What to expect from an interview in the Middle East?

Whenever I talk to a candidate about opportunities in the Middle East, especially for those candidates outside of the region, one of the most common questions I get asked is about the interview process. How long is the process, how many stages, type of interviews, typical questions etc.

So I thought I would provide an overview for candidates who are wondering what to expect. This is based on my experience predominately in the financial and legal industry. 

How long is the interview process?

This really depends on the firm and the seniority of the position you are going for. As an example if you are interviewing for an Investment Banking role with a US Investment Bank or Sovereign Wealth Fund, it can be a lengthy process. Expect the interview process to take a minimum of a month, but more realistically two to three months. I have not had an interview process in 10 years of recruiting for the financial services industry which doesn’t require a face to face meeting. So you can expect a delay in scheduling flights and the interviewing panel’s schedule in order for the interview to take place. This is regardless of seniority. I have had Associates fly from London and New York to interview for roles in the region. However this is usually the final stage and you might be the only candidate under consideration. I always advise my candidates before committing to a final in country interview, make sure all your research is done, if your family is moving with you that they are on board with the move and ultimately you are 95% certain you are moving ahead if offered the position. 

Law firms on the other hand rarely insist on a face to face meeting and will conduct their selection process over telephone interview and video/Skype. Some regional and international firms I have experienced complete interview processes in a month, if not weeks. This is something to be aware of if you are interviewing for a law firm. The process could move quickly, therefore you need to be sure the role and potential relocation is right for you. Conversely, the US and Magic Circle firms can have lengthy interview processes more in line with the Investment Banking interviews detailed earlier.

How many stages and types of interviews? 

Again this varies between firms but I will provide a general guidance for both industries. 

Investment Banking/ Private Equity/Investment Management – expect a minimum of 3 rounds of interviews, which will include panel interviews and if you are interviewing with a Sovereign Wealth Fund or US Investment Bank it could be as many as 5 rounds. For Analysts to Senior Associates, expect a modeling test or case study. Some firms leave this until the end of the process, others mid-way through the process. Psychometric testing is common for all levels, including Executive Director and above. Definitely worth practicing if you haven’t done a psychometric test for a number of years. 

Commercial Banking - usually less rounds of interviews than Investment Banking and unlikely to include a test. I have seen tests for risk management roles, if the role requires strong modeling skills. However expect 3 rounds of interviews, which again will include panel interviews and face to face interviews. 

For both areas highlighted above, the final interviews can be very intense. I have seen numerous circumstances where the candidate meets 10+ people over a full day of interviews. 

Legal – Some firms only do 2 rounds of interviews over Skype and will make a decision. A number of firms will ask candidates to complete a drafting exercise. Candidates at Counsel level and above with a book of business can expect a more extensive interview process, taking place over a couple of months. It is rare a law firm will fly a candidate out for a face to face meeting, however for example  if you are based in London and the firm has an office in London, don’t be surprised if you are asked to go and meet the London Partners.  It some circumstances it could even require the approval of the London office if that is the firm’s headquarters. 

Typical Questions 

Aside from the typical technical questions which you would get for any role, a client is going to want to understand if you are relocating, why you want to move to the specific country where the role is. Client’s interview 10’s of candidates over the course of the year, who from a CV perspective could be ideal for the role. But when it comes down to relocating, decide against it. Accordingly you need to have a well thought out reason for wanting to relocate. Answers along the lines “The Dubai lifestyle” won’t cut it.  

The client will also want to understand if this is a long term decision or something you are thinking of for 1-2 years. Some firms only require staff for a short term period, however when relocating staff the majority of my clients are thinking of the next 3-5 years. The expense incurred in relocating a candidate and the time it will take for a candidate to adapt to the region and firm, short term appointments will not add much value to the client. It would also not add much value to a candidate’s career to relocate and gain experience in another country for less than 2 years. If you know of any family, colleagues or friends that have relocated to that country or preferable still in the country, mention that in the interview. Speak with your contact prior to the interview so you can reference any positive feedback received from that contact. 

In a number of interviews, clients have asked my candidates about their current working environment. Reason being, the Middle East has a large number of nationalities in the workforce. As an example one of my clients has 40 different nationalities in their business. Consequently the client might want to understand your experience in a diverse workforce.

Salary can be discussed directly with a candidate during the interview process, therefore be prepared to discuss salary expectations. 

Finally, take into consideration the time of year when you are interviewing. If you are interviewing in the summer months or during Ramadan, there could be a delay to the interviews. Just because you haven’t heard anything a week after your interview doesn’t mean you have been unsuccessful. Patience is required through the interview process and after an offer is received, as you will also have to complete the specific country's visa process which could add another month or two to your start date.

Posted by Adam O'Donnell



Adam holds a BSc in Business Studies & Management from a Top 10 UK University and has been with Leap29 since 2009. He is currently Operations Manager for professional services, which includes Banking, Finance and Legal. He is also a Member of the Chartered Management Institute (MCMI). Adam was recently part of a four person shortlist out of 1000 applicants for Recruiter of the Year in the North West of the UK.