The fascination with the Korean Wave has led many people to consider venturing to South Korea for work. Nevertheless, like how every country has its social norms and etiquette, Korea is no different.
You may want to brush up on the various aspects of Korean work culture before you apply for a job or report to your first day of work. After all, first impressions matter. Here are a few things to take note of:
Applying for a job in Korea proceeds similarly to other countries. You would likely see a position posted on a job portal and send your cover letter and resume in the hopes of being called in for an interview.
There are also large-scale hiring periods specially arranged by big conglomerates. This is a more rigorous process that involves sending a competitive CV, sitting through a challenging exam, and passing a formal job panel interview.
Mostly, this isn’t to secure a specific position but to obtain an entry-level job.
Although workplaces worldwide are evolving with the takeover of younger employees and modern ideas, you can still expect to come across conservative establishments that rely on the traditional models that guided their success.
For this reason, it’s crucial to understand some fundamental cultural practices in the Korean business setting. South Korea is steeped in Confucianism, which emphasizes on respect for hierarchy and status.
Based on this respect, you will probably notice that Koreans use honorifics at work. When speaking to or about a person, it’s the standard to use the family name preceded by an honorific, such as “Mr Lee” or their formal title, such as “Chairman Kim”.
When meeting someone for the first time, it’s preferable to be introduced by someone else instead of introducing yourself. This will help set proprieties and avoid faux pas like inappropriately addressing someone. However, you should not overthink this step— it’s no problem to introduce yourself as long as you’re being polite.
The question is, should you bow or shake hands? It’s becoming more common in certain circles to shake hands when meeting someone. However, this hasn’t displaced bowing, which people still do before or during the handshake. Bow to the most senior businessman first, and then watch and see if he extends his hand to greet you with a handshake.
In Korea, the standard working hours are 9 am to 6 pm. It is frowned upon to leave the premises in more traditional companies before the boss does, so working overtime or longer hours is expected.
Koreans also emphasise punctuality— this is perceived as common courtesy and a sign of respect. As such, always strive to be on time or a little early. If you will be late, call ahead and let your meeting associates know.
Koreans like to think of their business associates as friends. Also, the rigid social structures make it necessary to mellow down and firm up relationships over get-togethers after work.
On occasion, office coworkers leave the office together after business hours to have dinner and drinks and bond over a karaoke session. These dinner invitations can be a casual affair between office acquaintances but can also be arranged by the management or a higher-up.
Eating and drinking together in a professional setting is a significant part of Korean culture. Colleagues usually drink together to develop companionship and build rapport. If you have to excuse yourself, it’s better to do so for medical or religious reasons rather than from a sense of modesty.
Most companies use Korean as the primary language. Although many Korean business people understand English, they may hesitate to speak it. Thus, a Korean company with a majority of Korean workers will prefer you possess a certain degree of proficiency in their language.
The willingness to speak and learn Korean is paramount when eyeing a long-term stay in Korea. Enrol in a Korean language school in Singapore to help you achieve professional and working fluency in the language before you settle there for work.
The Korean culture has its nuts and bolts. Even with substantial evolutions underway, it’s still crucial to understand traditional cultural values to help you as you navigate a completely different lifestyle. The more you know, the easier it is to find your way and make greater impressions in Korean corporate culture.
As a Korean language school in Singapore, we provide a variety of options for learners looking to master the Korean language. From private to group lessons, from express to intensive sessions, we make Korean language-learning fun and effective for everyone.