Toward a ‘spec-free’ society

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Toward a ‘spec-free’ society


The head of the Presidential Committee on Youth Generation held a forum on breaking the “spec craze” at Pusan National University earlier this month. [JoongAng Ilbo]


Nam Min-woo

South Korea’s obsession with so-called specs - referring to skills and competencies required to do a certain job - and as a result they are ever-expanding and never-ending. A good grade-point average in college and high language-proficiency scores are rudimentary qualifications for job applications. Amid the ferocious race to improve eligibility, young people must compete in various contests, finish language courses overseas or participate in internship programs, and somehow find the time to do some volunteering. And it’s not only just about one’s application on paper. Young people must visit plastic surgery clinics to “enhance” their looks as well. One survey showed that an average young Korean spends 3.85 million, or $3,575, a year to make himself or herself look good. Nearly 40 percent take a break from school or defer graduation in order to build their specs.

Regardless of fancy backgrounds and skills on resumes, companies complain that they cannot find useful and promising people among young job seekers these days. What employers really demand from the young is responsibility, perseverance, integrity, passion and good character, not impressive scores and such qualifications. Grade-point averages and language aptitude account for about 28.4 percent of hiring evaluations at large companies. The rest of the points come from an individual’s value, eagerness and adaptability. Corporate recruiters say too many skills and test scores on a resume only make job applicants look like they lack focus and confidence.

Amid the mounting criticism of the social costs incurred because of spec-based recruiting, more companies and organizations are opting to look beyond the resume in evaluating and hiring. Certain qualifications are necessary to do some jobs, but it is a waste to devote so much time and money on qualifications that do little to help performance.

English aptitude tests like the Toefl and Toeic are good examples. Korean students from secondary schools and higher education institutions spend an enormous amount of time and money to get high scores on the U.S.-administered English tests, which are primarily designed for international students applying for American universities or graduate schools. But most jobs in Korean corporations do not require such a high level of vocabulary and reading skills. Even if English competency is necessary for work, it could be acquired after joining the company. I have never taken the Toefl or Toeic, but I have no trouble doing my overseas work with the English I picked up during my career.

Necessity may be the mother of invention, but that doesn’t mean we all have to figure out and rigorously prepare for things we may not need. I suggest companies either drop Toeic scores from job applications or make them optional.

The government is also campaigning to create a recruiting culture that goes beyond the spec race. The Ministry of Education is developing a model for job qualification guidelines to specify the educational requirements in each job area. The Ministry of Employment and Labor designed a job performance evaluation model and distributed it to companies to advise them on how to hire based on individual competency, character and potential. The Ministry of Strategy and Finance sponsored a public-sector recruitment expo that bypassed test scores and academic background for hiring. The Presidential Committee on Youth Generation has signed agreements with companies pledging to look beyond specs in recruitment.

Companies are also increasingly trying to stop the spec craze. More do not require descriptions of academic background or age and some even have dropped photos from their applications. Some allow individuals to use their own resumes. Companies cannot radically change their recruiting criteria overnight, but we hope companies will incrementally reduce how much they evaluate based on people’s specs. Large companies should take the initiative by coming up with creative ways of recruiting and hiring more young people. When there are sufficient job opportunities, young people will be less pressured to build specs to draw attention and win jobs. The government should keep watch on corporate recruiting styles and reward companies that change.

Young people also have to help themselves. Of course the older generation is blamed for creating a highly competitive, uniform and narrow job market. But they must not lose faith and keep the courage to break the mold. Regardless of the times we live in, what defines young people is not vanity but the passion and adventurous spirit in their hearts.

JoongAng Ilbo, March 21, Page B10

*The author is the head of the Presidential Committee on Youth Generation and chief executive of Dasan Networks.

By Nam Min-woo

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