Job titles are of high importance in Korea. So, if you plan on pursuing a career in this country, it is essential to familiarize yourself with Korean corporate titles.
This article is not meant to be an exhaustive list of all Korean job titles, but it can serve as a valuable guide to navigating the hierarchy of any Korean company. The job titles and hierarchical structures in Korea vary slightly depending on the industry and business division.
The job titles listed here describe the Korean company hierarchy of large and mid-sized companies.
Corporate positions and job titles in Korean companies are often based on the individual’s experience and length of service and are not always directly related to the duties that are typically associated with a particular job title.
For instance, a new graduate employee typically starts out with the job title “graduate worker” in a typical Korean corporation. Regardless of the employee’s education, all new graduate employees enter the corporate world with this job title.
For someone who doesn’t have any insight into the Korean language, navigating Korean corporate titles can be daunting. Understanding what titles like “CEO in Korean” or “director in Korean” mean can be especially useful. Therefore, we have compiled a list of the business titles in a typical Korean corporate structure along with the English equivalent of each position to help prospective employees from English-speaking countries make sense of the Korean company hierarchy.
The CEO or Chairman is the highest-ranking position in Korean companies. This position involves presenting all employees with the company vision. The Hwe-Jang of a Korean organization is the primary decision maker and often the most prominent financial shareholder as well.
The representative or head of a Korean business is very similar to the CEO or Chairman. The primary difference between the two job titles is how Korean people interpret them.
Where the Hwe-Jang of the company is often associated with an old businessman, the Dae-Pyo is more closely associated with a young entrepreneur, such as those we often see in start-ups.
If you are a fan of Korean drama movies or K-drama, you have likely heard Korean co-workers referring to the manager in Korean using the term Dae-Pyo-nim.
The COO or President is the Hwe-jang’s right-hand man/woman. The Sa-Jang is responsible for managing a particular business division and setting comprehensive objectives for business growth.
Store and restaurant owners are often referred to as the Sa-Jang as they are effectively the boss and primary manager of business operations.
The Executive Director makes all the significant decisions relating to investments, finance, and risk management and occupies the third most senior level of all Korean corporate titles.
The senior directors of Korean companies are called Sang-moo. As a department head, this position requires more past experience than the company director, the Ee-sa.
The position of a Korean company director is often filled by a younger department head. Such an employee is responsible for making important department-related decisions and implementing them.
Following the Korean financial crisis in 1997, the position of Outside Director was borrowed from the United States corporate system so companies could gain more unbiased insights and opinions.
However, a Sa-oe Ee-sa differs from a U.S. outside director in that they are typically members of the board of directors instead of being a company employee.
Go-moon is considered an honorary position in Korea, and such an employee does not have regular working hours. This director offers advice and opinions based on their experience and expertise when companies need them.
The Gam-sa is a Korean job title that refers to the person in charge of verifying and inspecting the organization to ensure it is processing its accounting according to the articles and laws of the association.
The auditor is generally the second position in the corporation and monitors the CEO’s work.
The department head is responsible for overseeing all operations in their assigned department. They handle the recruitment process and supervise company managers. The Chief General Manager must ensure their department functions properly.
Shil-jang translates to the English phrase “chief of the section” or “head of room.” This job title is often used to refer to the department heads of divided sections, indicated by the suffix “Shil.”
The Shil-Jang is slightly less senior than the Ee-sa mentioned above, but their duties and job descriptions are very similar.
The Head Manager or Senior Manager is at the same level as the company’s Team Leader. The Bu-Jang is responsible for developing current projects in the business. To become a Senior Manager in a Korean company, you must have ten years of experience.
The deputy team leader of a company ensures all team members are assigned to the appropriate roles.
The manager is required to have at least seven years of experience in a relevant line of work. The Gwa-Jang works on business projects while managing team members. These employees are seen as the leaders of a project.
The assistant managers of a company are a step down from the manager and assist the manager with various projects. The assistant manager performs administrative duties and supports daily assignments.
The senior staff is also commonly referred to as the assistant manager and is seen as being an in-between level of seniority. Graduate employees who have just received their Doctorate or Master’s degree are often immediately promoted to Ju-im.
Regular staff members generally work in teams headed by the team leader or managers. The Sa-won are deemed a bit higher than entry-level staff members.
This Korean title applies to any employee that has stepped into a position immediately after graduation. These staff members don’t have any real-world experience and still need to be familiarized with office etiquette and Korean corporate culture.
The education system in Korean schools is highly competitive, so many employees have spent the majority of their lives studying.
The Korean language is based on Chinese characters, and Korean job titles indicate your status in society, similar to military ranks. You can expect a somewhat military-style atmosphere in the workplace as all males serve a mandatory military period before starting their careers.
The Korean translation of English job titles can be highly inconsistent, so regardless of what your job title may have been in English, your Korean job title is the only thing of significance while working in this country.
Although Korean companies are slowly becoming more adaptive to the influx of start-up companies and foreign subsidiaries, they still follow a top-down order of hierarchy.
If you would like to address your Korean co-workers or business partners appropriately, but you are relatively new to the Korean language, remember to add “-nim” as a suffix to every Korean title.
This suffix added to Korean words indicates politeness and respect. For example, if you are addressing the chairman of a Korean company, use the Korean words Hwejang-Nim.
If you cannot remember the correct job title for one of your co-workers, you can refer to those of a similar or older age than yourself as SunBae-Nim, of which the English equivalent title is “my Senior colleague.” This is a respectful way of addressing those in Korean jobs of a slightly higher status than your own.
Also, be sure to address your co-workers by their full names before stating their job titles, followed by the suffix “-nim.”
Four primary job title terms are used in the Korean language: position, job rank or grade, responsibility or duty, and title.
The position of a job refers to the administrative and social position of a job title in the fundamental hierarchy of a company. This business structure is relatively similar across the world and includes positions like Vice President (bu-Jang), Manager (Cha-Jang), and entry-level employees (Sa-won).
Although similar, these positions vary slightly from one company to another and can have differing names.
Job rank or grade refers to a group of job positions with similar responsibilities, difficulties, or types.
Job grades are most commonly applied to public servants and government officials and are not typically used in a regular company.
The duty of a Korean job refers to the primary occupational responsibility associated with that job. The CEO, Bon-bu-Jang, or Team-Jang often fall into this category.
Because your authority and responsibilities determine your duties, this category often remains the same even after a promotion.
Your title in a Korean company refers to both your duties and position. If you want to know more about a co-worker’s position, their title will clarify a lot. Learning someone’s job title is also the best way to determine their rank.