How to do interview in South Korea – 1

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The core attitudes/qualities sought after by employers of the world are simple – the candidate has “can-do” “will-do” attitude, dedicated, responsible, smart and good to get along with.  But how to present it really depends on the culture.  That is what I try to learn from this study session with specialist;which, by the way, started from today.  I need to know how to present it in Korean style.  If you are not familiar with the job market here, you might wonder “why do you even need that?”  Well, trust me, you need that one.  Even mono-Koreans seek help.  It’s a long story, but I’ll just say it involves just too many different deciding factors when compared to that of America.

I know I’m in no position to complain a lot here – after all it was my will and decision to try this, and I am ready to swallow myself a bit if needed.  But I’m a human being, and I need to rant release my thoughts once in a while.  So how was it?  In short it was pretty much reconfirmation of what I felt, or assumed about what Korean companies want to see from candidates, especially in terms of self-presentation.  In American job interviews, I didn’t really get nervous.  Of course there is anxiety, but I just remind myself that all I need to do is be honest, be myself and be polite.  I guess that worked, because I did pretty well on interviews – it’s just that damn immigration regulation held my back.  One interviewer said “I liked some of your answers”; another one said “it’s really good that you look confident, not all-sweat when you enter the door.”

Well, in today’s Korean style mock-interview session, I did what I do for job interview.   Then I was constantly told that I do not sound passionate enough, my manners of speech is too casual, and I sound too casual.  Then we saw a clip of sample interview videos.  On a screen, a guy was there, with artificial smile and loud voice.  When ask to introduce himself, his speech was like an army soldier briefing.  Too me, it was too ready-made – hit-line followed by why you are the best candidate for the company point-by-point.  Wait, shouldn’t you answer that one when the interviewer asked “why should we hire you?”  With my sparse experience with Korean style interview, I always had a feeling that they want someone who is tailored to their cookie cutter and have a very militaristic attitude.  That video was confirmation of my hunch and I was thinking, “holy shit.”  If that is the good example of Korean style interview, I guess what they see the signs of confidence are 1) loud voice, 2) fake smile and 3) no sense of self, i.e. “ready to be a lifeless selfless happy slave of yours!”  Seriously, try that in States – I can see the interviewer getting scared or cross out this guy’s name for being way too desperate.  Maybe my American mindset is emerging again, but if you are confident enough, doesn’t that mean you are able to stay calm and poised, regardless of the situation?  If you can veneer the lacking of self, or confidence with loud voice and fake smile, well, easy life….for them at least.  I don’t know what the specialist will say, but it will take me a long time to change myself in that manner – I grew up in States for the half of my life.  I’ll try but it won’t change within a month.

The specialist who led the session, said “they don’t do this in States, no?”  (Before my attendance, I made it pretty clear that I grew up in oversea).  So I Said, “no they don’t.”  Then he went on, “well, you might be surprised, but in Japan it’s even worse, if not similar. I saw it on TV last time.”  Like I am completely new to the Asian culture.  Well, yes, thank you, I actually lived in Japan with locals, I know I was able to get away with it because I was gaijin, and that’s why I’ve avoided applying to Japanese company, if I am to be accepted as a full member of their group.   It would be a different story if I am hired as an external consultant or something else. ‘Nuff about this.

One of the questions I got was: “You’ve lived in States for a long time.  How are you going to deal with challenges that come from cultural difference?”

So, as a TCK, I said: “I don’t see it is a challenge limited to US and Korean culture.  Getting relocated from one culture to another one is challenging.  People say there is no shortcut for studying, and in my opinion the best and the most efficient way to get yourself adjusted to another culture is immerse yourself in that culture, such as talking a lot and interact with locals.  That’s what I am doing.  Sure, sometimes it is frustrating and makes me emotional, but that’s the part of process, and through that I get to learn more.”

Then I was advised to say that I totally nailed Korean culture, with the comment “it sounds like you are saying it for the news opinion column.”  Um…okay.  Possible if I grew up in west coast or east coast.  But I grew up in Midwest, and my schools’ location on resume show it.  To my knowledge, my target companies has a pretty good database of schools and such, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the interviewers are well aware of the fact that American midland has almost no Asian population, except big cities.  What if they ask “but there aren’t much Koreans in where you grew up…?”  Lying is a big no-no in job interview.  So I decided to ask, though it can be deemed as arrogant in this culture.

Specialist: Was there a lot of Korean where you grew up?  Like did you go to Korean church a lot?

I: Fuck no Um, no, the Asian population was next to nonexistant…and are you really sure I can lie about this?  Because it’s possible that interviewers know that there aren’t much Koreans or Asians in Midwest.

Specialist:  Nah, I don’t think they will know.

I: Well, it’s not urban area, and the interviewers at least know the names of urban area, obviously with high Korean population.

Then he just started to talk about he enrolled in a training program in middle of nowhere of US, and the training facility had so much Koreans, making all the other internationals scared.  Like that’s a good thing.  Besides, I was in a degree institution, not language institute…I really don’t get what he tried to say.  Oh, and it is common for interviewers not to actually read the personal statement before the interview.

Anyway, I don’t blame the specialist guy.  I didn’t expect him to be highly internationalized person, nor to be develop a personal relationship.  He knows the rule of the game very well, and that’s why I attended his session; as long as he gives me a good, practical guidance in return, that’s it.  And I am willing to follow the guidance from someone who knows it better than I do.  He is probably being a bit more strict than necessary, because he wants to give his clients every single advantage when it comes to Korean style job interview.  On the way home, I had that sick, uncomfortable feeling – just like when I had my first Korean style interview in States.  I really didn’t like it.  I felt uncomfortable and sick because directly and/or indirectly, I was asked to be something that is not me.  I was asked to act something else and that was what made it most stressful.  Then it came across my mind: if they are asking these and requires these kind of answers and qualities, that means the qualities are prevalent in the office, too.  Sure, if I suck up a bit and swallow myself a bit, I might be able to jump over that hurdle and get a job here.  But what about after I make it?  With those qualities filling up the air of entire office, possibly constantly required to “act,” am I going to be happy?  Will I be willing to work there for a long time,  Will I be willing to see the colleagues for a long time, developing a friendly relationship?

I won’t get answers for these instantly, so let’s put that aside a bit, and see how this session goes for a while.

Today’s moral:  If Korean company says they want a highly internationalized, creative person and respect individuality, fuck that – that’s bullshit, so don’t take the words as it is.

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3 responses »

  1. GREAT post! LOL!!!! For a second there, I thought you were talking about the coporate world in my city…..It’s wierd to think that what you experience in Korea, as a TCK, is the same thing I experience in the States, as a TCK, but that you would no doubt be FAR more successful here, than I am, and I would probably do “better” if I became an expat. Isn’t that just bizzarre???

    Yesterday I told my boss that I was fed up with the bourgois values here in the States and he said (I swear I am not making this up) : What’s a bourgois?
    ROFL!

    I think you are right: when they ask questions like that, it means there’s a problem with that issue. I figured out the following with American companies:
    If they say they want : a self starter with creative ideas, and able to multi-task” what they really mean is:
    We want someone we can abuse and this person will be the scapegoat for anything that goes wrong, and further, they’ll pretty much be on their own when we decide to hang them out to dry. Also they have to do everyone else’s job and not expect any raises or promotions.

    LOL

    • I know, Suzanne! being TCK makes us the concept of irony becoming living flesh and body. I think I’d be better off if I were in States, but as we all know the damned immigration regulation hold our back. Sigh. It’s funny because my job was dealing with loads of Europeans – I’m sure you would have been able to deal my ex-job much much better than I did, because you know the Europeans and European behaviors. Not that I did not enjoy the duties, but I wish we could have swapped the job, lol.

      Recently I realized that whatever the employer emphasizes too much on their website or newspaper article, it is very likely that the employer has a problem on that emphasized thing. That’s why there’s certain limit to gain a good information through job researh, especially as student or someone who does not have any good insider information – all you can use for research is google and employer’s official website, but of course they only say positive things. So many of Korean companies here always talk about how they want someone internationalized and creative, and how their business culture respects individual. Which actually means that vast majority of their employees are not internationalized, let alone close-minded, and still stuck in collective mentality. And by being creative, they actually mean “do this job as I want, even if I don’t give you a single direction; find out how by yourself.” Quoting from my friend, Annabel, “they don’t want a creative one there, don’t let them fool you.”

      Thank you so much for the Foxnews link! I really enjoyed it. Maybe I should start from mopping the toilet at a local train station…XD

      Are you on LinkedIn by any chance? If yes, I’ve found a very interesting and relevant discussion thread. You might be interested. http://www.linkedin.com/groupAnswers?viewQuestionAndAnswers=&gid=49695&discussionID=7559032&sik=1265899257747&split_page=2&goback=.ana_49695_1265899257747_3_1

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