Job culture in Pakistan versus outside pakistan

Another ICAP Gold Medalist on Jobs in UAE


Syeda Mehrunnisa, a Chartered Accountant by profession is working in KPMG UAE at Dubai office in the internal audit department. Owing to the nature of her work, she has to constantly travel to and fro between Dubai and Abu Dhabi.  

Mehrunnisa has previously worked with A . F Ferguson & Co. in the external audit department in Karachi and is an ICAP Gold medalist in Accounting.

  • So Mehrunnisa, what made you want to go to UAE?

Several factors but mainly getting the international exposure. Dubai is a metropolitan city with a blend of cultures, nationalities, and languages. When deciding to go abroad I knew I wanted to go to UAE only as I could follow my values and still be able to work in a very different environment, learn about different countries and hone interpersonal skills. Then of course money is a factor too… I would be lying if I say I didn’t consider this.

(Thanks for being so honest and open Mehrunnisa)

  • So apart from the money factor, what other factors should a person consider when deciding to work within Pakistan or move abroad? (

First and foremost, where do you see yourself in the long run… if 10 years down the line you want to be back in Pakistan, have a settled life and a permanent government job then there is no point in going abroad. But if you want to develop your CV, get the exposure that comes with working out of your comfort zone, the confidence to be able to interact with a mix of people… some who think completely opposite to what you do… then yes a person should consider moving abroad.

Also, the values that a person wants to follow are very important in shortlisting the countries you are willing to work in. I will give my example, I take an abaya… how many countries in Europe or states in America would let me continue in my current attire? I guess none. There is a saying in Urdu… jaisa des waisa bhes (you follow the culture of the country you live in). So if you are willing to embrace a different ideology than the one you grew up in… you can move anywhere in the world. But of course, this is a matter of opinion.

 (I agree with it to an extent! I take a hijab, in fact, I am the only Hijabi at my workplace but people at work don’t mind nor do they treat me differently. So like you said the country you are working in does matter but so does the environment and people at your workplace. But yes taking a hijab or abaya is something you wouldn’t have to think twice about in a Muslim country. But of course that’s just one example)

  • Many of our readers would be keen to know what is the current job market situation in Dubai? Also, do you think they are more open to hiring Pakistanis currently or do other western countries get more preference?

From what I can see the current oil prices has had its effect on the job market. The dip that occurred last year slowed down the economies of the Middle Eastern countries which in turn reduced the job market.

When it comes to hiring people, I believe that its equal opportunity hiring in Dubai. They look at the profile of the person, experience and then there are interviews. Of course having contacts also makes a difference.

  • Interesting! So when applying to Dubai what do you suggest should be the possible route? You’ve been working in Dubai for some 1.5 years now, I guess and must have interacted with a lot of locals…what is their mindset like? As in what do they look for hires from different countries? Any special skill sets they look for?

For Finance jobs generally, the route is through audit firms. Companies feel more comfortable hiring mid-managerial finance positions and even internal audit positions from audit firms. Multinationals transfer employees internally through global mobility. Then again contacts and references play a role too.

When it comes to skill sets, it’s what you would expect in any rational company; they look at the requirements of the job and the candidates that apply and how well suited they are. A bit favoritism would occur in hiring people from the country that one belongs too. I mean if I am a Pakistani and I have two candidates, one from Pakistan and another from a different country and they have similar profiles I would be naturally inclined towards the Pakistani. This is not the standard case but something I have seen.

(Excellent point)

  • Are you happy with the decision you made?

I am satisfied with my decision. My dad wanted me to grow and develop into a confident woman ready to stand up against any adversity and I believe I am well on the way to doing just that Alhamdulillah.

(You most definitely are Mehrunnisa! Our best wishes and prayers are with you)

‘Don’t forget we are giving away 4 Ramadan and Eid Gift sets. Enter here to be in to win’

  • What would you say are the five things you miss about working in Pakistan?

The first thing is not so much about work but yes.. my family. I miss my mom and siblings.. coming back home to a steaming cup of tea and cooked dinners!

Secondly my language… here it’s English 24/7.  I miss speaking Urdu and all the slangs! You would know Hina! I am sure you must have missed it too!

(Oh you have no idea how much!)

The prayer breaks on Friday… they used to be a break before the weekend. It’s off here in Dubai on Friday and no one does anything. It’s like an unspoken rule “You shall not work on Friday!” like one of the 10 commandments!

Pakistan has a very trust-based work culture… the spoken word holds value.

(I am quite surprised to hear this from someone who has previously worked as an Auditor in Pakistan…but then again it’s a matter of opinion)

And finally, the uncertainty that comes with working in Karachi… not knowing whether you would be returning in mid-day because suddenly there is a strike! Or watching TV till 1 am to confirm whether the roads would be opened the next day 😉

  • Okay now coming to the most important question of this interview, how different is the working culture in Dubai as compared to that in Pakistan?

The culture is really different because … well.. because there is no one culture. E.g. currently I am working with people from India, Jordan, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast, and the Philippines. Oh, and my senior manager is from Iran! So that’s a lot of cultures in my team of just 20 people. Initially, it’s a bit difficult to adjust but then you get used to it.

Also after working here, I realise in Pakistan a lot of our professional relationships are based on trust and word of mouth. Here you need to get everything written, everything documented. I am not saying this is a bad thing, it just takes twice the time to get people to trust you.

Plus as women, we get a lot of privileges in Pakistan. Male colleagues would leave their seat for you or drag a chair from 200 metres away, if there isn’t one nearby. But in Dubai, you work in a multinational, multicultural environment where there is a 50% chance that your male colleague would consider you an alien if you expect such treatment. Everything is based on equality. Again not a bad thing! Just a difference!

Also, Pakistan being a country with 98% Muslims, you get to here a lot of Salamalaikums and people running around at prayer times. Here it’s different. You would here Hi’s Hellos and see handshakes all around. And you need an App to alert you that it’s time for prayer. Of course, unless you are in a government organisation.

(Oh! That’s quite interesting! I had no idea about this! I thought the Middle East was more into the prayer on time culture!)

Oh.. and last but not the least, the first few weeks in office you might think you have become color blind since all you see are single colored shirts and plain black or blue pants or skirts. This is a big jump from the embroidered Khaadi shirts and block printed JJ dupattas or the odd guy in bright pink shirt and blood red tie as is common in all officers in Karachi!

‘Read what ICAP Gold medalist Hassaan Hamid has to say about jobs in UAE here

  • If you were offered a good job at a well-known company in Pakistan would you consider taking it?

Definitely, I would if given a reasonable pay! Definitely! Since my family is there and after all…all the experiences in the world and the confidence of the oceans cannot equal your family.

(Ah! So beautifully put Mehrunnisa!)

  • Would you like to share a little advice with our readers?

I would say that be clear as to what you want. I have seen people, especially girls come to Dubai, work for a couple of months and then return because they couldn’t settle in! Then they feel like failures because their peers actually progressed in the same situation. Don’t compare yourself with others! You know yourself best. So before making a career move think of where you see yourself and whether a particular course of action is the right one for you. Don’t live with regrets! In the words of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, think a hundred times before you take a decision but once taken stand by it!

(Awesome Mehrunnisa! Thanks so much for your time!)

 Thank you, Hina!

Please note:

  • All questions have been answered by Mehrunnisa in her personal capacity and will have no impact on the organisation she works for;
  • Please do not spam Mehrunnisa with personal questions. If you have any questions for Mehrunnisa or me, feel free to comment below and we will try and answer them. 


Up next:

Interview with Ahmed Sunka, Group Deputy Managing Director – RAB Group Africa

When: 4 June 2016

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