South Korean HR Report: Do good looks lead to good jobs?

In part two of our HR Country Report on South Korea, we share how the government is planning to eradicate the rampant practice of hiring based on looks.

South Korean President Moon Jae-In is looking to give the country’s existing recruitment processes a facelift – so that job candidates don’t have to do the same.

With youth unemployment at a record high, Moon wants to stamp out the widespread practice of employers rejecting candidates based on their looks and background.

On June 22, the South Korean government announced plans to enforce “blind hiring” in the public sector by September this year.

“Except in special cases where a job requires a certain level of education or meeting certain physical requirements, job application forms should not require discriminatory factors such as education background, hometown, and physical condition,” said Moon on the new requirements.

Up until now, it has been common for Korean employers to ask job applicants to spell out their physical attributes, such as weight, height, blood type, and level of eyesight.

Employers often also ask for other intrusive and irrelevant information, such as the occupations of the candidate’s parents, as well as whether they live alone or with their families.

Such questions are illegal in many countries, but not in South Korea, where the practice is rampant.

In a survey conducted by job portal Saramin last year, 93% of some 760 firms required a photo of the job applicant, while some 50% of 312 HR managers said they had rejected a candidate because of their appearance.

With such selection methods, it is not surprising there is an overwhelming perception today that being physically attractive will help individuals secure good jobs.

This pursuit for beauty has reached such extremes, with reports of South Korean parents giving plastic surgery procedures to their children as high school graduation gifts.

Instead of viewing cosmetic modifications as a sign of vanity, researchers Ruth Holliday and Joanna Elfving-Hwang say they are seen as “worthy investments” of self-development.

The Ministry of Employment and Labor is hoping the new “blind recruitment” policy will give young jobseekers more hope in gaining employment, without having to embellish their application forms or rely on risky plastic surgeries.

Although the law does not yet apply to private firms, President Moon believes the results of unbiased hiring will ultimately speak for themselves.

“We cannot force the private sector to follow suit unless we revise the law, but previous cases where private firms used a blind hiring system have shown that they were able to hire far more skilled and more enthusiastic workers,” he said.

See the full South Korea HR Country Report, as featured in the October issue of HRM Magazine here.

From South Korea to Australia, HRM Asia delves into the specific issues keeping HR awake at night in key Asia-Pacific markets. Check out all the other HR country reports here.


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