Korea's graduates spray and pray for their first job.

Photo of Olly Kim

Olly Kim

Associate Research Director

Competition for jobs among fresh graduates has reached a new peak in South Korea. With employment competition rate increasing by 12.9% in 2015, only one in 32 fresh graduates will be employed.


Unfortunately, there is no room for one’s passion and career preference in their job seeking activity. It is time to tuck your other job priorities at the bottom of a stack of résumés and be sure to apply to all the jobs available.

“Spray and pray”. Yes, there I said it. And that fairly sums up the current job seeking behaviour of ambitious young talent in South Korea.

Without a doubt, high unemployment rate, steep competition in the job market and an oversupply of workforce persist everywhere. However, the situation in Korea is exceptionally different from what you would expect from the Four Asian Tigers (Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan), who achieved legendary rapid economic growth during the good old days. South Korea might still enjoy the highest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) among the fellow Tigers, but its job market situation says otherwise. Without exaggeration, if over 2.9 million South Korean job seekers are after 78,000 jobs supplied only by Multinational Corporations (MNCs), government and public corporations, this results in a mere 2.6% of successful applicants. That is just brutal.

Furthermore, a relentless oversupply of fresh university graduates and increasing number of economically inactive population have turned the job market into the sellers’ market. And thus, for individuals to survive from the cutthroat competition that highly favours employers, you simply can’t take a chance. Every year, hundreds of MNCs and public organisations hire new employees solely based on the annual ‘Open Recruitment’. Millions of job seekers are obliged to follow different résumé and cover letter formats, carefully crafted by each employer. On average, fresh graduates apply to 13.5 corporations during the first season of an open recruitment and 20 corporations during the second season. Given that most large corporations unanimously hire employees in bulk only twice a year, it is time for them to spray and pray their best shots.

On average, individual applicants spend from 11 months up to 2 years job seeking. For some of them, job seeking has become their full-time career. It is mandatory for fresh graduates to take the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) and have experience in overseas studying to just pass the first round of the application process regardless of the industry. And instead of being judged based on an actual job position’s requirements, millions of fresh graduates are spending enormous amount of money and time in developing skills that help them to be hired, including plastic surgery for better looks. With a well-prepared list of applicants in employers’ hands, they compare and evaluate each applicant based on fancy paper qualifications and specs, just like how you would shop for your latest gadgets. But to give employers a benefit of the doubt, maybe it is not fair to put all the blame on them. From the employers’ perspective, it could have been job seekers themselves who started this brutal recruitment war to outshine each other. However, since the mismatch between employers and employees continue to diverge, we need to find the equilibrium point that will benefit both parties. But how?

In 2015, the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) conducted content analysis on qualities that the Top 100 corporations in Korea value the most. The analysis showed that industry leaders value ‘Adventurous attitude’ and ‘Responsibility’ the most from their employees and in particular, from the new recruits. The results were rather unexpected as looking at the current recruitment process, employers seem to highly value ‘Knowledge’ and ‘Experience’ over softer skills. And right there is a gap that needs to be filled between the talent they want and the talent they actually hire. With an existing fixed format of résumé and open recruitment strategy, it seems almost impossible for employers to judge individuals on personalities and skills they want and it is highly dubious how well employers’ wish lists have been communicated to potential employees.

We understand that from a corporate’s point of view, the engagement between their product and customers is undoubtedly top priority. However, it is a different story in the job market. For example, they do not want customers to exchange and refund their products but to build loyal and sustainable engagement. It is equally or more important to build such a relationship with employees. If employers want to recruit talent with an adventurous spirit, ownership and leadership, they need to communicate their needs. They cannot hire thousands of new employees based on their checklist that only measure tangible qualifications and naively wish employees to perform skills that they actually find important. Although the current job market clearly favours employers more than employees, employers are not taking full advantage of the situation at all. No matter how powerful employers are in the job market and how desperate job seekers want to be hired, employers continuously fail to avoid the chronic problem of a high turnover rate, especially among new recruits. It was reported that more than 10% of workforces consistently leave their job every year and employers make a loss of KRW 13,740,000 (USD 11,377) on average per employee’s leave.

The job market may be playing it easy on employers for now, but it is a highly dangerous tactic for them to be dependent on the myopic vision of filling up every vacancy without fully understanding the true talent that they want. Not only the corporate’s product or services require branding. Corporate employers need to be better prepared to tackle challenges that cannot be solved by just another open recruitment. It is time for industry leaders to revisit their vision and skills that they want to see in their employees. Employer branding is no longer a luxury but a necessity for all employers to bring South Korea’s jobs market to the next level, and with that, South Korea’s economy.

Photo of Olly Kim

Olly Kim

Associate Research Director

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“Korea's graduates spray and pray for their first job.”

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