South Korean Human Rights Monitor


Korean Job Applications: Forms of discrimination on appearance, background and bodyweight

Sooyoung Oh May 20, 2014

Korean Job Applications: Forms of discrimination on appearance, background and body weight

Your name, contact information, past work experiences and qualifications are usually the categories included in your resume. Within Korea’s fiercely competitive job market, candidates must compete not only with their qualifications or merits but also their weight, beauty and their parents’ occupation.

According to the “Investigation report on the Qualifications for Job Applications of 100 Companies in Korea,” initiated by the Presidential Committee on Young Generation, 95 of the job applications for the regular recruitment period this year were filled with discriminatory fields asking about appearance, family finances, and religion among many other that breach both professionalism and nondiscrimination.

Among the 100 companies, 74.7% required a photo attached onto the application form. In countries like the United States where there are stronger anti-discrimination laws, resumes and job applications cannot demand a personal photo. It is a different story in Korea where “lookism” is deeply embedded in society and is most certainly prevalent in the employment process. To get the perfect shot for their resumes, many Korean job seekers will go to any lengths, booking professional makeup and photo studios and even cosmetic surgeries which offer “employment surgery” or “interview surgery.” In fact, out of 505 University students surveyed by Career, an online employment services portal, 30.5% responded they were considering “employment plastic surgery.” In addition to a profile photo, height, weight and blood type are also required on application forms.

Another required category of 38.9% of Korean job applications is your parents’ occupation as well as other family members. 21.1% of applications asked about the educational level of the applicant’s parents while 31.6% probed further on the name of workplace as well as the position. Among the familial details, some applications even ask to specify the amount of household income. Other requirements irrelevant to work requirements included the applicant’s social security number, status of marriage, and religion.

In revelation of these findings, 776 job seekers in their 20s were surveyed on Incruit, an online employment portal. 94.2% of the respondents stated that they felt such categories were unnecessary with questions about “parents’ occupation and income” picked as the most redundant fields. Details about one’s physique such as body weight, sight and height came second with 17.4%. However, despite the obvious redundancy of the questions, 93.8% thought they would be disadvantaged from getting hired if they left the fields blank. In this way, Korean job hunters are left with no choice but to fill out unnecessary questions in hopes of securing a job. In the process, they are stripped of equal opportunity to work for reasons completely unrelated to the job position.

In all these unnecessary categories required in a resume altogether add up to a grievous violation of human rights to equal opportunities and nondiscrimination based on age, appearance and background. While the Korean economy boasts of being the 15th largest in the world and a member of the OECD, it is clear that working standards and labour rights barely meet acceptable standards of a modern, developed society. It is even a greater disgrace that such discrimination is rampant within the country’s biggest companies.

In order to alleviate the current state of the Ministry of Labour and the National Human Rights Committee must step up on making strident efforts to eliminate such blatant discrimination in the employment process. All applications requiring information invasive of privacy or irrelevant to the job description should be scrapped effectively. Also, there must be a strict guideline on job applications formed and enforced in companies across the nation. Moreover, recruitment procedures should be made transparent with companies required to disclose their standards of employment.

In Korea, a modern and allegedly economically advanced society, basic labour rights of nondiscrimination and equal opportunity are long overdue.



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