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Considerations of Current Location When Applying for a Job in Korea

** Visit the related discussion on Korea Business Central: "Is is possible to apply for a job when a person is out of Korea? Or I should just go to Korea and start applying for jobs while I am there?"

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Many factors are involved in the process of applying for a new job, and one that comes into play for those trying to get a job in Korea is whether it's possible to apply from outside Korea, or whether one needs to be physically present in Korea in order to be competitive for a new position with a Korean company. Along these lines, I received the following inquiry from someone in my network a few days ago.

Question

Dear Steven, I am writing this email to seek some advice from you. I have been applying to Korean companies lately.... I have a good career track and I speak Korean fluently. However, whenever recruiters learn that I am currently out of Korea, all of a sudden I get rejected. Now, I am not sure whether it is because they don't trust me or they are afraid to hire a person who has been with a Korean company for such a long time. At first they all praise my educational background and language capabilities, but they seem to have difficulties trusting someone they have not met personally. Based on your opinion, do you think it is possible to apply for a job when a person is out of Korea? Or I should just go to Korea and start applying for jobs while I am there? Thanks.

Answer

The answer to this question depends on the jobs you're applying for and the qualifications you bring to the position. If the companies you are applying for are able to easily fill their positions with equally qualified applicants in Korea who they can meet in person, then why would they commit themselves to a contract with you that has to be faxed back and forth to get signed?

I know you're not looking for an ESL job, but if you were, it would not be necessary to apply from Korea since the demand for English teachers is steady and surpasses the number of foreigners in Korea available to fill them all. 

But moving one step up, there are umpteen English teachers in Korea who would like to move into a Korean corporate position of one type or another. These positions generally involve performing a language-related function in the company. Because there are more applicants than positions, someone trying to get one of these jobs from overseas does not stand a chance against those who have their feet on the ground and a network through which to hear about openings. These jobs often get filled long before they ever reach a public jobs board.

As you don't mention that you are applying through an executive recruiting firm, I assume that you're not looking for a top management or highly specialized/high-paid position. This would indicate to me you're still early in your career. I realize that you aren't applying for an English-focused position either, but you may want to ask yourself if the positions you're trying to get can be filled easily by someone already in Korea working in an ESL or other similar posiition.

It may be that you just haven't been a perfect fit for any of the positions you've applied for and the rejections have nothing to do with your current location. Perhaps it'll just take some persistence. If your qualifications are strong and match the market in Korea, then you might just have to keep trying. Have you gone back to any of the recruiters you applied to before to get their feedback on why you weren't hired? You might not get straight answers when the rejection is still fresh, but if you were to contact them them 2-3 months later once they can't misunderstand your question as an attempt to keep trying for the job, they might give you some honest and helpful insights.

A trip to Korea to look for a job isn't necessarily a bad idea, especially if you'd like to visit anyway. But if you've currently got a job back home, you'll only have a week or two of vacation time and that's probably not enough to do more than have a few initial meetings. You'll also only be able to avail yourself of opportunities available during the window of time you're in Korea and there won't be time to build and work a personal network on the ground. But if you just come to Korea to "hang out" until something happens, potential employers will not be impressed if your period of being unemployed becomes extended. And working as an English teacher to pay the bills in the meantime is not a great resume filler either.

So, what can you do to be in Korea long enough for good to things happen but without wasting time? Taking an intensive Korean language course for a semester or two is a great way to do this. You can apply for jobs in-country, improve your skills and build your network without having a hole in your resume. I know you said you're already fluent in Korean, but does that mean there aren't any Korean-language courses you could take at your level? Fine, suppose there aren't... Then why don't you enroll in the masters program at a Korean university? I'm partial to Hanyang University, since that's where I earned my masters degree, but there are plenty of other good places too. And here's the best part... Tuition in the regular grad schools of Korean universities is much cheaper than for international MBAs. Furthermore, the graduate school classes at some schools (such as Hanyang) are in Korean, rather than English, so you'll get to put your advanced Korean skills to use and improve on them.

Finally, you mentioned that you are working for a Korean company now. Is there no way to get transferred to Korea for a short- or long-term assignment? Perhaps you could get transferred to Korea into a position that may not be exactly what you're looking for. Then, once you're in Korea, you could keep applying for positions you really want elsewhere. If you succeed, the Korean company will think twice before letting another employee at an overseas office do the same thing again, but at least you'll be moving forward in your career by that time.

BTW, your situation is a good example of how Korean language skills are not an automatic ticket to career success in Korea. I wrote an article about this recently: Reflections on the Benefits of Learning Korean to One's Career in Korea

I hope it works out for you. Let me know what happens.

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** Visit the related discussion on Korea Business Central: "Is is possible to apply for a job when a person is out of Korea? Or I should just go to Korea and start applying for jobs while I am there?"

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