Business tips: How to hire in the UAE

No two businesses are the same, but there are many common challenges. And high on that list is hiring.

No two businesses are the same, but there are many common challenges. And high on that list is hiring.

Because no matter what industry you are in, finding the perfect candidate is never easy. Sifting through CVs can feel like a minefield at times, and that’s often only half the battle. As well as possessing the right degree of knowledge and expertise on paper, the perfect candidate must also be personable, able to see your company vision, and fit in with its culture and ethos.

With so many factors at play, hiring new employees is never going to be an exact science – and that’s precisely why so many businesses admit to getting it wrong. A 2014 CareerBuilder survey found that 41% of employers said that a bad hire in the past year had cost them at least US $25,000. On top of these universal challenges, there are those that come specifically from hiring in the UAE – in the form of standard work contracts, understanding labour law, differing stipulations depending on employment contract type, and whether or not your business operates from a free zone.

So let’s get into what exactly you need to know when making a hire in the UAE.

1. Finding the right talent: Naturally the first step in making a great hire is to hunt down the right talent. So who is out there? Well, the UAE labour market is as rich as it is varied, but does still lack in certain areas.

Highly skilled workers and specialists in industries such as construction and financial services are under represented. So keep this in mind during your search and don’t settle for a candidate who doesn’t meet your criteria.

To get some help, it’s advisable to select a reputable recruiter who can assist you with some of the legwork – either by getting your ad out to a suitable audience or screening employees before they make a formal application. Fortunately, here in the UAE, there are many such recruitment services available.


Of course no talent search can begin until the roles and responsibilities of the job in question have been thoroughly laid out and everyone involved in the recruitment process has a comprehensive understanding of what’s expected from a successful applicant.

2. Picking the right candidate: There are two key parts to this process – candidates must be screened for both aptitude and attitude. The most effective way to tackle the first of these is to work to a checklist. Note down the key skills that the right candidate must have, then tick them off as you review their application.

Any candidates who pass this stage can then be invited for interview where the second part, attitude, can really be examined.

As long as you are satisfied the interviewee fits the bill in terms of skills, qualifications and experience, you can really use the interview to assess the candidate’s character and attitude. Consider employing differing interview techniques to see how your candidate responds – testing is important and this is one of your few chances to see their reactions in a ‘live’ situation.

Keep in mind that this person will have to work day in, day out within your team. Even the most qualified of candidates can cause problems if they are not a good fit.

Ultimately, you need to be confident either that the person you are interviewing could slot right into your organisation or that they are adaptable and affable enough to take on your company culture rather than bucking against it.

This can be tricky to judge but asking about relationships with previous colleagues and employers – as well as time spent in previous jobs – can be a good way to get a read on how well a person adapts to a new working environment.

3. Sifting through the UAE employment laws: So, you’ve found a candidate you think will be a great fit for both the role and your business. Congratulations, the hardest part of the process is behind you. Now we get to the UAE’s strict employment laws.

Tackling employment law in any country can seem daunting, however as long as you follow the rules there is nothing to worry about.

The main factor to consider here in the UAE is that once you make a hire you will be considered your new employee’s sponsor while they are in the country. Therefore, it is down to you to obtain your new hire’s employment visa and residency permit.

Depending on the location of your business these documents must be filed with either the Ministry of Labour (MOL) or the Department of Naturalization and Residency (now under the General Directorate of Residence and Foreigners Affairs).

The only exception to this rule is if your business operates within a free zone. Where this is the case, you must liaise with the relevant free zone authority to initiate the work permit and residence visa process. In most instances, the free zone authority will then deal with the appropriate agencies on your behalf.

4. Draw up the contract: With the exception of free zone employees who are governed by the free zone authorities, all hires are required to execute a standard employment contract. The terms and conditions of this contract are governed entirely by UAE labour law. This contract covers most aspects of employment, including hours of work, additional benefits and, for foreign hires, repatriation.

In terms of hours, UAE labour law stipulates a maximum of eight working hours per day up to a 48-hour week for most professions. A nine-hour working day is permitted for employees working in trades, hotels, cafeterias, and as guards.

As for benefits, it’s important to keep in mind that in this part of the world a salary is just one part of the remuneration package – housing allowance and travel expenses are usually covered as standard.

In the case of expat workers, the employment contract makes clear that it is the employer who is responsible for the full cost of repatriation unless it is the employee who terminates the contract of employment.

There is one other important point to note regarding employment contracts. There are two standard types: limited and unlimited. A limited contract has a set commencement and completion date (though it can be renewed), and sees both parties fully compensated in the event that the contract is terminated early by the other party.

An unlimited contract, on the other hand, has no completion date and is therefore not for a specified period, and can be terminated for a justified reason at any time providing that 30 days’ notice is given.

5. Helping your new hire settle in: Always remember that the hiring process doesn’t end on your new employee’s first day. Nor is it ‘mission accomplished’ after the successful completion of any probation period.

Settling into a new company takes time, perhaps even more so if your new employee is a recent expat arrival.

It’s not surprising that some employment experts believe it can take over a year for a new employee to be fully productive. Of course, you’ll want your new starter to be performing a lot sooner than that. And, in most cases, they will be. But that is only possible if you have committed to giving them all the training, guidance and support they need in those all-important early stages.

Because once you have overcome one of the biggest challenges – hiring new staff – you move straight on to another one: keeping them.

Gemma Kennedy is sales manager at Virtuzone, responsible for consulting prospective clients interested in setting up a UAE free zone company.
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