An Interview with Professionals

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09/04/19. 13:20. P19

/An Interview with Professionals/

/Category: Leadership, Professionalism/Work Ethic/

/Guide Questions: What leadership qualities do people in your host country value? How do the leaders in your in your host country compare to leaders in the US?

What have you observed about the work ethic and productivity level of the country? What is a measure of “productivity” in your host country?/


Nathan Benn/Getty Images;

One of my goals during this time abroad was to obtain an internship for the summer. Since I do plan to relocate to South Korea in the future, I wanted to see what the business environment was like and experience their work culture first-hand. Alas, the summer has passed; finding an internship wasn’t as easy as I thought, and I ultimately failed to find one. However, I remain undeterred in my goal of learning about the Korean working environment.

There are certain stereotypes associated with East Asian countries’ working environment; that they overwork their employees, the hierarchy is too strong, employees are just followers, women are not respected, etc. I wanted to find out if these were true or not. After all, I want to prepare myself for what I was going to get into someday! Fortunately for me, as I was continuously pursuing language exchange opportunities throughout the year, I managed to become good friends with some who are already professionals. I took the opportunity to ask five questions that I was most curious about. This post will be an excerpt of my “interview” with them (slightly edited for clarity). Minchae works in the webtoon industry, Eunji works in advisory, while friend “A” (prefers to be anonymous) works in the insurance industry.

Q1: How do you think is “productivity” measured in South Korea? (e.g. number of hours worked, output, ideas presented, etc.)

Minchae: “Productivity is measured in output. Honestly, even though someone made a lot of effort in a project, if it doesn’t go well, it is considered very little productivity.”

Eunji: “We base it on quantitative performance such as sales profit, return on investment, cost per acquisition, results on marketing (return on advertising spending, number of application downloads, conversion rate, retention rate).”

A: “I think we measure our productivity in terms of the ratio of input to output. Although revenue is important, in Korean society it is emphasized too much, sometimes at the expense of the workers. Overtime is still very common, especially when we need to reach this quarter’s bottom line. One of my friends, an engineering graduate who works for a big company, is only paid about $6 per day of overtime. That’s per day, not even per hour! No matter how long his overtime is, he only gets $6!

Q2: What kinds of traits are considered valuable when companies are looking for new hires?

Minchae: “I think companies prefer to hire a sociable person who communicates well and gets along with others well. In the company, there are so many people, teams, and dealings with other companies. Because of this, there is a need for people who can communicate well and can finalize business deals smoothly.”

Eunji: “Ability to resolve issues, eligibility, responsibility, proactivity, passion, visioning, thought, your mindset, creativity, and having good relationships with colleagues.”

A: “Maybe punctuality, working fast but accurately, and having the ability to learn fast. You also have to be friendly because teamwork is important here. Oh, and you should be easygoing too, because sometimes you have to yield to others’ decisions for the team’s best interest.”

Q3: What kinds of skills are considered valuable when companies are looking for new hires?

Minchae: “I think all skills are important with regards to working for a company, but I think it depends on the department. For example, if one person works in accounting, the most important thing is accuracy. However, I think the most important thing is comprehension ability because when a boss assigns work, the employee should understand what the boss is asking for and what needs to be done. Time management and prioritization are also equally important.

When you interview, you should also know how to focus on answering the questions. If the interviewee answers off the point, the interview has a high possibility of failure.”

Eunji: “Communication skills which include language capability, presentation skills, negotiation skills, and analyzing skills.”

A: “Excel… presentation skills would be beneficial for you too.”

Q4: In Korean society, what makes a good leader?

Minchae: “A good leader should be smart. That person must know how to see not only the big picture, but also know all the details, so that he/she can make optimal decisions during critical moments. Also, that person must have a very strong mentality.”

Eunji: “A good leader is someone who communicates, listens, shares, and gives the company vision.”

A: “I really don’t like micromanagers. My coworkers and I are having a hard time because our head boss watches and controls our every move. In Korea, there’s still a lot of those kinds of bosses so, I would want a leader that is the opposite. Someone who trusts our capacity to do a good job.”

Q5: What are the recent trends in the Korean business working environment?

Minchae: “Nowadays, 유연근무(flexible work hours) is the trend in the Korean labor environment. in the past, people proved how much they work hard and sacrifice themselves for the business by working late, but now that is an old-fashioned and backward mentality. If someone finishes their own work and then leaves for the day, people think that person is competent. Another trend is 괴롭힘방지법(a law that protects employees from suffering from their bosses). If an employee feels that his/her boss is abusing him or her, the employee can report it to the official institution.”

Eunji: “Flexible working schedule, calling someone “ㅇㅇ님” (Mr. ㅇㅇ– polite version of calling someone by name) rather than traditional job titles such as “부장님,차장님, 대리님(manager, department head, assistant manager)”, naturally taking a photo or video during a memorable moment, working with collaboration tools such as Slack, Notion, Trello, Kakaotalk, Jandi, etc., accepting free casual and easy wearing in the office, encouraging work and life balance.”

A: “유연근무(flexible work hours) is growing in popularity these days but that really depends on the industry and company you work for. 회식culture (company dinners – but with excessivedrinking) is gradually disappearing as well. Nowadays, there are also better benefits for women, especially for mothers. They get paid 70% maternity leave, and there is less stigma when they return to work.”

Note:These “company dinners” have a negative connotation to them as newly hires or lower-hierarchy workers are sometimes “forced” (out of the need to impress or obey the seniors) to drink in excess.

How does this compare to your own respective countries? Through this simple interview, I managed to gain a sneak peek into what’s it like to work in South Korea and how it is slowly challenging the stereotypes it has been associated with. Thank you to my friends for their sincere and honest answers. I found them informative and insightful, and I hope students like me who are interested in Korea will as well.


My friend Minchae and I trying Limburg waffles on a hot summer day.


My friend Eunji and I take a walk around Hongdae after having lunch.