Hello! I just read an old comment of yours on a working in Korea post. I was planning on doing something very similar – I have bachlors of science degree in CS, been working full time as a web dev for the last 4 years. I wanted to ask – how tough was the interview and application process for Samsung? I am conversationally fluent in Korean so it’s my programming skills I am more worried about.Anonymous Engineer
Every so often I get a question similar to the one a friendly internet stranger sent me a few weeks ago (see above). There seems to be budding interest from techies from outside of South Korea that want to break into the industry over there and experience what it’s like to live there.
First, a little background. I am a Korean-American born and raised in the USA that grew up as a receptive bilingual. I finished my bachelors in computer engineering, got a job in big tech and climbed the corporate ladder for several years, thoroughly burned out, moved to Korea for a year to learn Korean language, moved back to the States to finish a graduate degree in electrical engineering, and then moved back to Korea to work at Samsung Electronics System LSI Device Solutions Research division. I stayed at Samsung for three years and stayed in Korea for an extra year after leaving Samsung before moving back to the States. I’ve gone through the process of finding and securing a tech job in Korea and I’ll do my best to share the steps I took to to make this happen.
Getting an Interview. Getting an interview was thankfully a straightforward process. Shortly after graduating from my masters program I started searching for jobs on Linkedin. There were a number of English and Korean language job postings for positions in South Korea from companies including Samsung, Google, SK Hynix, and LG. The positions I applied to were specifically for non-Koreans. When I finished grad school back in 2014, Korea was actively recruiting foreign talent from graduate programs as well as poaching from well known companies. I applied and within a few weeks I got an email back from Samsung, Google, and SK Hynix. Almost all of the big tech companies will have satellite offices in Seoul and bilingual techies that can fluidly bridge the gap between East and West are few and far between and highly sought after. Samsung seems to be hit or miss in terms of having job openings for foreigners and during my job hunting days I would see positions for foreigners come and go. If there aren’t any positions advertised on Linkedin I’d recommend connecting with a Samsung recruiter and inquiring about openings. These are uncertain economic times though and you may need to display some patience.
The Phone Screen. The interview process for both Samsung and SK Hynix struck me as being oddly uniform. I declined my Google Korea interview because it was supposed to be a live coding session on Google docs and, being somewhat self aware, I knew I would have gotten ripped to shreds so I politely declined. The interview process at Samsung and SK Hynix both began with an hour long English language technical phone screen. The phone screen was mostly a first order bullshit test to see if you knew the things you say you knew on the resume. There was very little technical problem solving and the questions were more to the tune of, “Can you adjust to life in Korean society and can you adjust to Korean working culture?”. Being completely naive, I said yes to both.
The On-Site Interview. After the phone screen, HR contacted me to schedule the on-site interviews. Now at this point, my on-site interview process may diverge from the normal case as I had already had plans to visit Korea in the summer. After informing HR that I’d be in Korea for the summer, they arranged the date and location as well as arranged transportation via their company shuttle bus systems. I’m assuming if I didn’t have these plans arranged I would have been flown to the company locations as is standard for job interviews in big tech.
Thus far, the process for both Samsung and SK Hynix was lockstep identical and the on-site interview was no exception. A few weeks prior to the interview I was asked to prepare a one hour technical presentation on my graduate thesis as well as on my past work experience. The interview started with meeting the HR representative that I have been corresponding with at the front gate of the research building. There, they put stickers on my phone camera and I went through a metal detector (all employees go through a metal detector and bags must be x-rayed similar to airport security). After the shock faded I was ushered into a room with four or five senior level engineers. All had the prefix Dr. and they did their graduate studies in the US, Japan, or in one of the prestigious South Korean universities. I knew this because prior to the interview I received a schedule and each of the interviewers had their full title as well a little blurb on their background. I think this was a bit of an education or credential flex and I learned later on that this in rather common. I delivered the presentation with no incident and at the end I took questions from the interviewers. My expectation was that I’d be solving problems on a whiteboard or doing some coding or circuit analysis and that I would be on the receiving end of a technical drubbing. However, the questions were not deep and oddly, they felt like more of a check to see whether I was bluffing about my resume or not. No leetcode-esque questions. No formulas. No whiteboarding. I was able to talk through the interview without any writing whatsoever. The group interview portion didn’t last more than an hour and a half.
After the group interview, my experience at Samsung and SK Hynix diverged. After the group interview at Samsung I had another interview with the Vice President of the division but this turned out to be an informal chat to familiarize myself with the group culture and his plans for the division. On the SK Hynix side of things, after the group interview I met with senior level HR representatives and we went directly into a job offer and salary negotiation. The Samsung interview didn’t culminate in an on the spot job offer, rather, it came via email several days later. I decided to accept after a Soju fueled bender. I don’t know why but life decisions seem to be easier to make after the mind is a bit lubricated but I digress.
The Job Offer. The job offer consisted of a signing bonus, a base salary that was lower than the US average, a 50% base salary cash bonus which trounces the US average, and a housing stipend to the tune 150,000 USD to pay for housing accommodations at a place of my choosing. Also, they added a salary cushion to compensate for paying both South Korean and US tax. Overall, I was making more money in Korea than I was in the States.
Oddly enough, after the job offer was accepted, communication with HR switched to Korean and this applied to emails, phone calls, and even some documents. This was a bit difficult since my Korean at the time was probably at an elementary or middle school level. I struggled through it and went to the Korean consulate in New York City to get my F-4 or “gyopo” visa that is only available to Korean descendants. At the consulate I found out I was actually a dual citizen and was denied the F-4 visa and I had to jump through hoop after hoop to avoid mandatory military service let alone work in Korea full time. But my whole visa/citizenship ordeal is a story for another time.
Conclusion. Looking back at what I just wrote, I realize that I gave a quite nebulous response to to your question. “How tough was the interview and application process?” If I had to TLDR it, I’d say that the interview wasn’t technically difficult by any stretch. It’d be more apt to say that the process could be perceived as difficult by virtue of being very different from the standard Western technical interview process. But if you have an open mind, adjust well to change, and have solid technical chops, getting a tech job in Korea is a very realistic goal. For the record and so you can’t claim that you were uninitiated, part of my life as a Korean salary man was an absolute crushing hell. But, and this is a big but, I was also fortunate enough to have made an abundance of priceless memories that far out weigh the negatives.