Big Corporations, South Korea's Human Rights Blind Spot

Hospitals, prisons and the army are three places where absolute authority is held by one side and human rights violations frequently occur. In Korea there's another human rights blind spot: big corporations. This is not because of the massive power big corporations have over the consumer, but rather because of how they treat their own members and members-to-be. Lots of information that handed over them are treated with inconsideration and direct insults are the norm during the interview process.

Getting into a renowned big corporation in Korea has become a goal out of the reach of ordinary college graduates, especially after the world financial crisis in 2008. There are four to five stages of screening. First, the paper screening, and second, the aptitude test, followed by a first interview round, a special round (written test, group interview of SGT test) and a second interview with the CEO and leadership team. Corporate giant Samsung even has its own test, called the “SSAT” (SamSung Aptitude Test). And LG has a specially designed test called RPTS. There are institutes and scores of books purporting to teach students how to score well on these tests.

From the first round, the paper screening test, a great deal of power is relinquished to corporates. Many companies demand the applicant's height, weight and blood type. Several of them ask candidates to provide information about their parents’ educational level and social security numbers. Blogger Ethanjoh, who once selected designers for his company, wrote that he was shocked to see how much information is passed over to the company:

그리고 한 가지 놀라웠던 점은 이력서에 다들 주민등록번호를 기재한다는 것이다. 앞자리 정도면 모르겠지만 사실 그게 왜 필요한지, 왜 기업에서도 요구하는지 잘 모르겠다. 어찌보면 개인정보유출의 사각지대가 바로 그런 이력서가 아닐까 싶다. 전화번호며, 개인가족구성, 주소, 주민등록번호…등등 너무나 많은 사항들이 이력서에 들어가 있다…가족구성은 알아서 뭐 할 것이며, 부모님 직업이나 학력이 어떻게 되는지는 알아서 뭐할 건데? 사실 좀 어이가 없었다.

One shocking fact I witnessed was that everybody wrote down their social security numbers. Writing the first half of the social security number is pretty understandable [note: The first half contains the date of birth, the second half is each individual's unique serial number] but writing the rest of it- I don’t really get why it is required by many companies. It is a blind spot of the personal information security…Why the companies need know the applicant's family composition, their parent’s professions and education levels? It is ridiculous.

Image from the Skyseek internet cafe that gives tips on becoming a stewardess. Used with permission.

Two days ago, online media reported [ko] a small incident involving a mix-up in the online application process. Lots of big corporations ask applicants to submit their initial application online. In this case, whenever applicants hit the refresh button on their personal information pages, other people’s information appeared. Other job seekers’ language test results, computer skill levels and grades replaced their own and the information changed each time they refreshed the page. Many job seekers worried that their résumés could have been edited by others.

This may be ignored as an one-off isolated incident, but lots of young job seekers feel uneasy about the way companies handle the information they offer during the application process. Once the information is submitted, it is difficult to determine what happens next. In reply to one netizen's question ‘What happens to my 100 resumes?’, some people said that their companies discard the résumés they receive, while others admitted to recycling them as scrap paper, or even suggested that they are sold to others.

ID: Category. 그거 팔린다고 하는 소리를 들은 것 같습니다만. ID: 주변이. 저도 주민등록번호 유출된 것을 주워서 이면지로 쓴 적이있죠. ID : StoS. 입사지원한 기업이 늘어날수록 스팸이 늘어납니다.

ID: Category. I was once told that those resumes are sold. ID: Bystander. I used to recycle resumes with social security numbers on as office papers. ID: StoS. As I have applied to more companies, more spams I am getting.

After they pass the first round, candidates can expect to be subjected to an intense interview process, especially the “pressure interview.” The pressure interview, which started out as a fresher, more direct way of gauging the caliber of an applicant's, has, in many Korean companies, evolved into a mean-spirited review of the candidate’s weaknesses and disgraces. Blogger Jjkkl4 asserts that the pressure interview allows the company to pinpoint fast thinkers with a high level of responsiveness and an ability to handle tough working environments, and most of all, a higher likelihood of sticking around longer. The blogger describe two types of pressure interview – the negative and the positive style. The negative refers to an aggressive cross-examination style that plays on the job seeker's greatest vulnerabilities. The positive style focuses on embarrassing people by throwing a bunch of nonsense questions into the mix. A local media report[ko] selected last year's three weirdest questions[ko]: “how many people travel from Korea to China on business?,” “If everybody were red color-blind, how we maintain the traffic light system” and “If you were a Santa Claus, how would you distribute all the presents to every kid in the world in one night?” The blogger enlisted the benefit of the pressure interview

최근에 입사 후 1년을 넘기지 못하고 쉽게 이직을 하는 메뚜기 직장인이 늘어나고 있거든요. 압박면접처럼 힘든 과정을 통과한 지원자는 업무의 강도를 미리 파악하고 입사를 하기 때문에 애사심, 열정, 업무 성과 등이 상대적으로 높아서 이직률이 낮다는 거죠… 압박 면접은 영업이나 서비스 업무를 많이 하는 쪽에서 진행을 하거든요. 업무를 하다 보면 자존심을 다치는 경우가 많이 생기기 때문에 이에 적절히 대응할 수 있는 인재를 뽑겠다는 겁니다.

There is an increasing number of ‘grass hoppers’ who fail to settle down with one company no more than a year. However, the applicants who went through a tough process like a pressure interview are already aware of  the intensity of work. Once they get into the company, they are unlikely to move or quit easily since they have relatively high corporate patriotism, passion and job accomplishment… The pressure interview is actively done in sales department or certain divisions where staff have to serve (make direct contact with) the customer. Many people are hurt emotionally when working in such an environment and that is why the company wants to select candidates who can handle such situations.

The blogger added that in the most harsh cases, the prying questions go on for more than an hour and quite a number of interviewees storm out of the interview before it is finished and some end up in tears. The interviewers, with their deadpan faces, often toss questions at the interviewees non-stop and interrupt when the interviewee's answers sound illogical or unconvincing.

Sample case 1. Netizen ID:Nan's story posted on the Nate Pann, a casual discussion page:

들어오자마자 저를 쫙~보시더군요. 그러더니 하시는 말씀”사진이랑 많이 다르네요. 사진으론 외소하게 봤는데”…면접관: 이 이력서로는 우리같은 주식회사에선 일 못한다. 휴학생에다 자격증도 없고 특출나게 잘하는것도 없고…장점이라곤 월급 낮게 부른거 밖에 없다…차라리 능력 좋은 나이 있는 남자를 만나 시집가는게 어떻냐고 하시더군요…

The moment I entered the interview place, the interviewer looked me up and down. And then he broke out “you look much different from your picture. You looked quite tiny in the photo. [note: indirectly saying that she looks fat.] The interviewer: “You can not work with us with this resume. (the contents of resume was unsatisfactory) You took some time off study. You don’t have any certificate. No specialties… The only strength of yours is the lower pay”…The interviewer went on suggesting me ‘why don’t you marry an old guy with a good job.’

Sample case 2: Netizen ID: Ggeung on the same discussion site. She had a brawl with the interviewer:

저 소위 말하는 지잡대(:지방대학교) (평균 학점) 4.2 대로 나왔습니다. 뭐 서울권에 비하면야 학점 따기 쉽지요…그러더니 면접관 여기 대학은 도대체 누가다니는거냐고 그럽니다. 돈은 있는데 성적이 안 되는 것 들 다니는 곳 아니냐고 능글능글 웃으며 말하네요…왜 휴학했냐고 여쭙길래 고등학교 때부터 부모님 손 안 빌리려고 계속 아르바이트를 해왔는데 등록금을 벌어보려고 휴학을 택했다라고 대답했습니다. 그랬더니 이 담당자 왈 “이래서 없는 것 들이란 없으면 대학을 왜가” 아주 조용히 혼잣말로 속삭이시더군요…기분 나빠서 이력서 탁 뺏었습니다.

I went to community college with my GPA (Grade Points Average) 4.2. It was relatively easy to get a good grade in community colleges than in universities in Seoul… One interviewer asked me (mockingly) what kind of person goes to THIS school? Only kids who are not smart enough but have money go to such place.’ He said this with a sickening smirk…When he asked me why I took some time off college, I answered that  I chose to absent myself from school to earn money to pay the tuition. I have been working part-time since high school so as not to burden my parents. Then, the interviewer muttered to himself, “Such losers, why they even bother to go to college when they don’t have the money.” So pissed, I snatched my resume out of his hand.

Later, the interviewer again spoke ill of Ggeung's parents. They cursed each other and had an intense screaming match before she stormed out of the place. Still, the corporations insist that they need strong people who can handle hostile situations. Others suggest that they should switch to another approach, or at least try to change their working environments into more humane, manageable places.


Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.