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Building Talent Solutions To Attract, Retain, And Evolve: The How-To Check out these recommendations for crafting the perfect employee experience (EX) to attract, retain, and evolve your prospective and current talent.

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It's easy to take good design for granted. Often, we don't give it a second thought as we pick up our pre-ordered coffee, breeze through airport security in minutes, or buy a new pair of sneakers, but behind the scenes, everything has been methodically mapped out, tested, and tweaked to ensure the best possible customer experience at every touchpoint.

Frictionless experiences are expected in today's connected world, and for designers, the UAE is the best kind of playground to really push the boundaries of what's possible. There is a willingness to try new things and keep evolving; the result being a thriving digital ecosystem that is disrupting the way we do things. It's this growth that's led to a massive demand in improving user experience (UX) across the board and more responsive web platforms/ apps being created as a result.

As such, we're seeing businesses, such as Mastercard and MAF, now leaning into more service-based design solutions, bringing on specialist consultancies to source the talent needed for innovation on this scale, while also setting up their own in-house digital labs and design studios. The amount of Chief Experience Officer (CXO) roles is also increasing, sitting alongside Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) in terms of importance in the management structure- a welcome change. You also have significant government investment in transforming the likes of Al Quoz into one of the world's biggest creative hubs over the next decade. By 2031, we could see about 20,000 creatives based in this zone, up from the 900 or so we have today. The blueprint of the future is already here, we just need to be ready to capitalize on it.

From our perspective at Aspexx Digital, we're seeing a highly competitive environment emerge as companies increasingly look to woo specialized talent from more mature markets like Amsterdam, New York, or London. What's interesting is that even though the UAE isn't fully formed yet in this space, the pace in which they are innovating ahead of others is where the attraction lies for designers looking to flex their creative muscle. In parallel, there is also a shift happening away from "traditional recruitment." Instead of fixed skill requirements, job roles, and structures, the focus is more specialized yet broader, allowing for more embedded talent acquisition solutions that span the entire end-to-end design experience.

It's exciting to see things move so quickly in such a relatively short space of time, but on the flip side, there is also a chronic shortage of talent in these industries right now. Candidates can afford to be much more selective about who they want to work for. In truth, there's always been competition for top talent, but this has only been amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic fragmenting the market further. In our view, it's the small touches that make a huge difference (more on that later) to getting the candidate onside, and those relationships begin to form from the minute the interview process begins.

We've already talked about how experience is pivotal from the consumer side, but now it's time to look at it from the candidate's perspective. Here's our recommendations for crafting the perfect employee experience (EX) to attract, retain, and evolve your prospective and current talent:


The massive tech layoffs happening across the board at Google, Amazon, and others right now don't make for pleasant reading. Taken out of context, you would assume that this indicates a slowdown, when in reality, it's a consequence of mis-forecasting and over-hiring at a time when e-commerce was booming, and the COVID-19 bubble still loomed large. As the magnitude of these redundancies set in, we will see the market shift again with an influx of talent ready to take on their next challenge.

So, today, when it comes to interviewing prospective candidates, consider the format ahead of time, thinking about how you plan to engage them. It's not a one-way street, of course, and we need to make sure that candidates do their due diligence too, but it's important to remember that it's an evaluation on both fronts. Impressions matter, so if your interview process is methodical and well thought-out, then it stands to reason that this is how the working environment would be too.

At Aspexx Digital, we often get asked about the "stages" for an interview, and how many we'd recommend. For most roles at the top level, it should be three to four rounds. The first stage should focus on the cultural fit, but it should be a two-way chat that allows the candidate to share their experience/motivations, while the interviewer should disclose more and about the company vision/journey. It should be conversational and create a welcoming atmosphere.

The second stage should test the candidate's ability with a task or presentation. We then usually push for an additional "round" where potential hires get a meet and greet with the team they will be working with. We have found this to be a particularly successful way of closing the deal, and minimizing back and forth. The final round is usually more of a formality to meet key stakeholders, and tick off any remaining queries from both parties.


Say you have found your perfect hire, but you haven't put much thought into the onboarding process. A major red flag for any new employee is when companies don't get this right. In truth, onboarding should begin from the minute your offer was accepted. Not the day before starting, the morning of, or the end of the first week. You don't need to overthink it, just get the basics right.

For starters, set up the new hire's workstation ahead of time. Allocate them a desk, upload all the software they will need, set up their email, and grant them access to the building. This ensures that they can hit the ground running from Day 1. Remember also that it can be daunting starting at a new company, so ease them into it, and ahead of their official start date, assign them a buddy who can show them the ropes, offer practical advice, and give them the office tour. New hires should meet everyone (from the CEO down) in the company structure, even if they aren't going to be working with them that closely. It helps them to understand who is responsible for what, easing their transition into the new work environment.

These actions may seem small and trivial, but it sets the tone for how the working environment will be. If they feel welcomed and included, then, over time, they will become more confident and contribute more.


If you've nailed the first two pillars, then now is the time to think beyond immediate retention, and encourage long-term loyalty. Think of the digital and design industries as being constantly in motion. If you slow down, you'll struggle to catch up. If you stop, you'll fall off the radar altogether. In our experience, the main way to boost creativity and innovation is to offer unrivaled opportunities for progression.

Not what you were expecting? It may surprise you, but money isn't everything, particularly in this vertical. Designers like to build, be a part of the process, and influence real world practical application through thoughtful design. In parallel to this, organizations no longer want to rely on agencies to help them achieve their design ambitions; they want to be in the driving seat. As key regional players pave the way for expansion, fleshing out their own teams to build and scale experience design, it opens a whole new realm of possibilities for current and future talent to thrive.

Ultimately, the UAE is always looking to evolve and mature; however, there is only so much that can be achieved with ambition and investment alone. It takes the right people to make this vision a reality. If the two can align, then the potential for even greater service and experience-led design is limitless.

Related: Being A Female Tech Entrepreneur In The MENA Region: Opportunities, Challenges, And Lessons Learnt

Peter Mackintosh and Jack Kidd are co-founders of Aspexx Digital, a talent solutions consultancy that supports companies in building and scaling experience design, innovation, product, digital, and technology teams across the UK, Mainland Europe, and the Middle East. 

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