The ugly war over ‘spec’

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The ugly war over ‘spec’

“Spec” has become a common word in Korea. Originating from “specification,” it refers to a set of requirements to be satisfied by a material, design, product or service. The National Institute of Korean Language recommends using “itemization” or “instruction manual.” At any rate, “spec” is an object of serious concern among graduating college students who are seeking jobs.

For example, if I were an automobile, my specification would be the following: “I am equipped with audio and navigation systems, rear-view camera and an alarm system with heated leather seats. I also have air bags on the passenger seat. But I got into college on the third try, have served in the Army, and completed an overseas language program. And I have been seeking a job for two years, so I am a bit old. I have an engine displacement of 800 cubic centimeters and a license plate from another region.” The specs for a job seeker include GPA and language test scores, and their anxiety helps the business of private institutes and consulting companies claiming to boost those specs.

However, specifications are not what most competitive industry leaders are looking for. They are tired of the competition from similar resumes. In short, they value character over specs. In order to lessen the excessive competition, some companies set a qualification standard for applicants. On the company Web site, Samsung Electronics posted official English test scores for each job category and the minimum GPA of 3.0 out of 4.5. All applicants who satisfy the two conditions pass the initial resume screening. Posco announces the GPA and language test score standards a year before recruiting.

How about other licenses and certifications? Posco’s HR manager Jeong Tae-hyeong said that he has seen an applicant who earned a 6 Sigma Certificate after attending lectures for a few days, and it was good for nothing. Jeong adds that the company values passion, character and attitude, and they can find the candidates that suit the company the best through the four-round interview process, which includes analytical presentation, group discussion, specialty interview and character interview.

Samsung Electronics’ HR manager Han Joon-ho emphasizes talent and fundamentals. “Interviewers often ask the candidates how many hours they spend on their major. The four years in college may not be enough time to devote to the major area of study. Those with fancy specifications are generally those who neglected the major.”

Some applicants try to prep for the job at the global company, just as they had done through middle and high school. However, Han says that the company wants candidates with talent and fundamentals because it offers extensive training after they join the company. “It is not wise to waste time on irrelevant specifications.”

We all know the importance of passion, character, talent and fundamentals. Yet applicants are still anxious because they are abstract values. But companies are skilled at recruiting, hiring and managing employees. A Hanhwa Group executive said, “When you do interviews, interviewers almost always agree on suitable candidates even when the applicants have similar qualifications.”

They are not just relying on intuition. Kim Jin-seong of Lotte Group Human Resources say that they are not seeking the best people, but the right people for their corporate culture and the group trains the interviewers so that they can select suitable candidates. Only the employees and executives with high performance reviews are considered to be interviewers, and after three-day training in the recruiting season, the bottom 20 percent are removed and the rest become interviewers. These interviewers are trained to see through sugar-coated resumes and personal statements.

The Park Geun-hye administration pledges to implement a recruiting system that goes beyond specifications and resume. But “beyond the specification and resume” should not give an advantage to job seekers with affluent families. Research shows that the financial situation affects not just the College Scholastic Ability Test scores but also the specifications of college students. “The rich get richer, the poor get poorer” applies to college admission as well.

The administration needs to consider why the competition for specs is ruining the nation and make more detailed policies. I believe that the collapse of meritocracy that supported the selection and hiring process in modern Korean society boosted the spec competition driven by money. Meritocracy had ended the convention of inheriting money, power and education and made the society healthier, but it is no longer the case.

Companies like Samsung are making efforts to hire a certain percentage of high school graduates and regional university graduates. But the government needs to work more aggressively from now on, not simply to boost the employment rate but for the future of the nation.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Noh Jae-hyun
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