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Spec Up? No, Story Time!



When classes are over it is usual to see students hang around with friends, going to the movies or to chat in a cafe. However, some students are busy walking around not for their ‘freedom’, but are heading to academies to study TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication). Currently, most of the students believe that certificates are essential, together with a high grade point average (GPA), to apply for jobs. However, the reality is quite different from what we believe. Most of the companies are now seeking employees who have their own unique ‘stories’ to make them stand out from other competing students.

Lee Seung-hyun, a junior majoring in architecture said, “I believe that such certificates are mandatory. Almost all graduates are working towards or already have a high score on the TOEIC and TOEFL. In addition, I believe that most of the students applying for jobs fear that they will not be considered if they have a low grade, thus they become obsessed with getting a higher score.” As a result, many students constantly fear that their grades and scores are comparatively lower than others. According to Saram-in, an online employment website, out of 575 job seekers, nearly 70% of them claimed that they were not happy with their current certificates. From this unhappiness, many students including freshmen tend to turn to school clubs that would help them in improving their certificates rather than clubs related to hobbies. For instance, Kyunghee University has shut down two religion related clubs, and a music club and created a debate club and corporate research clubs instead. Apart from this, students are running to academies to learn English and to increase their scores. It has been noted that Korea has the most TOEFL test takers in the world with 8 million 5 thousand in total. International Trade major Kim hyun-jong also went to such academies as he thought it would be wise to gain an English certificate like the other students.
Then are such certificates and test scores very important? Not as much as the students think they are. Most of the multinational corporations value stories more than scores and want applicants who have a firm reason to apply to their company. In fact, it has been stated that listing too many extracurricular activities in university seems too difficult to believe. A survey done by the employment website Incruit, reported that 67.2% of 134 Human Resources personnel said yes when asked if they have had disqualified job seekers with high certificates. Nowadays, what students have learned from attending and participating in school clubs is more valued.

In an interview with Park Seo-jin, the center manager of the Student Career Development center, she provided useful information that students preparing for employment would be interested in. According to her, certificates are only necessary in making yourself available or fit for the job. There are thousands of students who apply to certain companies such as LG, Samsung and so on. Therefore, certain minimum requirements are given to make the categorization process swift and easy. However, she noted that obsession to building such requirements are becoming a problem as many of the students believe diverse school activities and high scores would bring them higher chance of employment. Annually at the school career development center, several hundred students visit to learn the secret of apply for jobs, and in 7 out of 10 cases, the students fault their low test scores and GPA.
Also, to the question of whether school clubs are helpful in finding employment, she firmly denied that was the case. According to her comments, there are thousands of students who have been a leader of certain school clubs and have reached higher status in the past. However, what is important is what the student has gained from participating in the activity. In other words, effort needs to be focused on diverse clubs to be truly beneficial to students, rather than on the number of clubs attended used to show off. In this way, the story of how someone has developed personally through extracurricular activities has become more important than what to show off. Although most of the students still believe that high GPA and several activities during their university is the final key in finding employment, there are students who have succeeded using their stories as the key point.

A student who wished to remain anonymous has given few comments from his experience.

Q. What were you able to learn from participating in school clubs?

A. I am currently working as a member of the Human Resource Department in CU, the Korean convenience store. Although I was not planning to apply in this certain field, I loved meeting people. When I was in university, I was a leader of the school band and I believed that this activity helped be a lot in applying for this job. Due to the condition of a band, I had many opportunities to meet people from different universities. We played in several concerts and festivals which brought me the chance to connect with other students and build more friendships. In addition, as the band was a popular club that many students joined to participate, and as a leader, I had a duty to take care of them which helped me develop skills in leading people. For instance, a few of the students were too shy to talk with others, which was a critical issue in a band that requires teamwork. This is when I stepped in to make the shy students feel welcome and get along together with others. So, I would like to say that being part of the school band and my role as a leader has further developed my skills in working with people and how to lead them.

Q. What kind of benefits did it bring to you?

A. Overall, I believe that these qualities and experiences helped me when applying for a job. There were hundreds of graduates who I was competing against; nevertheless, they were not able to explain their strengths to the interviewers. To give one situation, one student prepared graphs of the last year's sale of the company and boasted that he will raise the sales to a higher level. However, this student was not able to show specifically how he was going to do such a job. On the other hand, I explained that I enjoy meeting new people and told about the experiences I had with the school band. Personally, although I did not have a high GPA or any English certificate, I think the manager valued me more since I had a strong confidence in my strengths.

Another person who achieved in employment through his unique story would be Shin Jae seung, an Economics major graduate.

Q. What were you able to learn from participating in school clubs?

A. "I am working in a department related to China trade at Hyundai Motors. Simply put, I create business plans and produce and sell products to China. The reason I applied for this department is because I had a great amount of interest in China. I knew that China would later become one of the largest markets in the world. This gave me the motivation to learn about China and its language. When seeing as a whole, I believe that because I have been working on learning about China, and doing activities that were related to China, my job prospects were affected as well. For instance, I was in the tennis club in Dongguk University and through University competitions, I got the chance to meet foreign students, giving me the chance to talk to them and learn about their culture and language. Apart from this, I visited my cousin's home in China for 5 months, and learned Chinese by studying and teaching young students tennis. I think it was very meaningful in developing my Chinese.

Q. What was helpful for the employment?

A. It is true that my interest in China gave me an advantage; however, I personally would like to say that the clear vision and the definite purpose for learning Chinese was the key. Nowadays, many students trust that foreign travels or evidence of living abroad is a 'spec' that companies would like to see. What's more important is that students need to think about which company they wish to apply for and what they plan to do once they are taken on. In my case, Hyundai Motors was one of the companies that constantly interact with China thus making me value Chinese.

Overall, the things that the students think companies would want and the qualities and attributes that companies actually value are very different. Students need to build experience and develop in-depth skills by participating in school clubs for a long time. However, the pressures of society lead students to just participate and not develop any skills. Therefore, students need to stop trying to build their specs and need to think about what they should do in order to benefit in the future.

Lee Dong-jun  jack222@dongguk.edu

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