Last week, Communicate online hosted a live video stream of the Middle East’s first Great Talent Debate where industry experts gathered to discuss the current state of talent in the MENA region. The debate was joined by industry leaders Sconaid McGeachin, President and CEO Middle East, Africa and Turkey at Hill & Knowlton; Justin McGuire, managing director at MCG Associates, Greg Shuler, chief talent director at J. Walter Thompson MENA; and Colin Farmer, general manager and talent director at Impact BBDO. They addressed issues from talent retention to hiring techniques throughout a host of topics brought about by the moderator and BBC and Al Jazeera freelance reporter, Amandeep Bhangu, who also integrated questions that came in live from viewers.
Jumping off with some critical observations, Bhangu asks simply about the state of the talent in MENA compared to the opportunities available here, to which the panel unanimously agrees that there is plenty of opportunity but the regional talent pool is struggling to keep up with the demands of jobs. Speaking on the PR industry specifically, McGeachin says one issue is the constantly “shifting dynamic toward the type of people that we want to bring into the industry”.
Brought about by discussion of the regional talent pool, the conversation turned to taking about graduates. Those graduating from University currently are helping the talent pool repopulation however, the experts explain that there is not enough applicable education. They also noted an additional concern: the graduating talent is not necessarily ready to make the transition from the schooling environment to the work environment. To this, Bhangu reminds the panel that from her experience, specifically in the UK, she has seen this issue across the board, and she isn’t certain that this issue is unique to the Middle East. And generally, McGuire explains that good communications talent is hard to come by because the industry is not necessarily being promoted in Universities. McGeachin adds that the regional industry specifically “needs to do their own PR to really show that this is an exciting industry, and it’s not always [selling it] to the graduates but maybe to their parents, that this is a worthwhile industry.”
The panel is asked what skill sets they are looking for when seeking new talent. McGuire responds that talented Arabic writers are at a shortage but are in high demand throughout the industry. Farmer adds by generalizing that homegrown Arabic talent, not just writers, has been hard to come by. Retorting with agreement but an additional point, Shuler adds that passion is arguably the most important thing to look for when seeking new talent, because that he explains “is the differentiator”.
One hot topic of the day was advice from the panel about how to establish solid CVs in order to get an interview, and then from there, how to get the job. “The CV is to get the interview, not the job. The shorter and more concise and beautifully presented, in our industry, the more I’ll look at it,” says Shuler. He continues to explain that those looking to break into the industry should work on “building their own personal brand,” to which Farmer adds that his biggest irritation in an interview is when someone shows up without preparation, passion or an opinion on a piece of content. Unanimously, the panel describes that they want CVs that will catch their eye. On what she looks for in a CV, McGeachin says “add something that makes you unique and makes me want to have a conversation with you”.
The topics then shifted slightly to what the experts are impressed by during an interview. Farmer highlights that an interviewees personality is crucial to allow the him to see how they will interact with the team and with the clients. Firstly, he says, “its the paper that gets you the interview, but its the discussion and the chemistry that get you the job”. For Shuler, he quite simply explains that an interviewee should “answer the questions you’ve been asked, and don’t waffle”. But McGeachin elaborates on this concept by explaining that it’s important to be prepared, but also to be flexible and not to try to weave your prepared answers into the questions that are being asked.
And on the age-old question of how to retain the talent once they’re hired, responses varied from offering career development to creating a culture for which talent will want to work hard. McGeachin goes on to point out that “millennials want regular feedback and regular updates on where their career is going”. McGuire advises talent to stay in one place and don’t be tempted, don’t “spoil your CV” by jumping around for small salary increases.
The Great Talent Debate brought some new and some old concepts to the foreground; highlighting the need for Arabic talent in the region, graduates that are job-ready upon finishing their education, and applicants that are prepared but personable in their CVs and interviews.
To view entire video, click here.