Korea’s Star Headhunter Shares Keys to Her Success

Headhunting firm Unico Search in southern Seoul marks its 30th anniversary this year. The country’s oldest executive recruiter in Korea has a database of more than 200,000 people and helped more than 20,000 find new jobs over the last three decades.

“At least two people start their new careers every day through our services,” says CEO Kim Hye-yang.

After graduating from Ewha Womans University, Kim landed a job as a secretary but grew bored of paper-pushing. She sought to move to a foreign company where she thought she would have a better chance of promotion and found one, with a chemical firm, through Unico Search.

But she soon realized that she needed better English and went to the U.S. to study the language. When she returned a year later, the Asian financial crisis erupted, which made it difficult to find a new job.

“I ended up doing what I’m doing now at the advice of the head of another headhunting firm. I enjoy meeting people, so the work fits my personality.”

Kim Hye-yang

Kim started working for Unico Search in 2000 and became a star head hunter just three years later with an annual salary in the six-figure range. At Unico, she helped around 4,000 people find new jobs, traveling across the country to visit businesses and find the right people for her clients. She also made it a point to attend industry seminars and keep abreast of the latest trends.

“Instead of simply recommending candidates, I tried to understand industry and market trends to share with my clients, which ended up making them seek my services again,” she said.

In 2016, Kim got an unexpected offer. Unico founder Han Sang-shin asked her if she wanted to take over the company. Kim accepted and doubled the size of Unico in just five years.

Since the coronavirus pandemic started, big changes have happened. “Before the pandemic, employers decided whether to hire a candidate, but nowadays, the candidate decides which company he or she wants to work for,” Kim explained.

But even as a headhunter she advises against changing jobs too frequently. “Candidates who change jobs too often make employers to question whether they have enough work experience,” she said. “It’s good to stay with one company for at least three years.”

She also advised that successful switches to new jobs require candidates to assess themselves objectively. “People who want to change jobs these days seem to have excessive expectations of salaries or other benefits,” she said. “Instead of fixating on near-term conditions, it’s better to look at the long-term potential of a job offer.”

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