The AESC and BlueSteps recently conducted interviews with leading executive search firms in the Asia Pacific region for their insights into the executive job market in South Korea. The following interview is with McKinney Consulting.

AESC: Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions about the South Korean executive job market. I’m interested to know what your outlook for the Asia Pacific region, and especially the South Korean market, is now that we’ve started a new year. But, first of all, can you share with us a bit about your search firm, the work you do there, and any key areas your firm specializes in?

McKinney Consulting: At McKinney Consulting we focus on placing bilingual executives into multinational companies based in South Korea. We specialize in the following industries of automotive, industrial, consumer goods, technology and financial services. While executive search is our primary business, we also have a leadership consulting practice. Additionally, we have done cross-border searches in China, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and Australia.

AESC: As mentioned, now that we have begun 2013, how would you describe your outlook for South Korea for the rest of the year?

McKinney Consulting: The estimated GDP growth for South Korea in 2013 is approximately 2.5%. The unemployment rate is around 3%. The segment of society with the highest unemployment rate are age 30 and under.

Interestingly, South Korea currently has free trade agreements with 45 different countries. In addition, I believe that it is the only country with Free Trade Agreements with both Europe and the U.S.A. Moreover, we are continuing to have replacement positions from existing clients as well as placements with new companies entering the Korean market for the first time. I expect a modest 10% increase in our search business this year.

AESC: What are the current trends you are witnessing in executive search in South Korea at the moment? Manufacturing and IT are strong industries in South Korea. What other sectors are experiencing strong activity in South Korea?

McKinney Consulting: In addition to the Manufacturing and IT industry strength, we are beginning to see increases in the service sector, especially within Europe and the USA. Equally, with Free Trade agreements coming into force last year, we are scheduled for a reduction to zero on tariffs on 95% of the goods traded over the next 5 years. We have also seen the legal market open up as of last year, and there are more foreign legal firms now entering the Korean market—I predict that it will be completely open after 5 years. Subsequently, we have had an increase in searches already in the legal field.

AESC: What would you say is of greatest concern for senior-level executives working in South Korea today? Do you think that work-life balance is a bigger challenge compared to other regions? For instance, do you think that executives working in South Korea have longer working hours than other regions?

McKinney Consulting: According to the OECD reports, Koreans do work longer hours than most other member countries. However, a few years ago the Korean Government dropped the mandatory half day work on Saturdays, so the hours have been decreasing following this. However, productivity, especially in the service sector, needs to improve. South Korea is still at around US $20,000 average per capita in production.

AESC: What are some key changes within South Korea in the past five years regarding executive recruitment?

McKinney Consulting: Most of the big global search brands are now present in South Korea. We still have hundreds of contingency search firms that will work for less than 20% fees and without exclusivity though.

AESC: Of the executive searches that you are seeing, how would you describe the ratio of those executives ending up on short lists or being placed who are native to South Korea versus expatriates—local talent verses searching outside the region?

McKinney Consulting: About 98% of our candidates are of Korean ethnicity. However, most have been educated abroad and most have worked in other countries outside of Korea.

AESC: Of senior-level executives working in South Korea today, how would you describe them? Are they male, female, older, younger, local or expats, and what changes, if any, are you seeing in terms of these demographics?

McKinney Consulting: The majority are male, from Korea, between the ages of 38 and 50, with approximately 20 years of experience.

AESC: What can executives today do to increase their visibility and get noticed by executive recruiters? Broadly speaking, if someone who is not currently working in South Korea seeks opportunities in South Korea, what do they need to know and what skills should they bring to the table to be considered for executive positions in South Korea?

McKinney Consulting: For multinational companies it is best for non-Koreans to seek a position in Korea through their headquarter company in the USA, or their own country. I believe that it would be good if they joined BlueSteps and looked at the AESC member company websites which are based in Seoul. It is best not to send a resume directly to McKinney Consulting. We are bombarded with resumes daily, but we do have a dedicated email address on our website and a way to submit resumes on our web site.

About McKinney Consulting

McKinney Consulting is an executive search firm (sometimes simplified as executive recruiters, or headhunters) which places bilingual middle to senior level executives for multinational companies in Korea & Asia.

McKinney Consulting also provides coaching services which are behavioral-based with scientifically developed tools in coaching executives and businesses to excellence and success.

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