Recruiters step past ‘specs’

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Recruiters step past ‘specs’

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College senior Kwon Min-jae walked up on a small stage dressed in a neatly pressed business suit and white shirt. It was a defining moment for him.

Unlike conventional job interviews where the applicant sits facing the interviewer in a cluttered room, speaking only when asked a question, Kwon began his freestyle presentation with pictures of K-pop singer Lee Hyo-ri in bikinis.

Needless to say, that grabbed the attention of his audience of about 200, including officials from Kia Motors.

“I’m a bikini-like person, bold and passionate,” said Kwon. He went on to explain that he was in love with Kia and its products and why he wanted to work for the nation’s second-largest automaker.

Kwon was among the 10 or so applicants chosen to make presentations at K-Talk, a Kia Motors job interview event Tuesday and Wednesday at Olympic Park in southeastern Seoul. They were selected from among more than 100 applicants for the job interview event at which no documents were screened.

Although K-Talk was a one-time event, the automaker said the main purpose was to seek out talented recruits without having to go through the process commonly known in Korea as “specs,” short for specifications. It includes inspection of applicants’ academic records, English test scores and other documents such as professional certificates and proof of internships that are usually the major factors in recruitment.

Typically, document screening is the first step in the hiring process where the vast majority of applicants are rejected based on their specs. Applicants are ranked based on which college they attended, GPA and scores on English tests such as the Toeic and Toefl. Even a one-point difference in those scores could be a deal breaker.

Kia said the experiment of excluding document screening may help the company find applicants with lower specs, but outstanding ideas and a passion for cars.

“Our purpose is to enhance efficiency and create a diverse corporate culture by bringing in new recruits with different characters and values,” said Park Sang-deok, a Kia human resources manager. “With the existing recruitment system that emphasizes academic records, most finalists tend to be similar: smart and diligent, but somewhat passive.”

Looking for more

The annual hiring season is once again upon Korea’s college or high school students, with many big companies - Samsung and Lotte among them - announcing recruitment plans for the remainder of the year.

At the same time, many are shifting away from the conventional recruitment process fixated on specs, which human resource departments now consider an obstacle in identifying creative and motivated candidates. The shift is aimed at developing a diverse and innovative work force.

“In the highly competitive job market, hiring based largely on specs results in employees who tend to be uniform. So we tried to bring in different values that can cooperate and create synergy between knowledge and creativity,” said Park.

He said diversification of recruitment methods eventually leads to employees who complement each other as long as the applicants are equipped with enough passion and practical knowledge about the jobs to which they are applying.

“Companies will keep the existing recruitment framework because academic records are still significant in determining applicants’ capabilities,” said Park. “However, Kia will keep experimenting with how much non-academic factors can contribute to the company and create a synergy with existing values.”

The prolonged economic downturn?is?a significant?factor that led companies to?start looking for different values from new recruits, according to?Saramin, the nation’s largest recruitment Web portal.?

“Those academic credentials known as specs are?not directly related to?the hands-on jobs. So they’re?considered less?practical. Companies?nowadays seek?great risk-management skills and fast learners who are actually?able to quickly perform as existing employees do,” said Im Min-uk, a Saramin spokesperson. “That’s why they?try out new?recruitment methods like audition and public speech.?They need proactive employees who?take the initiative rather than just doing what they are told.”??

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Hiring season

Other major domestic companies such as Lotte Group, SK Group, Samsung Group and Korean Air also have announced recruitment plans for the second half of 2013, hiring increased numbers of university graduates not only through resume qualifications but through presentation competitions and camping trips.

Job seekers who have been looking forward to the open recruitments, normally held twice a year around March and August, have been closely monitoring the schedules of companies.

The nation’s retail conglomerate Lotte Group announced recruitment plans Monday, saying it will hire 1,200 people in the second half of the year, including 800 through open recruitment and 400 winter interns.

Since 2011, it has eased education standards, accepting applications from high school graduates. Of the 15,500 employees Lotte plans to hire this year, 8,000 will be high school graduates.

In addition, it grants extra points to applicants who apply to businesses in the areas where their colleges are located.

Lotte Group also decided to increase the number of campus recruitment visits by group employees to their alma maters.

“I have been waiting for this open recruitment since I wanted an internship on a large corporation’s PR team. As difficult as it is to get into any large company, open recruitment season is the most important time for job seekers as well as students looking for internships,” said a junior at Hoseo University in South Chungcheong.

In the second-half open recruitment, extended recruitments for disabled applicants and students from China, Indonesia and Thailand are included.

“We plan to actively hire those talents with qualities and competencies regardless of their education, region, gender and disability, as we believe fairness is the most important principle,” said a human resources spokesman at Lotte Group.

SK Group has also announced open recruitment based on merit that takes into account factors other than education background in the hiring process and uses on-site recruitment visits to universities.

The company will hold a recruitment fair dubbed SK Talent Festival at Kyungpook National University in Daegu today. It will use a presentation skills event that will allow selected applicants to skip document screening and go directly to interviews.

“For this open recruitment, we plan to give graduates of local universities, who can easily be alienated, the opportunity to actively participate, while looking for applicants who possess enthusiasm, creativity and talents,” said an SK Group spokesperson.

SK Telecom, the nation’s largest mobile carrier, also recently released the schedule for open recruitments for the second half, and said 30 percent of its new hires will be graduates from universities outside of the greater Seoul area .

The company explained that as a company that uses state-of-the-art mobile communications network, it will hire employees who can play active parts in each region to increase the competitiveness of the business and individuals.

SK Telecom will hold a Healing Camp, where applicants can spend time with the company HR managers in an effort to identify job seekers who enjoy challenges and innovation.

When potential applicants apply for the Healing Camp at SK Telecom’s Web site, they will not be asked for information about their GPA, language exam scores or other awards or experiences. They only need to explain who they are, their biggest worries and their goals.

Samsung Group said it will hire 5,500 new employees through open recruitment. It will earmark 5 percent of hires for applicants from lower income families and 35 percent for university graduates.

Korean Air is accepting applications from college graduates until Sept. 13 for 200 general jobs and 700 cabin and flight crew positions.

“This time we plan to focus more on the potential abilities such as attitude and character of applicants in each screening procedure and recruit those that meet the qualities sought in the company,” said a spokesman for Korean Air.

The number of job seekers has more than doubled in the past 10 years, according to Saramin, which analyzed the Employment Trend for July 2013 released by the Statistics Korea.

It said the number of job seekers in the country is 584,000, compared with 222,000 10 years ago.

Considering that the number of unemployed in July was 827,000, compared with 828,000 in 2003, the number of jobs has increased significantly. Saramin speculated the increased number of job seekers reflects their intention to find better jobs with higher qualifications, even if it takes longer to prepare for employment. Among the job seekers, the number of people who attended institutions or academies was 202,000, compared with 382,000 who prepared at home or in study rooms.



BY Kim Jung-yoon, Kim Ji-yoon [kjy@joongang.co.kr]

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