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As ‘blind hiring’ catches on, critics speak up

Sept 26,2017
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Left: Sempio Foods Company’s interview process tests applicants’ philosophy about Korean cuisine, their use of company products and sense of cooperation. Right: SPC Group has their own method of assessing applicants’ “functionality” by offering sample tests to determine their sensitivity to scents and flavors. [SEMPIO FOODS COMPANY, SPC GROUP]
As companies this season look to hire new employees, many are looking less at GPAs and internships and are instead opting for what is known as “blind hiring.”

The trend started last June at a meeting of senior presidential secretaries, when President Moon Jae-in said he hoped to see an increase in blind hiring, so candidates can all start “from the same starting line, with only capability as a determining factor.”

Following his request, 332 public institutions and 149 state-run companies headquartered outside of Seoul and Gyeonggi uniformly applied blind hiring in the latter half of this year. This development has now spread to private businesses as well in areas like retail, IT and finance.

Some of these beneficiaries are able to fully use this potential, which has given them a fighting chance in the job market. Cha Ji-hyeong, 27, is one of them. He applied to roughly 30 companies after facing a series of rejections in 2016 and the first half of 2017, but now he feels confident he can get a job because the companies do not emphasize educational background or other specifications, or “specs,” as much.

“I didn’t attend a prestigious university and my GPA was below average,” said Cha, “so I have been rejected in the first round of job applications. Blind hiring gives me a newfound assurance as I have done many internships and have a lot of work experience, so if I make it to interviews I have a better chance.”

According to an online survey of 300 job seekers conducted by the JoongAng Ilbo between Sept. 11 and 13, when asked what companies used to look at most, 47 percent said educational background, 29 percent said first impressions or appearance and 11 percent said specs. But under blind hiring, 61 percent said first impressions or appearance, 11 percent said creativity and 8 percent said work skills.

Ticket Monster, a social commerce company, has newly introduced the “Third Eye” interview system as a form of blind hiring, which the company uses to test the work abilities of candidates.

The finance sector has also adopting blind hiring. Shinhan Card, Korea’s biggest credit card company, implemented a blind hiring system called “Digital Pass,” which excludes age, gender and academic background on resumes. Participants are judged based on their presentation of new creative ideas that deal with the digital transition and credit cards.

Not everyone is on board with the new practice. Some worry that the time and resources they spent studying will go unseen. Kim Ju-hyeong, 25, who focused on building up his specs, says he now feels disadvantaged in the job market.

“I worked harder than anyone else to enter an elite university, and even then I worked to maintain good grades, but blind hiring made these efforts obsolete,” said Kim. “Not being able to show these works I had accomplished seems like discrimination.”

But companies are turning to spec-less assessments to better gauge candidates’ skills, acquired through education or other means. Lotte Group’s “SPEC-tackle Audition,” aimed at tackling “spec” culture, has interviewees complete project proposals. 7-Eleven, which operates under its franchise license with Lotte, has candidates create lunch boxes in light of the growing number of single-person households.

Sempio Foods Company has interviewees take personality and aptitude tests, then four to five of these applicants form a cooking group. The team selects a menu item and cooks the dish, after which the company tests the members’ teamwork and leadership skills based on the result.

SPC Group, the confectionery company, uses its “Functional Test” to asses applicants’ sensitivity to taste by asking the applicants to determine the difference between five cups of water, each containing differing amounts of salt.

While these approaches have been successful, concerns over unfair hiring have also increased. “Spec-based hiring is problematic, but it is transparent in ranking applicants by numbers,” said an HR manager of a domestic conglomerate. “Blind hiring is subjective, and therefore, depending on outside pressures or insider connections, the rankings are subject to change.”

Transparency is key, according to Kang Soon-hie, a professor in the department of vocationology at Kyonggi University. “If the methods in the past involved corporations looking at academic backgrounds,” he said, “methods of the future need to look at work abilities by using systematic hiring policies.”

BY JEONG JIN-WOO [bae.seunghoon@joongang.co.kr]