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Guidelines for Preparing a Resume/CV and Cover Letter/Self-Introduction Letter for Getting a Job in Korea

As Korean companies expand their operations on the world stage, they are hiring a growing number of non-Koreans for positions both in Korea and overseas. The number of non-Koreans chasing such jobs continues to outpace supply though, especially at the entry level, and so applying effectively is more important than ever.

Unless you've networked your way to an unpublished position (it happens!) or have unique talents that would give you global competitiveness just about anywhere, you will have to do your homework and prepare adequately for the process in advance.

I've previously answered some questions regarding the job search effort:

We've also got the two following free Special Business Reports posted on Korea Business Central.

Focusing on seekers of entry-level or slightly higher positions, this article discusses the specifics of preparing key documents of the application based on questions I've received many times from KBC members and others.

1. What are the key differences between applying to a Korean company in Korea and a multinational company in Korea?

If you're applying to a multinational company, your documents can generally follow international standards for job applications and you won't need to adapt your pitch to Korean procedures, formats and sensibilities as much.

Generally, multinational companies are more likely to hire through recruiters, whereas Korean companies will have on-the-ground hiring departments that primarily handle this and they will follow Korean norms.

But appearances can be deceiving since some multinational companies allow their Korean operations to run fully (or nearly fully) on Korean lines. For example, even though Homeplus is owned by Tesco of the UK, the Korean office is more Korean than international (probably more Samsung than anything else, since it is run by former Samsung executives), even though a few foreign executives are dispatched from the UK. I'm told this is how Amway Korea operates, too. Therefore, those multinational companies where the Korean office is its own operation, rather than a small extension of a supra-national organization, you are likely to find yourself going through Korean processes when applying for lower-level jobs.

Keep in mind that even if you are applying to a Korean company, as a foreigner, you're still an unusual hire. Therefore, the hiring for these positions is done in a much more ad hoc way, rather than the twice-yearly hiring that many of the large Korean conglomerates schedule out in advance for their Korean applicants. Because of this, there is a lot more scope for you to take the initiative in the job search process, such as by finding jobs through networking, by reaching out to the hiring department personally, or by being creative (in a good way!) with the formats, information and procedures Korean applicants would otherwise be expected to follow.

2. What should go into my resume or CV?

Koreans resumes typically include a small photograph. This should be a head shot similar to what you'd submit with a passport application and not a family or vacation photo. It goes right up at the top of the first page, usually in the right corner. 

Unless you're closer to 50 or 60 than 25, I'd suggest you put your birthdate at the top, too. This may be a no-no for companies to ask back home, but the Koreans you are applying to would like to know (whether they come out and say it or not). Besides, if they've asked for your foreigner registration number or a copy of your passport, they'll know your birth date anyway. As with anywhere, but perhaps to a greater degree in Korea, being young works in your favor for entry-level positions.

Include your nationality and visa status, if an advantage (see below).

Other than that, include the standard stuff, such as education, work experience, and other professional skills and interests. Be specific so that your readers can know exactly when you were working or studying and look up your university and previous companies on the Internet by name.

You may not want to include work experiences that Koreans might misinterpret. For example, you're unlikely to get many brownie points as a "go-getter" if you mention your university work experience at Burger King. Back home, having a part-time job during high school or college shows a strong work ethic; in Korea, it can lead to unhelpful questions and assessments of you.

Most positions that Westerners from English-speaking countries apply for leverage English skills and your potential employer may not care that much if you speak Korean. (see also Reflections on the Benefits of Learning Korean to One's Career in Korea) Still, it's good to show your commitment to Korea by including any Korean-language courses you've graduated from, as well as other Korea-focused language or business certificates (the KBC Professional Certification Program is a great attention-getter!) You might even include experiences you've had with Koreans back home, such as volunteering with Korean student organizations there.

If you've been in Korea for very long, be sure to mention how long; the longer the better, since this shows your commitment to staying around and not leaving the position early because you got tired of Korea. If you've been off the beaten track in Korea, mention your travels briefly. If you like Korean soju or makgeolli, you might even mention this, as it's a great talking point and tells the company you'll be willing to join and participate in functions with alcohol (usually a good thing, though not as big a deal as in years past).

If there are online materials about your professional or academic experience relevant to the role, including a link to an online portfolio or to actual certifications can be helpful. It can't hurt to include a link to your LinkedIn profile, also.

When Koreans prepare their resumes, they invariably include a few lines about hobbies and other personal interests. I would recommend you do the same, but don't overdo it, such that your company thinks you'll be so focused on the weekend that you won't be willing to put in long hours during the week or that you'll be unavailable for weekend work, as it arises. (BTW, if you're not willing to work more than the standard 40 hours per week, you might reconsider whether Korea's the right place for you!)

Your resume in Korea will not be too long even if it has a bit more information than you might ordinarily put on a resume back home, but I'd still suggest you keep it at no more than two pages.

3. What should go into my cover letter and should I translate it to Korean?

Koreans call the cover letter a "self-introduction letter" and this is where you get past the raw facts to show why you're the best person for the job. This is not the time to list out how you want the work to help you; this is where you point out how your skills will benefit the company. The self-introduction letter is also not just a regurgitation of your resume but should emphasize your fit and strengths concisely.

Korean self-introduction letters sometimes go many pages, but I wouldn't recommend this at all. If you're writing the letter in English, a Korean recruiter (even one with good, but not native, English skills) can get bogged down in a lot of words.

I recommend translating your self-introduction letter to Korean; making it short will help you to keep the translation costs down, too. One thing to keep in mind when preparing your letter in Korean is to avoid creating unreasonable expectations of your Korean skills, or to think that this is a deal maker anyway (see link above about learning Korean). The purpose for presenting a letter in Korean is to help the recruiter get quickly to the information in your background that's relevant without a language barrier and to help you show an extra level of commitment to the position through having made this effort. If your Korean skills are not fantastic, it would be reasonable to include a sentence in the letter mentioning this. The HR person will understand then that you had the document translated, which can still show your sincerity, especially if you include a few words (not a lot!) about what Korea means to you personally. It never hurts to mention that you're willing and eager to learn more about Korea and Korean ways, too.

One more selling point can be your visa status. If you're in Korea on a visa that lets you work in-country without being sponsored by your employer, this both shows your commitment to Korea and takes a burden off your employer. Not only can the HR people avoid the hassle of paperwork, but the company also isn't legally responsible for your good behavior in Korea. Therefore, if you have one of these visas, mention it both in your resume and cover letter. (see also Answers to Top Questions about Business Visas in Korea)

There's certainly more to the job application process than a good resume and cover letter, but the guidelines above will help you make the best impression at this stage of the application process.

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