The right person for the right job

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The right person for the right job

When Susie Yoo, 45, began working as a headhunter in 1992, her job was unfamiliar to most Koreans. "Few domestic firms recruited executives then," she says. "More than 90 percent of our clients were foreign firms that needed executives for their subsidiaries in Korea."

Ten years ago, the average Korean man spent his life working for just one firm. He would be trained there and promoted step-by-step, eventually to an executive position if successful. Recruiting executives from outside the company was almost unknown.

But the 1997-98 financial crisis and a lot of personnel restructuring forced head-hunting into prominence in Korea. "Domestic firms, including major conglomerates and tech start-ups, now represent 60 percent of our clients," she says.

Ms. Yoo, the chief executive officer of Unico Search Inc., the largest head-hunting service in Korea, has reaped the rewards, even if that means a lot more work. "My work begins around 7 a.m. and ends between 9 and 11 p.m.," she says.

Two or three times a week, she eats breakfast with the top managers of various firms, networking and getting all the information about the job market that she can. She arrives at her office around 9:30 a.m. to find 50 to 70 e-mail messages that arrived overnight from around the world. Then she reads 11 newspapers, checking for important news such as the landing of a new company in Korea. "Our business depends on information," she says.

Ms. Yoo generally has lunch with officials from her client firms or with job applicants. "I never eat dinner with my clients," she says. "In Korea, dinner tends to become a drinking party. It's a waste of time, and it can cause bad rumors because I'm a woman." In the afternoon, she visits client companies and interviews applicants. After 7 p.m., she checks on the operations at Unico and strategizes.

"Ms. Yoo knows well how to manage her time efficiently," says Byun Yun-bae, the president of HI Solutions, a personnel consulting firm. "I have never seen Ms. Yoo breaking a deadline given by her clients." Mr. Byun was a major client of Ms. Yoo's while he served as an executive at IBM Korea and Nike Korea.

According to Ms. Yoo, as domestic firms increasingly recognize the importance of personnel, their requirements for applicants are becoming more rigorous. They need the help of headhunters to search for midlevel managers and executives. "Those who have specialties and global competitiveness are our target," Ms. Yoo says, "not to mention those with English-language and computer abilities."

The first criterion for screening applicants is their past and current performances. To make sure she gets the correct information, Ms. Yoo goes beyond the applicants' official records and talks directly to people who are close to them. "We ask the applicants' co-workers about their abilities, performance, loyalty and contributions to teamwork," she says. "We also talk to people who do business with the applicants."

Ms. Yoo also checks the applicants' self-confidence through several interviews. Due to such a rigorous examination, it takes three to six months to recommend someone for an executive post. For a CEO position, everything about the applicants is examined, including their private lives. "We turn down those who have committed sexual harassment in the office," she says, "those who borrow money from their fellow workers but do not pay them back, and those who steal their subordinates' work."

Further complicating matters are all the applicants and companies with absurd requirements. "One day, one of the 30-largest conglomerates asked us to find a CEO for an annual salary of 300 million won [$243,000]," she says. "There was one applicant from a foreign firm whose annual salary was 190 million won, but he asked for 5 billion won. So the deal broke down. There are some people from foreign firms who think they can hit the jackpot with domestic firms."

On the other hand, there are some domestic firms that offer very poor or ambiguous conditions. "One of the top-five companies recently offered an annual salary of 48 million won to a person who was earning 60 million won. I asked the company why and they said the applicant should trust the firm's future. But no one would accept such conditions."

Ms. Yoo says she found her work especially worthwhile during the last decade's financial crisis. She found jobs at promising small and medium-sized firms for many executives who had been laid off by the big conglomerates, executives who were able to use their expertise to make a real difference in new jobs.

"Our work was good for both the executives and the companies," Ms. Yoo says. It's good for the companies because it helps to better allocate human resources. "The distribution of the work force in Korea is very unbalanced." Ms. Yoo says. "The best people are concentrated into only 3 percent of domestic companies."

It's good for the executives, too. "We revived them," she says, "They had totally lost their self-confidence after being laid off."


On the trail of employment? Create a road map of life

"Don't dream that once you go to another firm, you will do much better there," Susie Yoo advises those considering changing their jobs. "You have to do well in your current position if you want to go to another company with better conditions." She adds that it is not advisable to leave a job without a new offer firmly in hand.

Ms. Yoo emphasizes the importance of knowing one's own abilities. "In ordinary times, ask your fellow workers, including your boss and subordinates, what they think about your work and your status in the office," Ms. Yoo says. "Give them a sheet of paper and encourage them to write frankly. You will be surprised how their opinions are quite different from your own views."

Ms. Yoo recommends setting up a road map for your entire life. In your 20s, you should establish special knowledge and skills. In your 30s, you should acquire all the necessary certificates and licenses for that specialty. In your 40s, you should learn management skills and leadership. She says that before you turn 40 you should make the most important choice of your career: whether to stay with the company you work for and try to become an executive, or set up your own business.

To ensure that you are following your plan, Ms. Yoo recommends you update your resume once every six months. "If your resume has not changed from six months ago, you know you have failed to raise your value."

Once you increase your value, you have to advertise yourself, Ms. Yoo says. She proposes frequently attending seminars and conferences of relevant business associations and having your ideas published if possible.

Ms. Yoo says that job seekers must not neglect their appearances.

"People who look old and tired will not attract employers," she says. "Outer features reflect your physical and mental health. You know that most CEOs look younger than their actual age."

by Moon So-young

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