Career Counseling in South Korea: A Synopsis of an Emerging Profession

By Ike Koh and Vera Chapman

Career counseling in South Korea was introduced in 1998 right after the foreign exchange crisis, also known as the IMF incident, and has in effect been serving a broad range of people - from recent graduates, to those who are considering a career change, to those who are retired. Unlike the history of career development in the United States which embodies a rich 100 year history, career counseling in South Korea is still a very new and slow emerging field. The future of the profession is unknown due to economic uncertainty, as well as a lack of central professional identity and formal training programs. However, many elements related to the structure and delivery of career counseling services are very similar between the US and South Korea, including a focus on client needs, and both short term and long term career success.


Since its formal inception in 1998, career counseling in South Korea has been mainly focused on building personal skills and creating lifelong careers for the purpose of earning a living. However, in recent years it has evolved to integrate economic freedom and social roles central to maintaining a happy life. Today most career development and career counseling services take place within regional employment support centers governed by the Ministry of Labor, as well as small private counseling firms.


Korea underwent a rapid growth spurt that resulted in a general preference for high-paying jobs allowing significant authority over jobs accommodating personal aptitude. Students were therefore more inclined to choose majors based on earning potential, while competition for entry into related schools or departments became extremely high. This left little need for aptitude-based career counseling.


However, with increased life expectancy, a focus on more individual-oriented lifestyles (as opposed to the family-orientation of the past), and the retirement of approximately seven million South Korean baby boomers, there are increased demands on career counselors to provide information on school admissions and job placement opportunities, and to offer in-depth, holistic counseling covering many aspects of a client’s life.


As is sometimes also the case in the U.S., this emerging profession is often incorrectly perceived by South Koreans as solely a job placement service that should show immediate results. Similarly, career counseling practices in South Korea now more collectively consider how personal aptitude, strengths, motivation, and emotional aspects help individuals work through psychological concerns. Career Counselors support individuals to express their self-identities through their work as they pursue their career and life goals. The benefits of career counseling have led to growing number of careers focused on this field.


Again similar to varying job titles here in the US, the names of the counseling positions in South Korea are ambiguous, varying from Career Consultant, Career Counselor, Career Coach, Job Counselor, Outplacement Consultant, and Career Mentor, among others. Beginning in 2008, the South Korean government began to offer a formal Career Counseling license to certify an individual as a “Job Counselor.” Though it is statistically difficult to estimate the exact number of self-identified career counselors in South Korea, it is known that the Ministry of Employment and Labor has awarded 23,000 licenses to practice under this title.


Unfortunately, given that it is relatively easy to acquire the qualifications to become a job counselor (without much experience required) and that the general public still seems largely unaware of the existence of the profession, the number of career counselors greatly exceeds the demands. The resulting income instability has created uncertainty about the future of the profession. Generally, there seems to also be a lack of awareness about the National Career Development Association and organizations like it. However, the affiliation of Korea’s Career Consultant Forum (CCF) with NCDA in 2012 holds promise for increased collaboration and mentorship.


In Outplacement Service, in which author Ike Koh specializes, clients often only request assistance with locating immediate job placement opportunities or gaining necessary job searching skills in order to become employed as quickly as possible. Instead, the focus of career counseling for those who are middle-aged should be on discovering their self-identity and stabilizing their emotional states to contemplate their futures, and seek meaningful life roles and career goals. This has indeed been a challenge in South Korea due to the tendency to focus on materialistic abundance, which has led people to pursue careers based on income potential rather than enjoyment or personal fit. To counter poor career decision-making tendencies, career counselors should begin to focus their efforts on developing their clients’ innate talents and strengths.


Career counseling affects not only the individual being counseled but also his or her family’s future. It is therefore important that career counseling should be done only by those with adequate experience and knowledge. As is the case in the United States, Korean counselors should work to arm themselves with an accurate understanding of the career life planning process, informed also by adequate and relevant experience that applies research and NCDA best practices. In addition, those counselors who already possess the necessary professional experience and knowledge should focus on continuous self-improvement and the refinement of skills. These steps will ensure that professionals maintain the necessary expertise to not only help guide individuals towards personal happiness and career fulfillment, but also to help ensure the future of the career counseling profession in South Korea.




Career Convergence welcomes articles with an international connection.


KohIke I. Koh, is a registered Certified Management Consultant and is currently CEO of Oasis Consulting Company, Vice Chairman of CCF and adjunct professor at Kookmin University in Korea. He was the Vice President of DBM Korea and the Vice President of Lina Korea, a company of Cigna. He holds an MBA from Meinders School of Business at Oklahoma City University in the United States, along with aMasters Degree in Industrial Relations from Soongsil Graduate School in Seoul. His practice focuses on assessment, organizational development, industrial relation, performance management, change management, executive career consulting, retirement success planning, and compliance. As a Career Consultant, he is particularly interested in lifetime career planning. He may be contacted at ike.koh@oasisgo.com


Vera Chapman 2013Vera V. Chapmanis the Associate Director of Career Development at Colgate University where she provides the primary vision for the advising and program development component of the office. Dr. Chapman counsels and advises diverse students and alumni in all phases of the career development process. An active scholar, Dr. Chapman serves as a Field Editor for the National Career Development Association’s (NCDA) Career Convergence web magazine, and as an Associate Editor for the Journal of International Students. Originally from Cape Town, South Africa, a study abroad experience to Clemson University in turn led her to the University of Mississippi, where she pursued advanced degrees in Counseling and Higher Education. After becoming a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Mississippi, Dr. Chapman served as a Career Planning Specialist and Adjunct Professor at the same institution before joining Colgate University. She finds great purpose in empowering others towards becoming the most extraordinary version of themselves. Dr. Chapman actively shares career and life planning success strategies through Twitter (@VeraVChapman) and blogging (ChasingYourFire.com), and may be contacted at veravchapman@gmail.com.

1 Comment

Lawrence Jones on Tuesday 04/02/2013 at 12:07PM wrote:

A very interesting report. Encouraging.

We worked with Professor Wan-Suk Gim at Anjou University in creating a Korean Career Key website that was quite successful for several years. Graduate students and career professionals played an active role in providing help and doing research. It was quite impressive. We had the opportunity to meet him and his wife in 2008. See: http://careerkey.blogspot.com/2008/01/korean-career-key-meeting.html

Unfortunately, the website was discontinued due largely to competition from government websites that offered a Holland career assessment, for which there was no evidence of validity (repeating what has happened in the U.S. and Canada).

My understanding was that there was a strong inclination for people to look to the government for guidance.

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