Jobs for humanities majors pull a vanishing act

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Jobs for humanities majors pull a vanishing act

As college graduates face a tougher time finding jobs, some are resorting to extreme measures, such as lying about their educational backgrounds - even downgrading them.

The situation is particularly hard for humanities majors and graduates of lesser-known schools.

One 27-year-old humanities major from a rural university got a job last month at a large security service firm.

But that was through a white lie. He wrote on his resume that he was a “high school graduate.”

Over the past few years, Korean companies have been encouraged to give some jobs to young people not fortunate enough to go to college.

“I applied to the same company admitting I had a college degree,” the graduate said. “And I didn’t even pass the first round.

“For the work I am doing, it doesn’t matter if I’m a college grad or high school grad, so I guess [the company] prefers high school grads. Even if I was employed as a high school grad, I’m content because the pay is good.”

Kim, 28, is a graduate from another rural university who majored in business administration. He also lied about his educational background to get a job.

Kim applied for a blue-collar position at an automobile manufacturer earlier this year that was only open to high school graduates. He passed the first-round of the hiring process, because he didn’t mention his college career. Eventually he didn’t get the job.

“There are quite a few humanities grads I know who have applied to this manufacturing company claiming they only have high school diplomas,” he said.

The Korean employment landscape is changing. With youth unemployment running high, college graduates are now considering blue-collar positions usually taken by people without bachelors’ degrees.

The JoongAng Ilbo recently conducted a survey of 20 companies, including top-10 conglomerates and state-owned enterprises, on their hiring patterns for the latter half of this year.

According to the survey, the 20 companies were hiring 17,621 people, 12 percent less than last year during the same period, when 25,000 were hired.

The companies said it was rare for them to choose a new recruit who majored in the humanities.

Hyundai Motor only hires science and engineering majors in its regular open recruitment.

LG Chem, Posco ICT and six Samsung companies do not hire humanities majors.

Gone are the days when a good academic background was the golden ticket to employment.

Even humanities majors from top schools such as the coveted “SKY” universities - Seoul National University, Korea University and Yonsei University - are not guaranteed jobs.

One 25-year-old student of Yonsei University’s department of economics completed all his credits but is attending another term to postpone graduating.

He sent resumes to 30 companies but is still job-searching because he never got past the first-rounds, which have a 30 percent rate of acceptance.

The fancy awards, extra-curricular activities and high TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication) scores, once considered stepping stones for clinching jobs at top companies, no longer do the trick.

A 28-year-old college senior at Korea University submitted applications to five companies but was not hired by any. The student explained, “I have quite a few club activities and contest awards but they were useless.”

An education ministry survey conducted between August 2013 and February 2014 on employment trends of graduates of four-year colleges by majors showed that 37 majors enjoyed employment rates of over 60 percent. And three majors - medicine, health and engineering - had employment rates of 89 percent.

Employment rates were even higher for science majors from provincial universities than humanities graduates from high-ranking universities in Seoul. Some major might not even be recognized by humanities majors. Mechatronics majors from Pusan National University had a 92 percent employment rate and Kunsan National University’s robotics majors had an 84.6 percent employment rate.

Likewise, mechanical engineering and automotive engineering majors boast an average employment rate of over 70 percent.

In comparison, the employment rate for English language and literature majors was 27.3 percent for Ajou University in Gyeonggi, and 36.8 percent for Kwangwoon University in Seoul. Less than half of English majors at Seoul National University found employment after graduating - only 43.5 percent were hired.

The average employment rate even for mathematics majors at “SKY” universities was around 40 percent.

“Blind employment, or hiring without looking at where the applicant graduated from, is becoming more common,” said Park Jae-keun, a labor and employment official at the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry, “and employers prefer science majors more related to their tasks. But many applicants are focusing on gathering specs such as high TOEIC scores.”

Kim Jong-woo, head of a national association of college admissions counselors, said, “Parents and students need to keep in mind that if students pick schools just based on their name without considering seriously their major field of study, they may face employment problems.”

Companies seem to be putting more value on whether new recruits will be up to the specific tasks given them, rather than their university names.

The JoongAng Ilbo interviewed human resources managers of leading companies on what they looked for in new employees. They generally agreed that a while ago companies switched to a hiring strategy that put more emphasis on an individual’s capacity to do a job well. But students continue to be obsessed with piling up “specs” for an impressive, and now rather meaningless, curriculum vitae.

Some human resources and interview evaluation committees often hire employees through a “blind” method, without knowing the individual’s school or grades, a method poplar since the early 2000s.

Since 1995, Samsung Electronics has gotten rid of first-round screenings based on schools, grades and other strict academic records. Rather, it allows anybody who fits the work-related criteria to take the Samsung Group hiring exam - the Samsung Aptitude Test (SSAT) - and led the nation’s first non-spec hiring trend.

Kim Jong-hun, a director of human resources at Samsung, said, “Rather than having a bunch of certificates for fields unrelated to the job, we are looking at whether a candidate has the knowledge, experience and passion to carry out their tasks. Instead of having an ambiguous resume showing off specs, we see if applicants have a clear goal or not.”

As school’s reputations are no longer emphasized, more candidates from regional schools are being selected in the hiring process.

Kim added, “We are hiring a consistent proportion of applicants from provincial universities, and currently, among new hires, 35 percent are from provincial universities.”

In response to criticism that Samsung-hopefuls are spending large sums of money on cram schools before taking the SSAT, Kim said that they are thinking of revising a part of their hiring process.

Park Seong-su, a hiring manager at LG Electronics, said, “Even 20 years ago, academic records and school reputations were important criteria, but according to our analysis, employees’ capabilities to do the work has a much bigger influence on their performance, so we changed our hiring processes.”

LG Electronics’ software development department requires a written test and a separate in-depth interview. People applying for overseas positions are interviewed in English.

Lotte Department Store, the rare case in which 90 percent of hires are from humanities backgrounds, has a custom of hiring mostly former interns, people who served in the military and contest winners. Over 50 percent of new hires are interns, and since 2011, anybody with a high school education is able to apply. However, they need to go through a two-month internship program and are evaluated on their abilities afterwards.

Park Won-su, a business management supervisor at Lotte, said, “They say brains for studying and brains for working are different. Rather than academic records, we are looking for talented individuals with an interest and passion in retail and fashion.”

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