How to do Job Interview in South Korea – Interlude


While job hunting, I am also reading the Law School Confidential.   I had a chance to have some talk with K, a lawyer who is now teaching at local university.  Back then I was interested in law school but it was not imminent.  After I quit my job, I asked him whether it would be okay for me to ask him several things about law school.  K said he will gladly do it, but recommended me to read it before I send him any questions.  So I am doing so.  It is a good book, if you are seriously interested in law school.  Some sections, like the studying method section and professors, do not click to me yet (because I’m not in it), but many of the contents give me what to expect and what to do in law school.  Now, in the middle of my job hunting, I am still somewhat dubious whether I will be really happy to work in Korea for a long time (unless I am to be surrounded by diversity but very unlikely in here), and that makes me the choice of law school looming even more vividly in my mind.  I know going through all that job hunting/interview process in Korea is a good experience and to some degree necessary, but I can’t really give all of my heart on it – can’t find the right word, but hope this explains it.

Yesterday, I was reading the Recruiting Season section of the Law School Confidential – oh, all that memories of my college senior year job fairs and mock interviews.  Then there was one of the contributor’s commentary:

“Once in a while, you hear a horror story about a partner (usually one of the older ones) making an off-color remark or asking an inappropriate question…first ask to have the comment or question repeated to assure yourself that you heard it correctly.  If you did, and it is an inappropriate question, it is then perfectly acceptable to respond by saying, “I’m sorry, Mr So-and-So, but that question is out-of-bounds.”  Inquiries about marital status, sexual orientation, religious persuasion, ethnicity, political beliefs, and offers from other firms are regarded as inappropriate…If the interviewer makes an off-color remark about race, sexual orientation, religion, or the like, and you are bothered by it, politely call him n it by saying, “Excuse me, Mr. So-and-So, but what exactly did you mean by that comment?”  That should be enough to get the interviewer to move on – and will probably be reason enough to get you look elsewhere for employment (p255).

And another one:

“Remember that you are interviewing the firm, too”…Asking the tough questions of an interviewer shows the interviewer that you have done your homework about the firm, and that you are concerned about those things…it also shows the interviewer that you are seriously considering the firm as a place of employment…give the interviewer a softball, like, “I couldn’t help but notice that you guys ranked last in associate satisfaction last year.  I’m sure it won’t happen again, but what changes have been implemented to try and improve the situation?” (p256)

Ah-ha.  A small spark went on in my head.  So basically this book (focused on American style job-interview) encourages readers to 1. don’t bear it when the interviewer is asking something that is not very relevant to your skills, 2. do ask questions to your interviewers, and 3.  speak up!  Sounds good, and that’s something I grew up with.  But if I apply these to the Korean job interview, I could easily imagine what would happen.

What the book considers as “inappropriate questions,” are, in fact, very commonly asked in South Korea.  Interviewers ask about marital status, or for single woman with significant someone, plans to get married.  If she says yes, then another question follows: what are you going to do with your job, then?  The support for married women at work is next to non-existant (despite the government’s effort).  You get married.  You have a kid.  Still, you are expected to work just as same as when you were single.  As same as your male employees.  Of course you will have to join after-work social drinkings, or backbone breaking overtime.  I once heard that a female executive manager who was pregnant kept working and working.  One day, she felt something strange so she filed for a half-day break, and took a subway to hospital.  In subway her water broke.   I’m not even kidding.  Technically, you can file maternity vacation.  The labor law guarantees it – 3 months maximum.  The government is trying really hard to implement it.  But in reality, filing the maternity vacation means your desk will be cleared from the office while you are gone.  I’ve seen so many women who wouldn’t “dare” to even ask about it to her boss or pressured to quit her job rather than “damaging the team.”  And the government wants the birthrate to rise.  No wonder why there are 60%+ women in people who passed the Korean bar exam, or medical school students.

Skip the sexual orientation and ethnicity (told you, homogenous society!).  Sometimes the companies do discriminate candidates by nationality.  Just today I saw a job opening description saying clearly “US national only.”  Well, if you are looking for an English PR officer/copywriter, why does it have to be US?  Heck, UK, New Zealand, Australia, Canada speaks English, too!

Let’s say your Korean interviewer did ask one of those inappropriate questions.  Therefore you said, “I am sorry, but that question is out of bound.”  In Korean context, you can’t even imagine saying that.  You have to answer that somehow.  You don’t talk back to your boss, or senior.  Say something back to Korean interviewers – they will mark you as “hard to break, not obedient, unfit for the organizational life and social.”  Tough questions?  Consider yourself lucky if you are given an opportunity to actually ask something to them at the end of interview.  Of all the job interviews I had with Korean firms, I was never given an opportunity to ask any questions.  Say you are given the chance, and you ask one of those tough questions.  Your Korean interviewer will be flipped just by the fact you asked it, and will think you are rude – he might even yell “how dare you!”

In short, there is major difference between US and Korea – what is considered as inappropriate/appropriate question (well, there’s very little inappropriate question in here if it is given from your boss/senior), how one should react, and questioning.  That was my little “bling” moment of realizing why I feel so uncomfortable, unhappy and something shoved down to my throat whenever I an interviewing with Korean employers.

Well, so, am I going to go to law school?  If I don’t have any more choices.  And I do hope the answer will be revealed quickly.   Apparently, one of the firms – the one that I am most interested in – closes their application site on my birthday.  So for the next 2 weeks, I will work pretty hard on my personal statement and application.  Wish me luck!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s