Shortly after I lost my job teaching English, I spent a lot of time looking at job ads. As I tried to establish myself as an English copywriter in Korea, I searched daily for jobs and gigs. The more job ads I saw, the more I realized what it takes to succeed in the current job market. You must be a unicorn.

Lost? Don’t worry—I’ll explain. I spent time looking for jobs in Korea on Facebook, Craigslist, and LinkedIn. I also used job posting sites listing positions available in Korea. I was looking for jobs as an English copywriter, English proofreader, and English content editor.

I soon realized that these positions rarely exist. They are wrapped up in other duties, which aren’t always related. Most job posters are looking for people possessing such a rare combo of skills, the chances of finding suitable candidates is highly unlikely.

Apparently, editor means translator

I don’t think this is unique to Korea. As I wrote in a previous blog post, the difference between copywriter, editor, copy editor, and proofreader is unclear. Most of the jobs advertised were for an editor. But there weren’t looking for an editor:

An image of a woman wearing glasses, sitting on a sofa, typing on a laptop computer.

Responsibilities: Editing the English translation of Korean webtoons

This includes:

  • Correcting spelling and grammar
  • Localizing any overly literal translations
  • Correcting continuity issues (character, style, plot, etc.)

This position is actually looking for:

  • an editor (continuity issues)
  • a content editor (editing English translation)
  • a proofreader (correct spelling and grammar)
  • a translator (localizing any overly literal translations)

 The minimum qualifications are:

  • Native-level English
  • Excellent creative writing skills
  • Impeccable attention to detail

They also prefer that you be:

  • Fluent in Korean
  • Have experience translating, editing, and proofreading
  • Have flexible availability, including working on weekends

This job is looking for someone with native-level English, who’s fluent in Korean, has excellent creative writing skills, and can translate, edit, and proofread—and doesn’t mind working on weekends. Should be an easy position to fill.

An image of a calendar with the date 18 Sat. circled in red.

I’m not saying that one person can’t fill all those roles. But I am saying that the chances of finding one person that ticks all those boxes are highly unlikely. Furthermore, this company isn’t looking for an editor. They’re looking for a translator that doesn’t mind editing and proofreading. Who’s fluent in English and Korean. Possible, but unlikely.

There’s a lot of ‘code’ present in job ads

A line that often appears in these ads is:

Unfortunately, due to the volume of applications we receive, we will not be able to respond to all applicants.

I doubt this is uncommon nor unique to Korea. But I find it highly suspicious when you see the same ad running for weeks and weeks at a time. Either they aren’t getting many qualified candidates, or they aren’t paying much, and qualified candidates aren’t interested.

A woman dressed in fantasy garb, writing in a notebook while standing in a forest in fall.

An ad for a ‘passionate writer’ has been running for several months on Craigslist. At least that position included the salary—and it was a pretty competitive one. Most ads don’t include a salary range and just state: TBD (to be determined). This is code for, “We will attempt to pay you as little as possible.”

Other standard lines regarding salary are:

Competitive salary, negotiable depending on experience and qualifications

To be negotiated depending on experience and performance

It is unclear how they can assess your performance before agreeing on a salary to offer you.

Being able to use a variety of software packages is always helpful

Another trend I see requires applicants to have knowledge of CAT tools. A CAT tool is a Computer-Assisted Translation tool. CAT tools are different from machine translations (i.e. Google Translate or Papago), but the jury seems to be out on them. Some translators swear by them, and others never touch them. My wife has been translating for over 15 years and has never used one.

But for anyone working with webtoons (a very popular area these days), CAT tools seem to be a necessity. It is rarely stated which CAT tool applicants must be familiar with. It is also unclear if these companies use free or paid CAT tools. They rarely mention if employees will be given a license or if they have to pay for one on their own.

An image of a black cat with a speech bubble over it with three question marks in it.

For anyone ‘editing’ webtoons, many ads also require that you have basic Photoshop skills. And most ads I’ve seen state that you have to pay for your own Photoshop subscription of $20.99/month (₩24,660/month). Whenever I’ve copyedited or proofread something with a visual element, I’ve worked on a text file with a visual reference file. My edits are then copied to the main piece of work by someone else. It’s never been my responsibility. 

For those jobs that do offer salaries, they seem shockingly low. Especially for jobs requiring you to be bilingual and possess the specific skills to be an effective editor/proofreader.

It’s common to see ads for English proofreading offering $10/hour (₩11,750/hour). To put that into perspective, the Korean minimum wage will be ₩9,160 ($7.80) as of January 1st.  That $10/hour rate is for someone with extensive knowledge of grammar, punctuation, and spelling. And let’s not forget most of these jobs need you to be bilingual.

An image of three $10 bills on a slatted wooden table.

Here are some of the other salaries I’ve seen posted for various jobs:

  • Writer/proofreader: $10.26–12.16/hour (₩12,169–14,286/hour)
  • Marketing Full-time Position:  $9.48/hour (₩11,135/hour)
  • Content Writer: $8.96/hour (₩10,526/hour)

BTW, one of these writing jobs stipulated that you had to bring your own laptop to the office. You don’t need to provide your employees with a work laptop they can take to and from work. But providing a work computer is about as basic as it gets. C’mon—it’s 2021!

[UPDATE] As I was putting the finishing touches on this post, a Facebook job ad caught my attention. The position was for an influencer marketer/administrator (whatever that is). 

Requirements:

  • Proficient in spoken English, excellent written skills in English, general computer skills

Preferred:

  • Advanced computer skills (HTML, CSS, drag & drop web design tools)
  • Functional proficiency in Korean and Mandarin Chinese

And the pay rate for someone that speaks three languages and possesses some advanced computer skills? $9.00/hour (₩10,582 ) – $10.34/hour (₩12,169).

Oh, and to apply for this job, you need to send your resume and cover letter to:  hello@b???????k.xyz. I guess someone didn’t read last week’s blog post.

What about hourly rates for unskilled workers?

Let’s put these numbers in perspective. We can compare these rates with the hourly pay I saw posted for a factory worker: $12.34/hour (₩14,500/hour).

Korea has a large number of migrant workers that work in factories. I’m sure they’re not all making ₩14,500/hour. But the reason there are so many migrant workers in these roles is because Koreans don’t want these jobs. When I first came to Korea, there was always a lot of talk about the 3Ds—dirty, dangerous, and difficult. Yet salaries offered for positions requiring you to be bilingual and have academic skills are less than those offered to factory workers.

An image of men and women working on an assembly line in a factory.


And don’t get me wrong. After I lost my job, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to transition to becoming an English copywriter and proofreader. I considered the possibility of taking a factory job. It wouldn’t have been ideal. But having decided that I wanted a break from teaching, my job opportunities were limited if I could not make it in my new chosen career. 

I wouldn’t have enjoyed it, but at least working in a factory would’ve put food on plates and kept a roof over my head. And though the hours would’ve been long, and the work likely physically demanding, I would’ve been able to make a living.

Coincidentally, just yesterday, I came across an article in a Korean publication. The article claims that the attitude shunning manual labor is slowly changing. In the past, it was unthinkable for a university graduate to find work as a ‘mere’ blue collar worker, but it would appear that belief is slowly changing.

It’s not all bad news—there are some good jobs out there

There are a few places that offer somewhat more competitive salaries. One, for an editor of a major publication, offered a salary range between $14.06–18.75/hour (₩16,519–22,025/hour). The aforementioned ad seeking a “passionate writer” is offering between $14.58—19.56/hour (₩17,131–29,979/hour). But I’ve seen that ad running for about six months. I guess they haven’t found the right candidate yet.

But based on following job postings over the past several months, it’s become evident that employers want employees with various skills. But as has been the case in the EFL field, the salaries offered are rock-bottom at best, and most employers don’t want to pay for quality employees. They’d rather pay the least amount of money to the person that’ll accept it.

What does all this mean?

You get what you pay for. If you hire someone who can do several different jobs fairly well, they likely won’t excel at any one area. Just because someone is bilingual doesn’t make them a translator, an editor, or a proofreader. If Korea hasn’t learned that lesson from native-English teachers yet, I don’t know what it’ll take. I was admittedly a pretty poor teacher in my first year, but I studied, learned, and ended up getting a Masters degree in TESOL. 

An image of a chimpanzee with a cigarette in his mouth, sitting on a stool  and playing an electric guitar.

Speaking a language doesn’t mean you can teach it. Playing the guitar doesn’t mean you can teach others to do it. Being bilingual doesn’t mean you can translate. All these things are possible, but they’re not absolute truths.

For all my complaining about jobs looking for unicorns, I was a unicorn—sort of

On one of the freelancer job sites I use, I came across an unusual request. The client required an English proofreader but with knowledge of Korean. I wasn’t required to be fluent in Korean, translate Korean, or comment on the English translation. But because the text included Korean in the English examples and explanations, it was helpful to be able to read and understand Korean. 

I got that job because of my unique skill set. But I wasn’t required to translate, edit, or check the accuracy of the English translations. I simply had to copyedit and proofread the English. But that was much easier because I could read and understand the Korean included. Yet, I suspect a competent copy editor or proofreader without knowledge of Korean would’ve been able to complete the job. But it may have been a little more challenging.

A black and white photo of a man with long hair, with his head in in his hands.

The inspiration for this post came from how amazed I was at these job postings when I was starting out. I was pretty disheartened seeing the salaries offered and the skills required. There were times I wondered if I’d made the correct decision. But as you’ll find out in a couple of weeks, things aren’t looking too bad.

So here’s my question to you: If you had to change careers tomorrow (work in a different field, not just switch companies), what would you do? Or if you’ve successfully changed careers, how did you do it? Let me know in the comments.

One thought on “Wanted: Unicorn—must have three horns, six legs, and stripes

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