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Korean Translation Tip: Don't Just Use a Dictionary to Translate Job Titles into Korean

If you're translating English business cards into Korean, work with a professional who understands the intricacies of the task and asks enough questions to be able to translate job titles correctly.

For example, here are many (but not all) of the possibilities for translating "director" and its variants:

  • 이사
  • 전무
  • 전무이사
  • 상무이사
  • 대표이사
  • 원장
  • 회장
  • 실장
  • 소장
  • 센터장
  • 협회장
  • 부장
  • 국장
  • 청장
  • 총장
  • 사무총장
  • 사무국장
  • 감독
  • 디렉터
  • 지휘자
  • 중역
  • PD
  • 심의관 

Some of these correspond with other possible English job titles, too. For the full run-down, check out "How Do You Write 'Director' in Korean?

"Director" is not the only confusing job title (admittedly, it is one of the harder ones though). This is not just because Korean organizations are structured differently than Western ones; you'll also find that even the same jobs at the same level in the organization can sometimes imply different responsibilities.

I'd like to point out too that Koreans aren't always helpful here since they tend to inflate their English job titles. I was at a (very well-known!) company recently where, of the ten business cards I was given by my Korean counterparts, every one but the president's card listed him or her one rank higher in English than his/her card in Korean! It takes an honest broker to work through all this sometimes.

Korean Translation Tip - Don't consider a business card translation a throw-away job just because the job title is only one word. Get professional help (such as from someone with a masters degree from a Korean university in management strategy).

BTW, I've even written a guidebook for this, which can be downloaded free: The Definitive Guide to Business Cards in Korea

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Unless you've networked your way to an unpublished position (it happens!)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.

What You Need to Know About Korean Holiday Greetings and Gatherings

Christmas is a national holiday in Korea and the many Korean Christians do celebrate the day. In addition, the holiday season comes to stores across the nation, just as in the West, though shopping for gifts surely does not reach the frenzied level you'll find in places like the US.

Having said that, Koreans don’t generally hold Christmas parties.

Instead, Koreans are much more focused on the new year, and every self-respecting Korean attends several end-of-year parties (called 송년회 or 연말 모임) each year. These get-togethers are generally held on a personal basis and for business throughout the month of December (not much at all happens on December 31, though). Because the end-of-year gatherings are frequently scheduled months in advance, it can be hard to arrange evening meetings with several people at once during this time because of prior commitments, so try to plan as far ahead as possible if wanting to meet Koreans on business in December.

I'll also point out that because of all the partying (and other factors, such as not knowing what sudden administrative changes the new year will bring), very little business gets done in Korean companies in December, and no important outward-focused decisions at all get made during this navel-gazing time.

Koreans don’t commonly wish each other “Merry Christmas” (though this greeting is becoming more popular, and it is usually expressed in English). Instead, they focus on the new year… Both the Western new year on January 1, and the lunar new year (aka Chinese New Year) in late January or early February. Thus, new year’s greetings are often given twice!

You can't go wrong wishing Koreans a “Happy New Year” and there's really only one way to say it in Korean: “Sae hae bok mani baduseyo” (새해 복 많이 받으세요)

However, in writing, "Happy New Year" can be expanded out in many ways. For ideas, check out these collections of holiday greetings in Korean.

Answers to Questions about Accounting Services to Small Businesses in Korea

Setting up a small business in Korea isn't hard, but understanding the bookkeeping and tax requirements can be tricky, especially as there isn't a lot of Korean accounting information available in English. Sure, various web site resources cover the basics, but I've encountered plenty of situations where I still needed to get expert advice. And sometimes, even when I thought I understood what to do, I've found out later that my information was incomplete.

I am not an accountant, much less a Korean accountant, so please DO NOT consider the following information authoritative; I'm bound to not have everything right here. If you know something I got wrong or have more information to share, please don't hesitate to post a comment on this discussion to help clear up or expand on the matter.

1. What do accounting services cost in Korea and what does a small business get from using a professional provider?

I initially looked into tax advice from an accounting service in Seoul which catered to expats. But the rates they quoted just about made my eyes pop out. So instead of that, I got a referral from a professor at Hanyang University where I've been studying and decided to handle my taxes through a local accounting office (세무사 사무소) which he recommended. For W120,000/month + 10% value-added tax, I would take my monthly receipts and bank statement down to their office each month and they would calculate and file my tax forms, such as for VAT (부가가치세) and withholdings to contractors (원천징수). With the filing of income taxes in May, I would also get a bill for several hundred thousand won more to cover the extra effort on that.

Service rates are apparently based on sales volume and since most of my sales are overseas and thus didn't require their attention, I had hoped for a break, but alas, it wasn't to be... I got the impression that there is a minimum that's been agreed (i.e. colluded to) between accounting providers in the area.

For this price, I would get periodic coffee and chats with the accountant who owned the firm, but my work was handled almost exclusively by one of the bookkeepers in the office. This became an issue for income taxes and other matters related to my being a foreigner and to the fact that my customer base and various assets are located overseas, since nobody in the office had worked with another foreign-owned business before. It was also a big hassle for me that they didn't use email at all; everything I sent had to be faxed or hand-delivered, and I got the sense that my wish to use email made me a problem customer, something I could hardly believe would be the case in today's day and age, but I'm sure just reflects the realities of very small businesses in Korea.

I recently switched to a different (and much smaller) accounting office (again, on a recommendation) and I expected my rates to go down since I had, for some reason, thought I was overpaying before (an associate of mine in Seoul only pays W110,000/month). In fact, I'm now paying quite a bit more (around W200,000/month) but my work is being handled directly by the accountant herself, I don't feel like I'm imposing to ask questions, I get informed answers... and she uses email! 

I sense that taxation in Korea is a somewhat local and even personal affair. That means that accountants may know the people at the local tax office who are enforcing the tax laws. In a culture and system where one's personal network means everything, it can't hurt to work with someone in a position to intercede with the authorities on tax matters that may arise. This, in addition to the tax reporting and advice I get from using an accountant, is a third benefit which helps to justify the expense.

One more thing... If you're going to start with a Korean accountant, do so from January. Your accountant will be responsible for all of your tax reporting for the year no matter when you start, and you'll likely see an initial bill retroactive to January of the year. This will be the case even if you used a different tax accountant during the first part of the year and switch mid-way, which means you'll end up paying double for the months from January until you start with the new accountant.

2. How are the Korean and American tax approaches different?

It's taken me a long time to come to terms with this, but a fundamental difference between the Korean and American tax systems is that in the US, the IRS expects and generally trusts taxpayers to pay their taxes properly. Of course, this is backed up by many means of verification which the IRS uses to flag, audit and (severely) punish those not in compliance, but this is also why just about any invoice will do when evidencing a business expense, and why little explanation is required for certain accounting decisions. 

On the other hand, the Korean authorities assume that nobody'll pay their taxes honestly unless forced to do so. Thus, because non-compliance would be the norm otherwise, the rules require that everything a business wishes to take as an expense be documented in strict ways that can be a hassle (see below) but then applies a level of "flexibility" in certain ways that would be unheard of back home (such as a very-small-business form (간이 사업자) that demands almost no accountability at all from businessowners).

By the way, this difference of perspective explains to some degree why prominent and rich Koreans keep getting let off lightly for accounting and tax shenanigans. Since it's assumed that most everybody's not paying properly anyway, the government seems to content itself with steady improvements over time and punishments to large tax offenders appear to outsiders to be shockingly light (and often, shockingly tied up in political considerations).

3. How do I evidence business transactions in Korea?

There are only three types of official receipts which can be used to evidence business transactions: a cash receipt (현금 영수증) to which your business number (사업자 등록번호) has been entered, a tax invoice/receipt (세금계산서) to which your business number has been entered or a credit card receipt (purchased with a credit card registered under your business number). If it's not one of those, and your transaction is over W30,000, then the receipt may be useless (though, there are exceptions (see below) and this is where having accounting/bookkeeping support is helpful).

  • Cash payment - Often, when paying cash, the clerk will ask if you need a cash receipt. This apparently can be handy for some classes of taxpayer on personal expenses too, but for a business, if you paid cash but you or the clerk didn't enter your business registration number into an electronic terminal at the point of sale, then the receipt you got is probably not a cash receipt and you didn't do it right.
  • Cash invoice/receipt - These can be issued online at esero.go.kr and a few other sites. The process of signing up is painful though. Don't even try it if you don't have Korean-language help or skills and an abundance of patience. Fortunately, the tax forms can be downloaded online and printed/filled out manually. However, the manually prepared form then must be registered in the tax service's system and if the online option is too much trouble and you aren't using an accounting/bookkeeping service, then, if you've only got a few, you might just take the hand-written forms down to the local tax office (by the end of the month - this is important!) and get an officer there to do it. Also, if you're paying cash at a business that does not have a terminal for issuing cash receipts, then you could ask for a tax receipt/invoice instead, though this is a hassle and may not be possible to get either.
  • Credit card receipt - Once you've registered your business, you can then get a credit card from your bank (presumably, the one where you've set up your business bank account registered in your business number) and once that card is linked to your business number, whatever you purchase with the card will be automatically registered as a business expense in the tax office's system. (Of course, it's important to only run business expenses through this card.)

Keep in mind that just wiring money from your business bank account to someone else's account is NOT adequate evidence of a business transaction; a tax invoice/receipt is also required. Also, charging an online purchase to a cell phone for which monthly bills are linked to your business number and thus handled with a virtual tax invoice/receipt is also NOT enough to call it a business expense. You must get a tax receipt/invoice using your business number for each of these expenses, too.

Also, note that issuing a receipt in one of the above forms means that the sale is logged in the national tax administration's system and the seller is now responsible for taxes on the income. By demanding a proper receipt, you may be asked for another 10% to cover the value-added tax (VAT) which the seller will now have to pay. It's your decision whether to agree or not (keeping in mind that you can't call it a business expense if you don't), but because the transaction now adds to the seller's official sales, he/she will also face additional income tax implications. What this means is that if you've negotiated a great deal on a purchase that the seller thought he/she wouldn't have to pay taxes on, you may find the deal gone if you demand proper documentation, and just offering to pay the 10% VAT may not be enough to get your negotiated price back.

4. What do I do if I can't get an officially recognized receipt?

This situation happens frequently and appears to represent a gap in the Korean tax system design, which seems to be a continuous project in development. I would assume these holes will be plugged eventually. In the meantime...

  • Transactions with individuals and very small companies unable to issue an official receipt - There is a class of small business (간이 사업자) which is not able to issue tax receipts. For example, when paying the real estate commissions after purchasing my current office, the real estate agent was unable to issue a tax statement. I paid cash and they gave me a hand-written receipt. Later, my accountant told me that I should have at least wired the money (계좌이체) as evidence, rather than hand over a large amount of cash like that, since it would at least be better evidence than nothing. In this case, my accountant said she'd work it out for me. 
  • Purchases from vending machines - I'm not talking here about buying a coke from a vending machine. Rather, when I recharge my transportation card, there's no way to get a cash receipt for the purchase (and sometimes I can't even get a regular receipt if the machine's out of paper). I write these purchases down in my books but I make sure to spend no more than W30,000 at a pop and hopefully my accountant is working it out.
  • Paying rent - I rented an officetel for several years and the owner had no intention of issuing me an official receipt. My accountant seems to have worked it out by getting a copy of my lease contract and then verifying the monthly payments. However, when the owner of the officetel changed in the middle and when I was asked to send payments to someone other than the owner (both frequent "happenings" in Korea), it did cause my accountant some grief.
  • Payments to non-profit organizations - I haven't figured this one out exactly either, but apparently some businesses are set up with tax benefits that then mean they don't issue tax invoices/receipts. This happened with the management of the officetel of my former office and they were only able to issue a tax receipt on a portion of my monthly rent (for some reason that I didn't understand). My wife is also not able to get a tax receipt for management fees of her coffee shop. Due to her business form (간이 사업자) it doesn't affect her, but some other establishments in the building get hit with higher taxes because of this.

Keep in mind that if wiring money for services based on a tax invoice/receipt, the recipient account must match the recipient name shown on the tax receipt/invoice. Again, I learned about this after a mistake... After paying for the remodeling of my new office and getting a tax invoice/receipt from the contractor, he then told me he wanted to cancel the first document and issue a new one in the name of another company he owns. I'm sure it had to do with his taxes, but it means that the receipient of the payment no longer matched the name on the receipt. My long-suffering acountant said she'd take care of this too, but to not make this mistake again (especially as it was a large amount of money).

5. What if an invidual pays me for business services? What are my receipt options if I don't take credit cards or have a cash receipt machine?

To individuals, there is apparently an unwritten threshhold around the W100,000-200,000 level for wire transfers that can somehow be finagled without a tax invoice/receipt if such transfers don't happen too often. However, if receiving payment from an individual, a tax receipt should, in principle, be issued using the person's resident registration number.

6. Why's it called a tax invoice/receipt? Which is it? An invoice? Or a receipt? 

In Korean, it's a 세금계산서, or literally, "tax calculation statement". But in English, I've seen it most suitably described as a tax invoice/receipt. If you issue a tax invoice/receipt, you can use it as both an invoice and a receipt. Koreans are very loose on the sequence in which payment is made and the tax invoice/receipt is issued, but in principle, the tax invoice/receipt should be issued first and the payment made second. The problem is that by issuing the tax invoice/receipt, the transaction is entered into the tax authority's electronic system. So, if the tax invoice/receipt is issued and then payment isn't made (or a request is made to send the payment to an account other than one owned by the recipient entered into the tax receipt), then the tax invoice/receipt should be cancelled as soon as possible (and/or reissued). Dealing with this lag between issuance of the tax invoice/receipt and receipt of payment can be a huge hassle.

7. How do you handle business reimbursements to an individual?

Because of the need to get official receipts for every business expense, reimbursements are problematic. For example, suppose I ask someone to purchase materials for an event or tell a contractor to attend some education that I agree to reimburse later. In this case, they have to get a cash receipt or tax invoice/receipt made out to my company, not to them personally. Otherwise, they would then have to issue yet more documentation when I reimburse, something that an individual may not be prepared to do. But if not, there is no way to count it as a business expense.

This seems to comes into play from time-to-time when doing work for large organizations. On more than one occasion, I've done work for a Korean company who then, after delivery, told me one of their vendors would be paying the bill and to go contact them to exchange details so I can get paid. I've found this extra work to be quite irritating.

8. I use Quicken or QuickBooks. Any chance of finding an accounting service provider who can work with those files?

No, not unless you go through a service that caters to expats. I just print out my accounting records and send to the accountant each month. I don't think my previous bookkeeping service referred to the monthly records at all and just recreated my books from the official receipts, but I'm hoping my current accountant is making more of an effort to get it all in there for me.

How Do You Write "Director" in Korean?


** Visit the related discussion on Korea Business Central: "How Should I Translate My Director Job Title to Korean?"


Having translated hundreds and hundreds of business cards into Korean over the years, my team and I have come across our share of tricky job titles.

A leading candidate for most-difficult-to-translate title is "director". The main reason for this is that, in the West, we use the English job title "director" for various positions that each have their own unique terms in Korean, and some of those jobs don't correspond exactly with specific positions found outside Korea.

The discussion below illustrates why context means everything in translation and in the interpretation of those translations. It's also an interesting study in just how different two languages can be and why a simple translation question does not always have a simple answer.


The most straightforward translation of "director" is 이사. When "director" is mistranslated, this is the term most commonly used. But 이사 has a pretty narrow meaning that signifies a certain position within a traditional corporate hierarchy or a place on the board of directors.

In a company structure where the director is above a manager and general manager but is also lower than a vice-president and president, 이사 is a good translation for "director". However, keep in mind that within this corporate hierarchy and still below the level of vice-president and president, "executive director", "managing director" or even "senior managing director" would be translated to 전무, 전무이사 and 상무이사, respectively. 

이사 also works for a member of the board of directors (이사회). But if emphasizing that someone is a member of the board of directors, a more complete translation is 이사회 위원. With this logic, the "chairman of the board" would be 이사회 위원장 or just 이사회장, but this translation applies to a Western conception of a board of directors. In a Korean corporation, the head of the company, usually the president (사장), serves also as chairman of the board, and this person's title as chairman of the board is properly translated to 대표이사 in Korean and translated back to English as "representative director". Thus, translating "chairman of the board of directors [in a Western company]" to Korean as 대표이사 indicates a role which does not a match the role and responsibilities of that position in a Korean context; in this case, it would be better to stick with 이사회 위원장.

** For more information on Korean company hierarchy, refer to my executive report: "Succeed in Korean Business by Understanding Company Hierarchy".

장 or 총장

When translating "director" to Korean for a job position outside of a traditional corporate hierarchy but which has responsibility for directing an organization, it is usually necessary to pick from a variety of alternatives that end in 장. The meaning of 장 can be inferred from the way Koreans often translate these positions back to English using the word "chief" or "head" of such-and-such organization.

The director of a study institute (학원) would be 원장. The director of a medical clinic or hospital (병원) would also be 원장 (and frequently refers just to the doctor, if a small clinic). The director of a committee (위원회) is 회장, which is also the word used for the chairman of a group of companies (such as the guy who runs the Samsung empire) OR the person charged with leading a small group of people who meet on a regular basis for various purposes OR even sometimes, the kid picked to be class president at school.

The director of an office of some sort (say, a quasi-governmental office in charge of attracting foreign investment) would be 실장, 소장, 센터장, 협회장, 부장 or 국장, depending on the characteristics of the respective organization. These Korean titles roughly correspond to whether we'd call the place an office (실), a center (센터), a committee/commission (위원회), an association (협회), a department (부) or an agency (국). Note that the director of a research institute (연구소) would also be 소장; in addition to its role here, 부장 is also a specific position in the traditional corporate hierarchy directly below director and best translated as "general manager"; and the director of a larger government office at the level of 청 should be translated as 청장.

Another variation arises in this context when "executive director" is used in English rather than just "director" even though both titles would be suitable to describe the holder of the title as being in charge of an organization. In this case, "executive director" is a bit grander of a title and to communicate this same nuance in Korean, 장 could become 총장. For example, the director positions of international organizations such as the World Bank are generally translated as 총장 (as is the chancellor of a university). In fact, 총장 comes in various additional flavors, including 사무총장 (secretary general, but really no different than executive director), 사무국장 (secretary-general or director), 참모총장 (chief of staff) or attorney general (검찰총장).

I should point out that adding 장 to the end of a Korean job title does not mean it always corresponds to an English job title with the word "director" in it. We've got quite a few positions in English that could be akin to director but have their own specific terms: dean of a university (총장), principal of a school (교장), class president (회장 or 반장), president of a company (사장), police chief (경찰서장), mayor (시장), county commissioner (군장) and many others, such as the multiple non-director job positions in the traditional corporate hierarchy (manager (과장), deputy general manager (차장) and general manager (부장)).


The term 감독 is used primarily in the arts for job titles like music director (음악 감독), art director (미술 감독) or movie director (영화 감독). However, it is just as common here to use the Korean transliterations of the English words, as in 뮤직 디렉터, 아트 디렉터 or 무비 디렉터. 

In a business context, a project director could be translated to 프로젝트 감독 or 프로젝트 디렉터.


A choir director would be best translated as 지휘자. This is the same word used for an orchestra conductor, and though we have separate terms in English, the roles are similar and Korean doesn't distinguish.

The term 중역 literally means "heavy role" or a person performing an important role. It's used sometimes when talking about the top executives in a company, and this can occasionally be a suitable term for director, including a member of the board of directors.

One more "director" title that deserves special mention is "program director", as in the person who puts TV shows together. This job title is universally used in Korea as "PD" (i.e. the English letters P and D).

The dictionary lists "심의관" as both "Director-General" and "Deputy Director-General" in the context of a court or patent review office. I guess the "Deputy" part depends on context. 

Finally, if all else fails, just transliterating the word "director" to Korean as 디렉터 is a quick-and-dirty translation that is never outright "wrong", though it wouldn't be as right as picking the right term from the discussion above. 

* If you need help translating job titles for business cards within your organization, I'm here to help. Not only can you download my "Definitive Guide to Korean Business Cards", but my team and I also provide premium end-to-end translation and layout of English business cards to Korean. Check out the information here about these professional services.


** Visit the related discussion on Korea Business Central: "How Should I Translate My Director Job Title to Korean?"


Seeking Korean Partner/Consultant to Promote ESL Website, Part II (How To Connect to Korean Consumers Offline)

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by a former client asking how to market his ESL website to Korean consumers. He's tried various online approaches which haven't worked and my previous article discussed that in detail, including some concise tips at Korea Business Central)

In addition to the online aspects of his efforts, he also asked about how to connect to his market offline:

...To help my chances, I'd like to begin searching for someone in Korea who can help. This person might act as a recruiter, or even work together to launch a new online ESL business. I'm keeping a very open mind on this. So, if you think you might know anyone who'd be interested or can advise me on where to begin looking, please let me know.

Here's my answer:

As I pointed out in my previous post, the market for ESL education in Korea is big, but crowded. I don't think an online-only approach is likely to work in Korea for various reasons. I agree with your conclusion that you need someone on the ground to support you offline. I suspect that "someone" may need to be you, as I'll explain below.

The first reason you can't just market online is simply that there are so many ESL websites out there that, to get seen in your market, you've got to stand out from the crowd with a strategy that does more than just throw time and money at Google, Naver and Daum. 

But beyond that, while there may be a few lone rangers in Korea who are bypassing the offline options and are going to the Internet to resolve their English learning needs, the vast majority of Korean language learners start their search with resources closer to home.

Furthermore, the average student doesn't just call up institutes and English teachers in the local phone book; he/she goes where his/her friends are studying (for kids) or where his/her co-workers are studying (for adults). Though I'm not prepared to say with confidence that this is unique to Korea (or East Asia) because of the group-oriented culture (though this might be an aggravating factor), the normal way for someone to get into the English study track is through personal referrals (often the mothers of other students) or company directives, and usually to a local institute or teacher.

Not just that, while Koreans are certainly interested in learning English due to an internal desire to speak better, the short-term motivation is usually more down-to-earth: to get better grades at school or fulfill a career requirement. And so Korean ESL students will generally put priority on courses that take them over the shortest distance to these external goals, and once they've done that, very few have the time or energy left to also study online with a course that isn't directly linked to these immediate needs. 

Not only are you competing against other English programs geared toward pragmatic ends that enjoy an offline referral network, but you also have to contend with everything else in the average Korean student's schedule. Remember, Korean kids aren't just learning English, they also take after-school classes to learn a ridiculously long list of other subjects and by the time they reach middle school, the diligent students are often getting home from "cram school" at 10pm, 11pm or later... 

One more thing you're working against is the social benefits that kids get from going to the institute. Since they're studying so many hours during the day, the institute is an important place for spending time with friends. But an online option is presumably a one-on-one thing, or at best, a group discussion environment of people from a variety of places who don't know each other. A sizable portion of your market won't be interested in a study approach that removes the social aspects which are rooted in their existing social network. At least, I know that this has been an important factor in my kids' after-school study choices.

It seems to me, then, that you will have to get your business connected to a local network and be able to credibly present your service as an alternative (or better, complement) to local resources that help learners get better grades on their tests at school or meet career requirements at their place of employment. Considering how price inflexible Korean mothers can be when trying to get the best education for their kids, you won't be able to do this with a marketing appeal that focuses mainly on lower cost; you've got to offer quality differentiation on a variety of dimensions that your market will find important.

This will take both strategic marketing AND program development.

It will also take "boots on the ground", though I don't think it will require you to learn Korean or become an expert in the Korean culture, nor do I think you're going to find a stranger willing to recruit for you on a commission-basis. Everybody wants that; just today I received yet another request to help (wait for it...) an online ESL website get students in Korea.

One approach could be to connect to an offline service provider and complement their service without them feeling threatened by your role or being tempted to replace you. What I mean is that by offering lessons by a native-English speaker, you could plug into the teaching efforts of independent Korean teachers or small Korean institutes that are struggling just like you and would benefit from having a native English speaker on staff to supplement the grammar lessons they are giving their students. If kids at an institute are being taught English for three hours a week, you could offer to add on a 30-minute or 60-minute Skype call direct to the classroom with the kids gathered around the computer, to help them practice what they've learned. I suggest small institutes or independent teachers since large institutes and corporations are already making their own arrangements for this and won't be open to your value proposition.

At the same time, you have to figure out how to build relationships or share equity or something else that overcomes conflicts of interest, where your Korean counterparts worry you'll rip off their students after getting access or where you won't worry they'll just change Skype teachers at some point in time. Thus, you're not going to recruit these partners by email.

I suspect you're going to have to come to Korea and immerse yourself in the ESL industry (such as by teaching English) for awhile to make contacts and build relationships and experiment with approaches that work and that Koreans respond to. This knowledge of the market (and a little of the culture, which you can get up to speed on quickly and affordably with the KBC Professional Certification Program) and a lot of sweat equity on the ground is probably the only way to bootstrap your way to a successful online business.

** Visit the related discussion on Korea Business Central: "How Can I Market My Web-Based ESL Business Offline to Korean Language Learners?"

Seeking Korean Partner/Consultant to Promote ESL Website, Part I (How To Market Online to Korean Consumers)

** Visit the related discussion on Korea Business Central: "How Can I Market My Business Online to Korean Consumers?"


The Internet has opened up possibilities for new business models, and many new online businesses are sprouting up in the field of teaching English as a second language. It's not hard to understand why. Rather than fly native English speakers around the world to live in unfamiliar surroundings to teach English to locals, instructors can now connect to students over Skype and educate without travelling. It's a great way to reduce costs and avoid other cultural and logistical difficulties while delivering value to language learners the world over.

With falling barriers to entry, the field has gotten crowded though, with thousands of websites cropping up to offer these virtual/remote English lessons. Over the years, my team and I have had the privilege of translating a few of these sites to Korean so that our clients can connect to the market in Korea for ESL instruction. Unfortunately, a nice website that communicates well is only the first step, as the following message from a previous client makes clear. 

Hi Steven, My name is ________. Last year I had you do the translation for my ESL website. I was impressed with your service, and knowledge of Korea, so I wanted to reach out to you on something. So far, I've had a real tough time attracting business in Korea. Early on I had foolishly spent money on Google Adwords, and Twitter advertising, which didn't generate results. Not to mention large amounts of time with social networks, and the like. When I found out about the popularity of Naver & Daum, I hired a professional SEO service to optimize my site, along with "guest blog posts". After that, I saw a small uptick in traffic, but still not converting into new clients. It's been frustrating, and depressing at times. I'm willing to the spend the time and money, but I feel like not knowing the Korean language and culture is putting me at a disadvantage....

 I answered my client as follows.

It's nice to hear from you. I remember working on the Korean localization of your website and I'm glad to hear that our service met your expectations. I recall that your attitude to the localization process put quality above cost and I believe you when you say you're willing to spend the time and money to make the endeavor work. In fact, as someone who has spent a ridiculous amount of money and effort on online marketing efforts of various kinds, I have a great deal of sympathy for your situation.

You asked near the beginning of our business relationship about the value of having Korean text alongside English YouTube videos and about whether it would be effective in attracting Korean students. I just dug back into my archives and found my following reply: 

"It's a tough call, especially as you're jumping into a very competitive market. If you've got the marketing strategy in place to support the YouTube funnel, then of course, the Korean text can be an asset. If you're not sure what kind of traffic you can pull to these videos, you might put that cost off until later. I've seen more than one businessperson (myself included!) spend a lot of money to get all set up only to find that the marketing is lacking." 

In advising you, I'd like to first discuss some insights about online marketing in Korea. At this point, I should point out that I don't think this will ultimately be cost-effective for you in your business, but the following does describe a starting point for understanding how a successful campaign might be put together.

You mention that Google Adwords was a waste of money. It all depends on what niche you're in, but for ESL, I'm sure the bid prices on keywords are through the roof and too many non-converting visitors will drain your bank account quickly. The only way to make it work is to have a deep sales pipeline with an integrated range of goods and services that you're marketing effectively to those who click on your Adwords ads. Top advertisers on major keywords are prepared to lose money on the initial leads in order to harvest value over a longer period of time.

I'd be interested to know how you operated and targeted your Google advertising. Did you do it yourself? Regardless of what Google says, Adwords is not for the faint of heart, and not just because the tools are complicated (and getting more so everyday) and the underlying algorithms secret. I would even say that Google's representations of their system to novice advertisers are even misleading and incomplete. But as you may have found out, working with a competent (or even incompetent!) SEM professional is expensive, and even if your consultant does know what he/she is doing, you often won't get the level of focused and sustained attention you need to make it work. 

In fact, in your market, there are bound to be a lot of competitors, some with deep pockets (thanks to cash flow from offline, successful English institutes in Korea but without a sustainable strategy), just throwing money into the marketing effort. This makes Google rich, but leaves everyone else paying more than they should.

Furthermore, running a Google Adwords campaign in English isn't going to get you very close to your market since your potential students probably aren't doing most of their searching in English. That means your ads need to be localized, too. But since Google Adwords isn't a set-it-and-forget-it approach, you can't just get your ads translated once somewhere and then throw them up online. The ads must be constantly monitored and optimized, not just from a standard marketing perspective but also in terms of language and culture, which makes it a high-touch/high-specialization/high-cost adventure. (BTW, I've written about a surprising aspect of character limitations that applies to Korean ads on Google Adwords.)

Besides, even if you do get your online marketing program going effectively on Google in Korean for Korean consumers located in Korea, you'll then be reaching... just 10-15% of the search market. As you noted already, the movers and shakers in the Korean market are still Naver (with about 60-70% of the market) and Daum (with around 20-30%).

You said that you tried SEO for the Korean search engines, but these native Korean portals also run their own proprietary advertiser tools modeled on Google Adwords. The interfaces are in Korean and the complicated Korean government-mandated requirements make it next-to-impossible to register to advertise as a non-Korean. I tried it about a year ago on Naver just to see if I could, and I barely managed to sign up, but I still had to register as an overseas marketer since my websites are owned by my US corporation, which meant that the process had to be jury-rigged to get me through the ad approvals every time. I ultimately never did anything with it; just too much trouble. This means you would ultimately have to work with a Korean agency to get directly to Daum and Naver, and to do that, you're looking at talent of dubious competence and high cost and you won't be able to transparently monitor the process.

At any rate, if you do choose to move forward with online marketing to Korean search engine users, I would recommend the following approach which, done right, would minimize your costs and maximize your effectiveness.

Stage 1 - The online advertising interfaces of the Korean portals are primitive compared to the Google system and I don't recommend you start with them. Instead, work with an SEM provider who is qualified to advertise on Google in English and supplement this with a Korean language consultant who can localize and adjust ads as instructed by the SEM professional. Keep this up until you've got a strong campaign going that generates profitable leads and until you've exhausted the potential that Google is giving you in its 20% of the Korean search market. Be sure you have Google Analytics installed on your site and know how to use it; you'll need that both to optimize for Google, as well as for Stage 2 below.

Stage 2 - Once you've wrung out all the value from Stage 1, you're ready to attack the Korean portals. Do this by working through an SEM professional in Korea. You won't need the best expert here (good thing, because they're hard to find!); just someone who knows the nuts and bolts and has an account that is authorized to to resell advertising for foreign advertisers on the Korean portals. Make it clear that you'll be providing the optimized ads and keywords from your Google campaign and so only minor optimization within the Naver and Daum ecosystems will be required. Then feed the ads, keywords and other demographic information directly or through your Korean language consultant to the Naver/Daum seller and tell them to set it up.

Normally, advertising on the Korean portals would be a black box, since you won't have easy access to what's going on there. But because you'll have the results of your Google campaigns to benchmark against, you can simply watch carefully through Google Analytics to make sure your Korean campaigns are generating results on par with Google. As you continue to optimize your Google campaigns, you can have your Naver and Daum campaigns updated as well.


Regarding marketing on SNS, don't bother unless you're prepared to engage in time-consuming conversation with your market. On the other hand, there are umpteen online "cafes" which you could join on Daum or Naver. These are online meeting places that bring together groups of people interested in the same topic. Some would be focused on learning English and if you were to make your presence known in these spots, such as by sharing value in the discussions, you might be able to get closer to your market. However, I haven't tried it and I don't know how practical it is because of the Korean-language interfaces. Done strategically, it could at least would get you into an under-served area away from the crowds at Facebook and Twitter. Even so, these are still vibrant online discussion forums in Korea today.

As for general search engine optimization, well, there's so much content out there now in the ESL field that I don't know how you'd ever get heard amidst everything else. Ultimately, I think you'll need to reach out to your market; not hope they find you through organic SEO. 


** Visit the related discussion on Korea Business Central: "How Can I Market My Business Online to Korean Consumers?"

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?"


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.


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.


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.


** 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?"

“One of our investment professionals will be traveling to South Korea for a meeting and would like to make a few general opening remarks in Korean."

*** Visit the related discussion on Korea Business Central.

I received the following two questions last week, and as these aren't the first inquiries I've gotten on the subject, I figure'd I'd post some thoughts on the topic here.

The Questions

#1 - “One of our investment professionals will be traveling to South Korea for a meeting and would like to make a few general opening remarks in Korean; thus, he is looking for someone to assist with crafting the remarks and learning to say them properly. Can you… assist?”

#2 - “[An executive of our company] is going to be giving a presentation in Korea next month at a conference…. He is a keynote for the general session with [a lot of] people. I’d like to open up his presentation with a cultural greeting and 'thank you' to the organization that is hosting him for this event.

Can you help me understand the cultural awareness around such a greeting? Is it appropriate at the beginning or should it go at the end? Can you help with a quick thank you greeting in Korean that I could include in the presentation?”

My Answer

These questions are based on the following assumptions:

  1. Speaking in Korean to a Korean audience will contribute to the experience.
  2. A greeting to Koreans in English may require input from a cultural expert in order to say the right things.

But it’s really not necessary to over-think this thing. For starters, here’s how I answered question #1:

"You don't generally have to worry much about giving a culturally correct speech in Korea if the same speech would be culturally correct back home. Once you've written what you want to say, I'd be glad to review and make sure that you won't offend anyone with it, but as long as you stay away from political commentary, you're probably OK.

"As for giving the speech in Korean, unless your associate has had some training in the Korean language, I wouldn't recommend it. Just parroting back a bunch of sounds that he's practiced a few times isn't going to sound much like proper Korean and the audience is unlikely to understand it.

"If you feel it's important that your associate's comments be shared in Korean, then prepare a version in Korean and give it to someone (perhaps an interpreter) beforehand to have him/her read it aloud in Korean after your associate shares his message in English. If your audience speaks English well enough to understand without an interpreter, then the need for your associate to speak in Korean is doubly unnecessary."

A very basic greeting like “Anyeong haseyo (Hello)” at the beginning or “Gamsahamnida (Thank you)” at the end is appropriate. The Korean audience will appreciate the effort and this will certainly generate a few smiles in the audience.

However, trying to put together full sentences and paragraphs just based on memorized sounds is not going to result in a speech that anyone will understand. If, as in the case of Question #2, the purpose of the greeting is to express thanks, it’s important that the audience understand what’s being said and for that, an English greeting which is then repeated through a Korean interpreter is the best option. I was in the room once when a Westerner tried to express a long idea in Korean (without learning Korean first) and the audience didn’t understand what he said and this resulted in quite a bit of social discomfort.

As for the second premise, there’s certainly no harm in running the remarks by a consultant after they’re written in order to be absolutely certain nothing inappropriate gets in, but the same rules apply in Korea as elsewhere: avoid crude humor and stay away from political opinions. Korea is not a black box of hidden cultural codes and there is not a uniquely Korean way to give a speech that is distinct from any other way. 

You might, however, review a couple recent business tips I wrote recently, including:

The KBC Professional Certification Program also contains a wealth of information about communicating and interacting effectively with Koreans in business.

And as mentioned above, I would be glad to review the content of your speech and provide feedback and suggestions on improving it for a Korean audience.

*** Visit the related discussion on Korea Business Central.

Reflections on Face and What It Really Means for Life and Business in Korea

** Visit the related discussion on Korea Business Central.

One of the appeals of the Far East to many Westerners is the mysteriousness of these cultures that we are told have been around for so long and developed independently of Western influences. With all the yin-yang thinking, concepts of body centers of energy in martial arts and Oriental medicine (e.g. accupuncture) and other "deep" ways of seeing things, can we be anything less than awed?

A concept that gets bandied about a lot when describing E. Asian culture is "face" and it is sometimes described as an especially important aspect of life in Asia that should be respected at all cost. However, I've had my doubts that the Western conception of face is more than an approximation of the true meaning of it in Asia or that it's any different than a universal desire not to be humiliated or insulted. (See previous blog post from 2011.)

This article explores the topic and attempts to identify nuances of face in Korea (and by extension, Korean business) that are overlooked in the common Western understanding.

7-26-2013 3-31-05 PM

Some Definitions

My first encounter with "face" came just a month or two into my Korea experience back in 1994 when the Korean owner of my place of employment fought with my American boss in public and afterward was heard saying (in English), "I lost my face"... Notwithstanding that adding "my" to the sentence changes the nuance in English a bit, I recall wondering how he would have expressed this thought in Korean. It took me awhile to figure out what the Korean words and phrases are for face and its variants, so for the record, here they are:

  • face - 체면 (chaemyeon)

The word is derived from Chinese, with the first character meaning "body" and the second meaning "face, surface, side". The dictionary on Naver describes chaemyeon in Korean as "sense of one's duty or face that one presents to others". This is a little (but not much) different than "one's sense of honor or dignity", that I would say is probably the best way to represent the meaning of face in English. 

  • lose face - 체면을 잃다
  • save face - 체면이 서다
  • to be honorable - 체면이 있다
  • to be dishonorable - 체면이 없다

These are not words and phrases Koreans use all that often though and they are not standard terms you would normally hear when a Korean is expressing embarrassment, offense, anger, or even certain types of shame. It's also not the word a Korean would use when talking about how they feel after losing in a competition or negotiation. It might not even be the most appropriate term to use in the context of getting tricked or deceived, unless it involves some deeper personal disgrace.

On the other hand, Koreans might discuss chaemyeon when referring to information about themselves that they wouldn't want to share publicly if it would make others think less of them, or when wondering why someone else would behave in such an undignified way ("Have they no shame?").

So what's really different between Korean "face" and Western "honor"?

"Face" Seems to Be an Inexact Western Interpretation of Asian Chaemyeon

4016608384_40dc9403afThere's a dish in Korea called "donkas" (돈까스 in Korean and most often translated to English as "pork cutlet" - Photo of donkas at left used with permission from ZenKimchi.com). One thing that makes this meal interesting to me is that it's a Korean interpretation of a Japanese interpretation of a Western meal. It's popular enough in Korea to be a true Korean food (kind of like tacos are to Texans), but having originated elsewhere and been adapted to Japanese and then Korean tastes, it's not exactly what we'd expect from a pork steak dish back home.

The reason I bring this up is to illustrate how a concept can change when it moves from one culture through the filters of another.

In my 2011 article mentioned above, I suggested that the concept of saving face as we often understand it may have been the brainchild of a Westerner observing things about Asian culture that were hard to for him to understand. I've suspected that since Asians have been hearing Westerners talk about Asian face for so long, they've started to believe the rhetoric themselves and have come to see it as a uniquely Asian trait after all. 

7-26-2013 3-56-38 PM
I recently had the opportunity to see what a Korean understanding of the Western concept of face might look like when reading the book 박근혜의 인생. I picked this book up because I thought it was going to be a biography of the current Korean president, but it turned out to just be some guy's hagiographic exposition on President Keun-Hye Park's wonderful traits as a leader. It's a crummy book. (I'm not saying she's a crummy leader, BTW.) But one spot that caught my attention was on page 193 where he quoted another book describing Park and then added his own explanation. The following is the original Korean passage and then my translation of it, and I added the red font for emphasis.

"굉장히 냉철하고 자기중심이 확고하다. 상황이 어려울 때 참모가 우왕좌왕해도 지도자는 자기중심을 잃으면 안 되는 법이다. 어떤 상왕에도 자기 페이스를 잃어버리지 않기 쉽지 않은데 이처럼 갖기 어려운 자질을 갖췄다."

- 진희정, 박근혜 사타일, 154쫒

어떤 상황에서도 자기 페이스를 잃어버리지 않는 그런 자질을 그녀가 가질 수 있게 된 또 다른 이유 중의 하나는 그녀는 최선의 노력과 지혜를 다한 사람은 하늘의 뜻을 겸허하게 받아들이고 초연할 수 있다는 사실에 대한 확신 때문일 것이다.

“She is extremely level-headed and firmly maintains her sense of balance. When things are difficult, and even if one’s staff can’t make up their minds, a leader must not lose her bearings. It’s easy to lose face in any situation, but she has this kind of rare character trait.”

- Geun-Hye Park’s Style (Hee-Jeong Jin), p. 154

Another of the reasons that she has the character trait of never losing face in any situation is that she is certain of the fact that people who exert their best efforts and act wisely can humbly accept the will of Heaven and rise above it.

I don't think the author ever used the Korean word chaemyeon in this book; but here, he quotes another Korean author using the Korean transliteration of the English word "face" and then uses it himself in the same context. Both authors seem to understand "losing face" when written with an English pronunciation as being the opposite of "calm, cool and collected", which is not quite the same as the way Westerners understand it. 

Sometimes Koreans use foreign words to express concepts that carry connotations not as easily expressed in Korean (other examples include "leader - 리더", "charisma - 카리스마" and "style - 스타일"). And in this case, it turns out that "face" can be another word Koreans, at least sometimes, choose to interpret from an outside perspective and not using Korean terminology.

This tells me that the concept of "face" is at least partially something Koreans are interested in because they've heard so much about it but that they don't feel entirely comfortable using chaemyeon to describe what they're thinking we mean by it. It also tells me that "face" and chaemyeon don't actually mean exactly the same thing, and apparently even the word "face" has different nuances for Westerners and Koreans.

Face is merely an approximation of chaemyeon, and not something particularly unique to Asia. In any culture, nobody anywhere likes to have their honor or dignity compromised.

So, if this is what face is, what's chaemyeon?

Face in Korea is Not Uniquely Korean, But It is Manifested in Uniquely Korean Ways

I've recently been watching a Korean TV series on KBS called Eun-hee. It's the fictional story of several families trying to come to terms with events that happened before and after the Korean War. These modern TV "dramas" (which is another English word used in Korean with an English pronunciation but slightly different meaning) set in the 1950s, 60s and 70s are particularly interesting to me. Perhaps it's because I didn't experience this Korean history directly and shows like this let me see, not what it was really like back then, but what Koreans of today want to remember it was like during those years.

7-26-2013 3-58-45 PM

Anyway, in a series of recent episodes, the good-for-nothing nephew of the owner of a tofu factory embezzles money from the company and tries to blame it on Eun-hee, the lead character of the show. Amid rampant rumors among the factory staff, it gradually comes to light who the real perpetrator is and the characters are left figuring out how to deal with the situation.

Several options are considered and attempted. Since the guilty party is the nephew of the president, it would really reflect badly on the good owner to announce the truth to the factory workers, but the president can't let the issue slide either (that would look bad too). Somebody has to take the fall for the crime and Eun-hee is about to get fired. However, before this happens, a friend of Eun-hee borrows money and gives it to the company management saying he'll take responsibility for the crime, and then quit his job. Eventually, another friend of Eun-hee's sells his camera equipment to get some money, which he then takes to the nephew, telling him to return it to his aunt (the owner), explain it was an oversight and apologize for an honest mistake. This is what ends up happening.

We see the Asian concept of "face" in various forms here. To expose the nephew would have shamed the owner because it was her relative. But to leave the crime unpunished would have also called into question the owner's commitment to a clean work environment. On the other hand, to punish Eun-hee would have been terribly unfair, so her friends looked for options -- and eventually found one -- to save everyone's chaemyeon.

Somehow, in a Western context, I think we would find this situation pitiful. If the owner of the company can't keep her nephew in check, she should kick him out. Letting someone else take the fall for it, though not unheard of in a Western context (called "scapegoating"), is simply shameful. I don't think a Westerner would be terribly impressed by the efforts of the friends either to take false responsibility themselves. 

But in a Korean setting, this is a story of heroism and evokes sympathy for just about everyone (except the nephew). I would say this cuts to the essence of what "face" really is in Korea. It's not that Koreans have a unique sense of honor, it's that they prioritize it above some other values (an honest reckoning of wrong or squeezing the last advantage out of a situation, for instance) to avoid situations that would bring unpleasantness out into the open.

6a011279704a5b28a4014e89940928970d-800wiI'll point out that this Asian concept of face reminds me of the doctrine of atonement in Christian theology, where someone's got to take the punishment for sin, and it doesn't necessarily have to be the person who did the crime. This came to mind several years ago when former Korean President Moo-Hyeon Roh committed suicide during a corruption investigation. (Photo at right is the site of President Roh's death and his memorial from my photo weblog.) He doesn't appear to have been completely clean, but he must have judged that his death would a) atone for whatever errors were committed, both for himself and for others, b) bring the investigation to an end for everyone involved, and c) allow those who had previously worked with him to move on in their political careers without the baggage of the scandal. As for a), his political enemies still see him as seriously flawed, but his decision was successful in terms of b) and c), especially as his former confidante Jae-In Moon made a respectable run for the presidency last year.

Applying the Concepts of Face and Chaemyeon to Life and Business in Korea

I have found (from unhappy experience, sometimes) that showing unpleasant emotions in business in Korea can be unexpectedly counterproductive. It can be tempting to cross the line of civility since, for example, a Korean is more likely than a Westerner to stay on the line while being yelled at over the phone. Koreans will often appear to maintain their cool (and even a smile or laugh!) in an awkward situation, but this apparent calmness should not be mistaken for compliance or agreement. Verification of intent may require waiting for actions, rather than words.

Being aggressive with a smile rather than a frown, using extra words to avoid coming out and saying things directly, yielding on small points and even behaving in passive aggressive ways could all be more effective negotiating techniques in a Korean setting than a bulldozer approach. (Nevermind that "bulldozer" is the somewhat popular nickname given to some Koreans who've been successful in business, such as former Korean President Myung-Bak Lee (who was less successful with this approach in politics of late)).

Westerners doing business in Korea would be advised to handle awkward situations with a delicate hand and with as little direct confrontation as possible. It's not that wrong must be overlooked, but a solution that doesn't require people to admit error overtly can go a long way toward keeping important relationships going. Even if everyone knows what happened and the outcome is the same, the path toward that income in Korea is likely to have more bends and turns than it would in a similar situation in the West and if you stay cool, important relationships may just survive the turmoil.

** Visit the related discussion on Korea Business Central.

Reflections on the Benefits of Learning Korean to One's Career in Korea

** Visit the related discussion on Korea Business Central.

Learning Korean is tough; there are no two ways about it. When I first came to Korea, I planned to conquer Korean in two years and then do the same with Chinese and Japanese after that. I figured that would make me something special. However, it didn't take me long to realize that Korean was the only language of the three in which I'd manage to achieve proficiency, and that improving those skills would be a lifelong project. 

I've met other Westerners who have started along this journey but gotten discouraged. Here's a typical question and my answer to it.

Q: Will Korean skills boost my career opportunities in Korea?

A: I would like to say that the answer is a definite "yes"; however, as with many aspects of life in Korea, the answer is nuanced.

It can be a discouraging reality to accept, but your Korean abilities are not going to fast-track you in your career in Korea. In fact, though Korean skills may work in your favor if competing against someone for a job who doesn't know Korean, it is unlikely your Korean will be a crucial factor in the hiring process, no matter what job you apply for.

In general, if you're from an English-speaking country, you'll likely find your best job opportunities in positions that take advantage of your English abilities, and once that happens, your Korean is no longer an asset; in some cases, it's a disadvantage if your prospective employer is concerned you’ll be more focused on learning Korean than on helping your coworkers and/or students improve their English. Your employer is more likely to appreciate your Korean abilities if they didn't hire you for your English, but your Korean still won't be a key factor in the hiring process.

Way back when I taught English, I remember trying to inject Korean into my classes. Students (understandably) hated that. Later, when working in the LG Group as an editor/writer (and later, off-and-on translator), I was given strict instructions NOT to speak Korean in the office. I recall trying to refer an American friend to a position that had opened up in the company and when I mentioned to the director that my friend was fluent in Korean, he flat out told me nobody cared about that. Even now in my Ph.D. studies at Hanyang University, the semi-frequent job offers I get from the university to teach always involve helping the university fulfill the government-mandated requirement for classes taught in English and I often sense disappointment that I'm so focused on doing my coursework in Korean.

Having said that, I can think of some situations where your Korean skills could be helpful. The first would be where you have been hired for your English skills but where your Korean abilities let you understand and participate in office communications. This may make your more effective and fulfilled in your job. But as a foreigner, you won’t be on a career path to which you can apply this effectiveness and so the main benefit is likely to be found in helping you avoid some of the feelings of isolation that you'd encounter otherwise. But plenty of non-Koreans without Korean skills have managed their way through those situations, so it's not absolutely necessary.

You may also find that your Korean skills let you discover roles that wouldn't otherwise have existed. Your ability to leverage these roles would then be the determining factor in where you go from there. For example, being good at Korean can generate a lot of curiosity and if managed strategically may lead to hidden opportunities. I’ve encountered a few of those, such as being appointed Foreign-Investment Advisor to Gyeonggi Province when the Governor was impressed with my Korean. But networking opportunities are not the same as a career path. Besides, English skills are also a point of curiosity with Koreans and this can open doors, too. Thus, being stubborn in using Korean can close some of those English-oriented doors of opportunity, as well.

One more observation.... Even though speaking Korean is not going to make your career, the longer you spend in Korea without learning the language to a certain degree of proficiency, the more of a drag it may be on you, both personally and professionally. One reason is that Koreans may question your commitment to the country and your diligence if you never move beyond English interactions, and this can affect professional perceptions, too. Thus, speaking Korean may not help much, but not speaking Korean may also not be so great. Eventually, those who don’t learn Korean (and many who do!) end up “moving on” and not sticking around.

Speaking Korean often feels like a “brownie point” earner more than a killer resume skill. It’s a career asset if used strategically, but even that's not easy. And social pressure in Korea can provide a compelling excuse NOT to learn Korean.

I would say that if career opportunities are your primary motivation to learn Korean, then it’s not worth the trouble. The Korean learning process must have deeper value for you in personal ways -- such as the satisfaction you get from communicating in a difficult language and cultural context -- and that requires a special love for Korea.

When Koreans learn English, they can travel the world and meet people from many countries; when we learn Korean, we can... well, we can travel around Korea and meet Koreans. Ultimately, learning Korean is a niche endeavor that narrows (but deepens) your options. 

** Visit the related discussion on Korea Business Central.

Expanding on the Korean Business Etiquette Guide, Chapter 1 - "Understanding and Correctly Using Names and Titles in Korean Business"

6a011279704a5b28a4017eea0ccb4b970d-800wiOnce again, I have the privilege of sharing feedback from Rich DeBourke, principal consultant at SBF Consulting, about a lesson in the Korean Business Etiquette Guide (back when it was the Business Culture Fundamentals Specialization of the KBC Professional Certification Program). Rich's comments and questions about the materials give me an opportunity to share a richer perspective and deeper insights about the subject matter.

The following are some of his responses to various points in Module 1 of the program; I've also included my own clarifications and answers, where appropriate.


1. "Even though Koreans will often let this rule slide when working with foreigners, addressing someone with "Mr." in a business setting generally indicates that his rank is very low." - (from the "Main Points" portion of the Korean Business Etiquette Guide.)

Rich: Regarding the use of Mr., I was always told it was okay to start with calling someone Mr. Kim, and then letting them tell me to call them by their Korean name (e.g. Jin Ho) or use initials (e.g. J.H.) or to use an English name. (I’ve met Koreans that use an English name, although they won’t always have it on their business card (and their co-workers don’t know the English name, so it can be confusing).

2. "At least 70% of the Korean population has one of the top seven surnames (which are, in order from most common: Lee, Kim, Park, Jeong, Yoon, Choi, Yoo)" - (from the "Main Points" portion of the Korean Business Etiquette Guide.)

Rich: What do you recommend for the pronunciation for Choi? (Korean version or English).

Steven: This is a tricky one but the correct pronunciation is something close to "Chway", since this is how it's pronounced in Korean. The common English spelling is just weird and it may not communicate well if pronounced as it looks: "Choy"

3. "Your Korean counterpart's business card will almost certainly have an English side." (from the "Main Points" portion of the Korean Business Etiquette Guide.)

Rich: People at the big companies have English sides, but maybe 5% of people from small and medium companies have Korean only cards – need to cover what to do (being handed the Korean side, I tend to flip the card to see the English side. If it’s not there, I can go back to the Korean side and pronounce out the person's name in Hangul.) Another option is to look at the email address for the name.

Steven: That's a good point about small companies. While non-Koreans will usually meet Koreans having double-sided business cards, some Koreans do not carry cards with English names spelled out. It should be possible to ask them or someone else around who speaks English how to address them.

4. "In social relationship (as opposed to business relationships), Koreans often "lose" their names when they have kids. They are then addressed in relation to their children. (e.g. Min-Ju's mom, or Kyeong-Jin's dad)."  - (from the "Main Points" portion of the Korean Business Etiquette Guide.)

Rich: I thought the Min-Ju’s mom title was only used when people have a relationship through the kids?

Steven: Yes, good catch. The titles used do reflect the basis of the relationship. So, it would generally be necessary to have a relationship with someone through their kids in order to use the So-and-so's Mom/Dad title.

5. "Probably one of the hardest areas for foreigners to grasp when learning Korean is the ways in which the language requires the speaker and listener to understand and express how players fit into the social hierarchy. This is far more complex in Korean than the “tu/usted” concept of Spanish; Korean speakers must be aware of and reflect the relative positions of the speaker, listener and third persons being spoken about at all times." - (from the executive report "Succeed in Korea by Understanding Company Hierarchy", an online resource of the Korean Business Etiquette Guide.)

Rich: It would probably be a good idea to explain the tu/usted distinction for readers not familiar with Spanish.

Steven: In Spanish (as in French, Italian and the other Romance languages) there are two forms of "you". "Usted" is used formally and with people one doesn't have a close relationship with; "tu" is for informal situations with children, close friends, etc.. My point is that Korean has this distinction, too, but then goes way beyond it in in terms of further complexity to reflect the relationships between speaker, listeners and third parties. This is what I mean about hierarchy being built into the Korean language and about how this is reflected in Korean company hierarchy.

6. "Typical large Korean companies stick strictly to a traditional model of promotion... These tendencies are less pronounced today than in the past and not every Korean organization puts as much emphasis on age and structure." - (from the executive report "Succeed in Korea by Understanding Company Hierarchy", an online resource of the Korean Business Etiquette Guide.)

Rich: Traditional companies and managers use the hierarchical way. But are you saying that others use a blend of Korean and Western? I’m not sure any Korean company is completely westernized.

Steven: The leading Korean companies all follow the traditional model strictly. But I've heard about experimentation in some less well-known conglomerates and in smaller companies. For example, I'm told that Kolon is trying to do away with many job titles in their official internal communications. Some smaller Korean firms run by (mainly younger and Western-educated) managers are also adopting flatter and more merit-based systems. It'll be interesting to see if any of these companies become standard setters in Korean business in the future but for now, the traditional corporate structure remains the only defining standard in Korean business.

7. "Foreigners are, by definition, outsiders. Thus, you can expect to be treated at the highest level of respect and care by your Korean counterparts." - (from the executive report "Succeed in Korea by Understanding Company Hierarchy", an online resource of the Korean Business Etiquette Guide.)

Rich: The situation here can become complicated as many foreigners who come to Korea for business come through a local agent. The foreigner is treated with respect, but the local agent is stuck in the Korean hierarchical system. This causes confusion for many Westerners. Also, dinners are confusing when there are three groups (foreigner, agent, customer).

8. "Rank in Korea can be is based on many things, but in business it starts with job position. Age is nearly as important, mainly because job position and age generally go hand-in-hand. And educational level and relative time spent in the company are considerations, too. In addition, the relative standing of different companies can come into play when people from two companies get together." - (from the executive report "Succeed in Korea by Understanding Company Hierarchy", an online resource of the Korean Business Etiquette Guide.)

Rich: What about which university someone attended, such as Seoul National versus Backwater U? Does that impact the level? Harvard people always let you know they went to Harvard, expecting that it gets them more respect and credibility. What about someone with an MBA versus just an engineering degree? What impact does buyer/seller have on the relationship (in Japan, the seller is always lower – Dave Barry’s book, Dave Barry Does Japan has a great chapter on salesmen in Japan where he describes how the salesman starts a visit by apologizing for taking up the customer’s valuable time).

What about when Koreans have two relationships at different levels? I attended a Korean Culture seminar a while back, hosted by the Seoul Global Center and given by a Korean university professor, and she told the story of a Korean teacher whose husband owned a floral shop in a neighborhood that was near to her school. One Saturday, the parents of one of the teacher’s students wandered into the floral shop, not knowing that their child’s teacher’s husband owned the shop. When the parents saw the teacher there working in a floral shop, they became quite flustered and left the shop. The key take-away is that Koreans, once they feel they have a relationship established (teacher is a high level position), anything that goes against that relationship (working in a floral shop is a low level position) causes them to be uncomfortable.

Steven: Interesting and valid insights. The real world is seldom as straightforward as the rules would lead us to believe and these examples show how things can become complex in situations that don't fit "the rules".

In reference to the differences in levels based on backgrounds, such as what university one went to or whether one has a masters or undergraduate degree, this shouldn't affect levels of speech directly. However, though these factors will influence one's career path and thus where one falls in the hierarchy.

Reality-Based Answers to Questions about Getting a Job in Korea

** Visit the related online discussion for more information on this topic and to discuss with members of the Korea Business Central community.


On Korea Business Central, we receive a lot of questions about getting a job in Korea. The problem is that the answers aren't so easy.

  • In a posting just a few weeks ago, one young professional from Romania asked how she could find a job. She mentioned she's tried over the Internet but with no success, and that now she getting ready to visit Korea and wants to know how long it will take to find a position.
  • In another KBC discussion, a brand manager from Indonesia asked about finding a position in the Korean creative and branding industry and what the basic requirements are to apply to a Korean company.
  • I was recently asked by an associate from India with advanced computer and analysis skills/certifications to take a look at his resume and give him some pointers on how to improve his marketability in Korea. 

This was my first question to the brand manager and to my associate:

"What sets you radically apart from any of the countless young Korean professionals currently looking for a job in your industry? In other words, what value do you bring to the job that a Korean employer couldn't hope to fill with a Korean employee who is fluent in Korean, reads/writes English at a decent level, is willing to work evening and weekend hours for a few million won per month and doesn't need a visa sponsorship?"

Frankly, the answer to this question pretty much determines one's opportunities in the Korean job market. For thousands of people from (certain) English-speaking countries, the key to a job is "English fluency". Since most Koreans don't possess native English skills but there is a huge demand for English instructors, these perennial job openings are the ticket to a position in Korea for thousands of (mainly) Westerners.

There are also many laborers from certain countries of South Asia and Southeast Asia willing to work in "difficult, dangerous and dirty" jobs at rates Koreans won't touch. They also have an easy time finding a job; but members of KBC aren't usually looking for these positions, either. 

Thus, for someone without the English-skills answer (or at least English-skills from a Western country with an accent in English that Koreans wish to emulate) or interest in working with their hands for a pittance, the solution to the job problem often becomes much harder.

Just being better than the average isn't good enough. That's because foreign applicants to positions in Korea do not have access to the "standard" job application processes. The "standard" jobs are available only to Koreans with resumes that match exactly what the hiring company has determined they want. The "standard" application process takes it for granted that the applicant is a Korean who speaks Korean, lives like a Korean and is willing to work like a Korean. There is no option here for foreigners that need a visa, don't speak Korean perfectly and expect to have their weekends and evenings available for personal time.

After asking the above questions to my associate, he sent me a rather impressive list of qualifications that make him exceptional. But I'm still not confident that's enough to get him a job easily. Here's the response I sent him:

"Thanks for the reply.

"The reason I asked you those questions is that, as I'm sure you know, Koreans aren't going to hire foreigners for a position they think they can fill adequately with a Korean. Any established hiring process in Korea is exclusively for Koreans; foreigners are hired on a case-by-case basis every time and I can't imagine a Korean company deciding on their own initiative to hire a foreign computer analyst/developer. That means you're going to have to sell yourself, which won't be easy.

"Your credentials are exceptional but probably not enough that you can job search from outside Korea. You'll likely have to do so in-country and with a lot of hustle. I would imagine you'll have to settle for a job below your desired salary for at least awhile in order to build your local network and move up.
"As for your resume, it looks fine to me. I'd think that at least a cover letter in Korean that highlights the things you mentioned in your email to me yesterday should be included, since even if the person handling the applications reads English, he/she is likely to have to sell your position to superiors in the company who may not be as comfortable in English. Even if they are, the added effort to show the attempt to communicate in Korean can't be a bad thing.
"Koreans are all about third-party recognition. If you've published papers, then those should absolutely be included in your resume. You've already done a good job of listing your certifications. I didn't see anything about your university training though and that should be there. You might even put your photo and age on the resume to match the Korean practice.
"With your background, I'm sure you can find a position if you really want one. I'm surprised how hard it is for many people to land those jobs they want though and you should be prepared for that. You might want to speak with other S. Asians working in Korea to get a perspective on the unique challenges you might face. By way of a contrasting example, Americans often get corralled into English language-related positions even when it's resisted, and Indians may face other difficulties.
"Good luck; I hope you email me with good news saying you found a better job and faster than I expected."

Expanding on the KBC Professional Certification Program, Module 4 - "Gift-Giving in Korea"

I wrote the Business Culture Fundamentals Specialization of the KBC Professional Certification Program to help non-Koreans make sense of Korean business culture and be more effective in Korean business. To date, we've had dozens of students sign up, with many of them having graduated.

RichDeBourkeBut one person who doesn't need to take the course is Rich DeBourke. As a member of Korea Business Central and principal consultant at SBF Consulting, Rich has been working in business for over thirty years and in the Korean market since 1995. He was kind enough to critique and add valuable comments and insights for much of the content in the lessons of the KBC Professional Certification Program.

The following includes selected excerpts from the KBC Professional Certification Program materials, along with Rich's comments and a few of my additional responses.

Visit the related discussion on Korea Business Central.


1. "Gifts are generally wrapped and if so, don't open until you leave (or unless they tell you to open it)." - (from the lecture email send to students of the KBC Professional Certification Program)

Rich: Open the gift but don’t try it out. One time I was given a pen by a Japanese guy, and the pen wouldn’t write – embarrassing!

2. "Small souvenirs from home show great consideration to your Korean hosts for a business meeting or when getting together with friends... Example souvenirs... a Disney toy for your counterpart's children if you live anywhere in central Florida... a nicely framed photograph of your city’s skyline with a small metal plate engraved with the company name on the bottom... Some duty-free alcohol" - (from the executive report "Top 10 Gifts to Give in Korea to Make a Great Impression", part of the KBC Professional Certification Program and also available free from the KBC Business Library.)

Rich: What about hats from prestigious universities or famous golf courses, if near the home office?

I think the brought-from-home and wrapped-at-home gifts go over well. A gift that was clearly wrapped in Korea looks too last minute. (We gave a senior guy a Montblanc pen and he clearly couldn't care less, I think in part because he figured out we bought it at the hotel gift shop.)

I’m not sure about the Disney toy – we used to bring Disney videos years ago, but everything is now available in Korea. So bringing something like Mickey Mouse may convey the feeling the giver thinks Korea is a poor country (Koreans are sensitive about that).

I’d recommend a city photo if the client visits your city. I'm not sure about giving a photo of a city he’s never seen (framed golfing pictures are usually well received, though).

On the liquor, it should only be Scotch whisky, and a guide as to what level of whisky for which level of contact would be helpful. Johnnie Walker Blue retails in New Hampshire for $210. A Macallan 30-year retails for much more... A bottle of good rum or vodka doesn’t go over well with Koreans. I generally recommend sticking with whisky. While some Koreans drink bourbon, it’s not as common.

... Chocolates that can be eaten during the meeting have gone over well, but expensive chocolates didn’t. Boxes of common but nice chocolates were appreciated.

... As an isolated situation, a foreigner working for a Korean company and going on a trip should bring back something. Generally it doesn’t have to be a “souvenir”. It can be almost anything that was purchased while on holiday (my wife has bought socks).

3. "You must never arrive at a Korean's home without a gift... It is also accepted practice to stop by the supermarket or convenience store on the way to pick up... juice or fruit." (from the executive report "Top 10 Gifts to Give in Korea to Make a Great Impression", part of the KBC Professional Certification Program and also available free from the KBC Business Library.)

Rich: Juice? Never seen it done. I’ve seen Koreans give the vitamin drink, but I’m not sure that’s good coming from a Westerner. Fruit should be a gift box (not a bag of apples).

4. "Still, it is better to give a gift when not expected than to not give a gift when one is expected." -(from the lecture email send to students of the KBC Professional Certification Program)

Rich: I can't think of a situation of giving a gift when not expected. Gift-giving is one way (vendor to customer, junior to senior). But what happens if I give a gift to someone who, under Korean cultural rules, should also give me a gift, and they haven’t prepared one? I would embarrass that person – possible? Likely?

Steven: Gift-giving in business isn't always required. In fact, other than social-based gift-giving that is also observed in the workplace (such as for weddings, funerals), there aren't a lot of situations where a gift is absolutely required. Visiting for the first time on business would certainly be expected, but what about the second visit? Or third visit? The obligation goes down... As for gift-giving from vendor to customer, there's surely plenty of that going on, but it's not 100% one-way; vendors should at least try to show gratitude for customer gifts by giving a few back.

Overdoing the gift-giving can also be a bit of a problem. I remember a few months ago my family got together for lunch with a business associate and his family. They brought two rather nice gifts for us, and even promised tickets to a couple of upcoming concerts that they had extras for. I managed to pay for lunch, but that was still not quite enough to "balance accounts". When I met my associate a few days later, I took a Coach handbag for his wife that my wife had bought on a recent trip to the US and set aside to give to someone else. By that time, things had actually gone a bit overboard and it'll be awhile before we need to exchange gifts again.

As for embarrassing a Korean by bringing a gift that's unexpected or where he/she should also have brought a gift, I don't think this is a big issue. The Korean can just make sure to bring something next time (or at least promise to do so).

5. "An invitation to visit is an excellent "gift" to give after your hosts in Korea have shown a great deal of hospitality to you. It is unlikely that the invitee will take you up on the offer and extending invitations that aren't intended to be claimed is a common practice of etiquette amongst Koreans too." (from the executive report "Top 10 Gifts to Give in Korea to Make a Great Impression", part of the KBC Professional Certification Program and also available free from the KBC Business Library.)

Rich: I think in a business situation, it is very likely that they will be visiting your office, especially if it’s a significant deal. So it is likely they will remember any offer of “come over for Sunday dinner” and will expect to have it happen.

6. "Money is the standard gift at weddings or funerals and one-year birthdays of babies." (from the executive report "Top 10 Gifts to Give in Korea to Make a Great Impression", part of the KBC Professional Certification Program and also available free from the KBC Business Library.)

Rich: 60 or 70,000 won should be sufficient for a wedding/funeral/one-year birthday gift – sometimes foreigners get invited to a number of these functions, and you don’t have to be that close to be invited (more people equals more money for the couple)...

Weddings versus funerals – Generally, my wife will send money if a friend has had a death, but we only give money for a wedding if we attend, and we decline more invitations then we accept.

Steven: Wedding invitations don't necessarily need to be declined; just not going is often enough. You can apologize later for having had other plans that day, and a gift won't be expected since wedding gifts are usually only given if attending. The exception to this would be if you miss a wedding of someone that you absolutely should have attended.

Also, the standard gift for a one-year birthday would actually be a gold ring. Not just any gold ring though; they sell these one-year birthday rings at any jeweller at various price points.

7. "A gift certificate to a local department store makes a great birthday or friendship gift to someone with whom you have an ongoing relationship."  - (from the executive report "Top 10 Gifts to Give in Korea to Make a Great Impression", part of the KBC Professional Certification Program and also available free from the KBC Business Library.)

Rich: I’d recommend an American Express gift card – it’s upscale but can be used anywhere AMEX is accepted.

8. "On the Death of a Fellow Student's Mother and Figuring Out How Much Condolence Money to Give Him" - (recommended reading for the KBC Professional Certification Program and available in full as a weblog post here on Nojeok Hill)

Rich: The story’s good, but how does it apply to business? If a business acquaintance has a parent pass away, how much should be sent? Possible to put together a table?

Steven: In business, I think about W100,000 would be a good base amount if the recipient is someone with whom you've got a relationship that deserves a gift; it would seldom go lower (and not below W70,000, I don't think). If a business partner or someone close, then a higher amount would be appropriate.

Just hearing about the death of someone's relative at the office isn't enough to have an obligation; you've got to be relatively close, such as in the same department or office, unless it's a small company, in which case you might be obligated regardless. Also, the death of someone's sister is unlikely to require a gift, whereas a parent, spouse or child is a different matter.

If you've been told about the death promptly, it probably means a gift is in order. It's also likely you'll have heard about the death through a third-party so it's fine to ask about the appropriateness of a gift and how much to give. The other person may say you don't need to give anything, but if you do think you should (or would like to), then keep pushing for information. Even if you can't make it to the funeral, you can still ask about the details of the bank account to which gift payments are being collected and send your money there. (Don't ask for a receipt!)

If you hear about a death weeks or months after the fact, it's generally too late to give. It means you weren't expected to give anything.

Answers to Questions about Korean Company Hierarchy

The following snippet is now part of the ebook Korean Business Etiquette Guide: Take an Essential Step Toward Your Business Goals in Korea! 

Purchase and download on Amazon.


7-26-2012 1-46-02 AM

From the extra reading in Chapter 1 of Korean Business Etiquette Guide: Take an Essential Step Toward Your Business Goals in Korea!

"I was recently contacted by an international executive recruiter who is working to fill an executive position in the Korean subsidiary of a multinational company. Here are some answers to his questions about how Korean companies work.

"1. What is the most common job title(s) for someone reporting to the CEO/ Country MD?

"2. To what extent does this vary between companies? Do you know the most typical title for someone at this level at [Company]?

"3. Does the title depend also on age, or is it just dependent on where the person sits within the organisation and who they report to?

"4. To what extent are Koreans usually willing to move for a role with the same job title?"

Get the answers to these questions in Korean Business Etiquette Guide: Take an Essential Step Toward Your Business Goals in Korea! 

Information for Entrepreneurs and Investors about Changes to the Korean D-8 Visa Rules

The D-8 visa has been a good visa for non-Korean investors and entrepreneurs wishing to live and work in Korea over the long-term. 

Basically, since opening a corporation in Korea had previously required W50 million in paid-in capital, non-Koreans setting up such a corporation in Korea who made the investment to set up a corporation had also been able to apply for and receive a visa to live and work in Korea over the long-term. There was a little paperwork involved, but by following the rules, the initial investment burden wasn't excessive. Furthermore, after jumping through the hoops to set things up, as long as the business remained in legal compliance, the visa continued to be renewed, even if the initial investment ended up getting spent on things like living expenses and/or the business did not actually make much money.

Unfortunately, this approach attracted "investments" from non-Koreans (primarily from other Asian countries, I'm told) who would bring in money to set up the corporation in order to get the visa to live in Korea, but without intention of actually running a profitable company. Furthermore, the W50 million bar was so low that not a lot of economic activity was generated by vibrant businesses set up with such small amounts of capital. Not just that, in 2010, the minimum capital amount in Korea for setting up a corporation (both Koreans and non-Koreans) was reduced to just W1 million, making it necessary to separate the visa and capital requirements.

The government increased the FDI required for D-8 visa eligibility to W100 million a few years ago in order to sift out investors that the government perceived were not providing adequate economic value to the nation. Along with that, by meeting the W100 million FDI threshold for the D-8 visa, a businessperson was not required to invest in a corporation; sole-proprietorships and partnerships were permitted, too.

However, things are still changing. At the end of 2012, new rules went into effect requiring all D-8 visa holders to convert their sole-proprietorships into corporations, and any new D-8 visa applications would require the corporate form of business. Perhaps an added benefit of this approach (from the government's view) was that it would be easier to monitor the viability of a business run along corporate lines, than a sole proprietorship or partnership where business and personal fund mixing makes it difficult to analyze objectively. 

Now the government is raising the minimum initial investment amount to W300 million in order to qualify for the D-8 visa, a considerably higher amount than before. As far as I know, this hasn't been announced formally, but based on my discussions with the foreigner ombudsman's office at KOTRA, it's not a rumor. I understand that the new FDI requirements will go into effect in mid-2013. Furthermore, just bringing in the W300 million won't be enough; to maintain visa eligibility, the business will be expected to achieve certain minimum business results, such as in terms of sales.

For sure, the Korean economy is one where small companies struggle and large conglomerates run the show. Some are considering that these new rules reflect a lack of interest by the government in supporting foreign small businesses. However, it seems likely to me that the government is more concerned about closing loopholes that some foreigners have been using to live in Korea under visas that don't reflect the purpose of those visas. The government's decisions are probably helped by a belief that many of these small foreign businesses are not much of a contributor to the Korean economy.

Q&A with American Businessperson about Gift-Giving in Korea

Having published my executive report "The Top Ten Gifts to Give in Korea to Make a Great Impression", I get a steady flow of questions asking me for advice in specific gift-giving situations. Here's a question I received recently:

"I am an American businessman meeting with a Korean company Chungbuk and want to bring appropriate gifts for the meeting. We are meeting to finalize the terms of a contract... hopefully. We have met before in the US. I was thinking about giving Godiva chocolate in a brown box with eight truffles. I was also thinking to have a brown ribbon around each box with customized gold printing on it with a personalized message of success. Is this a good idea? If it is, what should the message on the ribbon say? Can I use our company names together or would that be too presumptuous? If not, what would you suggest?

And my answer:

The gift of chocolates is a fine idea; I would encourage you to give those. But given alone, they may be more suitable for a future visit after business gets rolling. 
The reason is that this visit is a very special one, since it (hopefully) represents the beginning of business. The most effective gift would be something that remains as a reminder, not something that gets eaten or drunk. What we'd recommend is a gift that compels your Korean counterparts to remember you on a regular basis. A nicely framed photo of you and your team standing out in front of your US office, with a message written over the photo itself or onto a metal plate on the frame would be good. The message might say something like "[Your company] - Korea Visit 2013" on the first line and "We Wish You The Best of Business Success!" on the second line. (You don't necessary want to include both company names here since that could look presumptuous.)
If you're like me and work a bit more virtually so that you don't have a big office with 25 employees, then the alternative could be a framed photo of something that would be worthy of hanging on the wall and that could be associated with you. As you're out of Chicago, I like the idea of a nicely framed photo of the Chicago skyline, along with the metal plated message in the frame. This is the kind of thing that would definitely be hung on the wall, observed and remembered, which is exactly what you want.
You mentioned the ribbons; the concept in Korea may be a bit different than you're thinking though. If your negotiations were completed and you were just coming over for the signing ceremony, then flowers with ribbons might be a part of the ceremony. These are also used for the opening of a new office or retail establishment. Here are a few examples - 

However, these types of flowers are generally given by others; not the actual parties to the transaction. Anyway, since you're not done with the negotiations, it could look a bit odd to start acting like it's a done deal.
On the other hand, if you were to wrap the gift (it should be wrapped) in extra nice ribbons on which you include an extra gold-lettered message, that would also be a nice touch. Perhaps this could have a slightly more assuming message, something like "We look forward to a long, successful business relationship with XX Company!"
And BTW, there's nothing wrong with bringing a few chocolates too; I just wouldn't make that the main gift at this point. In the future though, you won't need to upstage consumable gifts with something permanent like I've described above.

Email Interview with Reporter from the Donga Ilbo Newspaper

I much prefer email interviews to verbal ones; that's because I can keep and post my exact answers here even if the reporter ends up using only bits and pieces of what I provide. This is from an interview with the Donga Ilbo. 

<스티븐씨의 소개>

Q. 동아일보 독자들에게 스티븐씨에 대한 간단한 소개 부탁드립니다.

Q. KBC외에 다른 직업이나 직책이 있다면 알려주세요.

제가 한국에 처음 온지 20년 되어 가는데, 그중 10년 이상 한국에서 살았습니다. 지금은 안산에서 가족이랑 거주하면서 미국 법인인 Korean Consulting & Translation Service, Inc.를 운영하고 있습니다. 개인사업자로 미국법인을 서포트를 해 주는 한국회사도 차렸습니다. 그 이외에는 Korea Business Central을 운영하고 안산에 있는 한양대학교 ERICA캠퍼스에서 경상대학원에서 박사과정을 공부하고 있습니다.

더 자세한 내용은 - www.StevenBammel.com 

<KBC에 관하여>

Q. 독자들에게 KBC에 대해 간단히 소개해주세요.

KBC를 시작한 목적은 외국인들이 한국에서, 그리고 한국사람들하고 비즈니스을 잘 하고, 한국회사에서 취직하여 잘 살아남을 수 있기 위한 것입니다.

이 목적을 달성하기 위해서 여러 방법을 동원하고 있는데, 주로 한국 비즈니스에 대한 지식, 토론 및 뉴스 마당을 만들면서, 멤버들의 서로간 네트워킹 기회를 제공하고 있습니다. 그리고 개인의 한국 비즈니스에 대한 지식 및 취직하는 과정에서 자신에 대한 신임을 받을 수 있기 위한 KBC Professional Certification Program (http://www.koreabusinesscentral.com/page/certification)도 작년부터 개발/도입하여 운영하고 있습니다.

Q. 왜 한국과 관련된 사업을 시작 하게 되었습니까?

Q. KBC를 시작하기 전에 한국에 관심이 있거나, 관련이 있었습니까?

제가 한국에서 오래 살고 한국에서 가족도 있고 한국을 사랑하기 때문에, 한국과 인연이 있어서 KBC를 시작한 것은 그리 어려운 결정이 아니였죠.

Q. KBC를 이용하는 외국인과 한국인은 몇 명쯤 됩니까?

한국인 멤버들이 있기는 있는데, KBC의 콘테츠가 주로 영어로 되어 있고, 외국인 대상으로 만들어져 있기 때문에  한국인 멤버들이 KBC에서 그렇게 활발하지 못 한 것 같습니다. 그래도, 한국인의 멤버가입은 언제든지 대환영합니다.

Q. KBC의 큰 도움을 받은 외국인이 있나요? (에피소드가 있다면 알려주세요)

그럼요, 멤버들이 공유한 다음 추천의 글은 있습니다: http://www.koreabusinesscentral.com/page/testimonials

그리고, 한 에피소드를 멤버의 말로 알려 드립니다.

I would like to share with you my experiance concerning my recent job search in the Netherlands..

I am a Polish girl that obtained a Master degree in Korean languge in Poland and also studied for one year at the Yonsei Univeristy in Seoul. I`ve worked for more than 6 years in 2 Korean companies in Poland and had various experiance in translating, interepreting, managing many variuos tasks.

To be honest with all this experiance and also my Korean language skills I was sure it would be quite easy to get a job at such an international and opened job market as it is in Amsterdam.  But after some time I realised it was not easy at all. I sent my CV to most of the Korean companies in the Netherlands. I tried to apply for certain positions or ask for internships - maybe half of the companies replied and it was always a negative answer. It seemed that my Korean language skills were not very important. At some point I was almost ready to give up.

However, just then it happened that I contacted KBC Ambassador in the Netherlands Ms. Eun-Shil Boots and mentioned to her about my job-search situation.  She assured me that it is possible to find a job in a Korean company, but just I needed to know how to do it. I agreed with her that Koreans rely on the opinion of others and tend to hire people that are recommended. She mentioned to me that there is a logistic company that is very international and has its branches all over the world and might need someone like me. I changed then my CV, made it more easy to read and understandable for Koreans and she send it to the headquarters of the company in Korea.

To be honest I did not believe it would work, but surprisingly very soon I was invited for an interview and got the job! I was so happy, because it seemed that my Korean language skills got appreciated!

I live 15 minutes away from the company, but  my CV had to travel long way - to Korea and back so that I could get the job!

I would say that it is definitely possible to find a job in a Korean company. Don`t be shy, tell as many Koreans you know that you search for a job and sooner or later you will find a job you like!:)

 Greetings to all memebers!

 Ewa 에바

<아래의 질문들은 '서울에서 외국인이 창업을 하는 것'에 대한 질문입니다. 

가능한 구체적으로 사례들 말씀해주시면 매우 감사하겠습니다.>

Q.서울에 창업을 원하는 외국인을 아십니까? 알고계신 사람들에 대해 간략히 설명해주세요. (ex.업종, 국적, 인원 수, 규모 등) 

한국에서 창업하고 싶은 외국인들이 많습니다. 제가 몇 명을 소개해 드렸는데, 저에게 길고 정리한 리스트가 없습니다. Seoul Global Business Support Center에 문의하시면 이 질문과 관련한 유용한 정보를 아마 많이 입수하실 수 있을 것 같습니다.

Q.서울에 창업을 한 외국인을 아십니까? 알고계신 사람들에 대해 간략히 설명해주세요. (ex.업종, 국적, 인원 수, 규모 등) 

제가 이미 소개해 드린 3명을 이외에 1-2명을 더 인터뷰를 하고 싶으시면, 말씀하세요. 제가 찾아서 소개해 드릴게요.

Q.서울에서 창업에 실패한 외국인을 몇 명 아십니까? 실패한 원인이 무엇입니까? 그들은 다시 시도했습니까?

아마 있겠죠. 그런데, 대부분의 창업하고자 하는 외국인들이 이미 한국에 와 있고 크게 시작하지 않기 때문에, 실패했다 하기보다는 큰 손해없이 그냥 포기하고 자기의 나라로 돌아가든지, 어디서 취직을 하든지 했을 것 같습니다. 구체적으로는 지금 생각이 나는 사례가 없습니다.  

Q.서울에서 외국인이 창업을 할 때, 어려움이 있습니까? (ex.제도적, 문화적, 경제적, 언어적 문제 등) 

제가 보기에는 가장 큰 어려움은 자본금/비자 문제입니다. 많은 외국인들이 자기의 나라에서 할수 있는 것처럼 큰 자본금없이 집에서 혼자서 무엇을 시작하고자 하는데, 한국에서는 자본금이나 풀타임 일자리가 없으면 비자도 못 받기 때문에 천천히 시작하는 방식은 어럽습니다. 대부분의 한국에 오는 외국인들이 아파트 전세금조차도 없는데, 한국 법인을 설립할 1억원에 달하는 자본금까지 모아서 창업하는 것이 그림의 떡이다. 그리고 한국은행은 외국인들에게 신용카드를 주지는 않은데 사업 자본금을 대출하겠습니까?

Q.한류가 외국인의 창업에 영향을 미쳤습니까?

한류덕분에 한국에 와서 창업하거나 취직하고 싶은 외국인이 증가하기는 했을 것입니다. 그런데, 실제로 창업/취직할 능력이 있어서 한국에 와서 취직/청업한 사람은 그정도 늘어나지 않았을 것 같습니다.  

Q.외국의 도시(싱가포르, NY, 도쿄, 베이징 등)와 비교했을 때,

서울의 매력이나 특징이 있습니까? 특히 창업과 관련한 특징입니다. 

저는 그 다른 도시들에서 살아본 적이 없어서 직접적으로 통찰을 공유할 수 없지만, 제가 다른 사람들의 말을 듣고 생각해보니까 서울은 싱가포르나 NY이 외국인들에게 주는 매력을 비교하는 것이 좀 무리한 것 같습니다.  북경이나 도쿄하고 비교 대상이 될수 있습니다. 그래도, 저같이 한국을 사람하는 사람이 아니면, 서울의 특별한 매력이나 특징을 깊숙히 고려하는 외국인들이 많을 것 같지 않습니다.

Q.외국인이 서울에 창업하기 좋은 업종은 무엇입니까? 그 이유는 무엇입니까?

아무래도, 영어와 관련된 업종은 영어권 나라에서 온 사람들에게 가장 유리하겠죠…

Q.외국인이 서울에 창업하기 좋지 않은 업종은 무엇입니까? 그 이유는 무엇입니까?

그거는 모르겠습니다. 아마 한국내 인맥이 필요한 업종은 외국인들에게 불리하겠습니다. 한국에서 비즈니스가 크게 인맥에 의존해서 음직이니까, 보통의 외국사람들이 자신의 회사를 크게 할래면, 다른 나라에 가서 할 수 밖에 없을 것 같습니다.

Q.서울이 '아시아의 실리콘벨리'가 되기위해 어떤 노력이 필요합니까?

어려운 질문입니다. 한국은 “아시아의 실리콘벨리”가 못 될 것 같습니다. 이미 싱가포르나 홍콩은 있는데, 서울이 그렇게 될래면, 엄청많이 변해야 할것입니다. 차라리 한국의 독창적인 매력이나 장점을 제데로 살려서 새로운 입지를 만들어 나가야 할 것 같은데, 그 답은 쉽게 풀리지는 않을 것 입니다. 그런데, 실리콘밸리가 이미 있는데, 서울은 왜 또 다른 시리콘밸리되고 싶어요? 질문의 발상부터는 잘못 됬다고 생각합니다. 

Q.그 외 외국인의 서울 창업에 관해 조언하실 것이 있습니까?

한국은 외국인들에게만 창업하기 어렵지 않습니다. 한국의 SME들도 죽어가는데요… 일부러 외국인들 위해서 창업하기 좋게 하는 것보다 모든 사람들에게 평등한 시장조건을 조성해서 한국인이든 외국인이든 누구나 창업하고 비즈니스를 잘 할 수 있는 환경을 만들었으면 합니다. 서울은 꼭 외국인이 많이 살고 창업해야 살기 좋은 도시가 되는 것이 아니라는 것은 저의 생각입니다.

Question from KBC Member "What visa would you suggest I go for?"

Somewhere along the way (beginning 'round about the time I published this article, I guess...), I started getting questions about visas in Korea. Having sat down with the official from Korea Immigration for an hour or so earlier this year, I realize this topic isn't as complicated as it seems. But the reason it seems complicated is because of the rather passive-aggressive approach immigration takes to sharing the information. There seems to be a clear attitude that if a foreigner wants to stay in Korea, it's up to that person to figure it out.

At any rate, I got this question from a KBC member recently:

Dear Steve, Since i currently have a problem with getting an appropiate visa for an intern i hope you can help me or might know what to do. I've been an exchange student at SNU and through a professor I managed to get an internship at GS Energy starting in January. I wanted to go for the working holiday visa and the ambassador in Denmark said it should not be a problem when I applied. However as of now it seems like it is not good enough. What visa would you suggest I go for? The internship is paid. Any help is appreciated.

Here's what I replied:

There isn't an "intern visa" in Korea. To do it right, you'll need to get your employer to sponsor you on a regular employee visa, probably an E-7. Here's an article with details. Even if it's an unpaid internship, I don't believe you'd be able to legally work at it under a tourist visa. But that doesn't mean you can't do it....

Reflections on Studying for a Ph.D. at a Korean University

I was discussing with an associate about my studies at Hanyang University and he had some questions about the program. He first asked about my studies, including about how busy I am over vacation and whether the first year is taken up entirely by coursework.

"The studies are going fine; I'm working on a couple papers over the vacation, but I'm not exactly spending all my time on that. Yes, the first two years are coursework, followed by a "graduation exam" and then at least one paper in a journal in order to quality for writing the dissertation. The department has figured out that if students do those in sequence, they get stuck at the "paper in a journal" requirement and don't make it through to the dissertation, so the current approach is to push us to write something even while taking classes. My program is heavily weighted to students with full-time jobs, so the attrition rate has been high, with very few actual graduates."

From this, he wanted to know about the "paper in a journal" and what quality criteria is has to meet. He also asked about how the dissertation is assessed.

"I don't know exactly what the quality criteria are for the journal article, but there is a list of recognized English and Korean journals which are accepted by the university. I'm thinking it's a nationally managed list, but I'm not sure. As for the dissertation, it is assessed by a committee of five professors, which includes my advisor; I think he chooses the other four (At least, when I did the masters thesis and there were three on the committee, I found out after I'd already chosen the committee that my advisor was supposed to have had that right; he wasn't too happy about me having made the selections.). I'm almost certain there aren't external examiners though. There is a defense but I'm not sure how that goes either. At the masters level, the defense was definitely a kids-glove treatment, but we're led to believe that the Ph.D. may be different."

Get a Job in Korea: "Now tell me: how can Korea Business Central help me find a job in Korea?"

The following was extracted from a recent interview with me about how to find a job in Korea. Visit Korea Business Central for more information on getting a job in Korea, including the full video of this interview.


"Now tell me: how can Korea Business Central help me find a job in Korea?"

"If you’re looking for a job in Korea, then membership on Korea Business Central is really a must. It’s free, too!

We’ve dedicated an entire section of the website to resources that help you in your job search, including interviews, videos, discussions and others. We’ve also developed our own member job search database, which is free to members, and job recruiters on KBC offer their advice to members in the job market. You can even download a free template for a resume that is matched to the Korean approach for getting a job, and learn about how the visa system work and how you can take advantage of it.

You’ll also find extra resources just for internships!

I’ll also point out that networking can be a key factor in facilitating your job search (it was for me!) and on Korea Business Central, we have hosted business networking events and we link to upcoming offline events to help you get connected quickly while you’re here.

I’ll also point out that since there are more applicants for many jobs in Korea than there are positions available, it is imperative that you find a way to distinguish yourself from the crowd. One way to do that is to become a Certified Korea Business Professional through the KBC Professional Certification Program. This small investment will pay off not only in terms of your job search, but will also make you more effective in your new position."

Visit Korea Business Central for more information on getting a job in Korea, including the full video of this interview.


Learn more about the KBC Professional Certification Program to be more successful in your career in Korea.

Build a Business in Korea: "What resources are available on Korea Business Central to help me build a business in Korea and do business with Korean companies?"

The following was extracted from a recent interview with me about how to build a business in a Korean company. 


"What resources are available on Korea Business Central to help me build a business in Korea and do business with Korean companies?"

"I’ve already mentioned the expert interviews we’ve done on Korea Business Central that discuss these key aspects; each of them is a goldmine of valuable and practical information for doing business in Korea. We have a group of experts on KBC ready to answer questions in the community, sometimes at no charge. In addition, many community discussions reference challenges and opportunities of doing business in Korea, and following and participating in these is a great way to raise one’s understanding.

In fact, there’s so much information in the community about doing business in Korea, that we’ve even made things easy by organizing it for you. There’s a page that focuses on Starting and Running a Business in Korea. Another focuses on Korean Business Savvy, and another on Korean Business Networking. Each of these pages brings together the best resources in the community, along with a lot of links to elsewhere on the web, so they should be a frequent point of reference for you in your business endeavors in Korea.

Finally, we offer high-quality professional services, including translation, business interpreting, online marketing and other one-on-one consulting services, as well as formal Korean business culture training in the form of our KBC Professional Certification Program."

Visit Korea Business Central for more information on doing business in Korea, including the full video of this interview. 

Learn more about the KBC Professional Certification Program to be more successful in your career in Korea.

Thrive in a Korean Company: "How can Korea Business Central can help me, as a non-Korean, thrive in a Korean company?"

The following was extracted from a recent interview with me about how to thrive in a Korean company. 


"How can Korea Business Central can help me, as a non-Korean, thrive in a Korean company?"

"We have loads of resources on Korea Business Central to help you succeed working for a Korean company. I’ve already mentioned the case-study interviews we’ve done with non-Korean professionals and executives who have worked in Korean companies. I’ve also mentioned the opportunity to connect with peer in other Korean work environments.

We’ve got member discussions about a wide range of Korean business-related topics, including employment in a Korean company. You can seek out advice about your specific questions from experts, and if you’re in Korea, Korea Business Central has hosted business networking events and we have information about upcoming opportunities with many other organizations too, too, including some that are online and available from afar.

Furthermore, as an understanding of Korean business culture is a key factor in your success in a Korean business position, KBC has both free and premium resources to equip you for that success. In fact, our KBC Professional Certification Program allows you to learn and become independently certified in the fundamentals of Korean business culture, which is a great way to prepare for your new position."

Visit Korea Business Central for more information on working in a Korean company, including the full video of this interview.


Learn more about the KBC Professional Certification Program to be more successful in your career in Korea.

2013 New Year's Greetings



희망찬 새해를 맞이하여 만사형통을 진심으로 기원드립니다.



희망 가득한 새해를 맞이하여 언제나 건강과 행복을 기원합니다.

올해 베풀어 주신 은혜에 깊이 감사드리며

2013년에도 [our company] 에 변함없는 성원을 부탁드립니다.

새해 복 많이 받으십시오.



지난 한 해 [our company]에 보여 주신 사랑에 고개숙여 감사드립니다.

올해도 기대에 보답하는 [our company]가 되겠습니다.

밝아오는 2013년 새해에는 모든 일들이 성취되기를 기원하며

언제나 건강하시고 새해 복 많이 받으세요.





올 한해

저희에게 베풀어주신 배려에 깊이 감사합니다.


새해에도 늘 건강하시고

하시고자하는 일 모두 성취하시어

복 많이 받으시고 날마다 웃음이 가득하시기를 기원합니다.


아울러, 가정에 만복이 깃들기를 바랍니다.



즐거운 연말 연시 보내세요.



이번 2013년에도 [recipient's name]의 하시는 모든 일이 잘 이루어지고 가족 모두에게 건강과 행복이 늘 함께 하기를 기원합니다!



즐거운 성탄절 보내세요


For lots more options from previous years: #1, #2 & #3


Get a Job in Korea: "How do I apply for a job in Korea? Can you break it down for me, step by step?"

The following was extracted from a recent interview with me about how to find a job in Korea. 


"How do I apply for a job in Korea?  Can you break it down for me, step by step?"

"Sure. The first thing you need to know is that Korean companies have completely different processes for hiring Koreans and non-Koreans. You’re not going to get very far by looking on Korean job boards for positions in Korean companies; those jobs are for Koreans.

Jobs for non-Koreans are far fewer and generally not posted through such traditional channels. Sites like Korea Business Central offer an outlet for these job postings and you should check here and at other sites, most of which we link to for you!

But many hirings just don’t go through a public process and this is where a strong business network like we can help you build here on KBC is crucial.

As for applying, it’s generally a good idea to translate your resume and cover letter to Korean. Even if the person reviewing applications speaks and reads English well, they will still prefer to read a Korean document, as will their boss, who is probably the final decision maker. It also shows your commitment to the position and sets you apart from many of the others who haven’t made this effort.

After submitting your resume, make sure you follow-up, especially if you don’t get a reply. A phone call is good here. Be as cordial as possible and find a way to help the person in charge remember who you are and do so in a way that communicates an extra interest in the position and in Korea, such as by making an attempt to speak Korean or pointing out any Korea-related certifications or other achievements."

Visit Korea Business Central for more information on getting a job in Korea, including the full video of this interview.


Learn more about the KBC Professional Certification Program to be more successful in your career in Korea.

Build a Business in Korea: "Knowing Korea has a reputation for being difficult, what do I need to be "warned about" when it comes to working with vendors, suppliers, and service providers in Korea?"

The following was extracted from a recent interview with me about how to build a business in a Korean company. 


"Knowing Korea has a reputation for being difficult, what do I need to be "warned about" when it comes to working with vendors, suppliers, and service providers in Korea?"

"We’ve covered this at length on KBC too, in particular in our interviews with Peter Bartholomew, Peter Underwood and Tom Coyner (all of which are available for free in the KBC community.)

Perhaps the #1 challenge foreigners face is in the different concept of contracts in Korean business culture. While Korean multinationals operate at global standards, once you get down to the small to medium-sized company levels, you’ll find that agreements often require ongoing attention and interpretation. This is also why business networking is so important and why knowing how to build and maintain business relationships in Korea the right way is a key success factor.

I would also point out that Korean customers frequently have exceptionally high expectations for the speed and quality of service and you should be prepared to provide these in order to compete effectively.

Finally, in the consumer market particularly, there’s a fine line between an interest in foreign products, and a preference for local goods. Therefore, aligning your marketing message to the local market is a crucial step."

Visit Korea Business Central for more information on doing business in Korea, including the full video of this interview.


Learn more about the KBC Professional Certification Program to be more successful in your career in Korea.

What's Wrong with Teaching English in Korea?

A KBC member sent me the following question last week:

Hello Steven,

Thank you for this website.  It's an extremely valuable, interactive and informative place for people like me looking for work in Korea.

I'm 38 Korean American who came to the States when I was 14 (back in 1988).  I served in the U.S. military for 4 years, completed my undergrad in business administration and have been in IT support positions for past 12 years, but mainly in desktop support, network operation center and currently helpdesk.  Not exactly the most sought-after IT positions even in the States these days.  

Based on my limited research, reading many discussions and contents on your site and along with visiting many expat blogs, I'm beginning to appreciate how tight the job market is in Korea and how difficult it can be to achieve and maintain a decent standard of living on a salary man's earning.........let alone save enough to buy home (which does not seem to be possible for most).

I've checked out a few job sites such as Indeed, Myjobs.kr and other online job boards.  I got one call back after responding to a tech support job and was told that I'm too old (in a nice way).

My reason for wanting to work in Korea is a personal one:  I met someone.  She lives and works in Seoul.  
My Korean is fluent (even though my writing and typing skill sets are rusty).  

You've been in Korea longer than me.  In your own experience and exposure to fellow expat as well as Korean Americans in ESL industry, do I have a decent chance to find a work teaching English considering my age?

I read one of the forum where [one member] talks about being careful with switching career field just for the sake of finding work in Korea.  It hit home and yet I'm seriously considering doing just that.

My head tells me that I'm about to make a huge career suicide, but honestly, I won't miss leaving my current field.  Coming to Korea isn't about making money or career.  And I doubt that I'll look for long-term work beyond a year at most.  Then again, I have no idea where I will be in another year.  I never thought I would think about working in Korea at the beginning of this year.  

My apology for long email, but I wanted to hear from someone who's been there and done that for over 20 years in Korea.  Please feel free to be as brutal and direct as you need to be.

[KBC member]

The crux of this member's question is whether teaching English in Korea can be a valid stepping stone to other opportunities in Korea. Here's what I replied:

[KBC member] - Thanks for the note.

In the case of the member referenced in your email, he already had a career track, so coming to Korea to teach English would not have moved him forward; it would have put serious question marks on his commitment to his field. But as you mentioned, you aren't particularly attached to your current occupation and so you've got less to lose.

Sure, an English teaching position isn't exactly prestigious, but it is easy to get and will pay the bills. And so if you really want to come to Korea and you haven't found a better option, then why not? 

Good luck!


Thrive in a Korean Company: "What are a few very important things I must do to get on the fast track for advancement in a Korean company?"

The following was extracted from a recent interview with me about how to thrive in a Korean company. 


"What are a few very important things I must do to get on the fast track for advancement in a Korean company?"

"The first thing is to be realistic.

"Korean companies don’t hire foreigners for high-level positions except in very rare cases, a few of which we’ve featured on Korea Business Central. If you’re working for an overseas office of a Korean company, you may advance several ranks up, but in most cases, Korean companies dispatch employees from head office to man the highest positions.

The career track and job terms for Korean employees are completely different from those for non-Koreans. If you’re working in Korea as a foreign employee, you’re probably there on a contract basis, meaning that there’s no advancement implied in your position and you continue in the position only as long as your contract is renewed.

The important thing to remember here is that the experiences and connections you gain during your employment in a Korean company like this can be extremely valuable for you after moving on in your career, and especially when you’re ready to move to a non-Korean or multinational company that does business in Korea."

Visit Korea Business Central for more information on working in a Korean company, including the full video of this interview.



Learn more about the KBC Professional Certification Program to be more successful in your career in Korea.

Q&A with Korea Herald About KBC and Starting or Running a Business in Korea as a Foreigner

The following is the bulk of the email interview on which much of today's article published in the Korea Herald is based.

1. Based on your years of experience doing business here, how would you assess the level of support that the government (local or federal, your choice) provides for entrepreneurs, particularly for foreigners who set up their own businesses (ie non-MNCs) in Korea? Did you witness a noticeably more aggressive push by the government for aiding entrepreneurs, and when?

I'm not in a great position to comment too much on this because I just set up my Korean business through a local accounting firm here in Ansan. But my main market isn't Koreans and/or people living in Korea, so it would be tough to call myself a local entrepreneur. The Korean company for me is mainly a vehicle for processing funds that come from my US-based translation and consulting services. I'd probably have found the various government services more helpful though if I was actually setting up something new in Korea and for that, as far as I know, before the Seoul Global Business Support Center was established in 2010, there weren't any specific government efforts being made to help foreign entrepreneurs do business in Korea. So, before we started getting the discussion going and collecting resources on KBC in late 2009, I'm not sure there was anything organized and available at all. Today, there's no question that the Korean government (especially at the city level in Seoul and provincial level in Gyeonggi) is trying to encourage entrepreneurship by foreigners.

2. Before you started KBC (and of course, before the Seoul Global Business Centers were launched) what was the foreign entrepreneur community/environment like?

The chambers of commerce from various nations have been around for a long time and they've been important resources for the foreign community. Before say, 2009, I'm not aware of other organizations that existed other than those.

3. Did Korea have a foreigner-business-friendly environment when you first launched your own business (the translation service)?

I should clarify that I don't serve many Korean clients at all; my clients are mainly in North America, with a few more in Europe and elsewhere in Asia. I guess the reason is that my rates are somewhat higher than the standard Korean market rates. I think this is reflected in the level of English translation many Korean companies put on their marketing and other materials, but there doesn't seem to be a focus on high quality in translation. I think this partially reflects a Korean view that translation is a relatively low-level occupation, best suited for people who have lost their "real" job.
Here are a couple links that illustrate this phenomenon: 
As for whether Korea has a foreigner-business-friendly environment, I would say that Korea is generally a particularly difficult place for foreigners to do business. There are cultural reasons for this, but I think language issues also make it very difficult for outsiders to understand and network. Even if they can, the importance of long-term relationships amongs Koreans makes it tough for foreign businesspeople to penetrate business networks in Korea. Further, government regulations have often obstructed the efforts of foreign companies, as well.

It's not just foreign companies that have trouble doing business in Korea though; Korean SME who don't have strong business networks struggle too, and I would say there are a lot of similarities between the difficulties of foreigners and of Korean small business people. Korea's just not a great place for the small business-person of any country.

4. Is KBC itself now profitable (through premium services, etc.)?

Our flagship product is the KBC Professional Certification Program, which we've developed to help foreign business people overcome the challenges of business in Korea mentioned above, has gotten a great reception. We've had over a dozen graduates so far and the graduate class continues to grow. KBC has also been a way for me to serve the community with free services, at the same time that I present my professional language and consulting services to members and visitors from around the world. We are still working on developing additional services that will be valuable for non-Koreans wishing to do business in Korea.

5. You said once that you didn’t expect KBC to grow into what it is now. What were your initial intentions for it then? Why do you think it has picked up so successfully?

My initial idea was to build a community to organically support member networking efforts both online and offline. However, it became clear that the effort was too high and the ROI too low to run things as just a gather place for member to connect and so we've been working hard to provide tools and content that will help members solve their immediate needs for services and knowledge. I would say that the "community" aspect of KBC has been de-emphasized this year while we've focused on the "solutions and tools" aspect.

6. What services do KBC provide that government-provided support, ie the SGBC, do not?

The SGBSC is focused on small-scale foreign entrpreneurs in Seoul. On KBC, we're able to serve a much wider group, including those both in and outside Korea, as well as those looking for jobs and/or working in Korean companies. From the beginning, I have supported the work of the SGBSC and they offer services and have a funded budget that we don't have on KBC, or plan to add. So, there's a lot of opportunity to help fill in the gaps on KBC which aren't easily filled by others.
One issue with the government-provided support is that it's sometimes provided from a Korean-perspective, and from a government perspective. On KBC, we have a lot more freedom from an agenda set by a government official, and we're in a slightly better position to see things from a foreigner perspective rather than Korean perspective of what they think foreigners are interested in.

7. What are your plans for KBC’s expansion?

I would like to add more content, tools and services which solve the interests of our members, which are mainly broken up into three groups: foreigners looking for jobs in Korea, foreigners working in Korean companies both in Korea and overseas, and foreigners wanting to do business with Koreans. One vehicle for that is the Business Accelerator pages, which are are both working to improve now, and add to later.

8. It seems that KBC’s forum threads often turn into discussions that span several months or even years. Do you think this is a pro or a con in terms of content relevance?

I've made a deliberate effort to keep useful discussions around by linking to them in the business accelerator pages. That's because the discussions often have remarkably valuable information and I want that to be available indefinitely. Just letting a discussion die and disappear doesn't seem like a good way to treat the insights which members have taken the time and effort to share.

9. The idea has been discussed on KBC forums that despite its business-pushing initiatives, Korea still lacks an entrepreneur-friendly environment. Do you agree? Do you think this can be remedied somehow, and what are your suggestions?

Korean business culture and the Korean business environment are what they are. Korea's never going to be an easy place for non-Koreans to do business, and the Korean economy is structured around the large business groups. As I mentioned before, it's not just foreigners who are struggling to compete in the local market; Koreans without capital, connections or advanced technology struggle too. These are issues the Korean government is working to solve, but they won't be easy to get past.

10. In a nutshell, what can you suggest for Korea to become more business-friendly for foreigner/expat entrepreneurs living here?

I'm not sure why Korea needs to be friendlier for foreigners that want to open up a small service business. If they can make a go of it, great.. But Korea's not short of restaurants or English institutes. On the other hand, the government is already going to great efforts to attract MNCs having large amounts of capital and advanced technology. It's a competitive environment out there for that and Korea's not achieving the levels of success they'd like. Organizations like GAFIC are helping with this, particularly in helping foreign-invested companies get over red tape issues, and it would seem that further Korean efforts to reduce regulations and free up the market would be beneficial for foreign businesses in Korea.
Do you have any thoughts about favors/benefits/services that foreigners/expats shouldn’t expect from the government? (If the question is confusing, I’m thinking about availability of content in English—whether that is something foreigners should expect or if they should be expected to learn the local language—and want to know if you have any other ideas.)
I don't think foreign expats should expect the Korean government to provide services that aren't going to provide Korea with an ROI on the investment. Translating laws and regulations might be great, but if there aren't enough businesspeople out there to read and take advantage of them, then what benefit is it to Korea? Those companies with the resources to truly make an impact in Korea (versus those who wish they could set up a sole proprietorship without capital and get a free visa out of it) are already paying companies like me to translate the stuff they really need to know.

11. Do you think foreigner-friendly initiatives here are mostly geared toward Western businesspeople, versus those from Asia, Africa, etc.? If so, is that problematic?

I supposed foreigner-friendly initiatives are more geared toward Westerners. It's not just Korea though that does this; since the money's in the West, you'd expect Korean efforts to follow that cash. I'm not sure though that capable Asians and Africans are really at a disadvantage if they can meet the requirements set by the government for business.

I think there's an overestimation among the foreign community of just how much Koreans need them. If someone comes to Korea to do business, they need to be ready to make the sacrifices to achieve success. Korea's not the land of the easy money; it's a great place to do business if one loves the country, makes the effort, holds realistic goals and/or has something unique to offer Korea that can't be found elsewhere.

Get a Job in Korea: "What do I need to watch out for during job interviews in Korea? Can you tell us maybe one or two deal-killers to avoid?"

The following was extracted from a recent interview with me about how to find a job in Korea. 



"What do I need to watch out for during job interviews in Korea? Can you tell us maybe one or two deal-killers to avoid?"

"In a job interview, your interviewer is looking for reassurances that you will succeed in the Korean company. For that reason, you want to show the efforts you’ve made to learn Korean and get along in Korea and the commitment you’ve made to put down roots and stay through your contract.

Also, don’t get angry when the interviewer asks questions that might be unacceptable back home, such as your age or marital status. You should answer these and other questions forthrightly and cheerfully."

Visit Korea Business Central for more information on getting a job in Korea, including the full video of this interview.



Learn more about the KBC Professional Certification Program to be more successful in your career in Korea.

Build a Business in Korea: "How would I go about forming a corporation and starting a business in Korea?"

The following was extracted from a recent interview with me about how to build a business in a Korean company.


"How would I go about forming a corporation and starting a business in Korea?"

"We’ve actually got an interview on Korea Business Central with Korean accountant Young Ham that explains the nuts and bolts of this very topic. Basically, fees come to around US$1,000 or so if you do it yourself, or a bit more if done through an accounting provider. Setup is just a few days and with a lot of free consulting available to foreign investors from the Korean government, it’s not all that hard.

This is just a quick overview; we’ve got full details on all of this on Korea Business Central, including links to the free resources I’ve mentioned and the interview with Mr. Ham."

 Visit Korea Business Central for more information on doing business in Korea, including the full video of this interview.


Learn more about the KBC Professional Certification Program to be more successful in your career in Korea.

Thrive in a Korean Company: "Every company in every culture has office politics. Tell me what's unique about office politics in Korean companies."

The following was extracted from a recent interview with me about how to thrive in a Korean company. 


"Every company in every culture has office politics. Tell me what's unique about office politics in Korean companies."

"Because of the top-down orientation of Korean companies, your boss will often be constrained in the ways he can guide you in your work. You often won’t be aware of what’s going on here and Korean organizations are not known for their clear and well-explained communications with non-Korean employees.

This is true whether you’re working for a Korean company overseas or in Korea and the problems are compounded by language and culture.

Try hard to leverage your understanding of Korean business culture to connect with those around you -- particularly, those at a higher level -- and discuss your frustrations and challenges with those that you build trusting relationships with. You’ll find that Koreans overseas are often homesick and they will appreciate and respect your efforts to do business and communicate with them in their way.

I remember that when I first started working at my position in the LG Group many years ago, I experienced a great deal of uncertainty about how my role was being perceived. It was only after I established a friendship with a general manager in a different department than mine that I was able to make sense of things that had bothered me before and gain a new sense of stability that ended up lasting for nearly five years."

Visit Korea Business Central for more information on working in a Korean company, including the full video of this interview.



Learn more about the KBC Professional Certification Program to be more successful in your career in Korea.

Get a Job in Korea: "What are some of the landmines I need to avoid when applying for a job in Korea?"

The following was extracted from a recent interview with me about how to find a job in Korea. 



"What are some of the landmines I need to avoid when applying for a job in Korea?"

"Korea’s quickly becoming one of the most advanced countries in the world, but you shouldn’t think that Korean think and act the way we do back home. Of course, learning the language is a key step in connecting with and understanding the cultural context; it’s also a great way to order a meal and connect to your co-workers in and outside the office.

If I had to point out a specific suggestion, I would emphasize that you must make the effort to understand and adapt to the local situation. While seeing areas for improvement in Korea is inevitable, finding ways to excel within the current context is both an incredible personal journey, and a good business and career strategy."

Visit Korea Business Central for more information on getting a job in Korea, including the full video of this interview.


Learn more about the KBC Professional Certification Program to be more successful in your career in Korea.

Build a Business in Korea: "Let's say I wanted to start a company in Korea. First of all, what's in demand? What industries offer the greatest chance of success?"

The following was extracted from a recent interview with me about how to build a business in a Korean company.


"Let's say I wanted to start a company in Korea. First of all, what's in demand? What industries offer the greatest chance of success?"

"There are a few approaches you can take. A good number of non-Koreans enter the English instruction market. Others set up companies that cater to the needs of the expat community or internationally-minded Koreans.

Focusing on larger businesses, some of the best opportunities come from providing services to Korean firms, and for that, the key is usually to have globally competitive technology. I’ve worked as a consultant to the Province of Gyeonggi, which is the area that surrounds the Seoul metropolitan area, and there are nearly 1,000 foreign-invested companies in this province alone. On closer observation, it turns out that most are involved in supplying technology-related products and services to the large Korean business groups.

Finally, thanks to the rapidly increasing number of free trade agreements that Korea has signed with the US, the EU and other countries and regions, tariffs are falling in a wide range of industries. Koreans import a lot of food from overseas, as well as raw materials and these also represent opportunities for foreign companies wanting to sell in the Korean market.

We did a case study with Tom Brown, former executive at Homeplus, one of the largest retailers in Korea, and completely foreign owned, and it was fascinating to find out what had worked for them and his suggestions to other companies that are breaking into the Korean market."

Visit Korea Business Central for more information on doing business in Korea, including the full video of this interview.

Learn more about the KBC Professional Certification Program to be more successful in your career in Korea.

Thrive in a Korean Company: "So, it's my first day at my new job in a Korean company that just moved into my town. What do I need to know so I don't ruin my chances the very first day?"

The following was extracted from a recent interview with me about how to thrive in a Korean company. 


"So, it's my first day at my new job in a Korean company that just moved into my town.  What do I need to know so I don't ruin my chances the very first day?"

"In many cases, managers of local Korean organizations try to adapt to the local culture. But frankly, the results of these efforts are limited and local employees often feel frustrated.

One key reason is the influence of head office, which restricts how much flexible the overseas office can be. For example, Korean companies are very top-down hierarchical, and established plans frequently change. Employees dispatched to run those overseas offices are sometimes switched out with surprisingly little advance warning. All this can be unsettling to a non-Korean employee without access to what’s really going on.

On your first day on the job, and probably for quite awhile after that, you’d be well-advised to watch and learn. You’re going to see some things you don’t understand; maybe a few aspects you don’t like and want to change. Trying to achieve change in the wrong way is likely to cause trouble; you should be looking for resources and a network to help you reach your goals within the existing structure.

Remember that help is only a few clicks away on Korea Business Central, where you can find information and reach out for support, training and advice."

Visit Korea Business Central for more information on working in a Korean company, including the full video of this interview.


Learn more about the KBC Professional Certification Program to be more successful in your career in Korea.

Transcript of the Composite Audio-Interviews by Jared Muloongo for the "A Map to a Career in Korea" Report

KBC Intern Jared Muloongo interviewed various experts as part of his research in preparing the report "A Map to a Career in Korea: What You Need to Know!" The following is the transcript of the podcast he created to for the project.

For links to the podcast and other interviews in the series, visit Supplementary Materials for a Map to a Career in Korea: What You Need to Know!"


Jared: Welcome to Korea Business Central Get a Job Interview, produced by www.KoreaBusinessCentral.com. Korea Business Central – the premium information and networking site for conducting business in Korea. My name is Jared Muloongo and I’ll be hosting the first Get a Job audio report.

Today’s topic is about the job market in Korea. Finding a job in one’s home country is a difficult task. In a foreign country, the task increases. But in Korea, things become even more tricky. Unless one is educated on the market, it is near impossible to land a job in Korea.

Forget the stories you read on the Internet. Being successful in Korea requires determination, planning, and hard work. To be successful, one needs to understand and position themselves to be able to receive the benefits of good fortune.

With that in mind, I took time to interview Three individuals – two experts from different fields of focus and one administrator at a foreign-based company in Seoul. My interviewees were Jamie Lee, a global marketing consultant with human resource management and recruiting experience. Her recruiting experience came when she worked with the Korean Ministry of Education to hire over 600 educators in the English space.

Kristen Chen, an administrator for a foreign information technology firm. Like most of us, she was searching for a job in Korea over a year ago. Now that she has a job, her insights into her experience can help many of us understand what to expect in the job search.

Finally, Mr. William Sisson, a senior executive search consultant in Asia where he develops marketing strategies that solve staffing problems for multinationals. With over 16 years of experience, his insights make this report even more insightful for senior executives seeking new positions.

I began by asking them, “Does GPA or great academic results matter when applying for a job in Korea?”

Jamie:  This depends on what type of industry you’re applying to. It definitely is considered if you’re going to be applying for a teaching position, because the education boards in Korea do require a limited GPA score. They actually have a GPA limit.

It’s not anything crucial. You don’t have to be an academic person in order to apply, but there is a cutline. I don’t remember exactly what the cutline is, but I haven’t really seen anyone dropped because of the cutline. Only very seldom it happens. It is considered if you are applying for an education position.

But in general, if you’re just looking for a position in Korea or if the question is for Koreans who are applying for jobs in Korea, I wouldn’t say that GPA scores are actually used in the process of determining whether or not they’re going to have an interview with you, but there will be some HR managers who might take a look at it or might just have it to put in their file.

Kristen:  The overall job market composition in Korea is still somewhat heavily based on GPA and academic achievement, so I will say yes, it does when you’re applying to big companies – conglomerates and large Korean companies.

But of course one rule does not apply to everything, so GPA matters less if you’re applying to SME’s small-medium enterprise.

William:  GPA and academic results, in some cases, they do matter. Usually those cases are for entry-level positions. It also depends on the company’s requirements. However, even in some cases, the actual university that the candidate attended also is very important. There are many companies who seek out and will only accept candidates maybe who graduated from Ivy League schools or at least a top-tier school.

Usually those kind of candidates, they’re looking for law degrees, special MBAs, or maybe a specialty like engineering from MIT in the U.S.

However, for more senior level or a vice president or higher C-level position, then usually graduation from university is not much of a concern.

Jared:  Korea is big on Woori  so in hiring an individual, does personality matter? What kind of personality is needed to be able to work in a Korean firm? 

Jamie:  I would say yes to that question, but not so much because of the phrase or culture of Woori being important. If I were to tell you a little bit of myself first so I could give you a little bit of understanding where my answer is coming from, I grew up in America and I came to Korea at the age of 13. So I’ve had education in middle school and high school up to university in Korea, and then I got a job and had approximately 13 years of working experience in Korean firm and also an international, multinational firm in Korea.

Yes, it is important. I believe that personality is probably one of the most important factors in applying for a job. This is not so much for Korea. I would say it’s probably the same globally, but especially in Korea because of the culture.

Being a recruiter myself and working as a hiring manager, it just really doesn’t work out if you don’t have the personality that fits for the company you’re applying to. One of the things that hiring managers of firms look at is actually your first impression, and that really comes from your personality. It’s not what you say; it’s not how you say it. It really is a matter of the poise – the essence – that comes off from you as a person.

Understanding a person’s personality really does come from experience. With that understanding that personality is important, I think it’s good for you to know as an applicant applying for a job, especially in another country, it’s always good to understand the culture and try to be as polite as possible. They’re always looking for someone who has good interpersonal skills. A personality that shows you have good interpersonal skills would be someone who listens carefully and gives answers to questions that you’re being asked instead of just talking about yourself and not giving the answers that are being asked.

Listening attentively is very important, especially if you’re a non-Korean candidate who’s applying to work in Korea because there will definitely be a language barrier at some point in your life here in Korea – especially if you don’t have any understanding of the Korean language.

One important thing I’d like to mention is the communication doesn’t always begin at the time of the interview, but actually starts in the process of your e-mail correspondence – also the first impression you show when you come up to the front desk of the company that you’re applying to.

In some cases, I’ve also seen hiring managers asking for a few points for evaluation from the front desk receptionist to see if the applicant had any bad habits or treated the receptionist with bad manners as well. That might be a very different case, but I have actually seen that happen.

I would say, yes, personality is very important, but not so much because of the term Woori but just because it itself is a very important factor in communication I believe..

Kristen:  Like I mentioned earlier, career work culture is influenced by the Confucianism. The work environment is usually family-like, and in order to maintain this family-like work environment, company activities are usually arranged regularly to motivate employees. There is also the hierarchical structure where management decision process is usually highly centralized. As new hires, you usually do not get to participate in decision making. This also depends on each company’s corporate culture, and there will be slight differences in terms of actual work environment.

But of course, no matter where you’re coming from, you need to be prepared to work hard because your fellow Korean colleagues are very diligent and hardworking.

William:  Personality matters absolutely 100% of the time. In my experience, you can be extremely highly experienced, knowledgeable, and expert in your field, but once you get into the interview process, your personality can make the deal or can cause you to be dropped.

Absolutely, personality matters.

Jared:  How does one get noticed or become visible to hiring managers in Korea?

Jamie:  I’d say knowing someone in the firm you are applying to is, of course, the best route. If it is not possible to get yourself acquainted with international recruiters, be careful to find ones that are certified. Many of those are working in Korea. Send in your resume.

The best thing is to be able to get a face-to-face interview with your recruiter first, rather than just sending in your e-mail. If you wait and nothing happens, there’s a big possibility that nothing is going to happen.

Get yourself out there. Go out and meet people. Try to send in your resume to as many places as possible and try to use your network to help you.

Kristen:  To get noticed or become visible to managers in Korea, you need to have skill sets or experience that an average Korean does not have. For example, being trilingual – speaking Chinese, Korean and English – for a sales and marketing position will be a very big plus. Possessing a strong technical background while being fluent in English for an engineering position in an IT company will also be a very big plus, and so on.

William:  The main way for a foreigner to become visible to a hiring manager is through personal introduction directly from a Korean. How does a foreigner do that? 100% I fully believe in networking. Building, creating, and maintaining your social business network is one of the best ways to find a job in Korea.

Even if you’re not in the country now or even if you’re outside of the country, it’s a great idea to start networking, linking, and contacting people in the industry or associations that are related to what kind of industry or job market you want to get into.

Another way is for foreigners to maybe take a lower-paying job, such as teaching English, marketing, or something sales oriented and then network your way into a higher opportunity sooner or later.

The main key here is developing relationships with Koreans. This leads to building mutual trust and understanding of each other. I’d say if your network only consists of foreigners, expats, or only people that are from your country that you associate with, then your possibility of finding a job is very limited. But once you start reaching out into the Korean community itself, you never know who they know or who their father knows, where in casual conversation they may be looking for someone just like you.

Keep your mind open, keep your network open, and I think it will take you a long way.

Jared:  How does one utilize the network they gain wisely in order to gain a job? Now that you have a network and you’re maintaining it, what do you do?

Jamie:  I’d say this is more of a personal strategy. It should be led by your own instincts. But if I were to give you some examples, one might apply to an online application of an open position that you might find on the Internet or through an advertisement. It’s good to always include a recommendation letter. When I say recommendation letter, I would like to mention that it should have a signed signature – an actual handwritten signature – and be a hard copy rather than a scanned image if possible.

A recommendation letter should also contain a contact number to be eligible. Ask your Acquaintance to put in a few words for you that you submitted your resume to whichever company and whichever department you’re interested in applying for. Or if you have recommendations on LinkedIn that you’re sure the applied company will be familiar with, I think it’s a good idea to be sure to include a copy of a printed version of your LinkedIn profile and include that with your recommendation as well.

Kristen:  Through a network, you could skip the resume screening stage and usually jump directly to interviews. You should keep in touch with your network in Korea to keep yourself up to date on any insider job offer.

To maintain your network in Korea, social media is a very easy way these days. You could use that to stay in touch. Korean people like to meet up face-to-face, so catch up with the closer ones to maintain real relationships. Of course remember to help them out, because relationships, as we all know, is a two-way street. It could be you asking for career help one day.

William:  My number one suggestion is communication – and I mean communication frequently, but not on the level where you become burdensome or your e-mails start looking like spam mail.

For example, in my business network, I send out a quarterly newsletter which is a mixture of business-related topics as well as some of my personal experiences in Korea. Because I have a global network all over the world, I try to include some sort of trip I took or what’s happening in Korea that may be more of a personal interest than business related. I mix business and social networking into the same. Keep it kind of informal, if you will.

Other things I would do:

If you get noticed receives a promotion or a job change, send them a congratulatory e-mail or if you have some simple questions. I wouldn’t go begging for a job, but if you have questions about their company or maybe the industry in Korea, go ahead and send them a quick e-mail, but keep it short and keep it simple. Then maybe follow up and ask them when they have time, if you’re in the country, maybe meet for lunch or coffee and a general introduction.

Again, I say be very tactful and very professional and business-like. Even dinner or drinking or after hours, behave yourself. You never know who’s watching or who’s observing your activities. I even mean your online activities, discussions you post on KBC, LinkedIn, or other social networking sites and including the way you act in these face-to-face. Even though informal, your actions speak louder than words.

Jared:  What are some great resources to have and use in gaining a job in Korea?

Jamie:  As a hiring manager, I would definitely use KBC as a good resource. I’d probably send out direct messages to people I know who I believe might have good references or be able to connect me with anyone who might be knowledgeable of any applicants, because I do know that the people in KBC are very helpful people and really trying to help connect people with people.

The best way I would use KBC is to just contact the people I know directly and just send out messages for them that “I’m looking for this type of person if you can connect anyone or connect anyone, please let me know.” I’m sure a reply will come in no time.

I also might post more detailed information on Twitter, Facebook, and my LinkedIn and connect that to KBC either in a group or to the people I know.

Be sure to mention that you’re seeking a position. Also, don’t be afraid to write it in your bio, in your description so anyone who might come across your description will know that you’re looking for a position and it will prompt them to remember you, if they might encounter any possible position that’s looking for someone like you.

Remember to tweet about it and direct message to anyone you think may be able to help you, or even anyone you don’t think might be able to help you – you never know. Keep spreading the word. Remind yourself to keep reminding others.

Be prepared to have a finished resume and a good photo to send out to anyone that requests it. In Korea, the photo is important.

Kristen:  Great resources I recommend is definitely KBC. LinkedIn is also a good way for professional job positions. There is also SENSA Job World Korea. They hold either annual or twice a year job fairs in Korea where you can get to meet recruiters face-to-face and have on-site interviews right away. Sometimes local headhunters are useful also.

William:  There are many resources out there, and if you look on KBC, there is one discussion that lists job sites that post jobs in English or you’ll be able to search for English jobs on some other websites. If KBC members go to the job discussion, there’s a whole list of job sites.

Besides networking and finding the actual job site, if you’re from a foreign country, you can contact your embassy that’s here in Korea. Ask them if they could send you a list or you could find out what companies are in Korea and contact the company directly themselves.

It takes a lot of proactivity, a lot of research, and it takes a lot of hard homework for a candidate outside of Korea who wants to work in Korea.

Jared:  What kinds of resumes get noticed in Korea?

Jamie:  Keep it in good length. Don’t make it too long. It shouldn’t be too short. If the company you’re applying to is a multinational firm with the headquarters abroad, an English resume should be enough.

On the other hand, large Korean firms may request a Korean version, but don’t let that lead you to making a Korean version only. I recommend to prepare it only if you’re required to submit a Korean version. The English version should be enough for you.

It also will be good to include a cover letter. With regards to the cover letter, just be sure to direct the letter to the main of the firm that you’re applying to. Never make one standard for all positions. That never really works. Each time you’re applying, be sure to do some final touchups so that your resume does highlight the strengths that you feel that international firm would specifically be interested in a candidate.

Kristen:  A good resume should be two pages and reader-friendly with related experiences included and not every single experience that you’ve had. Also, a lot of candidates include some very personal information which is not necessary. Just make sure you stick to the related work experience and education, and make it short and sweet.

The people who should be reading your resume to help you get an advantage are the HR department definitely, because in the end they will be the ones hiring you and doing the hiring process, and of course the department or team that this position belongs to.

Let’s say you’re going for a marketing position. Make sure the marketing department’s manager reads your resume, because that person also has a lot to say in terms of hiring you or not.


William:  We also pointed out about who should be reading and what things can be done to change the resume. If you’re talking about who should be reading the resume, I’m assuming that you are referring to maybe someone to help you edit it or make comments by someone other than yourself, which would be one area.

As an expat myself, one of the number one pet peeves I have, even when I read a resume that a Korean has written, is if they were too lazy to run spell check. I can overlook grammar, but if you are from an English-speaking country where it’s your first (or at least a high-level second language), then there’s absolutely no reason why spelling errors or even horrible grammar is acceptable.

The second thing is if you really, really want to make an impression on a Korean company, I would take the time and have your resume or CV translated into Korean. There’s Western style, which we use resumes in the U.S. area. CVs are more European style, and at times CVs can be a bit confusing to Korean HR.

Korean style resumes are very template form. It’s almost a fill-in-the-blank. One of the biggest things that Korean style has is basically a self-introduction. This is where you would write almost an autobiography about your life, your philosophy, your dreams, what you believe in, your goals, your desires. It’s a whole different format from a traditional Western or European style resume or CV. It definitely will help you in the process if you take that into account.

Jared:  There is no substitute for practice before an interview. What can individuals expect to be asked when applying for a job interview? Do you have five easy tips for them to remember?

Jamie:  Who you are being interviewed by and what type of position you’re applying to, of course. I could go into a 2-3 page long discussion – article, actually – on this topic, but if I could give you just a few general questions that are frequently used in the Korean market, they would probably narrow down to the following questions.

“What makes you a strong candidate for the position?”

The next question probably would be “Tell me about your understanding of the position and what skills are required?” They do like to hear your knowledge about the position and the company you’re applying to. It’s a real minus if you have no information about the position you’re applying to.

Another question might be “Tell me about a problem you had in the office or with a colleague and how you overcame it.” This will give you a chance to show your leadership or problem-solving skills.

Another question might be “If you drink, how much do you drink?” I know this is a silly question, but as silly as it is, it is actually one of the most frequently asked questions in Korea. I also wonder why they ask this question. I assume that it is because of the drinking culture in Korea. There are a lot of people who don’t drink in Korea as well these days, but they do have a tendency to appreciate it if you’re able to just go with the flow and be able to enjoy at least a drink. It’s never good to say you’re a heavy drinker.

Another question is a very, very difficult question. It’s actually a very simple question. They might ask you out of the blue “Tell me about yourself.” I’d say that’s probably one of the most scariest questions, because I’ve never seen anyone who’s 100% prepared for that question. Any HR manager or recruiter who asks this question is a very smart one, because this really gets you out of the blue, but it’s a chance to check your personality and see what kind of person you really are – if you’re a prepared person or not. It could also be a trick question. On the other hand, you could really take advantage of this question and be able to promote yourself.

They also might ask you if you work well under pressure, to give an example. Practice makes perfect, so practice in advance. It will help you to make a Q&A sheet and try to think of all the questions that might be asked and how you would answer them. It’s better if you write it down on paper. You don’t have to memorize it and I wouldn’t recommend you to do that because you might sound like a robot when you’re answering the questions if one does come up from your Q&A sheet. But it is good to write them down. That will be a very good practice for you.

If you have a recruiter, if you’re working with a recruiter, you can ask them to provide you with a Q&A or dos and don’ts for the possible interview that will be held.

Also, I’d advise you to research the web. Look for as much information as you can on the company you’re applying to. These days it’s not too difficult to find related people or staff members on social media like Twitter or LinkedIn and just try to link in as many people as you can, and you might be able to ask them questions. What kind of questions were they asked when they were applying to the companies they remember?

It also helps to look at other people’s LinkedIn profiles who are working in the position you wish to work in in the future. If they’re working for that company, it also might help to see what they’ve written down in their LinkedIn profiles.

Think about what kind of achievements you want to highlight or what other people have highlighted in their profile as well.

Kristen:   A question you can always expect to be asked is “Why do you choose to work in Korea?” Sometimes you’ll be asked, “What makes you come to Korea?” Make sure you are prepared for this question and offer them your most sincere answer first.

Study the company well so you will know how to match your skills and personality to the position and the company during the interview.

Be prepared to ask your interviewer questions. I say this because this is the candidate’s chance to clarify anything that’s ambiguous, such as the company’s work culture. If it’s not something you’re looking for, then both of you could end up not very happy.

Third, do your homework for the salary so you will know how to negotiate when the time comes.

Fourth, get ready to be asked some personal questions such as, “What is your father’s occupation?” “Are you married?” and so on. Usually Korean companies do ask quite personal questions to do a little background check of who you are.

Last, be ready to persuade the interviewer that you’re not another foreigner who will just ride and jump. This is often a recruiter in Korea’s biggest fear.

The question you could ask to ensure this does not happen is, “Is there anything about my background that gives you a concern?” to go for a good conclusion.

William:  My tip on interviewing is to practice, practice, and practice. If you’re not good at interviewing, you get nervous or you’re unable to communicate, then you really need to practice with your friends, family, classmates, strangers on the street. You need to be able to think quickly and business-like to any question that the HR person might ask you.

Traditionally, Korean interviews follow the Western style interview, meaning they’re going to ask you about your experience, knowledge and skills, but they may ask you some of the strange questions like, “If you were an animal, what kind of animal would you be?” or some of those hypothetical questions. They’re basically the same style interview as any other country.

I also want to point out that the way you act in an interview – the nonverbal communication – also says a lot about you and makes an impression on the HR person about what kind of individual you are.

When you’re practicing your interview, I would suggest you record it with a video camera or ask a friend to take notice with nonverbal cues. What I mean here is sometimes when people speak, they play with their hair, scratch their nose too much, their hand gestures are too big, or they don’t make eye contact. There’s a lot of nonverbal communication that the HR people look for, so you need to practice and take notice of these actions as well because they can also be read in a negative.

Jared:  What positions should individuals seek to apply to when they are trying to get into the Korean job market?

Jamie:  That’s a very general question. If you’re asking the trend, I’d say that there are more possibilities in jobs in the IT field, definitely in the education field in general. But you would really have to do some research on that, I’d say. This is in the case you don’t have a specific profession that you already have accumulated enough experience.

When I say education, I do mean teaching in Korea because in order to apply to be a teacher, you don’t actually have to have teaching experience so this is a good start off if you don’t have any working experience or if you’re not sure of what position you want to work in or develop your career in the future. It’s a good starting point if you don’t have experience.

I am aware that the island of Jeju  of Korea has several international schools that may hire teachers, or also administrators, from around the world. They are working on trying to make Jeju Island a very strong place for education for Korean students, but they’re also recruiting students from around the school so they will be needing a lot of English speakers there too.

If you don’t have any experience, you can apply to an ESL teaching position. If you get hired for an ESL position, the Korean government will issue you an E2 Visa which enables you to work in Korea as a teacher for one year. It’s very easy to get that visa extended.

You do not have to have a certification. You do not have to have teaching experience. However, you will be a stronger candidate if you have studies in English, education, or linguistics. The minimum requirement is to have a BA in any field.

William:  I found this question very tricky, because very little work experience for Korea can be a very big plus, or a big disadvantage. It all depends on the company and what the company is looking to hire.

The most important is the age range. Korea is very hierarchal. You may be highly qualified, but you may be too old or you may be too young. Many of the larger companies have spring and autumn hiring sprees. This is a time when they generally hire fresh graduates, because this is graduating time in Korean universities. This is when they bring on board the thousands and thousands of brand new entry-level employees who have very little experience or just graduated from university.

I think if you’re a fresh graduate, you need to keep an eye on the type of company, websites, and their staffing procedure. Some do travel hiring sprees where they may visit to the U.S. or Europe. People need to take the proactive approach and follow what these companies are doing.

If you are an experienced person, then you need to look at their website and see what kinds of positions are being offered. I would also suggest that if you’re experienced enough, you contact headhunters and search firms in Korea and send them a copy of your resume. They have usually more mid-management and senior level or contracted out to the headhunter community. You need to be in contact with the multiple headhunters who will be able to let you know when a job matches your skill set.

Don’t forget even if you’re just a fresh graduate, what will set you apart from the thousands and thousands of Koreans who are applying for the same position is possibly going to be your language skills. If you have a unique language or bilingual/trilingual language skills, this will really set you in a higher bracket than, say, a Korean who only knows Korean. Make sure this appears on your resume.

Jared:  We know work experience has an effect on getting hired. When interviewees have little to no experience, what can they include in their resumes to show they have the necessary skills to make up for a lack of work experience?

Jamie:  I think that’s a very good question and I think my answer goes for any country. Any volunteer experience such as working at the community center or a Sunday school, such as Sunday school teaching, is very helpful. Or any leadership experience such as working as a football coach in high school or university, or working as a librarian. Tutoring experience is also considered in many cases.

Just be careful to understand that working at a bar or as a DJ at a club can get you off the potential list. In Korea, there is a very negative view on bars or clubs, so I wouldn’t put that in your resume. But any type of volunteering work will definitely be a plus.

Kristen:  For those who have very little or no experience, they could include their part-time job experience, extracurricular and/or volunteering experiences on their resume because these experiences will often give the recruiters an idea of what kind of person they are and what kind of transferrable skills the candidate has. This usually makes up for the lack of employment experience.

William:  I would say almost 99% of the ones who get the job are very proactive in their job search. They’ve completed some sort of industry-related internship either in their home country or abroad. It’s very good if you can do an internship with a Korean company maybe in your home country.

Also, if you’re young enough or have the time, if you can start learning the Korean language, that only can be a huge plus for getting the job in Korea.

Jared:  What things should foreigners expect to find when they get a job in Korea? The reason behind the question is to gain an expert advantage by being able to show a unique understanding of the Korean work environment.

Jamie:  It’s a very interesting question. It’s kind of vague as well in my perspective. Maybe I can take you through a little bit of the experience I had when I went into firms in Korea.

One of the things you can expect is probably on your first day, you won’t have any work on your table. There is a culture to go around the entire company and say greetings to the people you’ll be working with in each department. Soon after you join the company, you will probably have a welcoming party for you. It will probably be a dinner party where there will be alcohol. You should remember to be careful that no matter how casual the atmosphere seems, there are always people who will be evaluating your behavior. Keep that in mind.

That also goes for dress code as well. Even if your colleagues and even if your company has a culture of wearing jeans to work, I would say in the Korean culture image is very important, so dress as professional as possible. Over-dressing is always better than under-dressing.

Keep in mind you’re being evaluated at all times. Just be careful what you say. Be careful not to make any mistakes and give yourself some time to get used to the company culture before you head on. Don’t push yourself to show your leadership in the first few weeks. After you’re able to mingle in with the people at your company, then it’s the time you need to start and really boost your performance.

What I’m trying to say is social life in Korea can be very difficult, but it’s also very important at the same time.

Kristen:  Like I mentioned earlier, Korea work culture is influenced by Confucianism, so the work environment is usually family-like. In order to maintain this family-like work environment, company activities are usually arranged regularly to motivate employees.

There is also the hierarchical structure where management decision processes is usually highly centralized. As new hires, you usually do not get to participate in decision making. This also depends on each company’s corporate culture, and there will be slight differences in terms of actual work environment. But of course, no matter where you’re coming from, I think you need to be prepared to work hard because your fellow Korean colleagues are very diligent and hardworking.

William:  I think this is probably the most important question out of all the ones we’ve talked about. Working in Korea can be a very rewarding and life-changing experience. For example, I came here for one year and was expecting to return home. Now I’m going into my sixth year here in Korea.

Many foreigners who have an opportunity to find out that working in Korea is not as easy as they thought it would be, but if you keep an open mind, you accept the culture and you acclimate yourself to the Korean culture (their social and business structure, which is different), I think your time, if you’re successful in getting a job, will be very, very fulfilling.

Koreans have what they call the Korean way of doing business. Over the years, many expats have tried to change them. Gradually these Korean companies are taking notice that the Korean way is not always the best way to do business, and outside of Korea, it is not acceptable in the global market.

I have seen that Korean business culture is still developing. They are growing and I think in the next few years, they will finally be considered part of the internationally accepted standards, procedures, and processes that other global companies have around the world.

Jared:  With that, we come to the conclusion of our audio report. Thank you for listening. Goodbye. 


Q&A with Executive Recruiter William Sisson About Getting a Job in Korea


KBC Intern Jared Muloongo interviewed executive recruiter William Sisson as part of his research in preparing the report "A Map to a Career in Korea: What You Need to Know!". The following is the original Q&A for the interview.

For links to this and other interviews in the series, visit Supplementary Materials for A Map to a Career in Korea: What You Need to Know!"



Ten Keys to Master that Will Put You in Front When Finding a Job in Korea

***Please note that the comments are from my 5 years of recruiting experience and are for professional level positions/candidates only.

1. Does GPA / great academic results matter when applying for a job in Korea?

GPA and academic results do matter when applying for a job in Korea depending on the level of the position and the company. In some cases the actual university attended matters as some companies will only accept candidates who graduated from top 10 or Ivy League listed universities. This usually matters when they are looking for a speciality candidate i.e. Law School, MBA or Engineering graduate. For more senior level or C-Level candidates university records usually do not matter.

2. Korea is big on ‘Woori’ so when hiring an individual does personality matter? What kind of personality is needed to be able to work in a Korean firm?

Absolutely, 100% personality matters and can be a deal breaker and your candidacy dropped if any of the following occurs during the process;

  • The candidate seems arrogant, boisterous and over proud
  • The candidate is unwilling to produce evidence of current or past compensation and other records and documentation
  • The candidate does not show some humility during the interview process
  • The candidate is loud, overbearing and non-business like
  • The candidate seems to not “fit into the company culture” – able to get along with co-workers or does not seem able to fit into a hierarchy based company.
  • The candidate seems, is or acts to young (immature) or to old (based on direct report’s age)
  • The candidate has visual tattoos, piercings or other unique appearances
  • The candidate has no knowledge of Korea or its culture and past history i.e. Financial Crisis in 1997, Japan occupation, etc…
  • The candidate is clueless on global current affairs especially pertaining to Korea and Korean companies i.e. Samsung –vs. - Apple etc…
  • The candidate has no knowledge of the companies past or current history, products, growth, executives, markets etc…
  • The candidate is not willing to submit to health checks, work long hours and have dinner with co-workers without prior notice. (not in every case but be prepared)
  • The candidate is unwilling to be “open” about their personal lives – i.e. marital status, religion, blood type, weight, etc… at one point all of these will be asked by someone
3. How does one get noticed or become visible to Hiring managers in Korea?

The main way for a foreigner to become visible to a hiring manager is through a personal introduction which is held in higher regards if it comes from a Korean. How does this occur? Networking. Building, establishing and maintaining your social and business network is the best way to get a job in Korea even if you are currently out of the country. If you must take a lower paying or level job once you are in Korea then start developing this network and sooner or later positions will open up. Developing relationships in Korea is “key” to building mutual trust, relationships and understanding with others. If your network only consists of expats who are from your home country your chances of landing a great job is limited. Reach out and kindle relationships among the Korean community. You might be very surprised of who they or someone they know might have direct contact with.

4. How does one utilize the network they gain wisely in order to gain a Job? Now that you have a network and you are maintaining it. What do you do? 

Communicate frequently - but NOT on the same level as a stalker, beggar or a desperate soul. In my business network I send out a quarterly newsletter that is a mixture of business and personal reflections of the quarter. Because it is a global network I often include some current events or my experiences in Korea.

Other things to do would be if you hear that someone received a promotion, send them a congratulatory note, if you have some simple question ask them directly via email, invite to meet them for lunch or coffee just to introduce yourself. And again – be very tactful, professional and business like even if dinner and drinks are involved. You may know it or not but you are being sized-up, evaluated and assessed by your on-line actions including email communication, social network “comments” and your face-to-face interactions.

5. What are some great resources to have and to use in gaining a job in Korea?

a. KBC is a great resource how would you as a hiring manger look for potential candidates to hire?

KBC could be used to look for potential candidates. However, as the system is not established to target certain criteria – a general “Discussion” must be submitted. What happens then is that many unqualified people contact me and I must take time to review their resume and then respond and deny their acceptance. If I used KBC I would ask for referrals of only qualified people for specific positions.

b.  How can potential candidates use a resource like KBC in your opinion to get noticed?

Getting noticed is not the problem; being qualified is the problem.

If KBC wants to assist its members in finding jobs then KBC needs to market to HR and hiring managers the benefits of viewing the site including ways to search and contact members. Not socially as “friends” but based on their posted resumes. But please note – an HR manager is not going to take the time to sift through resumes without some sort of key word search or a system that will weed out the unqualified.


6. What kinds of resumes/ C.V’s get noticed in Korea?

a. Which people should be reading my resumes in order to help me gain an advantage in Korea?

b. What things can one do to their Resume / CV to get noticed?

I am going to combine both of these questions as they are very closely related and dependent upon each other. A) I am not sure who you mean “should be reading my resume” but I am going to assume the following – have your resume reviewed, edited and commented on by someone other than yourself. Errors in English spelling and grammar are unacceptable if you are an English speaker. If you really want to make an impression then get your resume translated into Korean. It will double your chances if the HR person does not have strong English language skills. Keep your resume short, simple and to the point. Keep it business focused and only put business related experience on the resume itself.

Structure should be very simple;

      Dates of employment                        Title    Company       Location

  • Achievements – not your job description but what you actually achieved doing this work.
  • Keep the sentences short – on a resume they do not have to be complete
  • Uses bulleted points. Saves time for the HR person

At the top of the resume use a Qualifications and/or Summary sections where you show in total years of experience what you have achieved. For example;

Qualification Summary

            Customer Services & Relations – 7 years

            International Marketing – 5 years

            Business Development – 2 years

I have attached a presentation that describes all of the above and more.

7. There is no substitute for practice before an interview, what can individuals expect to be asked when applying for a job in Korea? Do you have 5 easy tips for them to remember? (Sorry more then 5)

My tip on interviews is to – Practice, Practice, and Practice.

If you are not a good at interviewing then get your friends, family or class mates to practice interviewing your. Record your answers and play them back. Practice in front of a mirror. Take notice of any non-verbal actions that you do i.e. play with your hair, rub your nose, use your hands to much etc… all of these are being read by the person interviewing you and can be distracting. Keep your answers short and to the point.

Log onto the internet and research interview skills, watch videos on YouTube etc. There are many common interview questions and you can find sample answers on the internet. Korean interviews usually include basically the same questions as any other interview. However, be prepared, in some cases as I mentioned before, to answer personal questions that in other countries might be deemed as inappropriate.

8. What positions should individuals seek to apply to when they are trying to get into the Korean job market? Any recommendations for individuals with very little work experience?

This question is very tricky as “very little work experience” can be a plus or a big disadvantage – it all depends on what the company is looking to hire and the age range they are looking for. Many of the large companies have spring and autumn hiring sprees when it is the time to bring aboard fresh graduates with little or no experience. Keep track of these on the company’s web page.

But don’t forget that what sets you apart from a Korean who is applying for the same position is not only possibly global experience but Language skills. Korean companies are first going to hire Koreans – makes perfect sense. However, if you can bring a useful skill, such as your native language into the company, you now have a better advantage over the competition.

9. We know work experience is a factor in getting hired, when individuals have little or no experience what can they include in their Resumes to show that they have the necessary skills to make up for the lack of work experience?

The ones who get the job? – are proactive in their job search, have completed industry related internships in their home countries or abroad – especially with a Korean company and have Korean language skills is highly desirable. Having some knowledge of Korean will take you very far in your career development in this country.

10.   What things should foreigners expect to find when they get a job in Korea? The reason behind the question is to gain an extra advantage by being able to show a unique understanding of the Korean work environment.

Working in Korea can be very rewarding and a life-changing experience. Many foreigners who have an opportunity find out that it is not as easy as they thought it would be. If you keep an open mind, accept and acclimate yourself to Korean social and business culture your time in Korea will be very fulfilling. Koreans have the “Korean way of doing things” and many expats have tried to change them. Gradually Korean companies are taking notice that the Korean way is not always the best way to do business nor is it acceptable in the global market. Korean business culture is still developing, growing and in the next few years and may finally be considered a part of internationally accepted standards. 


Get a Job in Korea: "What Korean industries are hot right now? Where can I find the best jobs?"

The following was extracted from a recent interview with me about how to find a job in Korea. 



"What Korean industries are hot right now? Where can I find the best jobs?"

"I’ve already mentioned English teaching, but that’s not our focus on KBC, where many of our members are currently transitioning into business positions that will help them achieve their career goals over the long-term.

In general, Korean companies that are expanding overseas and/or doing business with foreign companies have the biggest demand for non-Korean employees to help them connect with overseas buyers and markets. Major industries in Korea include electronics, automobiles and shipbuilding, but you shouldn’t limit yourself to these.

Thanks to the recent popularity of Hallyu, or the Korean Wave, Korean companies and other organizations are currently engaged in a massive effort to package and promote cultural products overseas too, including food, sports, tourism, music and entertainment.

Finally, another hot area is in professional business services, thanks in part to the free trade agreements the Korean government has signed with most of the advanced world.

Training and other professional services to the many foreign companies doing business in Korea is another avenue to pursue."

Visit Korea Business Central for more information on getting a job in Korea, including the full video of this interview.


Learn more about the KBC Professional Certification Program to be more successful in your career in Korea.

Q&A with Graduate Student Juan Aguilar About Getting a Job in Korea


KBC Intern Jared Muloongo interviewed graduate student Juan Aguilar as part of his research in preparing the report "A Map to a Career in Korea: What You Need to Know!". The following is the original Q&A for the interview.

For links to this and other interviews in the series, visit Supplementary Materials for A Map to a Career in Korea: What You Need to Know!"



Ten Keys to Master that Will Put You in Front When Finding a Job in Korea

1. Does GPA / great academic results matter when applying for a job in Korea?

When I was applying for some multinational companies, one of the requirements at the time of filling the application was to indicate the GPA of at least the latest degree coursed. Companies are looking for the best of international applicants, in order to fill the spot that a Korean person cannot.

2. Korea is big on ‘Woori’ so when hiring an individual does personality matter? What Kind of personality is needed to be able to work in a Korean firm?

The personality of an individual clearly has to have certain qualities in order to work in big companies. These qualities vary from person to person, but the individual has to be aware that he/she will be working there as a team, therefore the relationship within the colleagues has too run smoothly. Companies are looking for multitask or interpersonal individuals who can work alone and in-group. The individual must know how to leave outside the company his/her personal issues and to work based on the company’s working culture. Therefore a good understanding of the Korean business etiquette and the internal company’s working culture is a good start in the application process. The personality of the individual must include a positive view of any circumstance, to be proactive and eager to go one step further for the company’s success. Also keep in mind that your personality might dictate the type of job you are looking for. A marketer is expected to be talkative, innovative and to work in a fast environment. An IT Technician would not need such personality but a calm one with good insight and deep concentration.

3. How does one get noticed or become visible to Hiring managers in Korea?             

At least in the multinational companies I have applied for, each one of them has their own application system, from an online application to a downloable package. These application systems let the applicant to write a small introduction, important aspects of their experience, pros and cons of their personality, their future perspectives working at the company in question, and lastly why the applicant think they would be a good asset to the company. Basically these areas let the applicant to “sell him/herself”; therefore a well-written essay will in fact call the attention of the managers in charge. When the company do not have these application methods, the cover letter and the C.V are your tools of trade.

4. How does one utilize the network they gain wisely in order to gain a Job? a. Now that you have a network and you are maintaining it. What do you do? 

 The greatest network you have, the more opportunities you will have when looking for a job. Recommendations are very important in Korea, if we have contacts inside companies you want to apply and they are willing to write a recommendation letter or a suggestion to get one hired, you will have more chance of success.

At the time of doing networking, what it makes us excel above others is our personality. If this aspect is fulfilled, when the opportunity arises, our networking peers would not hesitate in contacting us. Is that personality and vibe that makes them remember us. First impression is always important.

5. What are some great resources to have and to use in gaining a job in Korea?

a. KBC is a great resource how would you as a hiring manger look for potential candidates to hire? 

KBC is a great tool for getting started. The selection of online recruiters and search engines has helped me to find some companies I was not aware of.

b. How can potential candidates use a resource like KBC in your opinion to get noticed?

Certifications are the way to go. The more certifications you have the more you will be noticed. Certifications help you to learn skills that can be related to your major, or not. KBC certifications are an excellent idea to start in the Korean business area because you will let the company knows you have knowledge comparable to a Korean person.


6. What kinds of resumes/ C.V’s get noticed in Korea?

a. Which people should be reading my resumes in order to help me gain an advantage in Korea?

Korean professors can give an insight of how well the resume is written. Also some recruit companies may give you feedback if necessary. Depending on the circumstances, some comapanies will ask you to provide a resume in Korean. 

b. What things can one do to their Resume / CV to get noticed?

In my experience, applying to multinational companies, the H.R Department is flustered with all the resumes and applications received in a short lapse of time. A one-page resume I believe could make the difference, stating the best of our experience and knowledge. When the companies do not have an application package, your cover letter should sell yourself.

7. There is no substitute for practice before an interview, what can individuals expect to be asked when applying for a job in Korea? Do you have 5 easy tips for them to remember? 

If is the first of the interviews, the H.R personnel will ask you simple questions, such as why are you in Korea, what are your plans, if you know Korean, if you are married, marriage plans, your expectations, how you find out about the company, they may even ask your favourite Korean food or if you drink and how many bottles of soju can you consume.

  • Be Polite (knock the door, wait 2 seconds and enter. Bow and salute).
  • Try to not to show that you are nervous. Be sure of your answers. 
  • Do not hesitate in answering personal questions. This is not the western world.
  • Try to praise the company. They want to know if you really like the company or not. Explain how you knew about the company, or any good insight about it, so reading about the company’s history and latest news is necessary.
  • Try to mention that you really want to stay in Korea. Let them know you have knowledge in something regarding the Korean culture, food, drinking culture, Korean language, etc.

8. What positions should individuals seek to apply to when they are trying to get into the Korean job market? Any recommendations for individuals with very little work experience? 

Always speaking regarding big corporations, the job will depend of the exact position they are offering.  If the company you want to work does not have any jobs available you can always send them an e-mail to keep your C.V in their database. When a corporation is looking for an individual for a specific task, experience is very important.

Some multinationals are offering entry-level positions. A bachelor is a must and a master is more appealing. At the entry level, the company will train you, but your education, personality and virtues will be of such importance at the time of the interview. Certifications are important as well as your language skills.

9. We know work experience is a factor in getting hired, when individuals have little or no experience what can they include in their Resumes to show that they have the necessary skills to make up for the lack of work experience?

If at school you have made some type of study, market research project, or anything similar, you can add it in your experience. Be aware, you do not have to specify it was a college project. At the time of the interview, if they ask you, then you can describe it in detail.

10.   What things should foreigners expect to find when they get a job in Korea? The reason behind the question is to gain an extra advantage by being able to show a unique understanding of the Korean work environment. 

Learning the internal company’s culture is expected, as well as the continuous learning of the Korean language. For example you are expected to arrive at work at least half an hour before and to leave at least half an hour after the stipulated time. In some other cases, you will need to stay until your team leader or vice president leaves. The KBC Professional certification will teach you all the things you need to know regarding the Korean business culture. 



Juan also got an internship at a major company in Korea. Here is his story about how that came about.

I truly believe in networking, and now more than ever. Thanks to the people I have known for the past two years while living in Korea, I could help myself economically and socially. Networking is of such importance for me because thanks to it I got informed about an internship opportunity at Posco Steel. Big corporations need to fill a quota of new employees every year, usually using the best of the Korean universities to look for their candidates. Luckily I have friends at Korea University, and I applied few days after the announcement was released.

In this case, Posco Steel was looking for international students from certain countries, to work in the Marketing and International Affairs departments. The Korean language was not necessary but knowledge was a plus. The only requirement was to be able to assist to a 2 weeks internship. In order to apply, the company has its own job package, in which the applicant must fill their education, experience, talk about them, including pros, cons, future plans and why the company should hire them.  You have to take consideration in the essay-type-questions because those are the ones the HR Dept. will review carefully. The process of choosing a candidate was very fast. In two weeks I knew I had passed the screening process, and the next step was an interview. The interview went smoothly, the interviewers wanted to know more about me, therefore they asked me only personal questions, from why I came to Korea to how many soju bottles can I drink.  A week later I received the interview results and the internship was already at the step of my door.

When I got accepted, the company provided me with a document that I needed to fill up with the help of my college advisor and the student affairs division from my university. This is needed by the company and the Korean immigration office to know the internship will not affect my studies and schedule. I had to bring the document to the immigration office, and they notified within a week. With this I was already set.  The first thing I had learned when I arrived at my internship was the internal business culture. I had to learn all the names of my colleagues, taking extra care in knowing and understanding the position of each one of them. I had to be careful in the way I talked and express myself, it was the first time working in a Korean corporate environment so I had to study my way in. My teammates were very easy going all of them speak English fluently, although they spoke  Korean with themselves, that’s why knowledge in Korean is very important. In my case my team was very small (only 5 people) and all of them lived abroad, therefore we did not have any problems culturally. 

I understood you have to be very careful in what you do and what you say, mostly in front of the team leader or the highest rank person. Also they expected me to arrive at work half an hour before time and to leave half an hour after. When the Vice President visited our office we had to stand up, but when he was coming back and forward it was no need. At the time of lunch, the vice president asked me personal questions that may be hard to answer if you are not accustomed to it, I just went with the flow.  Working for two weeks in one of the largest companies in Korea was a great experience, at the end of the internship I bought a cake in gratitude to my team for being so nice and tolerant with me. We exchanged contact information and I left. I felt like I had worked there for several years. A great experience indeed.

An Interview About Issues Faced by Foreigners Working in Korea

I was recently contacted by a reporter from the Korea Herald with questions for a future article about the issues foreigners face working in Korea. Here's our Q&A:

1. What you would be the most serious work issue you have encountered personally, or has been highlighted by someone else that has come to you, in connection with working in Korea?

The most common issue is probably non-payment of wages by institutes to their teachers. It's likely not a frequent occurence, but it does happen and I get contacted from time-to-time by folks needing interpreting or translation for such issues.

I've been lucky in that I've faced very few serious work issues myself. The hardest time for me was when I first got started in my position at LG International many years ago; it was a challenge to figure out what the company was expecting of me. This is probably a common problem in positions filled by foreigners since those positions are generally ad hoc hirings done outside of an established system and processes, so sometimes the Korean company doesn't even know what they want from their foreign staff.

We've interviewed some executives working in Korean companies on Korea Business Central and it's interesting to see that even those in C-level positions faced similar confusion over expectations, as well as cultural and language differences. Here are links to the interviews:

2. Have you found that Korean hierarchy is a big challenge for foreigners working here? Is there room for give and take, or is assimilation (as far as possible) the only real option?

Foreigners exist outside the traditional Korean hierarchy so I'm not sure the hierarchy is all that challenging for us per se. Perhaps the most challenging part is just coming to terms with the fact that one is not going to move up the hierarchy in whatever Korean company one is in. Even if it were possible, how many non-Koreans would want to put in the effort and time (not to mention low salaries) to succeed long-term in a Korean company?

3. Are there services you feel are lacking for foreigners with work issues in Korea?

Not really. The Korean government seems to be making big efforts to help foreign job holders. I'm sure plenty of things happen anyway, but those are probably related to language, cultural and personal challenges, rather than a lack of services.

4. What would be the biggest mistake foreigners make when coming to work here and in their everyday work life?

Foreigners who want to work or are working in a Korean workplace must understand Korean business culture and without that background, they are sure to cause offense, look silly and get frustrated. On Korea Business Central we offer a Korea Business Culture Fundamentals Specialization in our KBC Professional Certification Program which is helping many foreigners get the skills to avoid mistakes and be successful both in the workplace and in their everyday work lives. Here's a link to the overview page for that - http://www.koreabusinesscentral.com/page/certification. Here is our current list of graduates too - http://www.koreabusinesscentral.com/page/kbc-professional-certification-program-graduates. I'd be glad to put you in touch with any of these graduates (as well a couple we've added in the last week that I haven't updated to the site yet).

5. Are there aspects of the visa system that need looking at so as not to put foreigners who are mistreated at work in a position where they have no choice but to put up with it or quit (and leave the country)?

I suppose it's not an accident that the government offers limited visa options. We get members on KBC asking about this all the time (for example:  http://www.koreabusinesscentral.com/forum/topics/running-an-online-business-from-korea-what-are-my-visa-options).

What is means is that those who make the investment by passing the points system (or put down roots by marrying a local) get many work advantages.

I'm sure if you look for them, you can find plenty of foreigners who think they've been mistreated in their workplaces, and some probably have. That's unfortunate, but I'm sure it's not on the government's agenda to change the visa situation just for them since doing so would encourage other behaviors they don't want (such as working on the side without a formal job).

6. What meaningful steps would improve the work environment for foreigners here and see Korean companies gain?

It's frustrating to see the failures of foreigners working in Korea. Now that companies like LG have gotten rid of all of their expat executives and with high-profile overseas investors leaving Songdo under a cloud of suspicion, it's certainly not portraying for Korea the image they'd like others to see.

This discussion on just how hard it is for Koreans to work and live in Korea got quite a bit of commentary from the Korea Business Central membership a couple years ago:


Build a Business in Korea: "Why do you think non-Koreans have challenges doing business in Korea with Koreans?"

The following was extracted from a recent interview with me about how to build a business in a Korean company. 


"Why do you think non-Koreans have challenges doing business in Korea with Koreans?"

"There are a lot of reasons for that, and as you’ve mentioned, language and culture are the most obvious. But other factors also conspire to make things difficult.

For example, not all Korean computer systems are set up for non-Korean ID numbers, which can be a problem when handling paperwork.

Also, finding affordable accounting and tax prep resources, legal advice and other professional and consulting services in Korea that are knowledgeable about international business matters and speak English often requires a little extra effort.

Pre-established business networks among Koreans can be difficult to penetrate, which leads to both marketing and supply challenges.

Even things like foreign-investment friendly regulations may be tricky to sort through, not to mention the regulations that aren’t foreigner-friendly and are only accessible in Korean. I recently interviewed a government official about business visas for non-Koreans in Korea and amazingly, he explained to me that the business visa laws are not readily available in English, nor is there an English-language document anywhere that explains them in easy terms in one place. This makes the information I put together for KBC members after that interview all the more valuable."

Visit Korea Business Central for more information on doing business in Korea, including the full video of this interview.



Learn more about the KBC Professional Certification Program to be more successful in your career in Korea.

Thrive in a Korean Company: "What are some of the biggest Korean companies that are hiring non-Koreans, and for what?"

The following was extracted from a recent interview with me about how to thrive in a Korean company. 


"What are some of the biggest Korean companies that are hiring non-Koreans, and for what?"

"The Korean economy is dominated by a relatively small number of large business groups, commonly referred to as the chaebol. These include household names like Samsung, Hyundai and LG, as well as smaller business groups and independent companies.

I recently read that nearly a hundred Korean retailers have set up franchise networks overseas, and that is another way in which the Korean business presence is growing throughout the world.

When hiring local talent for overseas branch offices and subsidiaries, Korean companies are looking for people who can help them understand and be effective in the local markets.

On the other hand, there are opportunities to work in Korea for those same and other Korean companies and organizations if you have skills and resources that Korean companies can’t easily source in Korea."

Visit Korea Business Central for more information on working in a Korean company, including the full video of this interview. 


Learn more about the KBC Professional Certification Program to be more successful in your career in Korea.

Q&A with Global Recruiter Sal Michal About How to Land a Job in Korea


KBC Intern Jared Muloongo interviewed global recruiter Sal Michal as part of his research in preparing the report "A Map to a Career in Korea: What You Need to Know!". The following is the original Q&A for the interview.

For links to this and other interviews in the series, visit Supplementary Materials for A Map to a Career in Korea: What You Need to Know!"


Ten Keys to Master that Will Put You in Front When Finding a Job in Korea

1. Does GPA / great academic results matter when applying for a job in Korea?

I wouldn’t say that GPA is the key factor in candidate selection in Korea. The fact that you one got the degree from well reputed school would be certainly given far more weight than the academic results.

2. Korea is big on ‘Woori’ so when hiring an individual does personality matter? What Kind of personality is needed to be able to work in a Korean firm?

Yes. Personality does matter a lot. Even though Korean corporations like to call themselves “global” the truth is that they are and will remain very Korean in their core. That means personality traits like loyalty, humbleness, respect, obedience, and understanding of Korean culture etc. often tend to be valued more than professionalism. Even though as a foreigner working in Korean company there will be some tolerance towards your “uniqueness” in most cases you will still be expected to adjust to Korean corporate culture and possess the above traits.

I would say that majority of Korean managers would certainly avoid working with foreigner who exhibits too much self-confidence, individuality, etc. as they would see it as an incompatible element that could only endanger their team harmony.

3. How does one get noticed or become visible to Hiring managers in Korea?

People who have verifiable record of some professional relation to Korea would be given priority in most cases. If one graduated Korean university or worked with Koreans before s/he will definitely have great advantage over someone who doesn’t have this experience.

4. How does one utilize the network they gain wisely in order to gain a Job? Now that you have a network and you are maintaining it. What do you do? 

In Korea, probably more than in the West, significant portion of job vacancies are filled through personal connections, recommendations, etc. rather than through the regular job-advertising and fair candidate evaluation and selection. In other words, it will often be more important who knows you than how talented and well prepared you are.

Keeping the connections alive and expending the network is important especially for a job seeker. Even though it might seem time consuming it’s very useful to attend professional gatherings, etc. as well as keeping in touch with your other connections. As a job seeker who doesn’t speak Korean you may want to start with attending gatherings of foreign professionals working in Korea.

5. What are some great resources to have and to use in gaining a job in Korea? KBC is a Great resource how would you as a hiring manger look for potential candidates to hire? How can potential candidates use a resource like KBC in your opinion to get noticed? 

 KBC is indeed great resource, but I have not tried to utilize it for candidate search yet..

KBC has lots of valuable resources for job seekers all available at one place as well as links to other useful websites (I wish I could have used it back in 2008 when I was getting ready to come to Korea!), but rather than a mean to get noticed I would say that it’s a great place to learn about Korea and its’ business culture and reality.

Additionally, I would suggest including more resources about studying in Korea as this may be the first step to succeed here for many foreigners (for example information about available scholarships, foreign student statistics, etc. would be nice)


6. What kinds of resumes/ C.V’s get noticed in Korea?

a. Which people should be reading my resumes in order to help me gain an advantage in Korea? 

Hiring managers, team leaders (not necessarily from the company you intend to apply for), professors and other “influencers” from your network who can recommend you

b. What things can one do to their Resume / CV to get noticed?

In Korea it is a common practice that the company will ask you to fill their own resume form and include your photo with it (yes, your look is very important so you should include a nice photo)

Let them know you have some relation to Korea. Writing cover letter / email in Korean to let them know your Korean is good enough can be helpful (however don’t lie about your Korean skills as they will certainly find out when you come to the interview)

7. There is no substitute for practice before an interview, what can individuals expect to be asked when applying for a job in Korea? Do you have 5 easy tips for them to remember? 

  1. Korean job interview is very different from what we are used to in the west. You can expect that they will ask you pretty much anything, including very personal questions and questions that are prohibited by law in other countries. (for example questions like “Do you have a girlfriend?” or “How many shots of soju can you handle?” “What is your religion?” are very common)
  2. Remember that you are applying for job in Korean company. Letting them know you have some knowledge about Korean culture can help a lot. For example little bow when entering the interview room would be appreciated.
  3. Make sure the interviewer understands your English. The fact that interviewer asks you question in English doesn’t mean s/he is able to understand more complex sentence or professional vocabulary.
  4. No matter how inappropriate is the question, do not show your anger or arrogance. Remember that most Koreans do not have much knowledge about foreign culture or experience dealing with foreigners.
  5. If you are aiming for one of the big corporations you should be aware that recruiting process for foreigners takes extremely long (it may take as long as 3 months from the first document screening until the day you will officially get hired).

8. What positions should individuals seek to apply to when they are trying to get into the Korean job market? Any recommendations for individuals with very little work experience? 

  • Engineering majors are in great demand
  • Overseas sales / purchases / marketing targeted to your home country
  • Of course there are always lots of teaching opportunities for native English speakers
  • For people with doctorate degree teaching at the university can be very good option to consider

9. We know work experience is a factor in getting hired, when individuals have little or no experience what can they include in their Resumes to show that they have the necessary skills to make up for the lack of work experience?

  • Show them your motivation to work for specific company and to work in Korea
  • Prove that you have the personality traits discussed above

10.   What things should foreigners expect to find when they get a job in Korea? The reason behind the question is to gain an extra advantage by being able to show a unique understanding of the Korean work environment.

Korean corporate culture is quite different than the western one where you would expect to be free after working hours. Few examples of differences would be:

  • Company dinners and drinking parties (hwesig) in which you are expected to participate
  • So called “noonchi”, which basically means you should sense what is appropriate (for example: you are expected not to leave the workplace immediately even though the working time has finished; you are expected to eat lunch with your team members, etc)

Answers to Questions about Social Gift-Giving and Chit-Chat with Koreans

I received the following questions from a visitor to my website recently. 

"My husband works for a Korean company. We will be accompanying the CEO and his wife (both Korean) to a weekend event; they are relatively new to the USA and this is my first time meeting either of them.

"Would it be "politically correct" for me to give either of them a small gift? Just the wife? Neither?

"In this situation, what would be considered an appropriate gift? Since I think the number seven is considered lucky, perhaps seven small candles or a box of seven nice chocolate?

"And what topics of conversation (should be interesting since I speak no Korean and they speak minimal English) are especially safe? Children/family? Should I bring pictures?"

Here's how I ended up replying to the person who sent the above inquiry:

"Yes, it would be  appropriate for you to give the wife a gift in this situation. You don’t need to get hung up on the number; but chocolates are fine. Something along the lines of clothing and fashion is likely to be better. I'd stay away from any food items that aren't universally enjoyed (such as chocolates) since you'd be surprised what kinds of American foods some Koreans don't care for. (BTW, it isn't exactly a perfect match with your situation but here's a link to my Top Ten Gifts to Give in Korea to Make a Great Impression.)

"In one of the modules, the KBC Business Professional Certification mentions a number of topics you could bring up. Photos are fine, but perhaps don’t overdo it. Children and family are always a good topic and I’m sure they’d like opportunities to tell you about life in Korea and how they're faring in the US, particularly if they’re feeling homesick. Finding out what kinds of challenges the wife is facing in her adjustment to life in the US would be a great opportunity to share suggestions and answer some of her nagging questions."

Q&A with Reporter Jamie Lee About How to Find a Job in Korea


KBC Intern Jared Muloongo interviewed reporter Jamie Lee as part of his research in preparing the report "A Map to a Career in Korea: What You Need to Know!". The following is the original Q&A for the interview.

For links to this and other interviews in the series, visit Supplementary Materials for A Map to a Career in Korea: What You Need to Know!"



Ten Keys to Master that Will Put You in Front When Finding a Job in Korea

1. Does GPA / great academic results matter when applying for a job in Korea?

It may depend on what type of industry you are applying to. Education boards have a limitation called a GPS cut line. The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education has a very strict cutline and will not proceed with an interview if your GPS score does not meet a certain score. But for other industry GPS is not considered seriously.

2. Korea is big on ‘Woori’ so when hiring an individual does personality matter? What Kind of personality is needed to be able to work in a Korean firm?

Yes, personality is important. This factor however I believe applies to most countries. Every recruiter and hiring manager do not care to waste their time interviewing someone who demonstrated bad manners during an email correspondance.  First impression begins at the communication stage not necessarily the face to face interview. In some cases, the hiring manager will also give a few points for evaluation to the front desk receptionist to see if the applicant has any bad habits or treats the receptionist down.

You will succeed if you are a positive person, if you can focus on the solution instead of complaining about the problems, if you are friendly and good with interpersonal communications that will be a plus since there will definitely be language barriers.

3. How does one get noticed or become visible to Hiring managers in Korea?

Knowing someone in the firm you are applying to is of course the best route.  If this is not possible, get yourself acquainted with international recruiters (certified) working in Korea.

4. How does one utilize the network they gain wisely in order to gain a Job? Now that you have a network and you are maintaining it. What do you do? 

This is more like a personal strategy so it should be led my your own instincts. But to share some examples :

One might apply to an online application of an open position, but include a recommendation letter signed with handwriting and that contains a contact number.

Ask your acquaintant to put in a few words for you that you submitted your resume to the ____whichever___ department for ___ position.

Or if you have recommendations on Linkedin that you are sure the applied company will be familiar with be sure to include a copy of a printed version of your Linkedin Profile including the recommendations.

Tell people that you are seeking a position. And directly ask for help. They may have heard of someone looking for someone or may later hear the news and remember that you were available.

5. What are some great resources to have and to use in gaining a job in Korea?

Use of international head hunters (recruiters). It only works best when you’ve had a face to face interview with the recruiter. Otherwise your resume will just be floating in a file full of competitors.

a. KBC is a Great resource how would you as a hiring manger look for potential candidates to hire? 

I would send direct messages to people who I believe might know anyone in the field I am hiring for. I will also post them to twitter, facebook, linkedin and anything I can get a hold of. Not to mention recruiting websites.

b. How can potential candidates use a resource like KBC in your opinion to get noticed?

Mention that you are seeking a position, Write it in your bio. Tweet about it and direct message to anyone you think may help you. Keep spreading the word. And be prepared with a finished resume and good photo. The photo is important in Korea.


6. What kinds of resumes/ C.V’s get noticed in Korea?

Not too long, not too short. If the company you are applying to is a multinational firm with headquarters abroad, an English resume should be enough. Large Korean firms may request for a Korean version. But they won’t expect one from you if you are not Korean. Thus I recommend to prepare one only if you are required to submit. Never send in a Korean translated version only

a. Which people should be reading my resumes in order to help me gain an advantage in Korea?

Recruiters, HR Directors, Department Managers if they will be your supervisor.

b. What things can one do to their Resume / CV to get noticed?

I receive a lot of resumes from candidates from abroad. What I look for in a resume is to see if it’s relevant. Does your objective (if you’ve written one) match the position? Are you saying the write things in your initial email and cover letter. Are you checking your grammar and writing as professional as possible. Or are you trying too hard to sound like you’re not desperate or writing to casually. Be sure to make your achievements outstand in your application. If you have a preferred certification, be sure to highlight this in the beginning and even include an attachment of  scanned copy. You’re going to be asked for a copy anyways, why not save the administrator time. And help rid any possible suspicions.

7. There is no substitute for practice before an interview, what can individuals expect to be asked when applying for a job in Korea?

This really depends on who you are being interviewed by and what type of position you are applying to. I could probably write a 2-3 pages long article just on this topic. If I were to generalise the Korean market and narrow it down to what type of questions are normally asked to Koreans applying to Korean firms..the questions are probably universal but may include Q to check your leadership, communication skills, adaptability, and understanding of the role:

  • What makes you a strong candidate for this position?
  • Tell me about your understanding of the position and what skills are required.
  • Tell me about a problem you had in the office and how you overcame it.
  • Do you drink? How much do you drink? (I wonder if they still ask this question). It was one of the most popular yet most controversial)
  • Tell me about yourself (what is your personality like, what do other say about you?
  • Do you work well under pressure? Give us an example?

Five tips to remember: Practice in advance. Make a Q&A sheet. Ask your recruiter to provide you Q&A and do’s and don’ts for interviews. Research the web. Look at other peoples Linkedin profiles who are working in position you wish to work in the future and get a peek at what they actualy do. What kind of achievements do they highlight?

8. What positions should individuals seek to apply to when they are trying to get into the Korean job market? Any recommendations for individuals with very little work experience?

This question is too general. If you’re asking the trend, I’d say that there is more possibility to get jobs in IT or Education. Jeju island has several international schools that may hire teachers or administrators from around the world.

You can apply to ESL teaching jobs as your first position if you do not have experience. You may apply as long as you have a BA in any field.

9. We know work experience is a factor in getting hired, when individuals have little or no experience what can they include in their Resumes to show that they have the necessary skills to make up for the lack of work experience?

This goes for any country. Any volunteer experience at a community center or sunday school teaching or leadership experience such as working as a football coach in high school, as a librarian or tutoring are also considered in many cases. But be careful to understand that working at a bar or as a dj at a club can get you off the potential list of resumes by managers in Korea. Koreans are also keen on certifications if you don’t have experience.

10.   What things should foreigners expect to find when they get a job in Korea? The reason behind the question is to gain an extra advantage by being able to show a unique understanding of the Korean work environment. 

I could also write a book on this section. There is a saying in Korean for salarymen, that you have to leave your gallbladder at home when you go to work. I can’t really translate this into English, but just by what they’re saying you kind of get the idea that social life in Korea is difficult.

This doesn’t really go for International Firms, but for Korean firms...you can often see..(and this also does not apply to ESL teachers in Korea)

Staff not being able to leave the office because their supervisor is still working.

They are careful to ask for their holiday. And think that not using all your leave is being loyal to the company. So if you do use your holiday you should consider yourself lucky. 


Get a Job in Korea: "What do I need to start doing right now to have a great job waiting for me the moment I arrive in Korea?"

The following was extracted from a recent interview with me about how to find a job in Korea.


"What do I need to start doing right now to have a great job waiting for me the moment I arrive in Korea?"

"It depends what you want to do. Those from English-speaking countries can often transition quickly and easily into English teaching. But over the long-term, this decision can also hamstring your efforts for getting into corporate work and, for those without that native English-speaking background, other options have to be pursued from the get-go.

What a lot of people don’t realize is that being a foreigner can be both an advantage and a disadvantage for getting a job in Korea. Just having a technical skill, or expertise, isn’t enough; tens of thousands of Korean college graduates have those skills too. But what they don’t have is your unique understanding of your home country, and perspective on the world.

Therefore, to find a job quickly, you’ve got to do your research (such as utilizing the many resources we have on KBC) and find ways to connect your uniqueness to niche positions that can be found or created in Korea.

Of course, this conceptual approach needs to be connected to practical steps that include job market research, resume updating and business networking; all of which Korea Business Central can help you do even before you get to Korea!"

Visit Korea Business Central for more information on getting a job in Korea, including the full video of this interview.


Learn more about the KBC Professional Certification Program to be more successful in your career in Korea.

A Comparative Study of Organizational Commitment in Korea, China and the US

An article published in Korea (조직몰입 선행변수의 효과에 대한 국가 간 비교연구: 한국, 미국, 중국을 중심으로 - 심원술, 김진희) a few years ago studied the factors leading to organizational commitment in companies of Korea, China and the US. 

To me, the most interesting point of the article was its conclusion that the effect of horizontal relationships of workers on the commitment of those workers to their organizations was about the same in all three countries but that the authors gave different reasons for each.

  • Korea is a group-oriented culture, but workers find that relationships with coworkers are important because of the trend in Korea toward a more individual outlook on life, as well as the need to get work done through informal channels in an office environment where work roles are ambiguous. Korea was the only country of the three to show that vertical relationships between workers were also an important influence on organizational commitment, which would reflect the strongly hierarchical corporate and social structure of Korea.
  • China is also a group-oriented culture, but as it is a socialist society, corporate hierarchies are relatively flat and lower-level workers wield a relatively large amount of authority when compared with the authority of workers under a capitalistic system, in terms of decision-making and goal setting. Therefore, horizontal relationships are important in China.
  • Of course, US workers are described as being more individualistic than those in either Korea or Japan due to American ideology and the US capitalist economic tradition, and so, because of having independence and high job mobility, relationships with coworkers are important to the American worker, both in one's current job and in furthering one's career going forward. 

I'm not sure these conclusions are all warranted just from the data in the paper, but it is important to note that Asians in general (and Korean, in particular) see large social differences between themselves and other countries in Asia and don't think of themselves as just "one more Asian country".

Answers to Questions on Becoming a RE-patriate from Korea

A KBC member posted this message recently:

Without getting into all the details, I've been thinking about repatriating back to my home country of the U.S. in the next year or so. I'd like to know about other people who have done the same. Did you have a job lined up before going back? How severely was your job search handicapped by the fact that you were in a foreign country while making applications?

If you had a Korean significant other, how did s/he handle the transition? Was s/he able to find employment or educational opportunities?

Anything you would do differently if you were going to do it again?

Did you make use of any career coaching or resume writing services?

Maybe the most important question: What would you recommend someone doing in terms of professional development to prepare for this kind of transition?

My life in Korea has had a series of setbacks recently, and I have family things happening in the U.S. that I'd like to be around for. My ideal situation would be to go back to the area of my education, Public Administration, in a way that builds upon my experience in Korea. Any and all thoughts are appreciated.


I answered with these thoughts:

I'm sorry to hear that things haven't been lining up for you in Korea. It is a fact that nearly all expatriates who come to Korea eventually return home, usually within 1-3 years. That was frustrating for me during my early years in Korea since it meant that it was very hard to form long-term friendships with other expats who then went home.

You certainly take some unique experiences and perspectives with you. But I've generally noticed that people who do go back to their home countries don't end up finding a position that perfectly complements their work in Korea. Perhaps it's just that positions back home don't include "Korea" in the job requirements. So, you'll likely need to think in more broad terms about how you've grown during your time in Korea and accept that your next job is unlikely to appreciate what you've done in Korea as much as it should.

That said, if you think carefully about the kind of job you take, you may find ways to bring out the Korea connection once you're in the position. For example, if you were to work for a large company, eventually you could maneuver your way over to the area related to Korean business.

One more recommendation for preparing to return would simply be to start your job search early so that you have something lined up before you get back.

eBriefing: "Answers to Top Questions about Business Visas in Korea"


Download the Following Weblog Article in PDF eBriefing Format.



3-8-2013 8-55-31 PMJared Muloongo--intern on KBC and job-seeker in Korea--and I are working to figure out some key information about the visa situation in Korea in order to share it with our members on KBC.

Based on the recommendation of my associate General-Secretary Yong-Moon Kim of the Gyeonggi Association of Foreign-Invested Companies, and through a couple people I worked with at InvestKorea last year to put together the KBC interview with Comissioner Hank Ahn, I was able to get in touch with the official from the Korea Immigration Service who is currently dispatched to InvestKorea to advise on visa matters for foreigners investing in Korea.

I visited his office today with a bundle of questions and the following are the answers I was able to get.

What are the visa options for foreigners who want to work in Korea in non-executive positions which are not teaching/ESL positions? (ex: E7, D8, E9, D9…)

To answer the specific visas mentioned in the question:

  • E-7: This is for foreign employees contracted with Korean companies to provide in-house services in Korea. It's the visa best-matched to most entry-level foreigners looking for a white-collar job in Korea.
  • D-8: This visa requires a large investment by a foreigner in Korea.
  • E-9: This is the visa under which laborers from certain countries come to Korea to work in factories in Korea at low wages. 
  • D-9: Foreigners who have a proven record of having achieved a certain degree of Korean exports in a trading business can be eligible for this visa.

Other visas which a foreigner might consider:

  • D-7: A foreigner who has worked for a foreign company or public agency overseas may be dispatched to Korea to work in the Korea branch or subsidiary of their employer and such person would be eligible for this visa.
  • E-1: Persons with an academic background may obtain a professorship and be sponsored by their university with the E-1 visa.
  • E-3: Foreign researchers at Korean research institutions (does not include professors) generally work under the E-3 visa.
  • E-5: Any number of foreign professionals, such as attorneys, doctors and accountants, would generally work in Korea under this visa.
What can you tell me about an E-7 visa? What are some of the requirements for this visa? 

The key point of this visa is that it's for foreigners working in positions in Korean companies which the Korean companies have demonstrated to the satisfaction of the Korea Ministry of Justice cannot be filled suitably by Koreans. (This is the reason most former ESL teachers who have gone from the ESL visa (E-2) to a E-7 visa are still working in language-related tasks.)

What is a D-4 visa for? What kinds of interns get this visa? Is it only at investment companies?

The D-4 visa has a very specific purpose. It's for the foreign local employees of the overseas branches and subsidiaries of Korean companies who wish to bring the foreign workers to Korea for on-the-job training. It is not a visa that can be easily issued under the sponsorship of a Korean company or otherwise to just any foreign intern.

Can you briefly explain what the E-9 visa is for? Who can apply for this visa and what are the requirements to qualify for this visa?  

This visa is for foreign laborers (particularly those from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia and a few other countries) willing to work long hour in dangerous and dirty conditions for very low wages (currently about W900,000/month is average, or so I've heard). You don't want this visa.

Are these visas country-dependent? For example, are they available only to citizens of certain countries and not to citizens of other countries? (Does this include African countries?) 

As I understand, the E-9 and H-2 visas are available only to persons from countries which have signed agreements with Korea for these visas. The other visas depend on finding a company or organization willing to sponsor, and which can also persuade the Department of Justice that they need the specific foreign employee and will properly take responsibility for that person. Also, as Korean companies now have to pay into four kinds of national insurance/workers compensation plans even for foreign workers, this can also be a significant burden, both in terms of costs and paperwork hassle.

How long does it take a candidate in Africa to have their visa procesed? What are some of the best places to have your visa processed quickly and efficiently?

I don't know, but the official at InvestKorea did say that the visa issuance isn't a country-based thing. No doubt, citizens of certain countries will have an easier time of it, but there aren't specific regulations that would affect this.

If a company states that an individual they are hiring must get their own visa, what recommendations would you make to the individual? How can they get a visa without sponsorship?  What visas would you recommend for people coming to do business in Korea, especially if they want to invest but are below the $200,000 dollar mark?  

Certain visas are available without a company sponsorship, don't require a ridiculously high investment or export record and allow the foreigner to work in Korea. They include the following.

  • D-10: Foreign graduates of Korean universities may be awarded this visa for 6-12 months, which allows them to stay in the country to look for work. In fact, it's called a "Get a Job" visa. This visa does not allow the individual to work though.
  • F-2: Those who are able to jump through lots of hoops and pass the points system may be awarded an F-2 residents visa. F-2 visa-holders may work in Korea.
  • F-6: Foreigners married to a Korean get this visa and they can work too.
  • F-5: This is the visa for permanent residents who have fulfilled various long-term residence and other conditions, and these persons can work, also.
  • G-1: This catch-all visa only requires the foreigner to convince the Ministry of Justice to give it to them. It appears to be intended for special situations.
  • H-2: This visa covers a very wide range of work roles and based on this document which I downloaded from the Ministry of Government Legislation's website, it appears to be similar to the E-9 visa in that it helps Korean manufactures get low cost manpower. Online articles indicate that these visa-holders are only from a few countries which have signed certain agreements with Korea.
What are the process and minimum requirements for a Korean company to sponsor a foreign employee?  What conditions must the foreign employee meet in order to get a work visa? Can an individual ever sponsor the visa of another foreigner without being family? Is there a way to work legally as an intern in Korea without having one’s visa sponsored by the interning company? Are there any loopholes that would legally allow someone to work in Korea without having a business visa?

There don't appear to be formal minimum requirements for a sponsor, but the company has to find a way to persuade the Ministry of Justice that the visa is warranted and that the company will take full responsibility for the employee. Apparently the representative of the company must take personal liability for the foreign employee.

I asked if I, as a foreigner with a non-corporation company in Korea, would be able to sponsor a foreign employee. The official said that, in theory, it's permitted, but that it would be very hard to persuade the Ministry of Justice to award one in this case. So basically, the visa sponsorship process is just a matter of persuading the government that it's necessary but there aren't formal conditions; in some cases it's easier than in others.

The only way to work legally in Korea without a sponsored work visa is to get one of the non-company-sponsored visas mentioned above.

Can you explain about the visa points system?

I found this PDF online which explains it.

What can a business visa applicant do to speed up the visa process? What professonal support services are available/helpful for getting through the visa process?

The fastest way to get through is to prepare the paperwork and submit it properly. The official told me that Korea doesn't have attorneys specializing in immigration work; I guess there's just not that much work to warrant it and the Korean system appears to be a little more approachable than the US immigration, which is a black box. Most visa information is available at Hi Korea. Foreigners should also be able to get free help from offices like the Seoul Global Center (which I believe has a free hotline for questions).

I asked if there was a document which explains all this in one place (including a comprehensive list) and in English and the official said there isn't. He did give me a Korean-language print-out listing all the visas and their summaries which he said don't exist in English, and much of the information provided in this article is based on that document, in addition to my discussions with the official.

If your visa application is rejected, can you apply for another visa type? If your visa is rejected for not having the correct documentation, can you reapply or is there a specific waiting period? 

I didn't specifically ask these questions, but based on what I learned, I would say that the Korean system is quite flexible, with discretion for the government officials, and doesn't automatically lock people out for set periods of time. However, if one is rejected once and then applies again without improving the application, the officials will notice the previous record and are unlikely to award the visa the second time, either.


Thus, in terms of recommendations for a foreign entry-level job-seeker in Korea who doesn't have the option of ESL teaching, or other short-cuts (such as marrying a Korean), here are what I've come up with as options.

  • D-2 (Foreign Student) - I've learned that Korean universities help their students (including foreign students) get internships and jobs, and that a D-10 visa (which would be awarded after graduation) would give the graduate up to a year to find a position.
  • D-7 (Korea Dispatched Employee) - Persons working for a company or organization with operations in Korea could get transferred to Korea after a time.
  • B-2 (Tourist) - Come to Korea and look for a job through intense networking and research... and hope for the best.
Other than these, there's the E-7 visa which can, in theory, be obtained from abroad. But without coming to Korea first, it'll be hard to find a job and compete in the application process with others who are already in-country. In addition, the company still has to persuade the Korean Ministry of Justice that the prospective candidate brings skills/expertise that they can't find from the tens of thousands of Korean graduates who also can't currently find a job, and it's really not reasonable to ask a Korean company to make this case to the Department of Justice for an entry-level job applicant whom they haven't met before.