The Boss: LinkedIn’s rise and rise in the Gulf

Ali Matar, the network’s regional head of talent solutions.

LinkedIn’s profile is on the rise in the Middle East and North Africa, writes Ben Flanagan. The professional-networking site now has 15 million members in the region, with its UAE user base having doubled to more than two million in the last three years. And in January it moved to a new office in Dubai with room for more than 80 staff. Ali Matar, the network’s regional head of talent solutions, explains the growth – and how there’s only way to get a job at the company: Via LinkedIn itself.

Q&A with Ali Matar, head of talent solutions for LinkedIn in the Middle East and North Africa

Q: Hi Ali. Tell us what’s new at LinkedIn in the Middle East.

In January we moved offices from Internet City, where we had space for about 20 employees, to the Central Business Towers in Dubai Media City, where we now have room for more than 80 employees. And in April we launched LinkedIn in Arabic. We’re very excited about connecting Arabic speaking professionals across the globe, and helping them be more productive and successful.

Q: Your Dubai office opened in October 2012. How has the regional business progressed since then?

We have been very active across the 15 MENA countries that we cover, with a special focus on the GCC countries. We have been working closely with clients from different industries, which include Emirates Airline, STC, Etisalat, and Al Futtaim. We also signed a memorandum of understanding with the Federal Authority for human resources to help their more than 90,000 employees in the government sector create LinkedIn profiles.

Q: At the time, LinkedIn said it had a million users in the UAE. How many are there now, and what about the wider region?

We have more than 15 million members in MENA, more than two million in the UAE, and more than one million in both KSA and Egypt.

Q: What’s your Dubai office like – is it all Google-y with Playstations and free food, or does it have a more shirt-and-tie feel?

Part of LinkedIn’s culture is ‘humour,’ which means we enjoy what we do and the co-workers we work with. This brings the best in everyone at LinkedIn. We do have facilities for our teams to enjoy during their lunch break, and building tighter relationships with each other, as we truly believe relationships matter.

Q: How is the uptake of LinkedIn’s corporate services in the Middle East, as well as individual users taking premium subscriptions?

Our customers have been enjoying our services across our different lines of businesses – Talent Solutions, Marketing Solutions, and Sales Solutions. Our ultimate objective is to transform the way companies hire, market, and sell.

Q: Is there anything people should absolutely avoid on LinkedIn?

Don’t misrepresent your work experience on your profile, or plagiarize other members’ content as your own.

Q: As you mentioned, LinkedIn launched an Arabic platform in February. Why was that important and how many people are switching?

Our vision is to create an economic opportunity for every professional in the global workforce, and today we have more than 400 million Arabic speakers. Our aim is to support all of these professionals and to help them be more productive and successful. Today there are multiple nationalisation initiatives across the GCC countries, like Sauisation, Emiratisation, Qatarisation. With LinkedIn available in Arabic we can work and partner even closer with universities since new graduates are the main source of talent for national job vacancies.

Q: Sheikh Mohammed, the ruler of Dubai, joined LinkedIn as a member and ‘influencer’ last October. How did that come about and are you reaching out to other Gulf leaders?

Sheikh Mohammed is a LinkedIn Influencer with more than 330,000 followers. He has published some great articles on LinkedIn regarding leadership, innovation, employment, and some other key topics. It has been a very inspiring experience so far. We do work closely with our global team that is responsible for the influencers program and so far the support has been phenomenal.

Q: How can political leaders best use LinkedIn, and how is it different to them using, say, Facebook or Twitter?

What’s important to remember is that LinkedIn operates the world’s largest professional network on the internet with more than 364 million members in over 200 countries and territories. Context matters, so when political leaders use LinkedIn, they need to keep in mind that they’re talking to a professional audience.

Q: What’s it like working at LinkedIn, and how does the culture compare with your previous jobs?

The majority of employees join LinkedIn because of our unique culture, which has five pillars: transformation, integrity, humour, collaboration, and results focused. When we hire people we assess them against each pillar separately. That helps us hire the best and brightest, while ensuring they’re a good cultural fit.

Q: You’re also a mentor at Flat6Labs Abu Dhabi, a start-up accelerator programme. How is the UAE’s start-up scene looking, and what do you get out of mentoring young businesses?

It has been a great experience and I’ve learned a lot from all these different entrepreneurs who have some inspiring ideas. At the same time, I shared with them some of the best business practices that start-ups should be thinking of on the short, mid, and long term. I can say it has been a very exciting engagement for all parties.

Q: We’ve checked out your LinkedIn profile – impressive stuff. But tell us: Did it help you get your job at LinkedIn itself?

We hire employees through LinkedIn, only. We also hire through referrals but the candidate must have a LinkedIn profile to start with. Having a professional profile can help you land your dream job. Interesting though, around 75-percent of the 364 million members on LinkedIn are passive candidates, which means they aren’t actively searching for jobs, but are open to discussing open positions if the right opportunity presents itself. This is the segment of the targeted talent pool that companies are interested to tap to, and before LinkedIn there was no way to reach this talent pool at scale.