The reality for the youth workforce is dire. According to the International Labour Organization, the Middle East has the highest youth unemployment rate globally, with it being 29.1% in 2013. Students and graduates get stuck in a conundrum: besides trying to attain wasta or connections, they can’t find a job without experience and they can’t get experience without a job. There’s no quick fix to youth unemployment and career portal InternsME aims to assist in filling the gap between education and workplace in UAE through internships and trainee placements with an online platform– a cost effective solution for companies to grow their teams.
To stand out among job seekers, the platform focuses on video resumes, or ‘visumes’ as CEO and co-founder Jean-Michel Gauthier calls them. Since students and fresh grads lack experience, CVs can seem bare: “It’s been difficult for hiring managers or company owners to really gauge someone based on their CV. Visumes became the obvious choice to help candidates highlight their strengths, communication skills and personalities.”
Being a video-centric employment platform, InternsME found that it’s a great way for candidates to foster confidence and practice their personal pitches. Gauthier says that approximately 40% users have uploaded videos, adding that users with good visumes “tend to get snapped up into placements very quickly.” To further help reserved and unsure users, the career portal is providing free recording sessions at their office to support and guide users. At first, attracting users to sign up was a chicken and egg scenario. They needed candidates to attract employers and vice versa. The portal managed to get candidates to sign up first by getting support from educational institutions and generating content -such as blog posts and videos on interview tips, creating video resumes, etc.- until jobs were available.
InternsME Talent Hunt Event, Capital Club DIFC, December 2014
“It wasn’t easy at all, especially for the first several hundred- early adopters are seemingly rare in Dubai.” Besides building partnerships with universities through fairs, workshops, and roundtable discussions, word-of-mouth was also a big help. Gauthier explains that they spoke to candidates as part of their screening process to better understand their strengths and job-seeking preferences. As someone who tried out the platform in 2013, although they weren’t able to find me a match at the time, I can attest to this and I applaud their efforts to get to know me and what job I was most inclined to land. Others echo my sentiments too, as Gautheir says users feel the difference from other placement portals.
Regarding the current state of youth employment in the region, Gautheir admits that most employers still aren’t providing internships, and they “even come across the odd employer who asks us, ‘What’s an internship?’” There’s been positive change, but the situation still has a long way to go. Startups and SMEs are “eager” to hire from the young workforce, however some are still “reluctant” to deviate from their established “recruiting methods and reliance on experienced staff.”
The team often liaise with employers in a bid to disprove misconceptions and impart guidance. Gauthier believes there’s always a way for them to fit in to an organization, it’s just a case of “link[ing] it back into a company’s needs and objectives.” He asserts that for cost-conscious startups, internships can help in expanding a team, keep the cost and risks low, and it’s an opportunity to see how possible future hires can fit in before having them join your team full-time. Interns help to build a “healthy company culture, as they bring onboard fresh perspective, ideas, drive and diversity.”
Jean-Michel Gauthier in the InternsME Office in JLT
So how can startups facilitate a good working environment for interns, who are usually millennials? Gauthier reminds employers that the needs of the young workforce varies: “They seek to be inspired, empowered and to feel part of something exciting.” Interns can bring more impact if presented with opportunity “to contribute their ideas and take responsibility of tasks”. It also goes a long way when companies are considerate accepting interns who may still be studying. “Startups need to be able to answer, why are we a great place to get experience, or start your career at?” In terms of the discourse between unpaid/paid internships, Gautheir stresses how internships are primarily for gaining work experience, and a small stipend to cover expenses is recommended.
To further bolster and support their online presence, InternsME staged The Talent Hunt last year to gather 16 employers with more than 400 candidates for a session of “speed interviews”; both sides have a short (two to three minutes) conversation to get to know one another. The co-founder says that the event was very successful, and that “hundreds of applicants are now under consideration as a direct result of the event.” Besides planning a relaunch of their website and grow their team, the startup also intends to frequently host more employers-meet-candidates sessions.
FOUNDERS CEO Jean-Michel Gauthier oversees day-to-day operations, and Elizabeth Zeibari and Jason Mathias act primarily in an “advisory capacity”. The founders are aged 28, 30 and 31 respectively, with backgrounds in pharmaceuticals, advertising and various other commercial experience.
Krystel Gonzales, HR Trainee with Sephora, with Mohamed Gdara of Sephora, and Jean-Michel Gauthier, at the Talent Hunt
FUNDING InternsME is backed by angel investors, who also act as board members and advisors to the startup.
BUSINESS MODEL Companies can join the InternsME employer network for a small fee. The portal allows them to post jobs, search for graduates, watch video CVs and recruit talent.