x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

New graduates are not compromising their expectations

Jane Williams talks with this year's crop of graduates and finds that they are tech-savvy and have ambition, but they face a highly competitive job market.

Yousef Al Ghufli, who will complete his degree in international studies from American University of Sharjah later this year, is already searching for jobs. Pawan Singh / The National (w)
Yousef Al Ghufli, who will complete his degree in international studies from American University of Sharjah later this year, is already searching for jobs. Pawan Singh / The National (w)

They are tech-savvy, energetic, open to change and confident, but are the country's latest graduates prepared to face the workforce?

For new graduates, particularly those who have never worked before, job hunting is a daunting experience. The economic downturn is easing, but how are they facing the challenges ahead, what are conditions like for new graduates, and are their expectations too high as they search for the perfect first job?

Graduates in the Emirates are lucky. The economy is on the rebound and employers, particularly large firms, seem keen to take them on. A scan of four popular job recruitment sites this month revealed 1,675 opportunities for new graduates in the UAE.

But competition for the top jobs is fierce and it is the graduates with the experience and push who get through.

"It's a very tough market," says Mike Hynes, the managing partner at the Dubai-based recruitment consultancy Kershaw Leonard.

"Students who have never worked before will find it very difficult."

Yousef Al Ghufli, a 21-year-old Emirati studying international relations at the American University of Sharjah, won't complete his degree until later this year, but is already in job-search mode and is preparing for an internship with Grameen Bank in Bangladesh during the summer.

Mr Al Ghufli wanted to continue his studies after graduating, but after being advised by friends about the importance of getting a foot in the workplace, he has signed up on LinkedIn and Bayt.com.

"Initially, I thought I could depend only on social networks or advertised vacancies to discover job opportunities," he says.

"However, as I progressed, I realised I needed more than one avenue. These websites got me connected to amazing job opportunities that I would never have access to otherwise.

"All my peers are signed [up] to these and they're much more accessible than recruitment agencies."

Websites such as LinkedIn are also valuable social-networking tools in the Middle East, where networking is a vital part of finding a job.

"Graduates should be signing up, joining groups and chatting online; you have to be active to find a job," Mr Hynes says.

The first thing all new graduates need to think about is a job-hunting strategy, he says.

If they are going to use a recruitment agency, they have to research the agency first to ensure it's reputable. If they are applying direct to companies, they should think about what companies they want to work for, if they have good training programmes and how many of the company's leaders went through the training process themselves.

"Go out and meet the recruiters, ask questions," he says, adding that job seekers must compile a strong CV and stay focused, patient and confident.

"If there is an advantage to taking an extra year's study then do it, but keep in mind you are just another year out from having to go and face the job market," Mr Hynes says.

"Studying until you are 35 with no hands-on experience is not a good thing."

And as for that post-university break, or gap year, forget about it.

"If you're serious about your career, you have to get straight into the job market," Mr Hynes says.

"Take any job. It's super competitive out there and next year there will be another group of graduates competing for the positions."

The gap year is becoming increasingly popular with students who have gone straight from high school to university.

Dana Abu Seedo, a 22-year-old Jordanian who recently completed an international relations degree with Arabic studies at the American University of Sharjah, says she doesn't expect to find work easily, but won't be rushing into it.

"I know some brothers and sisters of friends who graduated last year and are still looking," Ms Abu Seedo says.

"Business students seem to have it easier; there seems to be more work out there for them, but I'm not too worried.

"I have a large network of family and friends and university contacts who can help."

She has applied for a couple of positions with government organisations but, after 17 years of non-stop study, she is planning to take time off to explore the artistic side of her life before embarking on a career.

Sharath Ravi, a 21-year-old media graduate from Murdoch University Dubai, is keen to start work straight away, but is finding the job-seeking process slower than he anticipated.

Mr Ravi has an enviable CV, tweaked and proofread by the university's human resources department, and he has been working part-time at Virgin Radio in Dubai for two years.

He was a founding member of Murdoch University's student production team, which has produced packages for major UAE events, including the Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix, the Rugby Sevens and the Dubai International Film Festival.

Not only did his participation in the team lead to interviews with renowned directors and actors such as Peter Weir, Colin Farrell and Ed Harris, it also gave him a taste of what work in the real world is like and, most importantly, put him in touch with movers in the industry.

"I've spent more time talking to people lately than sending out applications," Mr Ravi says.

"I've called people I've worked with and met through jobs and they've given good advice about what type of companies I should be applying to."

Still, Mr Ravi admits that the move from seeking casual work to searching for a permanent job has been daunting and not as lucrative as he'd expected.

"I've had better paying jobs freelancing while at university than what's on offer," he says.

"While money isn't a priority, it should be enough to be able to live independently in Dubai without relying on my parents.

"It's also a much slower process than I expected. Two months back, I would have expected to be working by now. That's been the biggest surprise."

Mr Ravi was lucky he studied at a university that pushed practical experience.

Murdoch University Dubai, like many in the UAE, assists students with getting internships and freelance work, and collaborates with local industry on projects for its media, business and environmental science graduate and post-graduate students during their studies.

"Giving students hands-on experience is a very important tenet of Murdoch University," says Bilal Siddiqi, the university's marketing and PR manager.

"Every degree here is career orientated. We make sure our students get experience at conferences and industry events."

Freelance work in your field is a great head start over competing graduates, but Mr Hynes says any type of work or extra curricular achievement enhances a graduate's CV.

CVs are the first opportunity potential employers have to decide a candidate's suitability for the role.

They should be professional, but not too glossy.

"It has got to look like you did it yourself. Having said that, it should be well put together and not too wordy - five-page CVs just won't be read through; every line must have value."

Although graduates want to portray themselves in the best light, Mr Hynes warns against over embellishing. One little exaggeration or lie and the CV loses credibility, he says.

"The advantage expat graduates have is that they usually have done some type of work before embarking on a career," he says.

"We're seeing kids coming out of university at 23 or 24 and never having worked before. That makes it tough for them to sell themselves.

"My advice to graduates is to get something on your CV to show you have a work ethic and can apply your learning; it's not even necessary to be in your field."

Mr Al Ghulfi agrees his educational background and work experience give him an advantage over competing job seekers, as does his nationally.

"Because I'm Emirati, the Emiratisation policies ensure that I have a competitive advantage over other nationalities, particularly in the public sector," he says.

"I'd still apply for positions in the private sector right away, but it would be extremely hard for me to get my dream job there.

"The job market in the UAE requires extensive work experience and recent graduates fear that employers won't hire them simply because they don't have enough of this.

"Getting the experience is the challenge, that's why some senior undergraduate students become discouraged with graduating in general."