Gradberry Offers Small Businesses Access to Fresh College Graduates in the Middle East

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With’s recent survey on job perceptions revealing that most college grads in the Arab World prefer to pursue government and civil service or financial sector jobs, it’s clear that many recent graduates are choosing well-defined career paths. Yet new job search website Gradberry may open up graduates’ access to a wider set of options at small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), by offering job postings focused on entry-level positions, internships, and freelance positions.

It may also help streamline the application process for employers, who frequently receive an overabundance of applications not well tailored to the job in question, something job search site Laimoon is also working to change for marketing and sales job. While Gradberry will ultimately compete with Laimoon as well as giants like Bayt, Dubizzle, and Gulf Talent, it may be of immediate relevance to SMEs with limited budgets for talent acquisition. 

The site already built a network of 4,000 youth in the UAE since its beta launch this September. Wamda contributor Said Hamideh checked in with Gradberry co-founder Iba Masood to see how it plans to expand. 

How has the process of creating a job listing/classified service in the UAE gone? Who is your market?

Creating a job listing or classifieds service, anywhere in the world, requires a strategy for supply and demand economics; the site must ensure that supply and demand for jobs are balanced to a certain extent, based on a desired ratio for the industry the start up operates in. We think the demand for our service is not limited to the UAE, and we expect most of our clients to come from the SME side. In terms of numbers, 9 out of 10 of employers have found their right graduate match through gradberry, and 85% of employers have returned to post another opening.

Do you think its a win-win situation for some companies to offer unpaid internships? What is the gradberry philosophy about unpaid internships?

The unpaid internship model can only be successful through mentor-based internships. If you are hiring student talent for free, then make sure your interns receive a fair amount of compensation through other means, such as teaching them skills in startup strategy, social media, business development and finance. We've seen some great results from unpaid mentor-based internships, where students learn more than they could in one semester of college. However, the opposite also occurs, where many companies take advantage of unpaid internships, especially in the Middle East. This is detrimental to both the employer and the student, and it needs to stop. Gradberry advocates adequate compensation with employers, whether through monetary or non-monetary means.

As a company, can you give me some good reasons why I would risk hiring freshly graduated talent, when I can hire experienced talent?

Fresh graduate talent really allows a company to think outside the box. We worked with several SMEs who were reluctant to hire fresh graduate talent, but after showing them the skill sets that fresh graduates possess (enthusiasm and awareness, familiarity with the latest tools, open to change) they posted their openings. Appraisals now show that the fresh graduates were the employees most likely to submit new ideas, adapt to change, and even assist in overall business strategy at these startups.

What is the cut-off age for "new" talent?

In our case, we have targeted the portal towards graduates with 0-2 years of experience, regardless of age. We have seen 19 year old fresh graduates, and 27 year old graduates with 0 years of experience as well. We normally see that the 18-24 age range is classified as fresh talent by employers.

Why did Gradberry decide to bootstrap the process? 

We wanted to build the start up on our own terms. We were selected initially for seed accelerators in the Middle East; however, we found that the terms favored the investors over the founders. We thought about moving abroad and applying to foreign tech accelerators, but we wanted to make a difference in the region Youth unemployment is the highest in the world in The Middle East, at a whopping 24%. It was a difficult decision, but so far it has paid off. We have been able to make around 30% of our investment back, just one month after launch. And tech wise, we have barely spent anything since we built the portal ourselves. Most of our investment, was spent in getting a legal team and becoming a registered company, since it is very expensive to set up in the UAE.

What was it like for you to sacrifice so much for an idea? Did you receive support from others, emotional or otherwise? Would you do it again?

Honestly, I had no idea it would require this much sacrifice to start up and implement an idea. Perhaps if we were based in another region, we wouldn't have faced this much difficulty, but I believe that we did the right thing by staying put. This region needs more entrepreneurs to fuel economies and push development in the right direction. 

Being an entrepreneur means that you're constantly thinking about your start up, and how it can be improved. It involves sleepless nights, zero holidays, and working throughout the week. Would I do it all over again? Yes. I've learned more in the last 3 months working on Gradberry than I did being an employee for 16 months. And the incredible amount of support we have received from students testament to the work we are doing. In one month since public launch, 15 graduates have been employed through Gradberry.

We have a lot more features planned for the beta 2.0 version, which will be slowly tested, and rolled out throughout 2012, to improve the experience for students, graduates and employers alike.

Do you advocate on behalf of your job applicants? Do you think they need advocacy services?

In terms of advocacy services, we do help candidates and provide them with CV and application advice. For example, we recently had a stellar fresh graduate candidate apply for a position, and she forgot to mention her social media profiles in her application, which was for a community manager position. We emailed her and asked her to change her CV and include more details on her online profiles. She re-sent her application, and 2 weeks later she got the job! In terms of advocacy, we provide career, resume and job application advice through out blog "The Fruit Bowl", where graduates comment on our blog posts and ask for live help on their applications.

If you could offer new graduates one piece of advice, what would it be?

Focus yourself, and attempt to apply to positions that fit your skills and qualifications. Many graduates in the market are blindly applying to several positions at once, which do not fit their abilities, and this is really wasting their and employers’ valuable time. Rather than applying to hundreds of, take time (around 25-45 minutes) on each and every application and really show the employer how you fit the job and organization perfectly.

Why are the Founders of Gradberry passionate about this concept?

We are fresh graduates ourselves. I graduated in 2010, whereas my co-founder graduated in 2011, hence we've been through the trials and tribulations of being a fresh grad in the economy. I quit my job to pursue this, since I believe that the talent is out there, but it is not being utilized to its full potential. The youth need help. More and more employers need to start training programs for fresh graduates and internships for students, to really allow them to get their foot in the door, which is often the hardest thing for grads to do. This is why we try to bridge that gap and help students find their place in the world.

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