Employment Background Checks in Korea: Not so Different from China

My friends over at the China Law Blog posted an article quoting the Chinese Business Leadership blog that noted that noted that:

“We were placing a GM for a Western family owned factory. They are small and troubled.  We found 15 thoroughly qualified candidates for the position. We had candidates tell us they worked at a company 5 years when they only worked 1. We had candidates tell us they were super valuable,  and the company does not want to let them go. We were able to find out that they were fired a year before  while still in probation.

As the last of the group of 15 refused to come clean and give us an accurate resume, we shook our heads in dismay. We are excellent at interviews and interview 90 minutes as our goal is to know. Despite that, we were unable to uncover these issues before the background check.

We had one guy tell us he was the overall manager for a big project, and he could describe in great detail all he had done. Our China hiring background check uncovered that he was a common worker under a manager who led that project.”

We regrettably find the same true in Korea.  Also, regrettably, often executive recruiters (head hunters), in Korea, are of little help in vetting candidates.  We recommend to no just, simply, hire a recruitment agency.  We find that many of these agencies (even the international ones) are motivated, primarily, by the placement of any individual.  We know of many horror stories.  Please take a look at the

We suggest retaining a person that does not have a financial interest in the placement of the individual to vet the anticipated employee.  The vetting should not, simply, come in the form of a background check, but be by someone with significant experience managing individuals in Korea.
As noted on numerous occasions on this blog – “at will” employment is, typically, impossible in Korea.

Vetting/Hiring an Employee in Korea:

  1. Thoroughly vet the anticipated hire.  You may be stuck with the person for a long time.  This does not, simply, mean having a call and having Korean staff meet the person.

    A Korean “old hat” is necessary in flagging major issues that, often, do not seem to be issues by those not, deeply, familiar with Korean employees and Korean employment realities;

  2. Don’t trust “salary tables” – the tables are, normally, too high;
  3. Don’t use foreign employment, distribution, agency, and consultant agreements.  Typically, these will lead to issues in Korea.  Issues may include ending up at the prosecutor’s office or in court;
  4. Don’t hire a headhunter when a headhunter is not necessary.  The best way to hire is through the grape vine and foreign “old hat” consultants and lawyers are the best at finding appropriate individuals through this grapevine. 

    If they fail – seek a headhunter.  Many headhunters in Korea are interested in making the placement -not making the proper placement, because of the, often, lack of appropriate compensation for not making a placement.  Additionally, foreign headhunters, often, are just outsourcing services to affiliated agencies with little oversight.

  5. Korea is not China or Japan.  Realities in Korea, are, often, not realities in China and Japan.
  6. Hire proactive counsel to draft employment agreements – not just counsel.

Other articles that may be of interest:

Sean Hayes may be contacted at: [email protected]

Sean Hayes is co-chair of the Korea Practice Team at IPG Legal. He is the first non-Korean attorney to have worked for the Korean court system (Constitutional Court of Korea) and one of the first non-Koreans to be a regular member of a Korean law faculty. Sean is ranked, for Korea, as one of only two non-Korean lawyers as a Top Attorney by AsiaLaw.

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