MBA Jobs in Dubai: The Recruitment Landscape

Dubai's MBA job opportunities

Dubai is an attractive employment destination for a number of reasons, such as the type of work visas available to international students and the opportunity to earn tax-free income. At the same time, however, Dubai is also home to a very competitive job market in which MBAs must communicate their value to prospective employers clearly. To learn more about MBA jobs in Dubai, TopMBA.com spoke to career services directors for the Dubai campuses of INSEAD and the SP Jain School of Global Management.

How do MBAs fit into Dubai’s job market?

Having an MBA does not guarantee business school graduates a job, but it does give them an edge in the Dubai job market. “The level of competition in the job market in Dubai is fierce so many organizations advertise that an MBA is preferred for a lot of roles,” states Henrik Jonson, head of employer engagement and career development at INSEAD’s campus in the Middle East.

MBAs in Dubai compete with many other skilled and experienced applicants, which is why it’s important for them to be able to communicate their value to prospective employers. The Dubai job market is so competitive that MBAs sometimes get passed over for non-MBAs with more experience. “Even though MBAs are a strong addition to a candidate’s résumé, sometimes companies may prefer candidates with more relevant experience, especially local experience,” reasons Priscilla Ayub, senior executive of corporate relations for the Middle East and Asia at SP Jain School of Global Management.

Dubai-based MBA graduates from INSEAD and SP Jain have taken jobs in a wide variety of fields, from sales and marketing, business development, supply chain management and logistics, to IT and finance. 

For INSEAD graduates, the most common job roles to be found in Dubai’s corporate sector are related to sales and marketing and business development. Of course, the school also has graduates who land consulting jobs in Dubai since, as Jonson points out, consulting is, “one of the most important sectors that requires an MBA degree.” The most common job functions for SP Jain graduates, meanwhile, are found in the fields of logistics, marketing and supply chain management, as well as in consulting.

Changes to hiring practices and the type of MBA jobs on offer in Dubai

As is the case throughout much of the MBA recruitment landscape, Dubai is also seeing an increase in tech and startup jobs. “There is an increased need for fresher candidates. The digitization of workplaces and businesses has also led to companies looking for candidates in technology and web-based roles,” says Ayub.

One of the biggest changes Jonson has seen in Dubai’s MBA job market is the push towards specialists and away from generalists. “As the Dubai economy has grown, companies are now looking for experts in specific functions and ideally in the same sector rather than hiring a generalist with transferable skills. Companies are not willing to take the risk and the cost if it does not work out as planned,” he explains. Jonson also feels that the concept of finding a ‘cultural fit’ has become more important among both employers and job seekers in Dubai.

Over at SP Jain, Ayub has observed two big changes in the types of applicants that are preferred by Dubai's employers. First, there’s, “a conscious effort to look at younger talent,” and this, she explains, includes expatriates from a younger age demographic than have previously been targeted. Economic changes are one of the principal reasons for this shift.

“While several companies are facing a global pinch on their balance sheets, this is also increasing the need to hire younger talent even in traditional industries where the preference has always been on lateral hiring. Today, a lot of companies are open to trying out fresh MBA graduates as interns initially and later, upon satisfactory performance, converting them to a full-time employee once hiring budgets are approved.” Consequently, Ayub advises MBAs to be open to the idea of interning to demonstrate their skills and pave the way to securing a full-time offer, while at the same time getting acquainted with a company’s suitability for their individual aims and interests.

Tax-free income and other reasons MBAs choose Dubai

While Dubai has a reputation for luxury and a high standard of living, not all of its MBA jobs are well paid - at least, not right away. “Companies will hire you for what you ‘bring to the table’ and by that I mean not only the MBA degree that you have just earned, but also your previous experience and track record of performance. It could very well be that you will have to work for one or two years before you reach the salary you expected after your MBA,” states Jonson. He recommends that new hires have a performance appraisal, after six months at first, and then a year, in order to negotiate their salary and, as appropriate, bonus level.

However, one major benefit of working in Dubai is the ability to earn tax-free income. “Dubai will always be attractive for being tax free,” states Jonson. “Tax-free income is one of the main advantages the UAE market has to offer,” agrees Ayub.

Quality of life is another reason MBAs choose to live in Dubai. “Dubai is also one of the most luxurious cities to live in, offering a high standard of living,” states Ayub. In addition, Jonson points out that many MBAs choose Dubai because of its reputation as a safe place to live.

Job prospects and work visas for international students

“Dubai is one of the most ideal locations for international students to land MBA jobs,” states Ayub. Why is this? For one, the city is already home to a large number of expatriates, who make up around 85% of Dubai’s population as a whole. Ayub says that companies are aware of Dubai’s diverse makeup and take this into account when setting their hiring requirements.

In addition, this is an environment that can make life outside of work easier for international graduates. “Because of the multicultural population and culture, the UAE is also more easily adaptable for people from all countries,” says Ayub.

Another distinguishing feature of Dubai’s job market is the type of work visas available to international students in the United Arab Emirates. “The UAE Government has done a fantastic job of making it easy for companies to apply for work permits and most of it can even be done online,” states INSEAD’s Jonson.

By contrast, getting a US work visa can be much more complicated, with differing types of visas available and difficulties often encountered in the process of finding a sponsor. According to Jonson, European work visas are also becoming more difficult to obtain and he believes that 'Brexit' may, in particular, have an impact on the ease with which expatriates can get jobs in London. This, in turn, might add to the level of competition seen in Dubai’s MBA job market, in Jonson’s opinion.

At this point, it’s worth considering whether international job applicants who pursue their MBA in the UAE find getting an MBA job in Dubai easier than those who study the degree in another country. While living in your target market during an MBA generally provides an advantage through knowledge acquired during the program and networking opportunities, the Dubai job market is often highlighted for being particularly relationship-driven. “People often refer to it as ‘wasta' – it is not what you know, it is who you know, so being able to spend a significant amount of time networking will increase your chances of being hired,” says Jonson.

Indeed, Ayub feels that local programs give MBAs a better understanding of the Dubai job market, concluding that, “when one undergoes a quality MBA program, a major part of the learning is to understand the topography of business climate and practices in the region. Projects undertaken and interactions held with peer groups, professors and industry mentors help prepare the individual far better if they are in sync with the job market here.”

Written by Nicole Willson

Nicole is the SEO manager of TopMBA.com, as well as a contributing author. She holds a BA in history and sociology, and a master's in library science. Aside from her work for QS, Nicole is a long-time contributing editor and administrator for WikiHow.

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