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Multinational firms say university names not important in job seeking

CEOs of foreign companies preach innovation at provincial university

CHEONGJU, North Chungcheong Province ― “Spec” is a term used by Korean job seekers. It refers to highly thought of qualifications such as university name, grades, internships, awards and overseas experience. Many Korean students believe great specs are a must for promising jobs.

Shin Ji-yoon, 23, an English major senior at Chungbuk National University, admitted that she was daunted by students from in and around Seoul ― her soon-to-be competitors in the job market.

“It would be a lie to say that I am not anxious about my specs, since I know some of them are already out of my reach,” she said. 
Organizers including AMCHAM Korea chairman Pat Gaines (center seated) and students pose after attending the “Innovation Camp” at Chungbuk National University in Cheongju on Friday. (Chungbuk National University)
Organizers including AMCHAM Korea chairman Pat Gaines (center seated) and students pose after attending the “Innovation Camp” at Chungbuk National University in Cheongju on Friday. (Chungbuk National University)

To shatter the illusion over spec and promote an innovative spirit among Korean youths, six chief executives of the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea member firms went to the university on Friday to host a mentoring event, “Innovation Camp,” in partnership with North Chungcheong Province and the university.

AMCHAM Korea launched the AMCHAM Council on Innovation for the Future in October 2012 to promote entrepreneurial leadership and widen job opportunities for students of provincial universities.

Among the 14 AMCHAM member firms that offer eight-week internship positions this summer, Microsoft Korea has 10 openings, Amway Korea between 10 and 13, and Boeing Korea three to five, the participating CEOs said.

The next two innovation camps are scheduled to take place in Busan and Daegu in September and November, respectively.

Heads of AMCHAM Korea, Amway Korea, Boeing Korea, Partners of the Future Foundation, Intel Korea and Microsoft Korea each led an independent mentoring session to share their vision of innovative employees in addition to a comprehensive lecture for some 300 participants.

“I don’t care if the applicant went to Seoul National University or Yonsei University,” James Kim, country manager of Microsoft Korea Inc. and chairman of the AMCHAM Council on Innovation for the Future, told the university students in search of mentors.

He urged students to differentiate themselves when applying for a job.

“A SKY diploma doesn’t impress me, and grades are not that important either. But a great interview does. That is your game of inches,” he said. SKY refers to Seoul National, Korea and Yonsei universities, which are widely regarded as the top three schools in Korea.

The six CEOs said that they did not see a big difference in the students from Chungbuk National University students compared to other in-Seoul universities.

“I do a lot of lectures at Korean universities mostly in Seoul because I am based in Seoul. But today, students (gathered at this provincial university) were just as inquisitive; they had great questions and were just as well informed,” AMCHAM Korea president Amy Jackson said.

Boeing Korea president Pat Gaines said he was repeatedly asked questions about the importance of university names, such as MIT, Harvard and SNU.

“The reality is, from an employer’s point of view, there is some value put into that, only because they are a well-established commodity,” he said.

“But more value is placed on the curriculum that was instructed, the career that the college students pursued, what classes that they pursued and not much into the name of the university that they went to.“

Students who came to meet the CEOs of the multinational firms showed satisfaction with the Innovative Camp.

“We know approximately when to apply for Korean firms, because they put up recruitment announcements periodically. We usually do not get such information from multinational companies before we turn in our applications and wait,” said Chu Ji-eun, 21, an international trade major junior at Konkuk University, who traveled 1.5 hours from Seoul on the bus to get tips on applying to multinational firms.

Kim Dong-hyun, a 28-year-old senior in the international business management program at CBNU, said he joined the camp to meet with AMCHAM president Amy Jackson in person and ask questions about Japan’s quantitative easing policies and the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement.

By Chung Joo-won (