Category: business networking

Exploring Korean business, language and life from Ansan, Korea

Korean Business Culture Insights: “Making the Most of Your Korean Business Cards”

The following snippet from one of my lectures in the KBC Professional Certification Program 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 lecture in Chapter 3 of Korean Business Etiquette Guide: Take an Essential Step Toward Your Business Goals in Korea!

"Alright, so I’d like to jump into today’s lesson on business cards by pointing out that the Essential Handout for this module is the only ebook in existence (as far as I know) about nothing other than Korean business cards, entitled “The Definitive Guide to Business Cards in Korea”. In that book, I really give you the skinny on just about everything there is to know… after all, it says it’s “definitive” right there in the title.

"But actually, it’s still not complete. Since I wrote that book, my own business card thinking has evolved through two additional transformations!"

Get the rest of this article in Korean Business Etiquette Guide: Take an Essential Step Toward Your Business Goals in Korea! 

"Here’s the thing about business cards in Korea. 

"I find that it’s often harder to explain to Koreans some of the things I’ve done than to show off a bit in the form of a mini-resume on the back of my card. Perhaps it’s that the language barrier is bigger when spoken, than when written, but I like to prime the discussion with a few facts about myself that will create a little interest.

"And since, as I explain in the textbook lesson, it’s common courtesy in Korea to actually review the business card that somebody gives you at the time of exchanging cards, I always get questions, and that gets us talking.

"But adding more stuff created a problem. With addresses, names and other information being written both in English and Korean, as well as some resume highlights, it soon became too much for one business card, until I thought of a new concept: the double-sized folded business card!

"Yup, here it is. 

"That was cool, but it was also pretty over the top, and Korean culture is such that a little feigned humility is appreciated — even in business! As I was struggling for an answer about what to do, I came up with yet an even better approach which my friend Jinho suggested!

"I now carry two separate sets of business cards; one set for Koreans, and one set for non-Koreans. In addition to letting me get away without having everything in both languages on every card, each set has just the information I think the respective group will be more interested in.

"For example, Koreans don’t give a hoot that I’m a certified Korean translator or that I passed some Korean TOPIK exam at the top level that they could pass in their sleep. On the other hand, I find that Koreans are more interested in knowing that I graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington than non-Koreans, who often know that it’s a rathermid-level school.

"So, my point here is that since we know that business cards in Korea are a somewhat more respected business tool than back in the West, I encourage you to think through your approaches to them,and not just by creating two versions.

"Just as you should follow a few simple rules about business card exchanges (explained in the textbook portion of this module), so the business card can be a marketing tool in Korea in ways that are unique in Korea – and unique in ways that you can take advantage of it as a foreigner (remember how I said Korean business culture doesn't always work exactly the same with foreigners as amongst Koreans? We can get away with stuff.)

"So, how about you? Have you tried something that works with your business card? Share it with the class in the classroom, alright?

"Ah, and here are what my current cards look like.

"For more information on Korean job titles and business cards, be sure to read this article from Seoul Magazine: “Two Things to Remember about Korean Job Titles”.

"And I’ll also suggest that you read “Three Steps to Business Network Building in Korea”, another article for Seoul Magazine which is one of the extra reading links for this module. It explains that the business card exchange in Korea means “permission to contact” and why this is a vital key for business networking in Korea.

"So, am I keeping your attention through the lectures? I guess if you made it this far, you’re at least paying attention to the end. Give me some feedback though. What do you think so far?

"Share with the class in the Classroom."


7-26-2012 1-46-02 AM


Sign up today for the KBC Professional Certification Program to be more successful in your business and career in Korea.

Korea Business Advisor (Seoul Magazine) – Supplement to the Article “Three Hacks for Effective Korean Business Card Exchanges”

In my latest column for Seoul Magazine’s February 2012 issue, I introduce the three most important steps for exchanging business cards correctly in Korea.

Korea Business Advisor (Seoul Magazine) – Supplement to the Article “Two Things to Remember About Korean Job Titles”

2011-10-17 오후 9-21-58
My latest column for Seoul Magazine's September issue discussed job titles in Korea and how the traditional organizational hierarchy is alive and well in Korean companies. To go deeper into this topic, visit the links below.


** CLICK HERE to read he full article on Korea Business Central.

“Korea Business Advisor”, Seoul Magazine – Supplement to the Article “Business Network Building in Korea”

8-10-2011 12-49-22 PM
My latest column for Seoul Magazine discussed the value of network building in Korea and some tips on how to leverage business cards for success in Korea. To go deeper into this topic, visit the links below:

** CLICK HERE to read the full article on Korea Business Central.

An Example of Long-Term Business Networking in Korea

I'm often a little surprised how easy people think doing business in Korea is going to be as a foreigner. Sure, teaching English is a piece of cake. But to move beyond this takes a long-term time-horizon and hard work. 

I was contacted by a member on KBC asking about getting connections in a specific Korean industry last week and I suggested he post his comment to one of our online discussions about business networking. Here's the advice I gave him:

"Koreans are great at organizing groups, seminars and online forums for specific interests. Accessing them without Korean-language ability can be tough, but with persistence, shouldn't be impossible. I understand from your email this week which you sent, you're looking for connections in the Korean film and television industries. As a first step, I'd encourage you to visit our next meeting of the Brand and Culture Forum, which will probably be the last week of August. We have some people in that group working in the Korean TV industry; you should definitely share your business card with them.

However, networking in Korea is about more than just meeting people and exchanging business cards. One of these days, I'm going to write a piece describing every link in the multi-year chain leading to some of the opportunities that have come my way. They came from establishing and maintaining long-term relationships that were based on more than just a specific objective in mind and from giving as much as getting. To move past the easy stuff (English teaching, for example) takes a lot of hard work over a long period of time. If you put in the effort, adapt to the Korean approach, and stick around long enough for the rewards, you'll eventually find yourself moving up."

In fact, this discussion got me thinking a bit more about business networking in Korea and I put together the following video this morning for our KBC Community Soapbox about just how long-term a networking process can take, and I'm sure in a few years, I'll be able to add yet more links to this chain, which will likely continue through to the end of my career:



How I Ordered 200 English/Korean Double-Sided, Full-Color Business Cards in Korea for About $12, Including Two-Day Shipping

The following instructions are prepared so that almost anyone can order, even without being able to read or type in Korean. However, a small amount of Korean typing ability is necessary for entering the mailing address.

1. I had my designer Catalin Soreanu prepare a two-page PDF of my business card (dimensions: 92mm x 52mm) with one page in English and one in Korean.

2. I opened Internet Explorer because other browsers don't work in Korea for e-commerce.

3. I went to  

4. I select the following graphic that says “파일주문명함” (actual graphic may be changed later).

4-9-2010 4-07-17 AM
5. I selected these options.

4-9-2010 4-12-06 AM
6.  I then clicked this button.

4-9-2010 4-23-28 AM
7.  I filled in the next screen as follows (though when I got to the address section, I had to follow the sub-process shown below this graphic).

4-9-2010 4-31-36 AM

 7a. In the address lookup above, the following pop-up window appeared.

4-9-2010 4-30-07 AM

7b. I entered the "dong (동)" in which I live and clicked "찾기".

4-9-2010 4-30-55 AM

7c.  I got a list of choices.

4-9-2010 4-31-11 AM

I clicked the one that corresponds to where I want the cards delivered and then returned to the main form to enter the rest of my address.

8. After finishing the large form above and clicking "확인", the following screen was shown to me:

4-9-2010 4-32-16 AM
9.  I then sent the amount shown in the blue box above to the bank account shown in the red box. I was sure to send from the bank account owned by the person I indicated in the form previously (which was me). I did it online but I could have sent payment by visiting the bank.

10. At any time I can check the status of my order by clicking "배송조회" on the home page:

4-9-2010 4-50-54 AM

On the next screen, I need to click the "파일주문명함" tab to find my name in the list, along with the order status:

4-9-2010 4-51-50 AM


Notes from a Colleague Before My Presentation to the GyeongGi Province Advisors Last Month

My colleague, Dom LaVigne, has deep experience working with Asian governments in the area of foreign direct investment, so as I was getting ready to present to the GyeongGi Province advisors last month, I asked him for a little advice.

P1000808 Dom doesn't do things half-way though and he put together a remarkably long and helpful list of questions/insights before our online meeting to coach me before the event. While the setting for my presentation to GyeongGi Province wasn't really conducive to a Q&A approach, Dom's notes cover the range of areas a complete conversation would address. 

He even had some suggestions at the end about how we could make it a joint presentation. We'll have to do that next time, though, since Dom's still back in the US.

In my future communications with others on the GyeongGi Province advisors board, I plan to keep these in mind so that over time, I can learn and propose in ways that add the most value to my position.

(I took the photo above on March 24, 2010 from the hill where Smith Company of the US Army first engaged North Korean invading forces as they headed south from Seoul. Today, this ground which was covered by dozens of Korean tanks penetrating the US position is the site of massive construction of Dongtan New City, immediately south of Suweon. My meeting with the Gyeonggi Province advisors was held in Suweon.)

Notes from Dom LaVigne

1.                  Overview of GG Advisory Position and Responsibilities (Steven)

a.       How many advisors on the council?

b.      Group makeup – i.e., all foreigners, mix, KR govt officials, any AmCham/EuroCham reps?

c.       Is your role intended to represent primarily American expat interests, or would you be an advocate for all expat nationalities?

d.      How often will the council meet?

e.       How long will the meetings be (i.e., one hour, two hours)?


2.                  Overview of GG FDI Promotional Efforts (Steven)

a.       How is the GG govt structured to promote FDI?  Who heads its efforts?

b.      Are there govt orgs tasked with FDI attraction and helping local SMEs globalize?

c.       What industries have been key in GG’s economic growth so far?

d.      Which industries is it targeting for the future?

e.       Are there any govt arms to look after foreigners/expats’ interests (e.g., akin to Seoul Business Center)?

f.       What is GG currently doing re. social media and social networking?

g.      Is GG doing any coordinated FDI promotional stuff with KR federal authorities (InvestKorea, KITA) or with other provinces?

h.      Does GG have a close relationship and ongoing dialogues with foreign partners (e.g., US Embassy, chambers of commerce)?

i.        Does it have formalized mechanisms in place for attracting foreign businesses, addressing investor concerns, to help facilitate easier visa applications, etc. (a “one-stop shop”?


3.                  Advisory Postion:  Case Study / Benchmarking (Dom)

a.       Singapore case study

Not completely relevant to Korea, but Dom will share briefly

                                                              i.      EDB, IE Singapore (iAdvisors Program), Tourism Board, SICC, SBF

b.      Malaysia case study

                                                              i.      How Malaysia appoints and works with expat advisors

1.      Key foreign players (AMCHAM, EuroCham, BritCham, GerCham) + locals (MICCI, FMM)

2.      Dialogues (Permuda, NEAC, MITI, MDTCA)

3.      Specific agencies (MITI, MDeC, MIDA, MDTCA, Home Affairs)

4.      State/Municipal Govts (Penang)

5.      MDeC/MIDA trade missions

6.      Analysis of expat advisors and commitments expected by govt, length and frequencies of meetings


4.                  Ideas for GG FDI-Promotion Activities (Dom)

a.       Council of Advisors who meet with Governor quarterly

b.      Centralized FDI-promotion agency – i.e., the EDB of GG

c.       Unique branding/marketing – what makes GG different? (Dom can also recommend branding advisor.)

d.      Focused sectoral development.  Does GG have adequate educational and local supply-chain infrasture to support this?  If not, how long to develop?

e.       Education:  Are GG students employable?  What are the advantages/disadv’s to local and foreign companies of GG workers, and where are skills needed to be upgraded (share Penang example)?

f.       Does GG have officials targeting key markets (e.g., China, India, SE Asia, US, Europe, South America)?

g.      Develop a clear PPT package that outlines InvestGG – stats, current investors, future investors, incentive packages, highlighting top foreign investor names/profiles.

h.      Great KBC recommendation on “success stories” for GG’s promotional efforts.  I’ve attached one done by US Chamber, used to lobby Congress for passage of US-Singapore FTA.

i.        Trade missions – inbound & outbound.  If US, important to include DC (Dom to cite MDeC example).

j.        Develop foreign contacts – i.e., invite US Amb to visit GG for briefings plus visits to US company facilities (Dom to share KL/SIN examples)

k.      GG to be proactive and ask AmCham if they would like to feature Governor at member-wide luncheon, re. briefing on GG

l.        Invite chambers’ members for tours out to GG, lunch, mtgs with govt officials (Dom to cite MDeC cooperation in KL).

m.    Alert chambers and embassies if GG having visitors from US/other countries (I’ll explain why re. how this happened in MY/SIN).

n.      Intended tech parks in GG?  Dom to share example of SembCorp Parks Mgt in CN/VN.

o.      GG town-hall meetings with foreign biz/govt communities annually.

p.      GG visits to EDB, MIDA, TEDA, etc. to benchmark what they are doing?


5.                  Social Networking / Social Media Ideas (Dom):

a.       Review GG web site – easy for investors to navigate?  Contact info apparent and useful?  List of officials with contact details (e.g.,  Definite advantage if done well – first impression created of GG by potential investors.

b.      All relevant GG personnel should get LinkedIn accts and assign particular officials to KR-related groups (e.g., Korea Network, Expats & Koreans, FDI group, Korea Finance) as well as other market-specific ones (e.g., Singapore Global)

c.       Relevant GG personnel to get signed up on KBC, introduce themselves, let people know they are there to help with FDI, and perhaps some background on industries they represent, market focus, how people can contact them.

d.      GG Governor or other senior personnel to participate in a bi-monthly Skype video roundtable discussion with relevant KBC members.

e.       Facebook?  I’m not a fan of it for biz networking, but could be a good tool for them to get involved.

f.       GG to setup InvestGG forum on LinkedIn.

g.      PR/media:  Forgot to mention this above, but they must do aggressive, targeted, smart media outreach, including bringing in media to GG (Dom to share SG 2004 example).


6.                  Your Presentation on Feb 19 (Dom)

a.       Bits and bites and highlights from #2-#5 above – depending on your specific role to them (as US liaison or general expat liaison, plus social media expert) can be customized accordingly.


7.                  What Can I Contribute?

Depending on how GG is setup currently to attract FDI, market themselves overseas, etc., they might need someone quite senior to head up this area, or to work as a liaison to the governor and InvestGG on developing their strategy, determining resources and budgets needed, and building networks with the foreign business and govt communities, as well as planning inbound/outbound missions.

a.      By the end of our discussion, likely some light bulbs will be going off in your head.

b.      Having an advisory panel is fantastic, but if GG doesn’t have an internal (full-time) resource already who is set to work with the advisors and foreign biz community, it is not practical to expect an advisor to take all this on their shoulders (I’ll cite a M’sia example).

c.       If my ideas resound well with GG:

                                                 i.      Setup Skype videoconf introductions?

                                                 ii.      Point above and/or if GG could cover my travel expenses and a consulting fee for my time, I’d go and spend a week there to see firsthand the investment, meet with companies, talk with GG govt, have strategy briefings like what we’re doing, and ultimately prepare a report/recommendations/gameplan on what I think they could/should do to attract FDI.

                                                 iii.      From Point II, hopefully they would see the value of bringing me on-board, and (ideally) either discuss that during my trip to GG, or upon their seeing the final report.

Message #1 to an Associate: Thoughts on Working for a Korean Government Entity

An associate of mine is working to land a job with a Korean government office to support their work promoting Korea overseas. He has a remarkable background, having lead an organization elsewhere in Asia for several years, as well as having worked with top government leaders in the US. He's truly got a unique resume and his international network is impressive. He's also a hard-worker who generously shares his deep knowledge with others. I'm not exaggerating when I say that he could really make a difference for some government agency in Korea that is trying to promote some aspect of Korea overseas.

P1000530But his efforts thus far have not led to much interest. Indeed, he can barely get responses back from the officials he's been contacting and this is before he even starts talking compensation, which he reasonably expects should be at an international level.

For various reasons, I am trying hard to put him in touch with the right people and based on my recommendation, he's already contacted the GyeongGi Province Foreign Investment Attraction Office and a top official for the province of South Choongcheong. In addition, I forwarded his information to a colleague having a close relationship with someone close to the mayor of the city of Incheon. This is Korean-style networking at its best and if anything is going to work for my associate, one of these will.

But as I reflected on my experiences in Korea (in particular, with the province of Gyeonggi) and discussions with another American associate working in one of the Korean central government agencies, I'm questioning the feasibility of a foreigner being able to do very much within government circles. I sent my associate an email a couple weeks ago right after the GyeongGi Province advisors meeting. Here it is in slightly edited form:

Hi <Associate>,

Frankly, based on my contacts with people related to GyeongGi Province and seeing the struggles you’re having, in spite of your strong background, I think finding a satisfactory position in an Asian organization is going to be tough. As far as Korea goes, the Korean government agencies just aren’t going to turn over a bunch of responsibility to a foreigner and they aren’t going to pay adequately for it. You’ll find a few examples where Korean MNCs are hiring foreign executives, but they are operating on a direct profit motive with executives whose value on the international market is proven; within the government agencies, it’s an “old boys’ network” and they don’t know you. Remember, GyeongGi Province just got my limited efforts and resources for nothing because I am fitting that into a long-term strategy to build my understanding and network in Korea but they sure aren’t asking for my advice on policy; you may not have the patience for such an approach.

I was impressed with the caliber of people at the GyeongGi Province meeting yesterday. These weren’t slackers or country hicks; many/most have degrees from foreign universities and deal with foreigners on a daily basis. I don’t doubt someone like you could come in and bring dynamism to the process, but I find it hard to think anybody in that room is ready to take orders from someone younger than them and who doesn’t share their Korean outlook. I’m not one of these foreigners who moans about always being an outsider; it’s not something they do deliberately, it’s just a fact of how things are. It would make no more sense to complain that I can’t walk through walls.

I’m going to keep pursuing your applications with GyeongGi Province and South Choongcheong Province (plus one more with the Mayor's office in Incheon). We will eventually learn something from it. Hopefully I can get you at least a phone interview or two and that can help to understand better. But unless you’re willing to come in at a junior level at a low salary, I can’t see things going anywhere soon.


On the other hand… your work with <non-Asian organization in Asia>, etc. will most likely be appreciated by foreign companies and organizations in Asia. Since they bring in foreign talent all the time, they operate at international levels of compensation and don’t have hang-ups about foreigners in positions of authority. Also, knowing Korean isn’t a pre-requisite. I could be wrong, but I bet this is a better angle for you. Of course, this is hardly an unexplored niche since this is where most non-Koreans go first anyway and the number of available positions is very limited.

Your experience looking for a job in the US is interesting. It sounds like you and I operate in something of a middle-world. Our perspective back home is more international than most; but in Asia, we’re still not Asians. It’s a tough, narrow niche sometimes but one that is wide open with the right strategy which helps to bridge cultural gaps.

I think you have to keep thinking about how your skills and background match the opportunities and then figure out which opportunities match with your goals. I sense you’re going to have to get your feet on the ground here sooner or later in order to get all that straight; the long-distance approach almost writes you off as an outsider from the start.

I wouldn’t tell you not to take a great opportunity in the other places you're looking; but I hope you make it to Korea.

Let’s keep discussing; tell me where you think I’m wrong. I’m learning a lot also.


Photographs: The above photos are from our recent trip to the Chiri mountain area. The top was taken at Yeongok temple and the bottom is from Jinju fort of the Namgang river below.