Najla AlMidfa, recently was listed as one of the most powerful Arabs under 40, and that barely speaks to all her achievements in life, from being a Stanford MBA graduate, long experience in international consultancy companies, long involvement in entrepreneurship whether directly or through her work in Khalifa fund few years back, and now with her new company: Khayarat, through which she mentors Emiratis into the private sector, and helps international companies find the right Emirati candidates to work with them. In this interview, we get to know more about Najla, and what she does through Khayarat.
Sail: Tell us a little about your background and career.
Najla: I grew up in Sharjah, did my high school studies in Dubai. At 18, I decided to complete my Bachelor’s degree in the UK. And upon my return to the UAE, I handled a few consulting roles with major international companies such as PWC & Shell. I then decided to go for my Master’s degree in the US, and after completing my MBA, I decided to stay in the US for a couple of years and get some experience at McKinsey, in strategy consulting, and then eventually came back to the UAE.
When I finally settled back home, I joined Khalifa Fund in 2010. I liked their mission to develop Emirati entrepreneurs, and thought this was my opportunity to use all the skills and experience that I gained over the years to give back to my own country and to my people.
Sail: How did you get the idea of starting Khayarat?
Najla: While at Khalifa Fund, when I would talk with the entrepreneurs applying there about my experience they would ask me a lot of questions about my career. Questions like “how did you apply for this company?” “How did you get into this university”, etc. That was when I realized there was a gap over here in terms of mentoring and guidance, and I really wanted to fill it, especially since I felt I was in a position to do it primarily because of the experience that I’ve had. So I left Khalifa Fund and started Khayarat.
Sail: Tell us, what is Khayarat?
Najla: Khayarat is an online career development platform targeting young Emiratis. The ones who are either in college or in their first job and thinking that this isn’t really what they had in mind. So I would say between the ages of 18 to 25. What I’m really trying to do is raise awareness about private sector opportunities.
Sail: Why only private?
Najla: Choosing the private sector will be a great foundation for them, irrespective of what they decide to do later on. Most of my experiences were with international companies, and I would love to see more Emiratis at least start their careers over there, because it’s a great training ground, they have structured programs, and there’s a lot of investment in your learning.
Sail: So what are the main services Khayarat provides?
Najla: The first service is to the companies by allowing them to have a page on Khayarat’s website. For example, KPMG is a company we worked with, which is an accounting, auditing, and consulting firm.
We take photographs of their offices, and videos of people working in KPMG in the different departments talking about their careers. The reason for this is: A) some students wouldn’t know there’s KPMG to start with. B) Chances are, the information you see on KPMG.com will be the main international offices, and you don’t really get to connect with the local team.
So now students or fresh grads have an online directory of all these private sector companies and can just have a one-stop shop instead of having to go to different companies’ websites like KPMG & McKinsy and so on when they’re looking for a job.
The second part of Khayarat is for students or fresh grads, if they’re interested in a company, they can apply at Khayarat’s website. But we’re not a recruitment firm, we’re not taking your resumé and giving it directly to KPMG – we’ll prepare you to apply to KPMG, so that you are prepared for their interviews. This is important because some of those companies have a very specialized interviewing approach, which if you’re not trained for specifically, you’d fail.
Sail: So what made you feel that that’s something our society needs?
Najla: I studied abroad and I’ve seen the career guidance that I got when I was in the US. They would sit with each individual, and would make the students do an online survey which would take you about an hour answering different questions – kind of like your MBTI surveys – to understand who you are, what jobs would suit you, and then talk about your passions, and where your interest lies. They would help you in every aspect, and then if you had already identified what you wanted to do, they’d help you get connected to the right companies, prepare for the interviews, and that’s effectively what a career office should be doing in universities, which I don’t see much of here.
Sail: How do you select your students or fresh grads? Or do you accept anyone that applies?
Najla: There will be an application form on Khayarat.com through the link “Apply to Khayarat”, and the application isn’t too complicated. I want them to express what their dreams, hopes, and ambitions are, and the challenges they’re facing. The fact that they’re willing to take the time to even answer the question is a filter, because a lot of people wouldn’t be bothered to take the time to answer the questions. That filters out 50% of the people. Then we interview the remaining 50% who do apply to assess them better.
Sail: How can one be a Khayarat employee/member/mentor?
Najla: We are always looking for mentors to help provide career guidance to young graduates. Whether you would like to share your story through a short video interview, or spend time mentoring students, you can get in touch through firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sail: What advice would you give to the fresh grads starting their career in the private sector?
Najla: First of all, do your research. Don’t just go by the company’s brand name. Research more about the company and also the specific role that they expect you to do. Secondly, speak to as many people as possible, people who are working at the company and people who have worked at the company, and ask them why they had left. That will give you some indications. And don’t let money be your deciding factor.
Thirdly, ask very clearly what your learning and development path will be. The company shouldn’t be hiring you just because you’re an Emirati. You should be able to see the work you’ll be given and the skills you’ll be learning. And of course, once you’re in there, find a mentor.
Sail: Any last advice you’d like to give?
Najla: My only advice is to eliminate that sense of entitlement. Whether Khayarat, your university career’s office, or any mentor that you have along the way, they’re there to support you, but you have to do the hard work, which means researching, talking to people, doing your homework, and preparing as much as possible. So if you put in the hard work, everything else will follow.
Sail: How can people follow you to know more?
Najla: We are currently finalizing our social media strategy, and this should be activated by May. The accounts to follow on both Instagram and twitter are @khayarat
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