Using culture as hook
Companies’ growing efforts to attract global talent
By Kang Ye-won
Today, talent from around the world flows into the ever-intense labor market, but local employers’ satisfaction with new employees seems not so high and vice versa.
In a recent survey by Incruit, a job search website, hiring managers gave an average of 6.7 out of 10 in evaluating the newly hired.
One reason for the employment mismatch is Korean conglomerates’ enormous recruiting size, taking on as many as 9,000 people a year.
When sorting out that many people in a limited time period — the hiring usually takes place twice a year — human resource people struggle to distinguish the abilities of applicants beyond what’s shown in test scores and resumes.
At the other end of the spectrum, many Korean job applicants often lack a clear idea on the workplace culture until they actually become part of it.
It explains the high job turnover among young employees in the Korean job market.
The early turnover rate at large companies was 14 percent and the number reached as high as 40 percent for small and mid-size firms, according to Seo Hyeong-taek, a research associate at Samsung Economic Research Institute (SERI), in a research note.
Companies with clear mottos
Today’s creative talent seeks more than just a brand name and compensation when choosing work, said Kim Bong-jae, a research fellow with SERI. The prospective employees demand a company with clear vision and values that mirror their own.
Google, which often snags top rankings of the best place to work, hooks the Google-kind of performers with its culture of innovation.
Unlike most companies with a long list of corporate values, Google simply says that potential Googlers have to be “googley” enough.
Although it can mean different things for people and regions, Google Korea spokeswoman Kate Park described it like this: “Googley Googlers are passionate about their work and are great colleagues. They are inclined to solve problems creatively, simply roll up their sleeves and get things done, ... , and they can be serious without a suit.”
Despite some 30,000 employees spread over 40 countries, Google has a policy to handpick each candidate who has to go through a numerous approval steps all the way to top executives in its headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.
Cho Young-sang, a software engineer with the Google TV team in Seoul, said his employer meets the two criteria of a dream job: “First, is it a place where I can enjoy my work? And second, will I be making a contribution to the world, be it big or small?”
To him, being “googley” means being humble, passionate and professional at what he does.
Another global leader which attracts different type of talents is Goldman Sachs. The company’s primary value is meritocracy, according to a spokesman of the Korean bureau.
In other words, no matter where they are located, Goldman Sachs’ men and women are expected to be good at what they do and deliver the best result for clients within a given time.
And that’s a clear message that appeals to a certain pool of achievers who want to be part of that team, Kim with SERI said.
As an international investment bank that provides a wide range of financial services from mergers and acquisitions to financing and trading, the firm is known for its corporate culture of over-the-top competitions and hefty salaries for high performance.
The Wall Street juggernaut hires year-round often recruiting interns from Ivy League graduates and employs about half of them as full-time.
This kind of hands-on internships and training programs improve retention rates among interns and junior workers, Kim said.
Proctor and Gamble is also known for strictly hiring from its own interns. That way, candidates get a chance to get involved in real projects working with senior employees and to test each other if they are a right fit.
Shift in local hiring
Recent graduates who are just entering the workforce agree that Korean employers lack unique corporate culture that allures the right skills.
Nam Soo-ji, who recently started working for local chemical conglomerate Hanwha, said she had no idea what corporate values that the firm offered until she joined the team.
“I chose Hanwha because I always wanted to work for a trading company, not necessarily because of its culture,” Nam said.
The 25-year-old college graduate had applied to other trading firms, too, but had no access to learn the difference among them besides the vague company descriptions on each website.
From working for the past nine months, she now has a better sense that Hanwha admires credibility and loyalty between an employer and employee as well as among co-workers.
“I’ve seen people leave in their first couple of months, that’s mostly because they had no idea about the workplace culture beforehand,” she said.
As part of an effort to invest in their people, local companies attempt to expand a hiring channel beyond a traditional way of bringing talent.
For instance, Samsung runs a mentor-mentee program for some 8,000 college students. Similar to Goldman Sachs, the firm selects top university students to expose them to its corporate culture and possibly employs them in the future.
“By interacting with them personally, having drinks with them, they get to see the human side of the company,” said a person familiar with the Samsung HR management.
Learned from the culturally strong companies like Google, Samsung stresses its longtime motto, “people first,” now more than ever.
“(Samsung) has taken a shift in the hiring policy, a move away from churning out the same kind of talent to embracing a diverse background of people,” the source said.