Life of a Misaeng: The Hardships of Job Seeking



Probably by now most of you are hooked on Korea’s newest drama, “Misaeng”. And why shouldn’t you be? It is one of those dramas that have recently taken a path different to the norm. A story of an emotionally deep Geurae, played by Siwan of ZE:A who struggles to work in a big trading company in Seoul even though he lacks a university degree. But with only a GED in hand. Some foreigners might actually relate to it as it captures real stories of hard work in an office setting. Some might find it scary, as reality seems to be strikingly similar as to what one can see in the drama. But why are we talking about “Misaeng” or, ‘미생’, which literally translates “not yet born”. The story itself portrays humanity in truth. It’s a great example of the Korean Office is in fact happening in Korean.


Korea grew from the ashes of its economic recession after the Korean War. Nobody ever thought that it would become an economic tiger years after. The country’s leading companies are Samsung, LG, Jeil Industries, Lotte, etc. It all starts with discipline and fervor by the people who work for these companies.

South Korean Chaebol

Honestly, getting a job is actually quite difficult and  much more difficult here in Korea. In the drama, The importance of education and achievement even as an Intern is constantly being brought up. In Korea they say “Studying never stops until you die”. Guided by my curiosity, I asked Korean friends about the real process of getting a job in Korea. Well, it’s not the same as getting part-time jobs, where it’s actually easy. But working among white-collared employees means an entry into battlefield.


What must your resume/ curriculum vitae have?

One night, I was totally engrossed with the topic in the drama. Geurae was actually being bullied for his lack of proper education and credentials even though he has exceptional talent. And that’s when I asked my friend. According to her, sending a resume is not that easy when applying in Korea. Mainly, ESL teachers here in Korea, would have already experienced being turned down for having non-impressive resumes. In Korea, even after starting school, an individual is already envisioned to be an exceptional being for the future. That is why parents enroll their kids into academies, especially English acadamies so as further enhance the kids prospects even from a young age. In high school, students are asked to perform their very best during CSATs as it will reflect in their resumes. And in college, being in an Ivy-league school means be marked as a high status future employee. But then those are just one-liners in one’s resume. Volunteering, earning awards, having great presentations during college, earning internships and even studying abroad are considered powerful specs in any resume. That is why Koreans, before their graduation are already trained to establish specialised skills that they can use in the future. I remember a Korean friend who studied so hard every day to enhance his TOEIC and HSK. People here are not just about talent but rather talent that can be reflected on paper. Most especially, the increase of job-seekers in Korea shows that competition is actually no joke. After university, a Korean must perform his best or even enter another academy that will help him pass Company tests and other credentials he wants to earn.


What are the problems you encounter if you lack specs?

With this information in hand, I actually felt the fear of not being able to live in Korea. In reality, foreigners can easily apply for a company in Korea, moreover Expats who are positioned in Korea for their International Company. But not all nationalities are given great opportunities. It’s common really. Korea learned to rise up from its roots independently. But what is the problem of lacking specs? In the drama, office politics are very much present. Korea’s culture with the Senior and Junior status quo and high self-regard can lead to a lot of backward thinking. In the Drama, The main character Geurae, who has nothing more than a GED (high-school level diploma), is always being questioned for his credibility and thus answering the reason, why we need to have specs. Not all companies are this picky. But if you want to garner preference with the biggies you need to work up an impressive resume packed with specs. Some can get help from backers. Trust and a sense of gratitude is highly noticed in Korea. But one has to prove his ability. The Salarymen and Trademen of Korea are no joke individuals.

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Why is it important to attend academies even while working?

As previously mentioned before, even with enough college experience and a newly minted degree, Koreans believe that they need to keep enhancing their skills or they will end up feeling that they are still lacking the required skills when entering an industry. This kind of attitude creates a massive influx of academies catering to job interview preparations, economics or job ethics which help you gain useful experience for job interviews and examinations. The reality is this is again a financial burden. But then, as an individual who is ready to compete and be better than others, definitely attending one would be a big advantage. That’s why education in Korea never stops.


What is the importance of working in a big company in Korea?

This has been a issue of intense debate already amongst foreigners. Why do Koreans commit themselves so much to work for not just any corporation but only the big corporations? Koreans nationalistic personality makes them highly proud of the companies that brought glory to their country as well as the products it has brought to the market. The glory of a company’s growth can actually be easily felt once you are a part of the internal structure. Also the social status that white-collared employees from these companies can earn can be a big factor and also the benefit of being taken care more than being in a private or normal company. Koreans place great importance on status of a person’s job title when it comes to business matters. The idea that a worker would come from this company’s ignites the social ranking in Korea. And the more you work on an unknown company the more the others will disregard you. Actually, the positive side to all this thought is that  you see how Koreans support their economic growth despite internal disputes, corruption and office politics.


So there you are. Working in Korea is not as easy as one two three. As present day job-seekers in Korea spend months or years until they finally get employed. Their perseverance to be the best is enough to say that looking for a job in Korea is not actually just looking for a job but rather looking for a better future.



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