Confessions of Dubai's intern army

Interns spill the beans on the brave and bizzare tasks they face

The Knowledge

In today’s workplace, on-the-job experience often trumps a high-profile degree or even a gleaming CV. Many of us have, at some point during our career, completed an unpaid internship in the hopes of landing a dream job, getting a foot in the door, or gaining a first-hand insight into company culture. In line with most business hubs in the world, Dubai is fast becoming a hotspot for interns from the region and abroad to gain more experience before entering the corporate world. A new intern website has just gone live in the city, allowing candidates to upload video reels for potential employers to view. According to the Dubai Statistics Center, the competition is quite fierce: there are 48,058 students enrolled in tertiary education in Dubai this year, with each of them looking to enter the emirate’s ballooning workforce.

But, like many other things which require initiation, young job seekers are often expected to put in the time before they earn their patch. Those of us who have cut our teeth as interns know this can often involve menial tasks, such as fetching coffee and breakfast orders, sealing envelopes or even cleaning out cupboards. One Dubai hospitality and hotel intern says he was required to do a 17-hour shift with only two short meal breaks and often performed ‘useless’ tasks.

Saaed, 22, from Palestine: ‘I was asked to go to The Dubai Mall as quickly as possible and fetch 18 red balloons and 18 white balloons, then blow them up and decorate a suite to surprise a brother of one our guests. I also had to carry bags up to rooms every once in a while. Sometimes I felt degraded, but I think it’s all part of the experience,’ he says.

That being said, the intern says he found Dubai employers open to the idea of outside help. ‘I think employers in Dubai view us interns as a useful asset, mainly due to the low labour cost as well as the high technical ability we offer.’ Although his placements have also been eye-opening. ‘There is a clear and apparent hierarchy in the hospitality world. If you work in a hotel, the colour of your uniform can be enough indication of your rank or how much of a say you have within the organisation,’ he says. ‘The higher you go up the ranks, the more self-interest your superiors have and the less care for lower employees.’

Prita, 22, from India: The fashion intern says she sent her CV to more than 45 different magazine editors across the UAE, with not one bite. ‘Most applications I sent out never got any reply, or even a refusal – just no reply whatsoever,’ she says. ‘I decided to send out the same emails again and the first response I got was eight months later,’ she says. Her view on the way internships are approached in Dubai is perhaps anecdotal of the competitive nature of the magazine industry. ‘I believe employers in Dubai consider internships to be very temporary. You get placements only at the busiest times, when the company can use an extra hand for a month of two and then you are asked to leave. The chances of it turning into something permanent are very rare,’ she added.

Despite a bleak beginning, she notes her placements have provided her with an invaluable insight into the industry. ‘Things are quite fast moving, if you don’t keep up with the pace, it takes only seconds for you to get replaced by someone else and completely forgotten by the rest of the team,’ she says. In her case, keeping hot on the heels of her superiors and colleagues meant adhering to early starts and 12-hour days at one placement. ‘My first magazine internship was when I was 18, my boss expected me to come in at 7am and sort her emails out before she got into the office,’ she says. On her first day interning at a fashion magazine, she was required to perform manual labour. ‘I was made to clear out an old cupboard full of junk collected over three years. I had to sort out over 1,000 magazines in order of their date, which was an entire day’s work,’ she says. ‘You are always treated as an outsider, it is known among the rest of the staff that you are not going to be around for long, therefore people don’t bother making an effort to be nice. You are often just there so a load of work can be dumped on your desk,’ she says.

Yet, despite the hard slog and bizarre requests from superiors, both interns agree their experiences have been invaluable towards shaping their ambitions and expectations. Prita offers a final piece of advice: ‘You need to be very clear about where you want to be. Once you know where you want to be you have to fight for it,’ she says.

The interns’ names have been changed.

Find interns & placements

Connects candidates and interns with employers and has a video resume tool, which allows employers to view one-minute introductions by applicants.

Middle East Grad,
This website has a large social media presence and often posts tweets about available positions.

Find or advertise undergraduate and graduate placements across industries in the Middle East.

Find a job in Dubai

A go-to site for graphic designers, this ‘virtual skills’ marketplace helps candidates promote their skills, upload portfolios and find freelance or permanent job placements.

Gulf Talent,
Lists jobs all over the region in a range of industries, including healthcare, IT, legal, management consulting and banking.

Monster Gulf,
Allows users to browse jobs in various industries, as well as those for students. It also offers advice in negotiating your first salary and knowing your jargon.

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