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5 tips for networking as an expat in the UAE

November 10, 2017 Useful Articles

Connecting with like-minded professionals is critical in the Emirates’ cosmopolitan setting.

Starting a new job in a foreign land can easily feel like the first day of school all over again – exciting, yet daunting at the same time. But in a cosmopolitan environment such as the UAE, finding like-minded professionals outside of your workplace is a cinch.

Dubai and Abu Dhabi are teeming with professional associations and groups that are crucial for expatriates looking to widen their career network, according to John Martin St. Valery. St. Valery is a founding partner of The Links Group, a Dubai-based company formation think tank.

“Expatriates account for 87 percent of the UAE’s workforce, represented by approximately 200 different nationalities. While this diversity brings significant advantages to workplaces, it can also present challenges, especially in how we understand each other,” he said.

“Professional networking can help overcome some of those cultural barriers and build mutually beneficial relationships,” St. Valery said, adding that it’s important to note that the UAE is a market where business is conducted on the basis of personal relationships and mutual trust. Therefore, it’s vital that professional relationships are built and nurtured.

Here are some tips on how to network in the UAE:

1. Start online

LinkedIn is always a good starting point for any professional seeking to connect with his or her peers. Other online platforms are helpful as well. For Minu Chawla, Community Manager at Impact Hub Dubai, who recently moved to the UAE, Instagram served as a place to meet people who not only share her passion for photography, but have also connected her with other professionals.

Bijay Rajnikantt Shah, National Director of BNI Middle East, the regional chapter of BNI International – a business networking and referrals organization – said online communities such as InterNations and MeetUp are also very useful, especially for expatriates who have just arrived in the UAE.

“Social media is awash with events and happenings; it is easy to find something for everyone. It does require going out and making a point to meet and connect with new contacts,” Shah added.

2. Look for your university alumni groups or professional associations

Because of the UAE’s multicultural environment, don’t be surprised to find another expat who has gone to the same college or university as you, said Chawla. “A professional networking group that I came to know of is the International Dual Career Network, which has a chapter in the UAE,” she added.

Baiju Kurieash, Managing Director and Chief Executive of BUZ Management and Marketing Consultancy, noted that expatriates in the country have many choices of professional associations in various industries that can provide members with valuable services, trends and job opportunities. “Personally, I have benefitted greatly from my networking through the Middle East Public Relations Association,” he said.

3. Consider networking events

Business or social events organized by embassies and professional business groups such as the International Business Women’s Group, for example, are excellent ways to rub shoulders with fellow professionals. “Membership to these groups requires a nominal fee, and alternatively you can choose to attend events as a non-member for a slightly higher fee,” St. Valery mentioned.

4. Broaden your start-up horizon

The UAE government encourages entrepreneurship, which is why there are a number of innovation centers across the country, such as The Impact Hub Dubai and In5. OlSt. Valery also suggests business owners to join the local chapter of Entrepreneurs Organization or consider joining the CEO Clubs Network.

“There are also a good number of start-up networks like Make Business Hub or Shelter for more creative industries. We also get immense value out of attending the SME 100 events, an initiative of Dubai’s Department of Economic Development,” he said.

5. Mind your manners

The fusion of Eastern and Western cultures gives the UAE a distinctive charm – highly progressive, yet anchored in traditional values. But as an Islamic country, religion still plays a significant role in all cultural interactions, said St. Valery.

“Expats should remember to dress modestly and, when greeting a member of the opposite sex who is Muslim, do not offer to shake hands unless they extend their hand first,” he advises. “Courtesy and hospitality are important values in the Arab world. Be sure to accept food and refreshments when offered and spend time building a personal relationship before moving onto matters of business.”

Credits: Metlife UAE