KBC joined with McKinney Consulting to help our members move their careers forward and to get jobs in Korea!
Graduates of the KBC Professional Certification Program were invited to a one-hour live webinar with Steve McKinney, President of McKinney Consulting, Certified Master Coach in Behavioral Coaching and Head of Seoul Global Center. Steve discussed career building in Korea from the book Executive Search and Your Career in Korea (published by the Association of Executive Search Consultants), and answered questions from attendees.
In addition, all attendees received a free copy of the book Executive Search and Your Career, sent by mail to anywhere in the world.
Attendees also had the opportunity to submit their resumes to the executive team of McKinney Consulting and every attendee who submitted their resume were included in the McKinney database of candidates for current and future openings (download the optimized resume template for getting a job in Korea mentioned by Steve in the webinar below).
This webinar was based on the book Executive Search and Your Career: The BlueSteps Guide to Career Management, and covered the following topics:
Work with a Recruiter in Korea
Chapter 1 – Executive Search and Your Career
Chapter 2 – How Retained Executive Search Works
Chapter 3 – Making Yourself Visible to the Search Community
Chapter 4 – When Opportunity Knocks
- How can a job candidate be proactive in the Korea job search?
- How can a job candidate stay visible in the Korean business community?
- What are some of the special opportunities available in Korea?
- How should a resume be adjusted to be Korea-ready?
Handle the Interview and Negotiations
Chapter 5 – An Insider View of the Interview
Chapter 6 – Responding to an Offer and Negotiating Compensation
- What are job interviews like in Korea?
- What expectations do Korean companies have of this step in the process?
- What kinds of questions are asked in a Korean interview?
- What are average and reasonable compensation packages for various jobs in Korea?
- What role does negotiation play in a Korean job hiring?
Manage Your Business Career in Korea
Chapter 7 – Managing Your Career
- What kinds of career tracks typically bring people to positions in Korea?
- What are the main roles foreigners fill in Korean business?
- How are considerations different for someone looking for a long-term business career in Korea, versus an expat planning for a short-term job assignment in Korea?
Transcript of the KBC-McKinney Webinar
Jared: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining us today for the Korea Business Central webinar – a production of Korea Business Central, the premier information and networking site for conducting business in Korea.
Today’s topic will be career building in Korea. Joining us to talk about this important topic is Mr. Steve McKinney, who is the founder and president of McKinney Consulting, a leading executive search firm based in Seoul.
Steve has more than a 25-year association with Korea. He’s developed his expertise in helping multinationals and leaders succeed in the region. He serves on the board for the Korea Foreign Schools Foundation. He’s also on the board for the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea, the head of the Seoul Global Center, and an honorary citizen of Seoul.
Steve, it’s great to have you here speaking to us today. Thank you for joining us.
Steve McKinney: Thank you. I hope you will enjoy this. I believe that this will be a great experiment to talk about these very issues that I think are important to you throughout your career. The topics that we’ll talk about a lot, if you think about it, are recruiting in Korea and specifically how to use professional executive search companies.
I’m actually not aware of many people talking about this or very much education being done in this area, so I think it could be interesting to you because whether you’re just starting out in your career or whether you’re a seasoned professional, the principles of executive search – what we do, how we do it, and how you can take advantage of it specifically – I think could be beneficial to you. It could help you in not only starting your career, but continuing to manage your career and learning how to use our industry.
I like to use the example of accountants or lawyers. One of the things I learned earlier on, particularly when I was the head of Adidas – I used to be the head of product development globally for Adidas and had to travel to more than 25 countries – is within that organization, in-house attorneys actually were profit centers. Most companies are an expense, not actually making profit, but in that industry, they make money after the cause of going after people that are having trademark infringements and stuff.
Dealing with them a lot, I learned how to use lawyers more effectively. I think that is something that is also not taught very much, but once you have to start paying for that money, you have to figure out how to use it most effectively. I hope you’ll learn that today.
In executive search, we’re going from this book that’s made by the Association of Executive Search Consultants which my company is a member of, which is the largest organization in the world. It stands for high-quality, principles, business ethics – the highest standards in our industry.
One tip for you right now is if you see an executive search company that’s a member of what we call AESC, that is a good sign that they have agreed and have been vetted and are supposed to follow the best standards and I think most of them do. There are some exceptions or some need to be cleaned out, but for the most part it’s good.
One of the things that is mentioned first in chapter one is a very important thing. Some managers believe that executive search consultants find jobs for executives. One thing this book will show you and we’ll talk about is that’s not true. Executive search professionals are hired by hiring companies – the clients, we call them – to find executives. We usually do, on average, look at maybe 100 people to get to a short list of four to six people.
To understand how the pipeline works, the clients hire us to look for specific people. Mostly they’re senior executives. Sometimes we’ll do mid-level positions as well.
Steven Bammel: You mentioned it’s the highest level for executives, and then sometimes mid-level. How do recruiters work with more entry level, or is the entry level job search process completely different than at the higher level?
Steve McKinney: Do you mean would we help entry-level people?
Steven Bammel: Your client companies, when they’re asking you to find executives for them, do they also ask you to find other positions which may not be at that same level?
Steve McKinney: What actually happens is sometimes they do that. Let’s say we’re looking for a president, vice president, or director levels. Most of the salaries are 75 million or greater. Sometimes maybe 50 million won or greater, which is $50,000 US dollars or higher. Most of them are more than that.
In the process, sometimes we’ll have two or three assignments from a company, and then they say, “Oh, but we also need a junior accountant,” which is maybe $30,000 salary. “Will you help us?”
Well, it’s hard for us to say no because they’re giving us their senior ones. Oftentimes we will say, “Okay, we’ll help you.” Then what we’ll do is give them a lower price to do that and then we’ll help them vet as well.
Steven Bammel: When you mention 30,000, 50,000 and 75,000, are those typical ranges for those positions in Korea?
Steve McKinney: Yes. That’s correct.
Steven Bammel: Does it tend to be at lower levels than other countries? Where is Korea in that?
Steve McKinney: For Koreans, if you compare it to USA, obviously the salary is a little bit less, but it’s closely getting very similar actually. The one exception would be in the USA, if you have an MBA or higher degree, you automatically get an increased salary. Most MBAs can start out with a pretty hefty salary ($80,000 or $90,000 or $100,000 in US dollars) – something pretty significant.
However, in Korea, since we have an abundance of graduates with MBAs or at that level or higher, they tend to not get paid as well – definitely not in the beginning.
Steven Bammel: So Korea is not necessarily the country to come to if you’re just looking for a high salary straight up.
Steve McKinney: No, not really. It’s getting more competitive. The taxes are a little bit less than some of the other places. The point I’m trying to make is to remember that search professionals are used by hiring companies, and one of the things that bothers me is that oftentimes they talk to me and say, “I sent Steve my resume. I’m a good person. Why didn’t he help me?”
The problem is we can’t necessarily help everyone. We can try. As we’ll talk later, it’s good to get to know us and good for us to know you – to have you on our radar screen, to have your information in our database. Those are all positive, good things to do. But you have to be realistic and understand that there are always a lot more people than there are jobs. It has nothing to do with you being good or bad. It has nothing to do with that at all.
If you like to work exclusive, this is a sticky point with retained search firms versus retained and contingency. In retained search firms, we do the contract with the client. We spend a lot of time with them in work. We work and we do what’s called “pure research.” That means we go and we search and try to find the candidates wherever they may be. Oftentimes our candidates are not in our database or maybe in anyone’s database, but it’s someone that’s on record of a good professional and well-known in the industry in a particular area. That’s who we may go after.
We do that and we like exclusivity. It’s part of our AESC Charter that no two search firms work on the same project at the same time. The ones that are members of the AESC are promised that it’s unethical to work on a project at the same time.
Steven Bammel: So once it’s assigned to a particular search firm, the job is only going to go through that search firm. It’s not going to go through another one.
Steve McKinney: That’s right. I mention this because oftentimes, though, clients will want to say, “I want to use multiple search firms. Maybe you don’t have the person I’m looking for.”
Well, if they were going to search what we call a database search, then that could be true, where person or a company is only relying on their pool of resumes they have currently in their hands. Yes, you can make that statement. But if you’re going to use executive search – retain search people – to do what we do, we don’t limit ourselves just to our database. As a matter of fact, we look a lot outside our database because databases are growing daily. It’s a little different there.
It’s kind of like if you went to a law firm and you said, “I’ve got this problem, law firms. I want three of you to work on it.” Are you going to pay all three of them? Perhaps you don’t want to, right? You say, “I want you to work free and then if one of you gets the results that I like, then I’ll pay you.” Well, we won’t work that way because I have to invest my time, money, staff, and overhead. We’re not running a charity case here. The choir I sing in is a charity case. We’ll do that for you, but we won’t with a search.
Steven Bammel: But it’s not a commission-based search.
Steve McKinney: It is. It’s based on compensations. Let me explain that. That’s a good point you brought up. Typically in our industry, it’s done over a three payment strategy. I’ll use a round number so it’s easy. Let’s say the salary is 100 million won, and let’s say the search fee is 30% (that’s 30,000). It’s usually done in thirds. The first paymentis 10,000.The second is whenthe project is about halfway done and the candidates are submitted (10,000). Then upon completion, about 10,000. But the final numbers are based on the actual finally-negotiated salary of the individual. The number gets adjusted at the very end. That’s normally how it’s done.
However, in Korea it’s been more of a combination where they prefer to do two payments. It may be 5 or 10% for the initial payment and then the final payment is the remainder. This is more the typical way it’s done in Korea. It’s different in a lot of places.
Outside Korea, the prices are generally higher. It’s usually 30, 33, and sometimes 35%. In Korea, it tends to be cheaper than that.
Steven Bammel: Is that because the market is more competitive here?
Steve McKinney: Yeah. It’s more competitive. That’s the biggest reason.
Let’s talk about confidentiality real quick. One thing that really drives me crazy is people breaking confidentiality rules. One thing we have to be very careful about is that we do have personal, confidential information on a lot of people. We have to guard this very, very tightly because you don’t want to mess somebody up. You don’t want information to leak out that you’re looking for a job or things like that.
We do a lot of things to help protect you as a candidate, regardless of the level you’re at. One thing we do is that you submit your resume to us, and if we make adjustments to it, it has your approval. Usually we’ll do mostly just formatting. We’ll talk about the quality of the content and things like that as well. That’s another whole discussion, but we work on those things with you. By and large, you own your resume. That’s yours and you need to be responsible for the information.
Then how we control that information is we will not let your resume go out of our hands to anyone unless you approve it to be going out to someone. In other words, if we have a client and we say, “We have this candidate (I won’t say his name, but say he’s Steven Bammel).” We want to introduce him. We may talk about his background and experience without revealing his company or anything that would let them figure out who it is. When we feel they have interest, we’ll submit him along with a few others to this client.
But before we do that, we have to go to you and say, “Steven, Exxon is interested in you based on what we told them. Is it okay to reveal your information, your resume, and talk to them?” Do you know what I’m saying?
Steven Bammel: I’ll take the job at Exxon, thank you.
Steve McKinney: Yeah. Also we’ll try to tell you as much information as we can like who’s going to see your resume – whether it’s the HR person or it’s the person over Asia or it’s the person over Korea, whoever. We give you as much information as we can give you because we don’t know who you know or who you don’t want to know is looking at your information. The way to control this is by you controlling that. We would share that with you.
On the other side, we tell the clients, “Don’t be asking around.” This can happen sometimes. It drives us crazy. Sometimes the clients think they’re smarter than everybody and they think, “I know somebody over where Steve Bammel used to work and I’ll just ask them about him.” Well, as soon as people start talking in Korea, then your confidentiality gets lost and people find out about it. We try to control this as much as possible and we warn the clients, “That’s illegal. Don’t be doing things like this.”
When we do references on you, you supply us the names, the contact information numbers, and you’re giving us the authority to go out and check references. Here again, you’re controlling the situation – you, the candidate – so that you’re controlling who we talk to about you. This is also to protect you in your current job. We’re very concerned about that. I wanted to explain that a little bit so you understand.
Steven Bammel: Why don’t we move on to how the interview and negotiations work for a position, and as much as possible, maybe some ways that Korea is unique in the way this is handled.
Steve McKinney: First of all, in the interview, we’ve got several articles on this about “know yourself” and all that. Before you go to the interview, you have to remember these couple of points. One is that sometimes the person who’s doing the interview from the client may not be very good at interviewing. If we know, we’ll let you know how much experience they have, how long they’ve been doing their job, or if we think they’re good or not so good interviewing.
You have to go in understanding that you’re putting your life in the hands of somebody that may be good at interviewing or they may not be good. In the process, they may be as nervous (or more nervous) than you, the candidate, going in to interview. They also may look at this as they have more to lose than you have to lose because their job depends on them making good hiring decisions.
Lots of times, candidates don’t think that way. You think as a candidate, “I’m so nervous. I’m going to the interview. What if they don’t like me? What if I say the wrong things?” All those are normal, but you need to remember that the nervousness is on both sides of the table. If they hire poorly, they could lose their job.
Steven Bammel: Steve, that brings up an interesting point to me. In Korea, particularly as foreigners are looking for jobs in Korean companies, we tend to be in a different kind of position than they’re used to hiring. I would imagine that whoever’s in charge of the hiring process for a new foreign candidate, if that hire doesn’t work out, I would think the blame would fall on them more because it’s such an unusual hire. And whoever is the one to officially sign off on it, I would think there would be a greater barrier of nervousness at the Korean side with so many unknowns when a new foreign hire comes in.
Steve McKinney: That is true. That’s the problem, so what’s the solution? The solution is you read this book that we’re talking about today – not because I wrote it, because I didn’t write it, but it’s very good. It talks about how to manage your career. We don’t have time to go through all the details, but it’s really, really good. It talks to you about preparing yourself for the interview by, first of all, having your resume written in such a way that there are no missing dates, there are no missing time gaps, they’re in a logical sequence, the job titles are clear, the company names are clear. If the company is not known, then perhaps three or four words or a sentence describing what the company does.
There are ways of making a resume so good that it becomes a non-issue. People can look at it and say, “I can see where I need to go to” – not just a lot of fancy words and fluff or what we call “resume rhetoric.” It needs to be clean; it needs to be accurate.
The best resumes are ones that if your best friend was to look at it and they know you and your career very well and they said, “Yeah. That’s Steven Bammel. That’s him. It’s not embellished; it’s not diminished. That’s him. That’s who he is. That’s what he’s done.” That’s a good test of a good resume so you need that ready.
The next thing is that you need to be studied up on the company that you’re going to interview. I know this sounds like common sense, but a lot of people don’t do it. Study. At least know the main points about the company that are publically knowledgeable on their website. At a minimum, you have to know those things.
One area to look is the About Us section. Another is about their products. Another is their recent press releases. As you notice at the bottom of the press releases, oftentimes there’s a paragraph that describes, “McKinney Consulting places bilingual candidates in multinational companies based in Korea and Asia.” Whatever their spiel is at the bottom, you need to know that.
The worst thing that can happen is that you go in to interview and the client interviewing you says, “What do you know about our company?” The wrong answer that sometimes people say is, “Not much.” Immediately the client is turned off. They say, “Why are you here? You want to come here, but you don’t know anything about us.” It really makes them mad. That’s the wrong answer. You need to know some things about them. You can say, “I know a little bit about the company, mostly what’s publicly known. I’ve known some people that have worked there before, so I know a little bit about the culture.” You need be honest, but you need to know some things first of all.
The other is that you need to go prepared with questions. I know that may sound strange to you. You think they’re going to ask you questions. Well, not really. Yes, they will – but this is a dating game, if you think about it. They’re trying to get to know you to see if they like you, but also you’re trying to get to know them as well. Don’t get cocky. Don’t go in there and say, “Listen. I have my ten questions and you’d better answer them.” I’m not saying that. Don’t go with the wrong attitude. Go in there humble but be prepared with some smart, intelligent questions.
Also, it would be wise to go in and have some questions on things that you’re 99% sure that the interviewer knows the answer to. For example, you may have heard that they’re planning on expanding their business and they’re going to buy another company, and this is being talked about in the industry or on the websites or whatever. You may ask something like that.
Or you may ask that you heard that 50% of their business is in the metal parts, 40% is aluminum and 10% is garbage. With some things like that, you can just clarify that you’ve heard, read or studied that this is true. “Is this continuing to be true? Is this the way of the future?”
You can ask some questions that you know they can pretty much answer well. This accomplishes three things. First, it shows that you’ve done your homework. You know a little bit of something about the company. Second, it shows that you have interest. Third, it helps the interviewer to relax and to be calm and, “We’ll talk about things that you know and need to talk about.” It really is helpful to do that.
For example, professional interviewers will sometimes make notes within the first five minutes. After five minutes, they make a note to themselves (this is one methodology) on their initial impression of you. They write it down. “Positive…Dressed well…Smart…Stupid…” whatever. They make a first impression in five minutes. Unfortunately a lot of interviewers stop at that point. I’ve seen it done before and it drives me crazy.
Some leaders are so big in their company and their pride is so big, they think they know everything. They’re used to just acting on their gut that they say immediately – and it goes both ways; it makes me nervous – “I like that Steven Bammel. He’s my man. Yes!” or, “I don’t like this guy. He comes off…” whatever it is. They make too quick of a decision. I advise you to be aware of this because this is dangerous.
Steven Bammel: Would you say Korean companies are more that way or less that way, or is that just the way it works?
Steve McKinney: More that way. I’ve even got a book on that, “Reading Faces.” They make good opinions of you based on how you look and how you act. Did you act Korean enough for them?
Steven Bammel: What would be some comments that an interviewee could make going into an interview with a Korean company that would make a good impression? What are some comments or questions that a Korean interviewer would like to hear?
Steve McKinney: What they like to hear is where you’ve studied and you know a little bit about the company’s direction, some of the company’s history, what’s being spoken about concerning the future of the company. What are the prospects? What are the positive things that are going on? Questions about the corporate culture of the company, which is a very, very important question that gets missed oftentimes on both sides.
For example, when I was with Adidas I hired from Nike and from all over the place. You can have the same person doing the same job in the same city (say a product developer for Nike and a product developer for Adidas) and the same person could be an absolute success in one company and an absolute failure in the other all because the corporate culture is different.
I think asking questions like, “What is it like to work in your company? What is a real day like?” The only good way to get an answer to that before you go to the interview is to talk to people who are currently working in the company. If you can do that, that’s really, really an eye opener.
I’ll tell you one example. When I was hired by Reebok I was given a tip by somebody that works inside that wanted me to work there and that knew the person I was going go interview with. I was going in as Production Manager for production for Reebok. He said, “Be sure and tell him you’re hard but you’re fair. Somewhere in the conversation, let that come out.” I thought, “Okay. Sounds funny,” but I did. I think it’s true about me. I told him, “I’m strict but I’m fair. I’m reasonable.” Sure enough, that helped me to win the job. That inside information was critical.
If you think about it, an interview is so important, so difficult, so much is weighing on it, so little time, how could they possibly figure me out in an hour? Seriously. Until we develop something better, it’s the best we’ve got but it’s really tricky.
I say be prepared. Have your resume ready. Have you studied up all of the history of the company you’re going to interview with? Know as much about the people in corporate culture. Have smart questions ready so that you can ask intelligent questions for all those reasons I said: to relieve the pressure from the person doing the interview.
Steven Bammel: Theresa was asking what could you ask to come off as Korean? What would you say that would give a Korean interviewer the idea that you’re a candidate who is going to adapt to their company culture – the Korean culture – and that you’re going to be a good fit for a Korean workplace?
Steve McKinney: Do you mean if I’m a foreigner and I’m going to interview to work in a Korean company?
Steven Bammel: Right, if you want to come across as particularly Korea-friendly or Korea-abled. You’re going to slide right in and you’re not going to cause trouble in a Korean workplace.
Steve McKinney: I think one thing is to be able to say a word or two in Korean – at least “anyeong hashimnikka”. Something to show at least you’re trying to say a few words is helpful.
Another thing is to express your interest in the people and the culture and, while you know it’s different, there are things that you can learn from the Korean people and you find it interesting. Somehow you have to come across that you respect them; you’re not looking down on them. They’ll sense that in a heartbeat if you are.
Another thing to avoid – and I would advise everybody to do this – is don’t come in and say, “I’m an American; I know better than you,” or “In America, we do it this way so this is how we should do it. It’s the right way.” No one is going to like that, unless you’re an American.
I would always tell people to avoid making those culturally, nationalistic type comments or suggestions. It’s best to say he best practices way of doing things, is, “This is the way that’s known worldwide to be a best practice way. Do you have a better solution? If not, why don’t we try this?” That’s a much better answer and you don’t have to say where the root of the solution came from.
Steven Bammel: Let me move on to the third slide. This is really useful information. This is the last slide in the book. We’ll open it up for free discussion in a bit. Getting on to Managing Your Business Career in Korea in General.
Steve McKinney: What kinds of career tracks typically bring people to a business in Korea? Nowadays, obviously, we know the biggest one is English teaching probably. We do have – in Seoul, for example – over 400,000 foreigners which I am supposed to be helping in my Seoul Global Center role. Of those, 40% are migrant workers actually. To be honest, that’s the biggest number – but not for our audience here. So, English.
There are other workers. The financial roles are becoming bigger. Let me answer this a little different way. The best way to get a job in Korea is to get sent here by your company in your home country. That is the absolute best way to come in because you’ll be able to get more compensation and more benefits.
Steve Bammel: Let me bring this up then. The ESL track to a business job has its well-known advantages and disadvantages. Let’s say you’re in South Africa and you would like to eventually get to a position in Korea but you’re not able to just apply straight into Korea. Would there be a way you could get a job in your home country that would help you transition in three or four years, say, that would get you into a position in Korea?
Steve McKinney: Yes. That’s what I did. When I was back in my home country, I began to look. I had a degree in teaching, actually, although I spent most of my career in business. I’m coaching now. I began to look at companies that had branch offices in Korea or companies that had, definitely, a presence in Korea and that there was a possibility of even going there.
You have to remember that there are a lot of people in their home countries that don’t want to come to Korea. They don’t know about Korea; they have no desire to come here. So you’re still in the minority but it’s to your advantage, if you have some reason why you want to come here. I think you definitely look for those companies that already have a presence in Korea so it would even be a possibility of that happening.
Another thing I did was get in back in the athletic shoe business. When I started back out to come to Korea, I knew that it was the athletic shoe capital of the world at that time so I was looking in that industry and one of the companies that I was working with all of a sudden had a need here. By positioning myself and letting it be known that I would like to come over if the opportunity arose, then I had a chance. I know that idea will work and I suggest that route.
I know some people try that for a while. They run out of time or run out of patience, then they say, “Well, I’ll go teach English over there.” That’s okay. You’re still learning about the culture. You’re learning about the people. You’re working. You’re making money. You get over here and you start searching around and looking. That’s fine, also.
But the best choice would be a position in your field, in your interest, with a company that has an office in Korea. Then let it be known that you would like to come over.
Steven Bammel: Doug pointed out a question. Maybe we could step back a little bit. He would like to know how Koreans typically negotiate in a hiring process. What would a job candidate need to know about the negotiating process?
Steve McKinney: First of all, one tip I should tell you all is this. The first person that mentions a number is at a disadvantage, whether it’s the client or it’s the candidate. Don’t be the first to mention the number.
Another really valuable tip for you to remember is this. Let’s say you’re interviewing for a job and they ask you, “How much do you want to get paid?” Oftentimes they’ll ask you this and put you on the spot. Unless you’ve done your homework very well, you don’t know what they’re willing to pay you or you don’t know what they value you at. One of the best answers that I’ve ever heard for this is to say simply, “What is the salary range for this position?” So you throw it back on them so they mention the number first.
Then if they say, “The salary range is based on experience and background, but it’s probably between 30-40 million,” then you look at them and you smile and you say, “40 million will be fine,” and maybe you’ll get it. Whereas you might have said before, “Well, I was wanting to get at least 25 million, but more if I could.” That’s probably what’s really in your mind. “I’d like get 25 million but more if I can.” Well, they’ll probably give you less.
In negotiations, yes, they’ll be hard on negotiations. As a candidate going in, you don’t have much room to negotiate. You can’t go back and forth very much because the clients don’t like it and they just won’t do it. Most clients are good. Most clients do have a range. They already have it in their mind what they’re willing to pay, how they value your background. They will look at what your previous compensation has been, which can be to your advantage or disadvantage, based on this role. Sometimes you can ask for a little bit more or a little wiggle room, but oftentimes it’s hard to do that.
Steven Bammel: How would you say that a Korean company would handle the negotiation process differently?
Steve McKinney: They don’t like to be confrontational, so it’s best that they’re using a search firm and then let us handle that. That is the absolute best way to do it because we can talk with a client and say, “What’s reasonable? What are you wanting to offer? Is that reasonable?” and we can be your advocate. Although they’re paying us, we can be your advocate because we want a good deal for everybody. We can handle that.
Let’s say we know the salary is only like 25-28. We say, “For him to leave, you know you ought to give him at least 10, 15, 20% more to leave.” Then we can push the client a little bit and say, “Come on. Let’s make a person happy and let them come with a positive attitude knowing that you want them so it’s good to go in there.”
Steven Bammel: Theresa has a question. What would you say for those who have no previous salary?
Steve McKinney: Well, we laugh about that, but unfortunately that’s the case, especially when you’re starting out. When you’re first starting, you don’t really have any negotiating power. You’re really stuck. That’s when you use this answer that I gave before: “What’s the salary range for this position?” They do have a budget for it and they will not go beyond that budget. That’s where you have to realize there’s limited negotiation because they have a budget range.
HR policy has a policy where it’s going to be between 25 and 30 million. So it doesn’t matter how good of a negotiator you are, they’re not going to do anything outside of that window. If you can find out what the window is, then you can see what your wiggle room is.
Steven Bammel: That’s good to know. What are normal benefits in Korean companies? You’ve got salary, but what type of benefits should a foreign candidate be expecting?
Steve McKinney: Let me clarify when you’re talking about Korean companies. I hope that what you’re saying is a multinational company in Korea. Is that what we’re talking about?
Steven Bammel: Not necessarily. It could be any number of Korean companies – Samsung or LG – or a government office or what have you which is looking for a foreigner to fill a position for their globalization effort or for some technical skill. It wouldn’t have to be a multi-national.
Steve McKinney: Okay. Well, first of all I want you to know pretty much that I’m pretty negative on working for a pure Korean company as a foreigner. I’ve done it myself a little bit and I’ve had a lot of experience with people that have done that. Most of them are not happy stories. So first of all, I don’t ever recommend that to anyone because the cultural differences definitely take its toll on a foreigner because the Korean domestic company will not change for you, especially if you come from well-established countries. You’re not going to be happy. So I don’t recommend that to anybody across the board.
Steven Bammel: So you would just flat-out tell a foreign candidate for a job in Korea to look exclusively for positions in multinationals and not try to work in a local Korean company at all.
Steve McKinney: Absolutely. That’s one feeling that I have that I’m very stubborn on because I’ve just seen too many sad stories. Absolutely.
If you get into a multinational company, you see they’re used to working with multiple nationalities. They’re open-minded. Their work methods are such. If you get into a Korean typical, local company that’s maybe very hierarchical, militaristic– I’ve just seen and experienced horror stories and I would not recommend that for any of my closest friends, or even my enemies. I wouldn’t recommend it. I just think it’s too hard. It’s not necessary. There are too many multinational companies you can work for and be productive.
Do you know why? Why is it that when Koreans leave domestic companies and go work for multinational companies, they don’t go back? They don’t go back. Why? Because they have freedom. They have a global mindset, compensation. Opportunities are so much better. It’s just a fact. I wouldn’t recommend that.
The closest thing to it that’s maybe still okay is teaching Korean which is a little different than the other business positions. And even you all know the sad stories. There are a lot of success stories – more success than failures nowadays – when teaching English and Korean. If you get in the right company and situation, it can be wonderful; it can be fine. But if you get in a bad one…
I’m dealing with several cases now at Seoul Global Center where we’re helping people and it’s just terrible. It’s a tragedy.
Steven Bammel: We’ve actually interviewed a couple of former executives in Korean companies and those definitely did not work out well. I will point out that I actually made it through a Korean company for five years myself. The first year I thought I was going to die, but once I made it through that year and figured out what the expectations were, it did work.
Can you give a couple more examples of some cases of foreigners working in Korean companies that would be typical of the challenges that you’ve seen?
Steve McKinney: For example, I’ve known a couple of cases where American-Koreans and Caucasian Americans went to work for Samsung. Everybody knows it’s a good company; that’s fine. They were hired because of their title and because of their ethnicity, and once they got there, they didn’t listen to them. They didn’t have power. They weren’t able to do what they would normally in their old company.
Here again, that relationship of having power based on your title and power in authority to make decisions and do thing based on your knowledge and your job level doesn’t exist completely the same way in Korean companies. I know about three or four of them actually, personally, that were absolutely disappointed. Career wise, yeah, they made money. Yes, they got along okay. But their career just didn’t really go anywhere.
Steven Bammel: That’s an interesting perspective. It was a little bit unexpected for me, but it’s good to have it. You certainly have a lot of examples of that.
Steve McKinney: There are some good Korean companies where there are multinational leaders in there. Maybe, for whatever reason, they have come across multinational company experiences and they’re open-minded to those things. So, yes, they can be okay because most of your leaders now in multinational leaders in Korea are Koreans. That’s a seismic shift.
Then you say, “Are they Korean companies?” No, no, no. Any company in Korea is a Korean company, technically and legally. Here again, this is a paradigm shift that’s happening but most of these leaders have had years of education and years of experience in multinational companies, so they understand it.
Steven Bammel: Theresa’s question about benefits: what are normal benefits in the multi-national companies?
Steve McKinney: Normally, in most positions regardless of the level, most companies will offer just the basic stuff that is required by law that everybody gets. That’s non-negotiable, non-debatable. You just need to insist on that. Those are like the medical insurance, the hazard insurance, the retirement money… Benefits are paid based on years of employment and now it’s effective July that those monies have to be put out into an individual retirement account where you have control over it instead of the company.
Those are some things that are the basics that everybody gets. The only thing you negotiate is on base salary. Performance bonuses are usually done by company on a chart, so that’s not negotiable either. If you’re a senior executive, cars are sometimes and oftentimes provided in one form or another and there are a variety of ways of doing that.
Schooling for senior-level positions. Some mid-senior level positions, schooling for middle school, high school, or college is provided in Korea. Housing has become a way of the past. It’s still available for most senior-level people but that’s quickly diminishing.
Steven Bammel: Really? How can somebody get a place to live then if they can’t come up with a 200,000 deposit for an apartment and their company’s not providing it?
Steve McKinney: Exactly. That’s really trimming away. Nowadays the salaries are getting closer to American salaries and they’re just sticking to the compensation and the bonus. That’s where, if you’re a foreigner and you’re trying to get a job here locally, they’ll definitely hityou and you get paid less. But if you’re in your home country and you’re sent over here, then you get that housing included into your package and the foreign school, which you probably know, is quite expensive – around 20-25 million won a year per kid.
Steven Bammel: That’s amazing. I’ve heard Korean private schools are more expensive than in other countries. Is that true?
Steve McKinney: No, not really. The best schools’ tuition rates are in line with the other international schools in Asia and some of them are much more expensive – the ones outside of Korea.
For us to stay on par with the best ones in Asia, Yongsan International School which I’m on the founding board of – we built the school – is staying round 25-30% less than that because we can. So I insist that we do.
Steven Bammel: How do you keep it less?
Steve McKinney: Well, I’m on the board first of all, and I used to pay Seoul Foreign School. It’s a good school. For my own kid – running my own business and paying 50 million a year for school. You can imagine how much that hurt, so I’m very sensitive about it. I’m on the board. I’m the only foreigner on the board and I always push and insist that we try to keep the costs under control.
Since we had money given to us by the national government and the city government when we started, and because of the way we did the budget, we could actually keep it less. So we have kept it that way. We try to keep it there. It continually rises but it’s still 25-35% less.
Steven Bammel: We’re getting to the end of the hour. Steve is going to stay a little bit longer if we have questions. Let’s go around and just get quick introductions.
Doug: Good morning. Thank you, Steve, for putting this together. It’s really informative. And thank you, Steve, as well for contributing – lots of interesting information. I’m one of those guys working in the all-Korean companies in Korea basically as a consulting position right now. I’ve seen a lot of what Steve was talking about with the negative experiences for foreigners here – not necessarily myself. It’s going so-so good for myself. The main concern here is I would like to more transition it to multinationals at this point because I don’t see the Korean track as necessarily leading to very productive places.
Steven Bammel: I can imagine. Korean companies don’t have a career track for foreigners. You can get in there and be there for a while, but like you said, it’s a dead end. That’s a good point.
Jared: I’m Jared Muloongo and I’m just a recent graduate trying to learn about finding a career in Korea. From what I’ve been hearing (I’m actually learning quite a lot today), perhaps I should be focusing my search more on the multinationals.
Steve McKinney: I have a question for Jared. Why do you want to come to Korea?
Jared: I’m actually interested in the culture as well as the economic development that’s there. I see Asiaperhaps as being focused on business.
Cain: My name is Cain. I work for a tel-co in Australia as a program manager. I’m more IT focused. My main reason for wanting to come to Korea is my wife is Korean and we’re looking at havingchildren over there. I’m just trying to look for a way that I could extend the career that I’ve got here over there, which might be a bit difficult.
Theresa: I’m a recent graduate from Korea University. Right now I’m interning so I’m putting myself out there and getting the best deal I can. I don’t want to settle for anything. I’m working hard on learning where my advantages are and how to overcome disadvantages.
Steve McKinney: I think, particularly, people that go to Korea University – or Seoul National or Yonsei or something, you work so hard. It’s so difficult to get into these better universities, and then when you get out, if you don’t get the job that you’re really, really happy with, you’re quite disappointed.
Theresa: That’s very, very correct.
Steve McKinney: And I understand that psychology because I’ve seen people come through this here that way. I would just caution you or ask you to think about this, too. It takes a while to get your dream job. There are not very many people I know that, fresh out of school, get immediately directly into exactly what they want to do. It takes some time. Sometimes you may just think about that and realize you may have to take a few steps before you finally get into your ideal situation, which is normal. It’s actually more normal than the other. Not that you give up on your aspirations, but don’t fall into that trap that I see some people do. Then they just continue their education. Keep on going to school. Keep on going to school, and never get any work experience. Don’t beat yourself up.
Theresa: That’s very helpful. Right now I was considering just moving on to grad school.
Steve McKinney: Some people do. I know there are two schools of thought on that. Some people say, “It’s okay. Go ahead and go. If you don’t have a job, why not just continue your education?” I understand that. But then if you do have a job, if you can do something and work a little bit before you go, then your experience is better because then, instead of sitting there and talking and working off of other people’s experiences, you’re actually relating your school work to your own experiences which is more valuable in my opinion.
I apologize that we didn’t get through much of the material at all, actually. Well, we hit some high points but there’s just a lot here, I guess.
Steven Bammel: There are a lot of high points. Was there another point in the book that you’d like to hit on?
Steve McKinney: No, I want to do your questions. That’s fine.
Steven Bammel: We are getting to the end. I was going to ask this, Steve. What benefit would you say the Korean language skills have for a foreigner in the work environment in Korea and perhaps even in a multinational. It may not really matter.
Steve McKinney: I think it really helps. My Korean is lousy, even though I’ve had a lot of good opportunities. As you know, I’m technically a senior government official, they say. I’ve been blessed in that case, but I could have had and still could have even more opportunities if my Korean was better. I think the better you can get your Korean, the more opportunities you can have.
A lot of positions that we have in place – and no one’s asked this question but most of the positions we place are bilingual Koreans. That’s true for all of the search firms in Korea. That means the foreigners have less changes to work. However, we’ve had many cases where the clients say, “I’ll hire a foreigner if they’re fluent in Korean.” I think it’s a huge advantage to know Korean. The more you know, the greater your value is. It’s definitely helpful.
Steven Bammel: Where do you see the job climate going in the next 5-10 years for foreign candidates within the Korean marketplace?
Steve McKinney: It’s hard to say because usually, over the past 13 years that I’ve been in executive search, there were pockets. Back in 2000 there were a lot of IT positions. Then shortly after that, there were a lot of financial positions. Then, as you know from this debacle that we’re having (or whatever you want to call it –2007, 2008, 2009) all the financial things have been kind of like, “Stay away from that area.” That’s taken a hit.
However, I believe that for those students who are studying now, if I was going to stay study in any particular area, I like your financial area probably as good as any for the simple fact that, regardless of the trends and the things that are happening, all organizations have a financial piece.
Whether it’s a bookkeeper, accountants, on into investment banking and whatever, companies have to manage money so there are just more opportunities I think in that area. Also, with the Free Trade Agreement between the USA, of course, the FTA, and European, there are lots of laws and rules that have changed to liberate the financial markets. The financial markets are changing, which means we anticipate more foreigners coming in with specialty skills in finance. Also, as you know, the legal market is opening up. It’s got a schedule of the next five years of how it’s going to happen, so there will be more foreign attorneys coming in.
IT I think is a tough area because you have to keep so up to date. If you started in school and started in IT, whatever you learned in your first year is out of date when you get to your fourth year. It’s continually learning. I like to learn, too, but I think you have to have that mindset that your skills are outdated about the time you learn them. I like the financial market myself.
Steven Bammel: Great. Thank you. Everybody will get a copy of this book and I will contact each of you by e-mail to get your mailing address to get those to you.
The second thing is that if you will send me your resume, I will forward it to Steve and he will get it into his firm’s database for whatever positions come up.
Jared has a question about resumes.
Jared: When you’re dealing with a Korean company, is there a specific format or style that will best suit your application?
Steve McKinney: If it’s typical Korean company, theirs is very basic and simple where they just have the title of your position, the name of the company, and the month and year. That’s about all they have. If you’re going for a multinational company, then the resume style we developed in my company is a combination.
I have an example of what I like for a multinational company. If anybody wants to send me an e-mail, I can send them (or I can send it to Steven) an example of a resume format that I like and that I think is good. Would you like that?
Steven Bammel: Actually, that would be very helpful. If you could send that to me, I can follow up with everybody and share that with them as a template to follow.
That brings us to the end.