We’re excited to feature Amy Hwang, Head of Human Resources at ANZ Korea. Let’s see what it’s like to work in HR and Finance in this exciting emerging market economy and perhaps gain some insights on crafting our own extraordinary opportunities.

Please tell us briefly about your bio and background.

Currently I work at ANZ – an Australian Bank which is based in Melbourne and is aggressively growing business in Asia.

I work in the Human Resources Department covering recruitment, development, performance management and compensation & benefits for the employees here in Seoul.

I majored in English Literature and started my banking career at HSBC. I stayed at HSBC for 8 years before coming here at ANZ 4 years ago.

How did you end up working in your particular field? Can you tell us your “origin story?”

I was actually working for a local toy company after graduation. I didn’t have specific dreams about my future or career and it was an extremely tough time right after the IMF crisis hit Korea. One day I met a friend who was working for HSBC – one of the top foreign banks in Korea. She described her job as being fun, extremely rewarding and to top it off her boss and co-workers were great!

I knew I had to work there too. My friend set me up with an interview with the Marketing department and with her strong recommendation, I got a job. I worked in Marketing for 5 years, and although it was dynamic and fun I realized I needed a change in my career. So I made a big leap and transferred to Human Resources. It was a good change for me and I think I made the right choice. I like meeting new people, listening to their stories and helping them unlock their potential and develop their careers. It’s still my favorite part of the job.

Do you feel that there exist strong opportunities for expat professionals to break into opportunities in your particular field? What would they have to do to seize these opportunities?

Yes, HR is a good field to work as an expat.

The barrier isn’t that high and if you have good communication skills and a proactive attitude there are many great opportunities in the market. HR is a field that exists in all industries and the skills are highly transferable. Despite differences in nationality or background, it all comes down to the people!

If you are interested in a career in HR, meet up with a friend or friend’s friend who in currently in HR. Ask for their advice, any opportunities they know of and keep in touch. In most Asian countries, the market is small and it’s a small world. Everyone knows everyone and if you know the right people, you can get what you need.

Can you tell us some of the most interesting projects you’ve worked on? How about the most challenging? In what ways did these experiences give you a unique competitive advantage as a manager and as an individual?

We have an interesting event called “A Taste of Harmony”. Taste of Harmonycoincides with National Harmony Day in Australia and an initiative that promotes workplace diversity through sharing and embracing food from different nations. As well as having fun, it also a great way to get together with colleagues over a delicious lunch, morning or afternoon tea. I was in charge of organizing this event asking senior managers to bring in a ‘home made’ dish that reflects their own cultural background or one that they enjoy, share stories and learn about each other. We also did a vote to elect the “best tasting dish” and award the winner.

I think HR has a responsibility to build the culture of the organisation and drive engagement. These staff gatherings are a great way to enhance communication, build relationships and most importantly- have fun!

Working in HR is not always glorious and fun. We need to work tirelessly and make tough calls from time to time. However, what I have realized is if you have trusting relationships with the people around you, always be fair and act with integrity it is one of the most rewarding and satisfying jobs you can have.

Language fluency is increasingly becoming a basic requirement for international professionals – regardless of their position within the company. How have your language skills helped or hindered you in your journey?

Working in a foreign bank requires you to speak and write in English on a daily basis. All the documents and communications are in English so having language proficiency is a quality that is valued more and more. It’s not saying language is the only important factor because it’s merely a tool. How well you use this tool to contribute to the organisation’s success is what counts.

Personally, I think I have adequate language skills that has enabled me to be more efficient at what I do, and contribute to the team performance. However, language is a skill that should be practiced and updated regularly and I do personal reading and writing to stay sharp.

For those young professionals in your field who don’t speak the local languages, how would you suggest they set themselves apart and break into the industry abroad?

I often speak with young internationals who want to come to Korea and work in a financial institution, particularly ones they are familiar with in their home countries. It’s a good strategy to contact local HR managers directly and ask of any career opportunities and send your CVs. Foreign banks in Korea recruit on an on demand basis usually quite discreetly.

If you don’t speak the local language, it’s often quite challenging to land a sales related job in Korea. I would suggest going for a non customer facing field such as finance, HR, Risk, strategy etc.

Please share with us any particularly humorous or outrageous stories you may have in your arsenal of experience.

Our previous CEO was an American in his 60s. He loved Korea so much that he was more local than Korean locals. When we went out for staff gatherings, he was always the first one to order Korean traditional drinks and dishes. He loved them SO much that he asked his secretary to look up the recipe to make “Makgeolli” – a traditional Korean rice wine. He actually tried but failed to produce decent tasting drinks and was quite devastated. After returning to the States, he sends us pictures of him eating Korean food and drinking rice wine.

Living in Korea as an expat isn’t really easy. People don’t speak English very well and it’s hard to get around. But when you make the effort of trying to learn and appreciate the culture, people know it and they respect you for that. You can feel the warmth of the Korean people and become like family quite easily.

What steps should students currently in university take to set themselves up to break into an international career such as yours?

When you’re a student, it’s hard to know what’s out there in the real world. There are a variety of jobs in different industries and companies. Don’t restrict yourself to just 1-2 of them. Be flexible and have an open mind. And if you don’t know exactly what you want to do, that’s ok too. It’s often a coincidence that you stumble into a field that is just right for you. Have faith and don’t be anxious.