Interview Elizabeth Williams: Job search in Middle East

Interview Elizabeth Williams: Job search in Middle East

Elizabeth Williams is the managing partner of a Dubai based boutique legal recruitment firmEWS. She publishes every year a well-known survey for the in-house legal counsel profession in the GCC region.

She has shared with us more information about her background as well as the recruitment trends in the region.


What can you tell us about your background?

I qualified as a Solicitor in England & Wales and worked in London as a Solicitor at Richard Butler (now Reed Smith) for three years before moving into search in 1996. Aiming to set a standard for professionalism, dedication and reliability in the executive search industry, I established EWS in December 2009 following 10 years’ search experience having lived and worked in the UK, the US, Hong Kong and since 2003, the UAE.

Can you say a few words about your firm?

EWS is as a boutique search firm conducting searches in the legal sphere within the MENA region and more specifically the GCC. EWS has second to none knowledge and experience of the Middle East legal market and focuses predominately on in-house legal recruitment. Our edge lies in finding the best candidates through research driven market mapping and proactive headhunting as opposed to database search or straight advertising. Throughout the years, we have also conducted successful searches for a number senior and C-Suite roles in HR, Project Finance, Enterprise Risk Management and Credit Risk.


EWS provides search solutions for clients across the GCC, including for MNCs, government entities, regional conglomerates, sovereign wealth funds and banks. The markets we headhunt in include the GCC, the Levant, North Africa, the UK, mainland Europe, Canada and the US and Asia Pacific. We have also conducted searches for clients in Turkey.

Is the job market in the GCC region dynamic or not?

With the onset of the global financial crisis, activity at all levels in the market were extremely low. 2013 saw a real pickup in activity but 2014 has been very quiet. This, in our opinion, is the result to a number of factors including lawyers not changing jobs or leaving the region as frequently as before and budgets being tightened which means fewer new hires.

How would you differentiate the markets in the region per country?

Most candidates we talk to state their preference is to find a job in the UAE. Whilst Dubai has a certain allure to it, Abu Dhabi attracts a lot of candidates too.

Which industry sectors are hiring?

Following the regional boom, especially in property in the early to mid-2000s, the real estate and construction sectors witnessed a massive legal recruitment drive. This then reversed when the crash occurred. Since 2010 things have started slowly improving but there is no one sector that stands out from any other.

What are the hurdles to the acceptance of a job offer in the region by candidates?

We always iron out as many of the possible hurdles to the acceptance of an offer well before the offer is made. It is our job to make sure that if an offer is going to be made, it is accepted. One thing we cannot guard against however is a candidate using an offer as leverage with their current employer, using it to get better terms. This does not happen often and we weed out anyone of the process who we think might be using the recruitment process to achieve that. This year the biggest hurdle is the mismatch between a candidate’s expectations and a client’s expectations when it comes to pay. A number of offers have been turned down this year as the client’s offer has not been competitive.



Many spouses who follow their husband or wife, are looking for a job. What do you advise them?

I would advise them to do their due diligence, explore and get acquainted with the new environment ahead of moving with their spouse. In this age of online information, looking for a job has never been easier. There are so many mediums out there they can use such as LinkedIn, etc. that cater to anyone and everyone in any part of the world. Building a network is also very helpful and can be achieved by researching and joining organizations related to their career path, attending relevant conventions and developing their own social network.

Is fluency in Arabic a prerequisite for candidates to be short-listed ?

Arabic fluency is often a preference but not a must. Many of our clients look for lawyers with a strong legal training and who have had experience in a very good law firm or in-house. More recently so, there has been an increasing demand for lawyers who are bilingual (Arabic/English).

The presentation of CVs can differ according to country and cultural factors. How do you prepare a CV meeting employers’ expectations in the region?

Our way of submitting CVs to our clients is different to other recruiters in the market. Once we hone in on the perfect candidate, we provide the client with a thorough summary of their background, experience, suitability for the role and recommend who we think would be the “right fit” for the team and the company. We are very open when pointing out a candidate’s strengths as well as their weaknesses.

You just released your annual survey about compensation for legal jobs in the GCC region. How did you set it up?

The idea to create the EWS Annual Salary Survey arose when, so frequently, we would get approached by HR and legal professionals for up-to-date information on remuneration in the GCC. The uniqueness of the annual salary survey lies in the fact that it is the most responded to legal salary survey in the region and extremely detailed. It provides tangible and useful information for both candidates and hiring managers in the region.

What are the key findings of your survey compared to last years? 

We had a record 451 lawyers taking part in this year’s survey and saw a downward shift across the board in salaries. At the same time, there is an overall increase in job and salary satisfaction where almost half (45%) of the participants are happy with both their jobs and compensation. However, what struck us the most in this year’s results is that at every level of qualification male lawyers are earning higher average salaries than their female counterparts. This was a surprising and concerning find.

Patricia Gendrey

Legal salary survey

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