regularly then this cost should be considered. Historically, some employers offered this benefit in their packages but this practice is becoming less common.

Relocation

If you intend to ship furniture then you should get some quotes for this as it’s unlikely to be automatically offered in your package.

Food

Grocery shopping in Dubai is quite expensive as most produce is imported. www.carrefouruae.com will give you a good idea of today’s prices.

Discussing salary expectations in Dubai

Armed with all the above information, you’ll be in a good position to discuss your salary expectations. It is best to give a range when you are first asked and explain that you would need to view the full offer before making any decisions.

All parts of the package are negotiable in Dubai and as all salaries can be structured differently it is good to leave yourself space to negotiate on the aspects that are important to you. i.e. if you have a family, it may make sense to negotiate more family benefits compared to increasing the cash element.

It is worth noting that when you leave the job you’ll receive an end of service gratuity payment. This is calculated as a percentage of your base salary and excludes allowances including housing, schooling and travel.

How to spot red flags during a Dubai job interview

If you are interviewing for a job in Dubai, you should use the meeting as an opportunity to evaluate your potential future employer. You need to know if the role and company are the right fit for you, as much as they are deciding if you are the right fit for them.

This is true for any job interview, but when you are applying for international roles outside your home country, the stakes are even higher.

Your visa and residency status will be tied to your employer and you may find yourself in a very difficult situation if you realise you’ve made the wrong decision after starting the role.

The vast majority of employers in Dubai are very professional and there are lots of amazing employment opportunities in the city, but I’ve also heard my fair share of horror stories.

Here are some red flags to look out for:

• They want you to start work before your employment visa has been approved. This is an illegal practice and can leave you in a vulnerable position.

• The written offer or employment contract is very different to what you discussed verbally. You will be legally bound by whatever you sign in writing and should be comfortable with all elements of the employment contract which should reflect what was agreed in the interview process.

• They want to hold your passport. No employer has the right to maintain possession of your passport and any request from an employer to do so should raise alarm bells.

• The role is 100% commission. Dubai is a relatively expensive city to live in and agreeing to work on a 100% commission basis is very risky. Most reputable employers will offer a base salary along with any commission structure.

• They are offering a salary that is much higher than the industry average. Whilst you might think you have got lucky, you should ask yourself why this might be. Some employers that offer the best salaries do so because they struggle to find staff to work for them, perhaps because of high turnover or a bad reputation. Make sure to do some research on LinkedIn to check the average timespan that employees work for the company.

• The interview process is unprofessional and disorganised. Don’t expect things to be better once you start working, the interview process and even how the job advert are written can be a very accurate reflection of the overall work culture of the company.

Conclusion

People are often surprised at just how different or unusual Dubai job interviews are. People's experiences of interviewing in Dubai vary wildly.

The best advice that I can give you is to be as prepared as possible. Leave nothing to chance and where possible enlist the support of an expert give you the best chances of succeeding in your Dubai interview.

Explore interview coaching services here.

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