Sunday, 14 December 2014

Getting Hired in Korea - A foreigners -perspective

At least I got this T-shirt!
When I got my first job in South Korea I was lucky to be exempt from the highly competitive and pressurised recruitment process that is the norm for young Korean graduates. Like them, I filled in an application and sat a personality test (what for I still don’t know). But I had no competition and there were no nerve racking group interviews.

I was also able to skip sections in the application form that ask personal questions about family and other things. I sympathise with young Koreans who are required to give such personal information with no protection against discrimination. Really, what business is it to a Korean company what your father and mother do for a living?

At my second interview I learned that the company was also selecting Korean candidates for their graduate program at the same time. It was intriguing to see the stark contrast in our approaches to the interview. The Koreans in the waiting room were pacing up and down, sweating, nervous and trying to memorise interview answers. They were being coached on how to say hello to the CEO in the correct and polite manner by an overbearing and unpleasant human resources officer. She had good intentions but she was clearly making the candidates more nervous.

I was calm and just happy to have the opportunity. But because of the atmosphere outside of the meeting room my expectations were raised and I eventually began to stress about the formality of the interview and also the questions they would ask. I needn’t have because as is the case with so many job interviews at Korean companies the line of questioning was typically irrelevant.

“Do you like drinking?” “How many bottles of Soju can you drink?” “Do you like Kimchi?” “Where do you live?” “How old are you?” “Do you have a girlfriend?” My job interview may as well been held in the backseat of a taxi because these are the questions I would get anytime I travelled in a Seoul taxi for more than 20 minutes. Actually you could say I should thank the taxi drivers of Seoul for preparing me so well for my job interview questions because I got the job! I knew how to answer those questions in a way in which a middle-aged Korean man wants to hear.

I should have realised then that my high expectations for a meaningful job position in the company wear unrealistic. I was a novelty. Something ‘global.’ Somebody that looked good as an image. I fell into the typical token non-Korean work role. My team leader struggled with how to deal with me and what work to assign to me. The company wasn’t prepared for a non-Korean worker. All they knew is that they wanted to reflect a global image and I would fulfil that requirement.

Korean companies are doing the right thing in trying to diversify their workforce and seek out global talent for certain positions. But all too often the entire recruitment process and subsequent job role are treated like a novelty. In order to see the potential returns and benefits of employing non-Koreans the job roles and power placed in these candidates needs to reflect the same respect and scrutiny that is placed on Koreans.

If my former company was truly sincere in its efforts to globalise their workforce then the process I went through would have been completely different. And although it pains me to admit this, I probably wouldn’t have gotten the job because a more qualified candidate would have been chosen.

Finally, a word on how Korean graduates are selected. Companies use a variety of tools to filter them and if you consider that the biggest companies receive over 100,000 applicants a year then it is understandable. But the filtering systems are boxing talent into a mould that doesn’t cover enough areas. Young workers are entering the workforce with a history of academic credentials and test scores but very little in the way of real life or work experience.

Those that have chosen to forgo academic study and instead learn from experience are then largely overlooked for jobs due to a lack of credentials. This is another area that Korean companies should look at when assessing the effectiveness of their hiring programs.

1 comment:

  1. Hi! I was wondering if you have any suggestions for Americans seeking a job in Korea. I will be graduating in the fall and was looking to return to Korea after having studied abroad last semester.