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HR managers at Korean companies share tips for foreign job seekers

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Visitors look around the Job Fair for International Students at Coex in Gangnam District, southern Seoul, on Monday. [NEWS1]
Visitors look around the Job Fair for International Students at Coex in Gangnam District, southern Seoul, on Monday. [NEWS1]

HR managers of companies willing to hire foreigners say Korean proficiency, work-related experience and an understanding of their companies’ values are the most important things for international applicants.

Companies that have positions open for foreign applicants gathered at the Job Fair for International Students, hosted by the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency at Coex in Gangnam District, southern Seoul on Monday and Tuesday.

As Korean companies branch out abroad, more employment opportunities are being given to foreigners wanting to work in Korea.

“Regarding foreign employees, we have a lot of them working as engineers, but we have them in many other positions as well,” an employment branding specialist at Coupang said. “We have been recruiting foreigners for a long time, and we hire them from Korea as well as abroad.”

For foreign job seekers who wish to catch those opportunities, the Korea JoongAng Daily met with HR managers at the job fair to ask about the main qualities they look for in international applicants.

Korean skills

One of the most important skills companies look for in foreign job seekers is their Korean language skills.

Almost all presentations were done in Korean at the job fair. Many of the speakers started with a short announcement that the presentation will be in Korean because they expect applicants to be proficient in Korean.

Although Korean companies have some employees who can speak English or other languages, Korean is the primary language used for their internal communications.

“Employees do need to speak Korean because they will have to work in our headquarters in Korea,” an HR manager for Hansae, an apparel manufacturer, said. “We inevitably have to hire those who can speak Korean.”

A computer-generated image of Hansae's manufacturing plant in Myanmar [HANSAE]
A computer-generated image of Hansae’s manufacturing plant in Myanmar [HANSAE]

Asking how fluent candidates need to be to apply, many HR managers said they are looking for candidates with business proficiency. SK Telecom is currently accepting applications for its Global Junior Talent Internship, and the company also lists proficiency in Korean as a requirement.

Regarding what that means, Ko Byung-hoon, talent acquisition manager at the company, said interns will need to write documents in Korean, understand what others are saying at meetings and be able to deliver their opinions in Korean.

Companies looking for employees to work at their overseas offices also consider applicants’ Korean skills important.

Posco Future M, a battery material manufacturer, was looking for candidates willing to work at its offices in Canada at the job fair.

Despite the office being based in an English-speaking country, working proficiency in Korean was required, with the ability to speak French being a plus.

“Once [foreign employees start] working with us, their supervisor is going to be Korean,” an HR manager at Posco Future M said. “So we are looking for those who can communicate in Korean and are bilingual.”

On top of being able to speak Korean, learning the cultural context underneath the language was also advised.

“Low context and high context communication is one of the most important skills to master when working for a Korean company, especially if you come from a low context country,” Valentin Janiaut, team leader at LG Electronics, said. “From the same meeting, Korean employees would get much more understanding than I could ever get, and I had to be told a lot more context to be able to catch up with what’s going on.”

“Some countries and some cultures go with explicit and simple instructions, while some go with implicit instructions and understand the surroundings.”

Although only a few, some companies go the extra mile to help employees who aren’t fluent in Korean.

Coupang is one of them, hiring real-time interpreters who will sit in meetings to translate Korean into other languages for its employees.

“We have a translation and interpretation team for each division at our company, and they help with interpretation when our foreign and Korean employees sit in meetings together or even translate emails for them,” a recruiter at Coupang said. “Foreigners at our company can comfortably communicate with Korean employees due to those services.”

Knowing the company you are applying to

One of the basic but frequently mentioned tips by HR managers is to match one’s skills and characteristics to the company’s mission and values.

They can easily be found on the companies’ websites, where they describe the qualities they want their employees to have. The job descriptions of each position also often contain more details.

“Our company states that we look for warm professionals, and we had a lot of candidates tell us that is really interesting during our interviews,” an SK bioscience HR manager said. “We do value professionalism but still require employees to be warm and friendly, and a candidate’s personality and professional skills are something that we do consider to be important.”

International students visit the SK bioscience booth at the job fair. [NEWS1]
International students visit the SK bioscience booth at the job fair. [NEWS1]

Going into depth to research what the words actually mean is also important.

“Our company says it’s looking for a warm professional, but what is a warm professional?” Parviz Odilov, a manager at SK bioscience, said. “I had the same feeling when I saw that on the website of SK bioscience in 2021.”

“I then googled it, and I then found out that this company likes to see people who [enjoy] teamwork and are proud of what they do. At the same time, it also means being a professional with higher goals than what is said and being ambitious. Even if you don’t have these qualities, try to develop your mindset based on the company you want [to join]. ”

To provide more context, many companies operate blogs or YouTube channels that applicants can refer to.

Detailed information about the mission of SK companies and their corporate culture can be found in the SK Careers Journal. The journal interviews HR staff and employees at each subsidary, going into detail about what qualities they look for in candidates.

Coupang also goes into detail about its leadership principles on its career website, providing employee interviews that help applicants get a glimpse of the specific teams they can potentially work for.

Although researching the company is one of the basic requirements, some applicants aren’t up to par with what companies expect.

“There are two things we mainly look for in our applicants, and one is if they know a lot about our company,” an HR manager at BNC Global, a manufacturer of aesthetic medical devices. “There sometimes are some foreigners who will come for interviews, but not know much about our company or business.”

“It’s best to study about the company and industry in advance.”

Related experience

A job seeker looks at a list of companies participating at the Job Fair for International Students at Coex in Gangnam District, southern Seoul, on Monday. [NEWS1]
A job seeker looks at a list of companies participating at the Job Fair for International Students at Coex in Gangnam District, southern Seoul, on Monday. [NEWS1]

Many job posts say they require related work experience or prefer candidates with past experience.

The phrase tends to appear not only for job posts for experienced hires but even for entry-level positions.

For applicants who just graduated from school and don’t have work experience, linking what they did as students or any other projects they engaged in during their student years can be a solution.

Experience in team projects, university clubs or extracurricular activities are all examples of what companies look for in recent graduates. Students can also benefit from doing a double major or taking a few courses in the field they want to work in if their primary major is outside the industry they are interested in.

“We are mostly looking for candidates in marketing and sales, and because entry-level applicants are technically university students, we prefer those who majored in related fields such as business or economics,” an HR manager at Liveanywhere said.

SK bioscience also encourages recent graduates to highlight experiences during their studies that can be linked to the position they are applying for.

“I went to talk to a fashion company today, and I brought a design portfolio I made during my class just in case,” Kemala, who went to the job fair on Tuesday, said. “I actually didn’t schedule an interview with them because I didn’t apply early enough, but the company invited me in for an interview, and they were really interested in what I did.”

“A lot of the companies [at the job fair] seem to be looking for people who can start working [immediately], and I felt like showing any past projects or past work really caught their eye.”

BY LEE TAE-HEE [lee.taehee2@joongang.co.kr]