“Story” Defeats “Spec”, Focus on Stories Instead of “Spec”, Be more Competitive with Your Own Story: these are the titles of books which reflect one of the fastest growing trends in the employment market in Korea where the “story” is replacing “spec”.
In Korea, the widely-used word spec refers to a list of activities and/or certifications that applicants include on their resumes in an attempt to impress the recruiters. Typically, such specs in resumes include high TOEIC scores, internship experiences, social and/or volunteer activities, and so on, and are perceived as the best way for aspiring employees to impress their potential employers in Korea. In recent years however, more companies are employing a new recruitment model, whereby candidates are selected based on their “stories” through in-depth interviews rather than relying on resumes alone.
This article takes a look at the current trend of focusing on the “stories” of applicants, and addresses the criticisms of this new focus.
The Trend Towards “Spec-free” Recruitment on the Rise
The Korean government recently announced that beginning in the first half year of 2014, 395 public institutions will be required to exclude the process of examining an applicant’s specs when in the process of recruiting new employees. Instead, a new hiring system that puts more emphasis on “storytelling” will be used. This new system will be in the form of an online interview where applicants undergo a preliminary round and then a final evaluation by performing tasks on SNS. Through the system, applicants can introduce themselves to evaluators on the condition that only limited information, like names or sex, is revealed. A ministry official who asked to remain anonymous said, “The storytelling portion of the process is expected to give applicants a better opportunity to make themselves appealing to the recruiters. Moreover, according to information from private companies, applicants who have been hired through a process where specs are ignored showed no difference in performance compared with those who were hired through the existing recruitment system.”
A number of private enterprises have already been utilizing the storytelling hiring system which excludes the applicants’ specs. For instance, Hyundai uses a “spec-free” system called the “Five Minutes Self-PR” in its job fairs. Through this process, applicants have a chance to make their pitch to board members by introducing themselves in five minutes in a face-to-face interview. If the applicants succeed, they are exempted from having to submit their resumes.
Storytelling as an Alternative to Specs
From a company’s point of view, storytelling-recruitment is a helpful way to distinguish between applicants that look better on paper, and those who are truly talented. According to research conducted by Power Job, a job search content website, 88.2 percent of 307 human resource directors believe that relying only on resumes is insufficient for judging an applicant’s practical abilities. Choi Ki-won, the chairman of the National Universities Employment Manager Council, said, “Companies are looking to employ the right people in the right places. So while a long list of specs does not guarantee that the applicant has actual working abilities, storytelling at least shows some of the character and personality of the applicants, who have a chance to explain their experiences in person. In that regard, storytelling can be said to be more effective in finding the right person for the job.”
Furthermore, the storytelling system can be a means by which academic elitism, the socially problematic aspect in the traditional recruitment system, can be lessened or even eliminated. Yeo, Na-yoon, a sophomore in the Department of Policy Science at Hanyang University(HYU) said, “I think it is unfair that the scores of Liberal Arts made one who majors in engineering disqualified for his or her major related job. Under the existing recruitment system of specs, this is quite a real situation. In my opinion, the “storytelling” approach can solve this problem by giving applicants the opportunity to show their own competence.”
“Storytelling” as Just a New Type of Spec
Some experts insist that the “story” system is no more than a new type of spec, with the main difference being that the focus has changed from reliance on grades and/or academic background to a more complicated set of criteria related to more specific areas. Moreover, such a dubious distinction between “story” from spec is doing little to alleviate the stress over future preparations for current students. “The new recruitment system of storytelling is just making me more frustrated since it seems like it’s not really fundamentally different from the spec system. I’m basically preparing the same as before,” said Son, Eun-jin, a senior in the Department of Educational Technology at Konkuk University. In the end, when it comes to the underlying rationale in the selection process of recruitment, the line between “story” and spec is blurry at best.
Furthermore, according to Career, an employment portal site, researchers found that among 695 applicants, 55.1 percent expressed sarcastic reactions toward the “spec-free” recruitment system of storytelling. “I think such a system is too absurd to be implemented in current Korean society where academic elitism and ranking is rampant. If the storytelling system continues and even expands, companies will most likely end up inquiring about the specs of applicants anyway, at least during the interview process, making the whole thing redundant,” said Lee, Joo-han, a sophomore in the Division of Business Administration.
Meaningless Distinction Between Story and Spec
Placing priority on an individual’s personal story during the recruitment process can be helpful when it comes to searching for talented individuals beyond the person’s statistical information outlined in resumes. Still, there are those who have doubts about its efficacy and are concerned about the lingering ambiguities of such a system being used in the recruitment.
Regardless, what remains constant is the fact that companies want to select the most talented, while applicants want to impress. Choi has consulted a number of students at HYU’s Career Service Center and insisted that the distinction between spec and “story” is meaningless. He said, “Specs do not convey everything about the applicants and neither does “story”. Meanwhile, there is no “story” without specs anyway. To tell an appealing “story”, there should be sources to talk about, and those will invariably be one’s specs.”