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HR specialist Elena Kuznetcova shares her story of how she came to work in Korea and her experience at CJ CheilJedang Global corporations like CJ CheilJedang are leading the way in cross-cultural innovation and creating an expat-friendly working culture. Elena Kuznetcova, who was born and raised in Russia, is now working in CJ CheilJedang’s Seoul office. In this interview, she offers a unique viewpoint on the headquarters’ diverse workforce. Her path, which began with studying Korea and moved to joining CJ’s HR team as a key member, demonstrates the company’s dedication to welcoming talent from around the world. CJ Newsroom met with Elena to explore her perspectives, experiences and tips for prospective employees with diverse backgrounds. Q. Please briefly share your background with us.  A. My name is Elena Kuznetcova, I am from Irkutsk located in the Asian part of Russia. I developed an interest in Korea primarily because of my father, who took many business trips to Korea and spoke very highly of the country and its people. I took Korean as my second major which led me to work in Korea in the following years.  I began my time in Korea in 2012, when I attended a summer language course at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. Then I came back again in 2016 for my master’s degree at Seoul National University as a Korean government scholar, which then led me to CJ Group, and I’ve been here ever since. Q. Can you tell us about your position at CJ CheilJedang? What does your typical workday look like? A. I am an HR specialist in the food business division, and I’m responsible for people management in both the Korean office as well as our overseas subsidiaries in Japan and the United States. My typical day starts with checking emails. In the morning, I usually communicate with our U.S. team because of the time difference and then focus on Japan and Korea later in the day.  My role also includes supporting our expats. I’m responsible for meeting the expats and explaining the preparation processes before they leave to countries like France and the Philippines for our new businesses. Q. How did you learn about CJ Group and CJ CheilJedang? A. One day, my friend who was looking for a job in Korea at the time found an HR internship opportunity for international students like us while browsing through a university careers website. Knowing that I was interested in HR, she recommended the job posting to me. It was perfect for me, so I applied right away.  And that’s how I got my job at CJ; I applied, finished my interview, and then interned for six months. Q. Wow, that was such a smooth transition. Now that you’ve worked for CJ for several years, what do you think distinguishes CJ from other companies? A. One of CJ’s slogans is “We create culture,” and I think it reflects our corporate culture very well. We follow corporate trends, keep up to date with the latest news, and our businesses are very flexible. We often try to change our corporate culture to see what fits employees better by making new policies and programs to see what helps people perform more efficiently or feel more motivated.  I think CJ CheilJedang also puts a lot of effort into making corporate culture more horizontal rather than the usual top-down approach. You can call team leaders and department heads by their full name followed by the suffix ‘nim’ (Korean honorific) instead of their titles. I believe this significantly contributes to making employees feel more at ease when reaching out to each other.  Q. Why were you interested in HR to begin with?  A. I enjoy finding new ways to help others open up to me and I like creating relationships built on trust. I also like helping people and advising them. I want to be the bridge between employees and the management, and that was a huge reason why I chose HR. Q. When do you feel most proud to be part of your team? A. I would say that I am proud to be part of the HR team because my team members appreciate my feedback or insights based on my experience. Some people on my team don’t have international experience and don’t know what kind of challenges non-Korean will face, so I can bring my insights into my own experience and other experiences I’ve witnessed.  But what I feel the most proud of is being able to help employees find their place in the company and make them feel like they’re growing together. We also have a program called “cultural buddy,” designed to help employees new to Korea onboard and adjust to Korean society, and I was Ryan’s cultural buddy. Being able to offer support really gives me a sense of pride in what I do.  Q. What do you think are the key skills required for working in HR? A. Overall, I think the key skill required for an HR specialist is effective communication and building trust. Because HR is the key between management and employees, it’s important to know the vision and direction of the company while at the same time inspiring and motivating employees. Business knowledge is also crucial because it’s impossible to manage people without knowing where a company is headed. To generally grow my skills in the field, I read a lot of HR-related articles during my time at graduate school since they had a huge library of online articles. LinkedIn was also a very good resource. I followed a variety of different companies in my field of interest, including CJ. Lastly, networking is also crucial, as the more people you know the more information you have. Q. What are the perks and benefits of working at CJ Group and CJ CheilJedang? A. CJ CheilJedang has a family-friendly work culture and employees enjoy a wide range of HR-related benefits. For example, you can apply for more years of maternity or paternity leave than the average company in Korea. It’s very friendly towards people who are planning to have babies. Additionally, I would say my favorite employee benefit at CJ is the points system. We get up to 1,000 cafeteria points per year which you can use for food or other expenses. I mainly use the employee points to book hotels abroad at a lower price. I also like the 40% discount at Olive Young. Whenever I am in the store; I just feel like buying everything. The best part is that you can also combine items on sale with the 40% discount for even more savings.  Q. Do you have a favorite CJ product? A. I think I’m the biggest consumer of CJ products, starting from Olive Young to bibigo mandu. My fridge is full of CJ products because I live alone and don’t want to spend a lot of time cooking. I heard that the Gourmet Sobaba Chicken was good, so I recently bought an air fryer from Olive Young just to try it. But if I had to choose my all-time favorite, it would be the bibigo Wang Gyoza Mandu. CJ CheilJedang focuses on Home Meal Replacement (HMR) and we have a huge lineup of popular products. You can see our employees in a long queue buying our own products at CJ the Market in our CheilJedang HQ after work. I think it’s best when the employees like and consume the products made by their own employers. Q. Coming from Russia, how does it feel to work in Korea? A. Sometimes it could be very challenging as I’m the only non-Korean in HR, but it’s still very exciting since I get to learn about new cultures all the time. By getting to know a new culture I get to know more about myself and grow as a person. It’s also very nice knowing that I can contribute differently to my peers because oftentimes, overseas employees feel more comfortable approaching me. Q. CJ CheilJedang is constantly pushing its boundaries to expand its business. As an international employee, how do you think you’re contributing to the globalization of CJ CheilJedang? A. I act as a bridge between the HQ in Korea and the international employees. I can help international employees understand cultural differences, communicate better, and solve misunderstandings. I can see the impact since I can change their opinions about Korean society and vice versa. For me, a global mindset is not simply about learning the language and living overseas, but truly being able to see things from a different perspective.  Q. Do you have any tips for aspiring candidates? A. I think he or she first needs to decide what they want to do and identify their field of interest. After this, strategic networking is crucial. For example, if you are interested in marketing, instead of going to all the conferences wherever you live, only go to the marketing one.  Also, participate in internships if you can, because it is the best opportunity to understand if your field of interest suits you. The last tip I can give is to actively promote your resume and don’t be shy. Make your resume stand out by highlighting your achievements with numbers and using precise language. Elena’s journey highlights the potential for both professional and personal development when one embraces new experiences. As employees such as Elena flourish and advance at CJ CheilJedang, the company evolves alongside them, consistently innovating and broadening its global presence.
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