The job market in the US is relatively easy. Even if you don’t have a full-time job, you can always find something part time or on a temporary basis. I knew the rules of the game and how to play them. Send out a few resumes and you would at the very least get an acknowledgement card, if not a phone call or interview. If you signed on with several temporary or contract agencies, you could even bid yourself against them to negotiate a higher hourly rate.
On my first visit to Kuwait as a tourist in 1993, I knew nothing about Kuwait’s job market. I thought that if I liked Kuwait enough, I might try to find a job there. I had no idea how to go about it – and at the time, there wasn’t much on the internet about Kuwait. E-mail hadn’t really come into full-swing in Kuwait (or the US for that matter) yet. So, I did it the “old-fashioned way”, armed with my strong belief in the law of averages: I copied 300 resumes and cover letters, and stuffed them into 300 individually-labeled, stamped, and sealed envelopes and sent them all airmail to potential employers in Kuwait. I also sent same to all the ministers at all the ministries, hoping to get something. I mentioned the dates that I would be available in Kuwait for interviews. Out of the 300 resumes I sent, I received 50 responses. Out of the 50 responses, I had five solid interviews when I came to Kuwait.
The most interesting-sounding entailed work with a holding company which included a travel agency, car rental agency, and a hip restaurant housed in one building. I had four hour-long interviews with the company; lots of tea, lots of smiles, lots of small talk; nothing definitive. At the end of the interview process, I finally was able to meet the General Manager, who made me an offer of a whopping KD 150 per month with no further benefits. I explained that my housekeeper in the States makes more than that and left his office feeling deflated and frustrated for having wasted so much of my time.
I had received several intriguing calls from the office of an Assistant Undersecretary at the Ministry of Justice, asking me to stop by and see the gentleman, Mr. Jamal Al-Shehab, when I arrived in Kuwait. One of my letters to one of the ministers had fallen on his desk and he literally took it as a personal mission to help me. He sent me on several interviews with his friends, and an offer was made to me by an IT company; which is how I eventually came to live in Kuwait. Ironically, Mr. Al-Shehab is the former Minister of Social Affairs, Labor and Justice. At first, I thought, ‘Nothing is for free’ and wondered if there was some ulterior motive for helping me, but sometimes in Kuwait, I have found that it is just the way it goes. Like everywhere else, there are sometimes random acts of kindness; and timing and luck (and good marketing skills) are everything.
Kuwait has made big strides in the job market; although it may not appear that way to people coming from Western countries. At least now, there are reputable recruitment agencies and websites for job-seekers. Print media has a lot to catch up on with only ¾ page of job ads in English dailies – if you are lucky – compared to 20+ pages in any papers employment section in any major American city. Still, compared to the few-and-far-between ads in the early 90’s, it is currently a much better situation.
How can you determine what type of compensation you can expect in the local market? First, talk to people and ask their opinions. Salary surveys are extremely hard to come by in Kuwait and are generally expensive for purchase. Bayt.com, in my opinion, has the best readily-available statistical information on human resources in the area (which is a blessing as there is an obvious lack of any statistical information in the region). Bayt posts their reports directly on their website.
A common concern in Kuwait is the question of job security: in my opinion, it is a common problem in the US, but even more of a problem here; especially for expats. Bayt.com’s 2007 Human Resource Overview: Salaries, Cost of Living and Loyalty: “The average length of time holding a job in the polled countries ranged from 4.7 years in the UAE to 5.8 years in Kuwait and Bahrain. In the past 5 years most people have changed jobs at least once with the average number of jobs held in the past 5 years ranging from 2 in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to 2.3 in Kuwait and 2.4 in Qatar.” Be prepared to change jobs and always have a back-up plan: network and discuss consulting opportunities. A note of warning: If you have a credit card which is secured to your salary account and you suddenly don’t have an incoming salary anymore, local banks can withdraw the full balance owed on your credit card from your salary account. Meaning, you may not have cash readily available if you suddenly lose your job. Obviously, if you lose your job, you will be disheartened, depressed and weary. The easiest remedy is to hop on a plane to your home country and lick your wounds (maybe even find a temp job for a while). However, if you enjoy living in Kuwait, seize the opportunity and start pounding the pavement. Don’t limit your opportunities to just Western companies – scour the market.
Monster.com and Bayt.com are probably the recruitment sites with the most listings of jobs in Kuwait. Recruiters such as MRI and Clarendon Parker can also be called upon as resources by job seekers, but ultimately self-marketing is the key. When friends ask me about finding a job in Kuwait, I immediately recommend two books (available in local book and office supply stores): The Kuwait Pocket Guide and the Kuwait Top List. Both guides list e-mail addresses; the Kuwait Top List goes further and lists company contacts, business sectors, working hours, and number of employees. I recommend that job seekers “blanket the market” with resumes: send resumes and cover letters to as many e-mail addresses as they can possibly gather. Perceive finding a job as a new job and go about it with the same amount of enthusiasm, creativity, and driven determination that one would in any posting. Someone always knows someone who needs someone in Kuwait. There is an obvious problem with confidentiality, but if you are desperate to find a job, e-mail shots will help you gain interviews – and at least a foot in the door to potential employers. There are no temporary agencies in Kuwait, but sometimes you can negotiate consultancy work or part-time work if you are cleaver about it.
I have had several jobs since 1996, when I finally started working here full-time. I lost my first job with the IT company with a major management restructuring. They couldn’t disclose the restructure at the time and I couldn’t understand why I was losing my job. The management wasn’t exactly kind in their explanation: choosing not to provide a reason. Alone without family in Kuwait, I stayed locked in a fetal position in tears for several days before my big job hunt started again. For nearly eight months, I worked at various jobs until I found something permanent. I tried to target companies that I thought could use my skills (which is what we obviously all try to do), but I also met with companies that I thought could use a westerner in particular (working for law firms and even doing voice-overs at KTV).
As a job seeker, don’t give up. There is always a long delay to get a job here. The concept of time is different than it is in the Western world. In the Middle East, emphasis is more “in the here and now” in relation to time seemingly rather than related to definitive time-related goals and deadlines. One of the most common words in the Middle East is, “Inshallah” (God willing). Time and goals are connected to spiritual belief that it will happen by God’s will, with a distinct lack of urgency on when. I have seen many western friends get frustrated by the lack of understanding of this concept when living/working in the Middle East. It has equal application when it comes to the time it takes to get a job and starting work.
Recruiters and Employment Sites for Kuwait (send me your link if you want it posted)
US Companies in Kuwait:
SAIC (select “Kuwait” from country list)
US4 (Northrop Grumman, KBR, Chenega partnership for KBOS3): http://www.us4kuwait.com/
Agility Logistics (really a Kuwaiti-owned company that hires lots of westerners)
List of Recruiters in Kuwait