How to do Interview in Korea – 3 (My World, Upside Down)


I’ve been away for a while.  First,  I sweated myself too much on MCAS Excel and PowerPoint exam.  It turned out to be 95% same with the sample questions given from my MCAS training course.   Way to go, Korean hagwons.   So this means I am halfway done to getting my MCAS certificate.   Second, we had a short lunar new year holiday.  This is one of the major holiday in Korea.  The traffic goes crazy and all major retailers launch massive campaigns.  Just think of Thanksgiving.  Third, I have been busy, preparing my materials for Korean-style job preparation.  I know many Asian culture prefers perfect orchestration and preparation done before the real deal, but man…I keep wondering “do you really need all of this?”  You almost always begin with self-introduction.  Duh, what’s the difference? In States, it’s pretty much casual – you mention a bit about your background, maybe hometown and college.  Then you mention some activities you’ve done and describe your strength (the former often used to support the later).  Lastly you thank and say you are happy to have a chance to interview with your potential employer.  Done.

Well here, you almost have to be a adviertisement copywriter.  You have to come up with some clever punch-line.  More the better, and even better if you can make each one for your strength.  Although you are asked to do self-introduction, it’s really about you saying about your strength.   You might wonder, “but they didn’t ask about my strength…?”  Welcome to the high-context society, pal.  By the way, they will ask about the strength later on.  I assume that the reason of this grandiose self-introduction is the difference of interview environment.  In States, it’s almost always one-on-one interview.  You might get multiple interviewers, but it’s always one candidate per interview.  However, in Korea, it is VERY common to have up to five candidates per interview.  You will be compared.  I really do not like this – when I first had the Korean style interview in Korea, I almost thought I’m in a beauty pageant, if not slave market.  And let’s not forget about hierarchy and mean questions, which is unlikely to be asked in States unless you are applying for tough, testosteron-filled world of Investment Banking in Wall Street.   I haven’t come up with my punch-line self introduction.  It’s hard!

Before the last week’s job session, I wrote out my personal statement given by one of the employers here, and sent it to the specialist for review.   According to his advice, my sentences are long, some of them are a bit colloquial and I will have to diversify my answers.  Sure, no problem.  But his last comment summoned my Korean community nightmare.  It was on the last question: “where you will be after 10 years from now on? What do you want to do in our company?”  My answer was to be a helping hand to both company and foreign candidates who are working in Korea. For the intro, I briefly mentioned that Korea’s low familiarity, lack of diversity (when compared to western world) and closedness tend to push away many qualified candidates (and from there, developing how I can be a help for the problem).  The specialist says, “It might sound as you are trying to teach these people.  We are not writing an academic thesis paper here, so forget that part.” Only after I gave him more description – that I am not aiming for getting any job here, but for something I can work as a liaison between foreigner and locals, he said “well, in that case mention some of the troubles they are going through, and how you can be a solution.”  Hello, that’s what I was trying to do.

One thing I always had a trouble with other Koreans was that “teaching” part.  All I try to do is state my opinion, thoughts, feelings and/or position clearly, for the better communication.  To many Koreans, often older ones, accepted this as I am challenging their authority, being rude, if not cocky.  This is why I deliberately avoided using words like vegan and homosexual because 1) if I use a concept they are not familiar, they will think I’m showing off and 2) many of Koreans are homophobic.  In short, they are pissed because this youngster – I – don’t follow whatever as they said (I sometimes see this from my Korean dad, too).  They all preach about how wonderful US is and how it is better than Korea, but even in States they stick to a principle that works to their advantage.    On the other hand, I never had that kind of trouble in States with Americans.  In the statement, I was just trying to develop some ground for my thoughts, yet Koreans will look at me and think I’m just being cocky.  And they complain about how these smart young candidates are unwilling to do “hard work” and foreigners always cause trouble in office.

Next we did the mock interview session again.  Most of the questions were about social issues.  You don’t really ask this in States for job interview.  What’s the need, as long as you can do your job and fulfill your responsibility?  Well, welcome to the Asian wonderland.  You are almost always asked about this, and your opinion can actually affect the decision.  Unfair, but I know – it’s not US of A.  Usualyl I’m pretty good at this.  I was asked about the founder’s direct management vs CEO system.  So I gave definitions and mentioned pro and con of each system.  Then the specialist says, “this question is often asked by company under founder’s direct management.  So you’d better ask something in favor of the system.” Er….okay.  But you didn’t give me the context.  I sometimes wonder this specialist guy is trying to break me.  For this question, other participants complimented me that I gave a really god definition and said it in a very confident way.  The specialist didn’t, and like I said he mentioned the context only after I finished my answer.  There has been some more dubious moments, but I’ll keep it for now.  And again, I was said that my posture and manner looks “too cool, not passionate.”  Fortunately, there was another participants and she was somewhat like me – never raising her voice.  She, too, was constantly advised to change her attitude.

I know.  Like I mentioned multiple times on my posting, if I have to change myself completely and act something that I am not, and to be judged by it rather than the content of my voice, I really don’t know what to make of it.

The more and more I do this mock interview and job process session, increasingly I realize that I am way more objective and unemotional than average in Korea.   Some of it is because my parents.  They are 100% pure Seoul natives, and all urban natives of the world tend to be viewed as cold, direct, objective and rational.  Both of my paternal and maternal relatives are Seoul natives.  Then I grew up States, where it is encouraged to 1) be yourself, 2) state your opinion clearly, 3) be emotional is a sign of immature, and 4) be objective.  Now, I am living in a country, where being yourself and clearly state your opinion is a sign of immaturity, being objective and rational is a sign of lack of passion, if not impolite.

What a fun to have your world turned upside down to be shaken, regardless of your will, and forced to be bear with it, just because I speak the language fluently and looks like one of them and have my nationality document bearing its name on the paper.

No wonder why I want to get the fuck out of here.


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