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[Opinion] Obsession With ‘Spec’

Posted October. 15, 2008 08:48,   


Certain English words do not appear in English dictionaries, though they are frequently used in daily life in Korea. “Konglish” words include skinship, handphone and backmirror, and the latest is “spec.” Derived from the term “specification,” it means qualifications for employment. College students call TOEIC scores, overseas study, certificates, community work and internships a “five-set spec.”

With college turning into a place that prepares students for landing jobs instead of an institution of learning, college students are locked in cutthroat competition for a good “spec.” The number of unemployed 20-somethings reached 1.06 million in August, showing how desperate they must be in seeking jobs while still in college. Worse, the world financial crisis has forced domestic companies to curtail hiring and the Lee Myung-bak administration’s public sector reform has reduced the number of new jobs at both state-owned companies and organizations. One report says only 3.8 out of every 100 job applicants are hired nowadays.

The tight job market is forcing college students to pour a significant amount of time and money into getting a decent “spec.” Many take courses to get a better grade and delay graduation to buy time for job preparation. Certain conglomerates consider blood donation as community service, prompting a rush of college students to give blood. The number of collegians who donated blood this year has risen 35 percent, higher than that of servicemen in taking the top spot for the second consecutive year. It’s like selling blood to land jobs. The Korea Labor Institute estimates that excessive competition for a good spec among job applicants costs the country 2.09 trillion won (1.73 billion U.S. dollars) a year.

It’s understandable that young people are pulling out all the stops to create a better spec. It’s pathetic, however, that efforts to increase employment prospects do little to land a job. With everybody striving to get a decent “spec,” jobseekers’ qualifications seem almost the same. A personnel staff member at a big company said, “Most job applicants have received overseas training, so those who couldn’t afford it due to poor economic conditions actually stand out.” Personnel staff advise jobseekers to learn from those who land jobs, instead of striving to raise their “spec.”

Editorial Writer Chung Sung-hee (shchung@donga.com)