It's graduates that will power PR in the UAE

Four Communications group director, Ray Eglington, reveals how graduates in the region will shape MENA's PR landscape.

Sometimes you just have to kick yourself for not doing something sooner.

For 15 years, we’ve been running (at least) annual graduate trainee selection days in our London office. We get around 800 applications a year, and select 25 of the best to fight it out over a day of intensive tests, exercise and interviews. They’ve delivered some amazing candidates in London, including one, Tonia Savchenko, now on our main operating board.

Every year, we’ve hired at least one graduate trainee from London for our UAE offices. 

In many years, we have also recruited one or more local graduates, but from ad hoc interviews or meetings. We didn’t think there were enough candidates to match what we did in London.

This year, we finally took the plunge and ran a full UAE selection day. It threw up three surprises.

First, we got a lot more applications than we expected, for the first year. More than 90 people wrote in, with the quality meaning it was actually pretty tough to create a shortlist.

Second, we were blown away by the people on the day. What a confident, creative and interesting group.

Third, we surprised ourselves. I’d already hired two really strong candidates from our London process, so had in mind to take one more locally. Last week, our third local graduate trainee, Krishina, started, joining Farida and Zoe (and, to give them a shout, Talha and Amelia, who came through London).  And there are two more that I’m keen to bring on board. 

That will make it by far our biggest year for graduate recruitment here in our MENA operation. What a great testament to the UAE’s higher education institutions.

Without exception, the graduates we met on the day were articulate, thoughtful and enthusiastic. Most had very strong technical skills – writing, video, data or creative – and were able to demonstrate them without fear in front of our senior team (and their peers).  

Interestingly, there was a great group dynamic in which they supported each other during the day. We’ve already heard, from the people we’ve hired, of on-going relationships and communications between many of the group – all helping each other as they step forward on their first career opportunities.

So I am kicking myself for not running a local selection day before (not too much: three of our local ‘ad hoc’ graduate hires before this have won or been shortlisted for MEPRA’s Young Communicator of the Year, so we’re not doing too badly).

At Four, we made an early decision to recruit graduates because two of us had been lucky enough to start our careers on the Charles Barker graduate scheme, then one of the best in the industry. 

Our graduate recruitment has been a great pipeline for talent for us, one of the best decisions we ever made as a business.

Now I am convinced our next best decision is to formalise that process here in the Gulf. If we get the same level of talent, enthusiasm and passion as we saw in May, we’ll be sure of a long-term pipeline for the future here too. 

I’d encourage other agency owners and managers to look at the skills base of our local graduates. You’ll be impressed at the skills and passion you will come across.

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