Jobs perfect on paper and hell in practiceYou’ve studied hard, bested scores of other applicants and plan to start your dream job today.
We’ll let you in on a secret: Your job may be hell.
As the newest recruit, you’ll be expected to work long hours doing the grunt work that no one else wants to do. You’ll take grief from your superiors. And, you’ll discover that no one cares what you learned in school. You’ll do things the company’s way.
Consider Jung Jin-young (not her real name), who had wanted to be a social worker since she was in high school.
Fresh out of Kangnam University, Ms. Jung was hired by a welfare center near her home. “I thought I’d be able to apply what I had learned in school,” she says. “But the center had its own way of doing things, and I had to do what I was told.”
That was frustrating for the 24-year-old, who had volunteered at hospitals and nursing homes during college to help seniors suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
“The company ignored my personal life because I was new,” Ms. Jung says. “I wasn’t allowed to go home if the boss was still in the office when I finished my work. I had to eat meals in the center’s awful cafeteria. And I was expected to drop my personal appointments with hardly any notice when my boss decided we should have a company dinner.”
After four months Ms. Jung quit. “I thought it would be my dream job,” she says, “but it wasn’t even close to what I had imagined.” She’s now preparing to study art therapy in graduate school.
Welcome to the real world. First jobs often aren’t what they’re cracked up to be. But you can improve your odds by weighing whether you’re right for the job and vice versa, rather than simply considering how a company’s name will look on your resume.
“The sentiment among college graduates these days is that their first couple years on the job are simply to build experience,” says Han Sang-baek, a counselor at Kyung Hee University’s student employment center. “As a result, graduates often make hasty choices.”
One important area to explore, Mr. Han says, is what kind of training is provided for entry-level employees.
Lee Seon-ju discovered too late the importance of having a mentor or a system in place to guide new workers. The 23-year-old account executive was hired three months ago by an online advertising agency that is growing so rapidly that responsibilities aren’t sorted out and training isn’t provided.
“It has been difficult for me to position myself in the company,” says Ms. Lee, who also asked that her real name not be used in this article. “I don’t have a clear idea of what I’m expected to do. I still don’t know what to say when colleagues from other departments ask about my job.”
Ms. Lee is looking for a new job, possibly in print or broadcast advertising. “I took this first job simply to gain real-world experience,” she says, echoing the sentiment that Mr. Han noted. “It was important for me to get hands-on experience with any company in advertising to make my resume look better.”
Taking the first job that comes along to pad a resume is a common tactic, says Mr. Han, who adds that employers’ preference for experienced employees fuels the trend.
Many experts say the age restriction for entry-level posts is also a factor that can push a person’s decision to accept a first job.
Kim Kyung-a, 26, took her first job as a commercial banker six months ago because she felt forced to make a compromise. “I wished I could have waited longer and found work with a foreign company,” says Ms. Kim, who majored in French literature. “But I felt this was my last chance to get a job because of my age.”
The urge to accept the very first offer that comes along is having another effect. Koreans are quitting their first jobs sooner than they did in the 1980s.
Today, college graduates generally stay in a first job two years or less, according to the Korea Labor Institute. That compares with five to 10 years a decade ago.
A local employment Web site, Humanpia, surveyed people visiting its site and found that 42 percent lasted less than a year on their first job. Of those, 24 percent quit within six months. Among those sticking it out, 88 percent said they had considered quitting.
Are young people less tolerant of pressures on the job? Or are workloads growing as companies try to get by with fewer employees in a stalled economy?
“The psychological pressure of being unemployed forces many job seekers to abandon their original goals and take whatever job they can find,” says Kim Jung-ah, a spokesman for Humanpia. “But they leave after finding that those jobs aren’t what they want, and that hurts them and the employers.”
Young workers are often discouraged because they discover that much of what they learned in school isn’t useful in the real world. In addition, class work rarely teaches students how to handle difficult co-workers or thrive in corporate culture ― factors that young people cite when they quit their jobs.
“It could be that schools ― universities in particular ― aren’t really helping students advance through life,” says Mr. Han, the university job counselor.
He may be right. Seven out of 10 job seekers who had more than secondary-school education said their studies didn’t help them in their careers, according to a survey by the National Statistical Office.
To help students develop skills and set realistic goals, Mr. Han suggests that companies change their recruiting methods. “It’s nonsense that students need at least a 3.0 grade-point average, high English-proficiency test scores and as many as licenses as possible to get the job they want,” Mr. Han says. “Korea’s recruiting procedures are practically the same in every field, whether you want to become a marketing consultant or a journalist.”
He also says that personnel departments should set practical hiring standards so students can concentrate on developing skills that will benefit them and their prospective employers.
Other placement experts contend that frequent job changes are just a part of the changing landscape as lifetime employment gives way to short-term contracts and a flexible work force.
“The trend is growing ― especially in the IT industry ― that employees actually plan to change jobs every few years to learn a variety of skills,” says Jeong Ho-young, a recruiter at Headhunt Korea. “They use their experience to sell themselves.”
Placement specialists warn, however, that switching jobs too often ultimately hurts an applicant’s prospects by raising employers’ concerns about loyalty and adaptability.
“It’s not uncommon that we get people applying for senior positions who moved three or four times during the first two years of their jobs,” says Lee Chul-hee a personnel representative at the conglomerate Hanhwa L&C. “In most cases we advise them to reapply for entry-level posts. It’s inevitable that a company will question candidates’ adaptability if they move too often.”
But recruiters also note that companies no longer expect a person’s first job to be his last, and that career paths will change as people mature.
“Your first job in no way predicts where you’ll ultimately end up,” says Karen Knight, a career consultant at MSN Career. “Talk to any mid-career person, and you’ll be shocked where the person’s career began. Your main task on your first job is to test your wings, learning how the organization works, how business gets done and what makes people and organizations successful. Career changes are in your future as you learn, grow and change.”
Not every first job is a horror story. Kim Min-jung, who rose from a secretarial post to become a planning administrator at an international law firm ― her first job out of college ― says she’s happy because she knew precisely what she wanted to do from the beginning. Ms. Kim focused on jobs that would utilize her English skills and teach her the basics of law.
Ms. Lee, the account executive, says recent grads should think ahead and consider how they will capitalize on their strengths even before they begin their job search.
“Put all your efforts into doing what you want to do,” Ms. Lee says. “Don’t give up too soon. And, don’t accept a job offer if you haven’t thought about it thoroughly.”
by Park Soo-mee