20 Ideas for Networking in the UAE

Networking should be an integral part of your “getting hired” strategy in the Middle East. Relationships truly do matter. Despite the explosion in online networking, traditional face-to-face meetups are still key in the UAE’s business community.

You will not get very far with email introductions and online transactions. Dubai is all about in-person networking events and meet-and-greets. Go to them, enjoy the drinks, talk to anyone in the room, and stay in touch afterwards. Word-of-mouth referrals are also very strong here. Make as many positive contacts as possible to expand both your skills and job opportunities. The opposite to networking is not working!

Here are 20 ways for Expats to expand their network in the UAE:

1. Dubai is very multicultural. The majority of people are Expats. You will probably not need to change your behavior much when interacting with people from other Western countries or the Philippines. However, when communicating with Expats from Muslim countries such as other Arab countries, South Asia, and Southeast Asia, exercise a little bit of care (more on this below). Nonetheless, common sense and respect are 80% of what you need.

2. People are more than happy to help here and your success will depend on who you get to know.

3. Interacting with different groups – even the security guards in your building – will introduce you to different power dynamics. There are many informal networks that have ‘wasta.’ Wasta is an Arabic word that translates to influence, authority, or connections. In practical terms, it means that some rules can become more flexible if you have wasta, or know someone who has wasta. Becoming connected to people with wasta will determine how effective you are in your job search.

4. With that in mind, make every effort to reconnect with friends, former co-workers, colleagues, acquaintances, family members, and other parents standing at the school gate. If you don’t ask for help, you don’t get help.

5. At the same time, most enterprises in the region are extremely top-down. It’s been that way for generations and not likely to change. When networking, leverage the power of any senior connections you have – whether they are in your target department or not.

6. Remember that networking is not transactional. Think more long-term and build your network for the sake of building connections. The results will come…be patient.

7. Don’t refer to people from Dubai as “locals”. They hate the term. Use “Emiratis” instead.

8. Never shake hands with someone of the opposite gender who is Muslim unless they extend their hand first. Both men and women may prefer not to shake hands with the opposite sex due to religious reasons. But with people of the same gender, you can expect them to shake your hand more frequently throughout your social encounter.

9. Amongst Muslims, the left hand is reserved for bodily hygiene and considered unclean. Thus, the right hand should be used for eating, shaking hands, or handing over an item such as a business card. If you use your left hand in these circumstances, it is considered an insult.

10. Don’t dive too quickly into business matters. While you may be in a hurry, spending time to enquire about a person’s day, health, and family will pay dividends. Wait for the other party to start the business chat and keep any Western corporate bluntness at bay. Small talk is more than just courtesy; it’s a nonintrusive way of finding out whether someone will be a suitable employee, colleague, or business partner.

11. Expats always seem to be scared of what lies behind the hijab and don’t make an effort to interact. A polite “smile, nod, and avoid” may not win you friends, but neither does it cause offence. 73% of expats questioned by InterNations said Emiratis are “very friendly”. Hospitality is a key value of the nation. The best advice I have is just talk to Emiratis! They are human beings too! Use small talk and focus on common goals, not differences.

12. Despite all that you may read and hear, camel racing, horse racing, and falconry are NOT national sports. If you want to make small talk, talk about the weather (in a positive way), a major event that is taking place, or even regional news. Asking after family is a good way to break the ice; however, it’s better to not ask about family members of the opposite gender, with the exception of parents or young children.

13. Another good way to break the ice is through humor. Emiratis and other Middle Eastern business people love a good joke and can be uproariously funny. Profanity is a total no-no in the Muslim professional world, so avoid using foul language, using sarcasm, and making disparaging comments on Islamic culture – a person could be fined, jailed, or deported for doing so.

14. Be realistic with how you will remain in touch. Emirates and Expats rarely integrate socially, as the cultures are very different. You may have a better chance of meeting again for a coffee instead of in a social setting.

15. Dress modestly. Both genders are expected to cover everything between the neck and the knees. Arms are ok to reveal but not shoulders. You may see people getting away with less modest attire, but don’t risk it.

16. Public displays of affection are considered a sexual act and are not allowed. When you see men kissing each other on the cheek or nose, this is a display of respect. Same goes with females. But Westerners are not expected to do the same!

17. It does not hurt to learn some Arabic words.

18. Accept every offer to socialize and network.

19. Know that the relationship between time and time management is different here – not better or worse, just different. Expats are still expected to be on time, but things may advance at a different pace than you anticipate.

20. Always have a business card at hand and ensure it has Arabic on the other side.

Don’t let these pointers overwhelm you. Life in the UAE is easier than what it sounds like! Embrace the culture of the area and make time to network.