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Do you have the ‘specs?’

Nov 24,2014

Have you heard about the set of nine specifications needed to get a job in Korea? The set is composed of your educational background, grades, English score, studying abroad, certificates, experience of winning a contest, internships, volunteer work and perhaps even plastic surgery to give a better impression.

Korean job seekers call such a set “specs,” derived from the word “specifications.” It is a statement of an employee’s characteristics and qualifications that lists they are able to perform a specific job or various tasks in a satisfactory way. In other words, they see themselves as objects.

This neologism has surfaced as a result of a depressed job market. As job market conditions go down, the competition to get a job intensifies. So “specs” have become an indicator to show how competitive I am. This is a serious problem facing Koreans, as Korean companies continue to hire in a spec-centered way amid fevered competition.

There are a lot of non-Koreans who do not know Korea’s employment situation and how companies are focusing on spec-centered recruiting. It can be more difficult than what you expect as a foreigner.

Jo-yang, a graduate-to-be who was born in Hong Kong and now studies at a Korean university, said, “Korean companies seem to want to hire just high-spec students, and they don’t consider an applicant’s passion or volition.” If you want to get a job in Korea, you must know the meaning of “specs.”

There is a formula among Korean job seekers that the more specs you collect, the more likely you are to be employed. As a result, the competition to collect specs is increasing, including the tendency to postpone college graduation to build up specs. According to research released by the Korea Research Institute for Vocational Education and Training, 17.9 percent of university graduate students have put off their graduation.

But despite raking in the specs and delaying graduation, the employment rate remains depressed. According to the Korean National Statistical Office (NSO) on Oct. 15, 2014, the youth unemployment rate has increased 0.8 percent to 8.5 percent compared to the same month last year. The labor market has been depressed since the financial crisis hit Korea. For this reason, the government has implemented a policy of employment for the past few years. But still, it goes nowhere.

One of the reasons the job market has become spec-centered is that conglomerates and preferred companies are recruiting in a spec-centered manner. Even though they always say that they regard personal experience and job relevance over specs, they still revert back to spec-hiring.

Students are already exhausted in trying to achieve all of the requirements demanded by the companies.

Some people see this problem from a societal perspective.

“As society became more oriented toward materialism, people started to compare themselves. There’s a lot of competition now, even starting in childhood, and the goals of life have moved,” said Park Jin-seng, who is a prominent psychiatrist with a practice in Seoul.

No matter what the reason is, the current spec-centered job market is definitely difficult to change. Therefore, job seekers who want to get a job in Korea and especially foreigners who are unfamiliar with specs should prepare before stepping into the high spec-centered society.

Lee Ga-eun, Student at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies