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Seoul: Job Market and Business Etiquette

If working in Seoul sounds appealing to you, why not become an expat there? Seoul, home of many international companies, offers many exciting opportunities for expats. We give you insights 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 should be widely available, although in Seoul proper the competition between language teachers is higher than elsewhere. Another sector where jobs are widely available is the field of technology and IT. Unfortunately, the competition from local graduates is extremely high in these fields.

Another barrier is often the lack of proficiency in Korean. Unfortunately, speaking Korean is important if you plan on working in a field other than English teaching. The tight social and business circles may also make it hard for you to gain ground in Seoul’s business world. Instead, try to focus on sectors the government heavily invests in, such as science, technology, the financial sector, robotics, or aerospace industries.

When you apply for jobs with Korean companies in Seoul, keep in mind that work experience is highly valued. That is why you should specifically emphasize this part of your application. 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, here, too, traditional ethics persist in all aspects of life. As a result, it always takes a lot of time, patience, and negotiation skills to implement changes.

The harmony of the collective, the respect for authority, and the importance of family and friendships are highly valued within Korean society and Seoul’s business world. For that reason, it is the type of business relationships you maintain and 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, 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. Especially expats used to a more aggressive 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. You will soon notice that this way of communicating makes meetings longer and longer. Try to stay patient and polite if negotiations take up more time than expected.


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