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Seoul: Job Market and Business Etiquette

If working in Seoul sounds appealing to you, why not give it a try? Seoul, home of many international companies, offers many exciting opportunities for expats. We give you an insight into the economy, the expat job market, visas, and everything else you need to know about working in Seoul.
Despite the country's progressive make-up, conservative values often prevail in Seoul's business world.

The Job Market for Expatriates

South Korea’s government supports the teaching of English and other foreign languages. For that reason, teaching opportunities are widely available. Naturally, in Seoul, the competition among language teachers is higher than anywhere else in the country.  Jobs are also widely available in the field of technology and IT. Again, you should bear in mind that the competition in these industries is fierce. Many of the local population aspire to claim the highly-paid graduate jobs offered by huge Korean companies such as Samsung, Hyundai Motors, and LG Electronics.

Another barrier is often the lack of proficiency in Korean. Unfortunately, speaking Korean will likely be important if you plan on working in a field other than English teaching. The tight social and business circles can make it hard to make progress in Seoul’s business world.

When you apply for jobs with Korean companies in Seoul, keep in mind that work experience is highly valued. Emphasizing any work experience on your application is highly recommendable. Short-term job placements can help you to network and get a foot in the door. Alternatively, multinational companies in Seoul may welcome employees from abroad.

How to Do Business in Seoul

Before you start your new job in Seoul, you should acquaint yourself with the way Seoulites do business. While Seoul is more cosmopolitan than smaller cities or rural areas, traditional ethics still persist in all aspects of life. As a result, time, patience, and negotiation skills are important when doing business.

The harmony of the collective, the respect for authority, and the importance of family and friendships are highly valued within Korean society and business world. Thus, it comes down to the type of business relationships you make and maintain, as well as their quality which can make or break you when doing business in Seoul. After all, your Korean business partners will want to make sure that you are a trustworthy and honorable person before hiring you or closing a deal with you.

A Slightly Different Way of Communicating

For Koreans, saying “no” directly and openly is rude, offensive, and simply poor etiquette. Just like your business partners, you should try to avoid this in order to not upset anybody. As a result, it can be difficult to get at the truth of what your business partners intend. It is necessary that you pay close attention, as they may voice their unhappiness or disagreement only vaguely. Expats with a harsher way of negotiating may find this extremely difficult.

By the same token, “yes” does not always mean “yes”. Instead, your business partners or colleagues may simply indicate that they have heard you or that they will consider your point of view. This way of communicating makes meetings longer, so try to stay patient and polite if negotiations take more time than expected.


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