Looking for a job in Qatar can seem like a daunting prospect as you scan the classifieds in the Gulf Times or The Peninsula. However there are local-hire jobs out there that pay well and offer interesting and fulfilling careers along with possibilities of advancement. To find them is sometimes a matter of adjusting your approach to fit your environment.
In each of the four countries where her husband’s job has taken them, Faye Ewbank has always been able to find work when she’s put her mind to it. Within two months of moving to Qatar, she had received four job offers all on the same day. “I went for at least ten interviews with all sorts of companies and in all sorts of locations, but I made it my job to get a job,” she says.
Her husband, Ben Ewbank, director of Michael Page Middle East recruitment agency, says persistence is key. “Identify your target audience, understand your potential employers inside out. Do as much research as possible to help identify the ethos of the organisation and the skills, personality and knowledge they value highly, then tailor your application accordingly and always follow up with a phone call. Be persistent if you can’t get through first time,” he says.
What are the most efficient ways to job-hunt?
According to recruitment agencies and employers, nothing beats personal contact. Elsbeth Blekkenhorst, founder and managing director of Global Women Qatar, a recruitment agency for women, notes, “It’s all about who you know in Doha.” Networking and a no-nonsense approach are critical. Blekkenhorst recommends, “Just go up to people and say, ‘I’m looking for a job, can you help?’ Tell your friends you are looking for work.” Set up a concise CV with all your measurables (e.g. how much you increased revenue, customer numbers, employee satisfaction) along with a sound LinkedIn profile and set out to talk to people.
Attend networking events
Fortunately, there are plenty of opportunities for enterprising jobseekers. Conversations in the school playground can generate leads, as can chats at social events or joining the plethora of expat- or activity-based groups here. For more structured networking, there are regular events such as those hosted by the various business councils, chambers of commerce or business groups such as the American Chamber of Commerce or the British Business Forum. For women, there is an annual How Women Work conference, the bi-annual How Women Find Work event (both at hwwqatar.com) and the Qatar Professional Women’s Network gatherings.
Carolin Zeitler, CEO and founder of How Women Work, says, “In Doha it’s all about face-to-face and a lot of the best job opportunities are never actually published anywhere so you often only hear about them through networking.”
So at these networking events, what can you do to maximise your chances of meeting the right people? “Research the people who are going to be there,” Zeitler advises. “Listen a lot to what people have to say and ask them questions. Show some interest in them as people. Then when you have a connection, mention you are looking for work.”
Hire an agency
Another angle is to approach large national or multinational organisations directly if they are inviting applications through their websites. Samantha Robinson, general manager of InterSearch Middle East, says, “There are a lot of companies who are building up their talent-acquisition teams locally… It is an advantage if you are on the ground, available for interview and committed to Qatar to introduce yourself directly to organisations.”
At the same time, it can be helpful to find a reliable recruitment agency. Tales of unscrupulous recruitment agents charging unsuspecting jobseekers for their services seem to be on the decline; however, choose your agency carefully and check what they specialise in. The key criteria in defining a good agency is whether they take the time to meet you in person or at least have a proper phone conversation with you to understand who you are and what you are looking for.
An agency can be the best way of finding a role outside the large organisations. The job market is not very transparent in Qatar and you may need an agent to find a role at a small or medium-sized enterprise (SME). In fact, in a market when many companies in the oil and gas and other sectors are cutting staff and freezing further hiring, SMEs in all fields are on the rise and can provide decent job opportunities. Construction is also buoyant in Qatar but is often contract-based, so the end or loss of the contract can mean the end of your role.
To suit your requirements, you might need to check with agencies that cover the entire region. Other agencies and headhunters in the U.K. or U.S. will handle senior managerial roles. Be wary of recruitment agencies that use search engine optimisation techniques to make them Google top hits. Ask those you know in employment who they use.
What are some of the most common mistakes when looking for a job?
Blekkenhorst describes how some people overdose on their CV distribution in a scattergun approach to job-hunting. “The risk is that then you end up adding your CV to a huge pile, and then we can’t help shuffle you to the top. I will usually only give a client three to five CVs.” If you want to send your CV in response to a job ad or on the off-chance you strike lucky, make sure you target companies that best fit your experience and that you send [your CV] to a legitimate HR contact.
Ben Ewbank warns of hastily submitted CVs. He says some common mistakes are “sending general lengthy applications to specific positions without having addressed the key requirements specified or having a CV or bio that is poorly written with spelling mistakes that reflects badly on the applicant.”
Robinson gives her advice about the interview process. “Focus on demonstrating your top strengths. Keep the package discussion open at the start so it allows you to discuss the role further and then negotiate right at the end of the interview process. Above all she suggests, “Whatever you do, make sure your introduction to the company or recruitment agency is personalised not generic!”
Zeitler cautions against relying too heavily on more traditional routes such as responding solely to job applications. Of course, try the official route first, she suggests, however, “Always try to get a referral—someone who has a connection with the company to submit your CV for you.”
Should I go for a job that pays less or seems like a step down?
Don’t jump at the first job offer you are given, as once you stick your head above the parapet, other contacts often come your way. Do bear in mind that what seems like a lower salary on paper can actually be a decent income when you consider the whole package. Often employers will include a transport allowance and an accommodation allowance (although this may depend on your spouse’s current package). And don’t forget you’re not paying tax unless you’re liable in your home country.
However, the days of very high salaries are gone as companies are restructuring to become more cost-effective. This change brings Qatar more into line with Europe and North America. As Blekkenhorst comments, “You can’t earn QR 30,000 a month being a receptionist.”
Also, a heavy reality check has to take place regarding your job expectations. Blekkenhorst gets a lot of women who want to work school hours only. She says, “I get requests from women who want to work 8 am to 1 pm for QR 15,000 a month, which is not possible.”
Similarly, your new job may not be as flexible to drop-of-the-hat holidays that you may be accustomed to before a job. You will also want to consider the emotional preparation of using a driver for school runs or having to leave your children with a nanny.
In some ways, the shift in salaries and attitude can work in your favour. It used to be viewed negatively to be under your spouse’s sponsorship as if your spouse left you were likely to follow. Nowadays the trend seems to be that people don’t view living in Qatar as something they will do only for a couple of years, but they are increasingly thinking longer term. With that shift comes a greater likelihood that your potential employer will think of you as a long-term employee.
Even if it may not be the flying start you had hoped for, “People can progress their career a lot faster in the Middle East,” Robinson says. “I have seen cases where people have progressed their career rapidly because they have the right flexibility, motivations and attitude.”
Above all, persevere. “It always takes a lot longer from the start of the search to the start of the job than most people realise, especially here in Qatar, therefore the sooner one is able to get the search under way and the ball rolling, the sooner the process begins.” Ben Ewbank suggests.
And don’t forget to be flexible, Faye Ewbank says. “Remember that working in this region is not like working at home, different hours, different roles, different cultures and expectations.”
STEPHANIE HUNTER HAS LIVED IN QATAR FOR SEVEN YEARS HAVING MOVED TO DOHA FROM THE U.K. WITH HER HUSBAND AND THREE CHILDREN. SHE WORKED FOR MANY YEARS AS A BOOK EDITOR FOR ACADEMIC AND COMMERCIAL PUBLISHING HOUSES AND THEN MOVED INTO RESEARCHING AND WRITING CONFERENCE PROGRAMMES.