„The Middle East is extremely diverse – a conversation with Samantha Robinson, InterSearch Middle East

The Middle East is a region where people of all cultures and nationalities come together. “The Middle East is a fascinating part of the world and extremely diverse,” explains Samantha Robinson, Managing Director of InterSearch Middle East. She has had a close connection to the region since childhood, especially through her father, in whose footsteps she followed as Managing Director of InterSearch Middle East. “My father opened our first office in Dubai back in 1998 and I have now been living in the Middle East for 16 years.” Today, InterSearch Middle East has offices in four cities across the GCC region.

Regional differences impact recruitment

Working in the Middle East demands excellent knowledge of the region and its diverse cultures. Robinson refers to a “three-dimensional fit” – candidates must fit the corporate culture, but also the leadership culture and the culture of the target country. “The Middle East is not a monolith. Managers who would be very successful in Dubai could not fit the culture in Oman, for example.” We are very sensitive to the cultural nuances of not only corporations but country cultures across the region are incredibly diverse “Personally, I have always felt that my honest and open communication style is welcomed by clients and candidates alike – especially as a woman in this industry. The most important thing is to show the love and respect you have for the region and appreciation of its diversity,” Robinson explains.

Emerging markets and a diverse candidate pool pose challenges for executive search

Robinson appreciates the region and her work as an executive search consultant there, especially because of the diversity of candidates. In the United Arab Emirates “expats,” or foreign professionals, clearly outnumber the local population, according to Robinson. Only 10% of the population are UAE nationals. In addition, the Middle East is an emerging market and executive search is not yet as established and sophisticated as in mature markets. “This poses certain challenges for InterSearch Middle East. Part of our business development strategy is always to educate clients on how executive search works and what the benefits of such high-quality personnel search are,” Robinson elaborates.

Middle Eastern clients are less open to compromise

Dealing with clients in the Middle East often requires a more creative approach according to Robinson. “Methodologically, the search is not much different from other countries, but it is often necessary to be more resourceful and engaging with regards to expectations. Clients are often less willing to compromise and have very specific ideas about their ideal candidate. “But in an emerging market, you are often dealing with an extremely young workforce that may still lack seniority. There may also be the issue of inflated packages. Our job is to identify the potential and sustainability of the candidate to ensure they are a good fit for our clients.” Moreover, as a recruiter in the Middle East, you have to be able to deal with ambiguity. Robinson explains, “The client or customer may think they are looking for a one thing, but in fact, requirements may change during the search process.” Therefore, she and her team work very closely with the client and conduct bi-weekly quality checks to ensure that the services provided still match the customer’s expectations throughout the search lifecycle.

Proximity to candidates ensures sustainable placements

In order to guarantee the right “cultural fit”, Robinson and her team focus expressly on candidate experience. “We are very close to our candidates to understand their personal motivations and also make sure that the needs of the family are taken into account when hiring internationally.” The main aim of this intimate support, she says, is to ensure that the family settles in well so that the candidates can concentrate on the challenges of the new job. “Sustainability is key. We want to make sure that we find candidates who will stay with a company long-term. That includes making sure it is a good fit for the whole family.” Our consultant team stay in touch and in close contact with candidates even after a successful search. After all, Robinsons professional motto is: “Never forget that we are in the business of changing people’s lives.”

The region is optimistic about the future

Robinson is optimistic about the future of executive search in the Middle East. “We expect demand to increase. Rising oil prices are impacting the region in a very positive way.” While the pandemic has put a bit of a damper on international business as many multinationals went into strict savings mode, there was also much to learn. “Candidates are going to rank potential target countries by their handling of the pandemic. This will become a major attractiveness factor,” she says. The move toward remote work also means that candidates will no longer necessarily have to relocate their entire families, opening the market significantly.

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Samantha Robinson

Samantha Robinson began her executive search career in 1997 as a Research Associate with InterSearch Australia and has been part of the international InterSearch network ever since. She has lived in the Middle East for over 12 years, where she currently serves as Managing Director of InterSearch Middle East. Under her leadership, InterSearch Middle East has been able to expand its presence to the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Oman and has offices in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Muscat & Riyadh.

United Arab Emirates in figures

GDP: 358.9 billion USD
Economic growth -6.1% compared to the previous year
Per capita annual income: approx. 31,982 USD
Inflation rate: -2.1% compared to the previous year
Unemployment rate: 2.5%
Labor force participation rate: 76.9
Employees in the service sector: approx. 64.4%
Source: Statista, Destatis 2020

About InterSearch Executive Consultants

InterSearch Executive Consultants is one of the leading personnel consultancies and specializes in the recruitment of executives (Executive Search) and systematic analyses of executive potential (Management Audit / Executive Diagnostic). Founded in 1985 under the name “MR Personalberatung”, the company is now represented in Germany with three offices in Hamburg, Frankfurt and Cologne and was a founding partner of InterSearch Worldwide in 1989. Today, InterSearch operates worldwide in the field of executive search with more than 600 consultants in over 50 countries with more than 90 locations.

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