Five key skills needed to work in start-ups in the MENA region

With the region encouraging entrepreneurship, more jobs are expected to be available for graduates in start-ups



The start-up market continues to thrive in the Middle East, with over 3,000 small businesses calling the region home and $650m in investments flowing into the sector.

Looking ahead, it is predicted that there will be 250 fintech start-ups in MENA by 2020, with a growth rate of $125m a year.

Startups are also being encouraged by government investment: Saudi Arabia’s 2030 Vision aims to encourage entrepreneurs to work in the region, while the UAE’s Mohammed bin Rashid Innovation Fund is designed to support local companies that offer innovative ideas.

All of this spells good news for jobseekers, especially graduates.

But when it comes to finding a role, working in a start-up requires a unique set of skills and attributes. The small and often-intense environment of these types of businesses means an employee’s attitude and approach needs to be slightly different than in a larger company.

I have noted several core personality traits that are being sought out by the region’s entrepreneurs. They include-

Initiative

Often, a start-up will run on a few core staff, so employees must be comfortable showing initiative and helping out wherever possible. There isn’t a lot of budget for outsourcing, so you need to be open to ‘mucking in’ wherever possible. No job should be too small – if data needs to be entered, or envelopes stamped, you should be getting involved, working with your team to get the job done.

While some tasks may be more boring than brilliant, the other side of this coin is that you will receive exposure to every part of the business, collaborating with senior decision makers and developing your understanding of best business practice. Unlike a larger corporate business, you will receive access to experienced professionals who can act as guides or mentors, dispensing helpful lessons along the way.

Flexibility

No two days are the same at a start-up, so it’s vital that you can handle change in your day-to-day role. From responding to urgent situations as they arise, to adapting processes as you figure out best practice, you need to be comfortable working in a fluid, versatile and sometimes ambiguous environment.

Smaller businesses usually don’t have the established procedures and processes of a larger company, so if it’s structure you’re after, this type of experience may not be for you.

Curiosity

When starting from the ground-up, everything is a learning curve. It’s no different in a start-up, where there are infinite possibilities to acquire new knowledge or skills. Natural curiosity bodes well in this environment – the most successful start-up employees will be constantly asking questions, looking for new ways to create and add value and throwing out new ideas in order to improve the business.

This way of thinking can also benefit you later you in your career – if faced with a complex problem, this intellectual curiosity can assist in finding left-of-centre solutions.

Motivation and passion

A start-up usually doesn’t have the budget for professional development or the time for training, so it’s up to you to drive your own path of learning. Having the motivation to develop your skills and knowledge will always put you in good stead for start-up success.

There can be no motivation without passion. There’s no point working for a company if you don’t believe in its mission, product or service, especially when in a start-up environment – your lack of engagement will be immediately obvious. A valuable employee is one that is driven by passion for their work and business, so it’s important to show this off at every turn.

Humility

The start-up environment could be compared to a blank canvas – there’s an opportunity to create something great, but at the same time, opportunity to make mistakes. Therefore, it’s vital for any start-up employee to operate with an element of humility, recognising that failure is inevitable. You should be able to recover with optimism, finding the positives and ensuring every mistake is transformed into a learning opportunity. Having a realistic idea of your strengths and weaknesses will also mean you know when to ask for help.

Amy Butler leads the MENA division at Tiger Recruitment