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Background: I work as a Software Engineer in South Korea through a program known as SIP1 (Skilled Industrial Personnel). It's a highly selective program where Korean males who must serve a mandatory military duty for two years can instead opt to work for IT companies that contribute to the national defense for three years. Under this program, I am given one opportunity to move to another company. Because I am dissatisfied with work here and get paid minimum wage, I'd like to apply to other companies but there are several difficulties in doing so:

  • The program legally requires me to work from 9 to 6 everyday2, and I am not allowed to miss work except for medical reasons or unless if my boss specifically allows me to. There's absolutely no question that my boss will not allow me to miss work for me to go to interviews.
  • I'm an indispensable member of this company not necessarily because I'm competent, but I'm the oldest employee around who knows the system inside out and there's only four employees working here.

Last week, I just saw an opening for a dream company I'd really like to work for and applied to it. They are calling me in for a coding test and an interview on a weekday. I'm genuinely considering about getting an injury intentionally to be on a medical leave or lie about one of my family passing away to take this opportunity.

You might say "Be honest and mention this issue to the boss", but I think this would be excessively naive. There's a lot of criticism in SIP because the very nature of this program gives huge leverage to business owners to be as abusive as possible to their workers, because you'll be sent off to the military and start all over if things go very wrong. Given my status and the situation of my company, my boss will without a doubt do everything possible from letting me go.

I've been here for almost two years and I get three vacation days per year, which have already been used. I believe if I were to miss work with an unauthorized absence I am allowed two strikes(instances) or so before my program is terminated and I'm forced off to the military, starting my time all over

Given this grim situation, how does one tactfully apply to other companies?

1. http://askakorean.blogspot.kr/2009/03/military-service-series-part-i.html

2. But practically speaking, I almost always work overtime

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    I've tried to keep the question not too specific so that it can be applied to a broad audience, but my situation is impossible to explain without somewhat of a detailed background. If you see any inconsistencies or feel that there's room for improvement, I'd appreciate any constructive edits. – Xiagua Aug 18 '14 at 16:43
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Monica Cellio Aug 19 '14 at 3:40
  • Have you tried looking for advice from other people that are in your situation ? Like a coworker who you trust. Maybe there's someone who was in that situation before and/or knows a solution to this. – Radu Murzea Aug 19 '14 at 11:24
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    If you have a legal requirement to be at work, I'd hope your prospective new employers should be reasonably accommodating about that. Be open with them and ask what they can do to help. – Dan Puzey Aug 19 '14 at 13:54
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You have a very limited set of options:

  1. Stay at the job until your period of service is up
  2. Try to find an honest way to interview at the new position
  3. Interview at the new position regardless of the consequences

The decision is yours, but to make the decision you should consider the positives and demerits of each option.

Stay at the job

The new company likely knows your situation (working under this program, limited availability). If they want you for your skills, rather than because you are free cheap labor, then they may be willing to wait until your service period is over. This may give you the motivation to buckle down and do a great job for this company to improve your options once you do have more flexibility to shop around for a job.

Try to find an honest way to interview

If the new company knows that you are in this not-so-flexible situation, they may know the details of the program from previous employees who worked under it. They may be able to advise you about rules and conditions that you may not know about that would allow you to take this interview during a weekday without risking forced military service.

Alternatively, you can try rescheduling the interview for an evening or weekend, or early morning instead. If they are really interested, they may be willing to work around your schedule to get a chance to win you over to their company.

The new company definitely does not want you to risk getting tossed in to military service, as they lose your services for the immediate future, and long-term that would probably sour you on the company entirely. You could alternatively speak to an attorney who knows the regulations involved with this to get 3rd party advice if you think the second company may give bad advice.

Ignore the consequences

If you are convinced for whatever reason that you have a small probably of being caught and sent in to the military, or you would rather risk the chance of being forced in to military service over waiting out the remainder of your service with this company, you can try one of those things you suggested (intentional injury, faking the death of a family member, etc.). Just realize that in the worst situation, you will end up suffering consequences for that decision, so make sure it's worth it.

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    I would definitely lean towards the "Try to find an honest way to interview" section. But I agree that these seem to be the 3 choices he has. – Lee O. Aug 19 '14 at 16:19
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Your situation isn't uncommon, so the company you apply to is likely aware that when they don't want to ignore a significant pool of talent in the IT business they need to accomodate people in your situation.

So it would not be unreasonable to ask them to schedule an interview before 9am, after 6pm or at the weekend.

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Given this grim situation, how does one tactfully apply to other companies?

Assuming you don't want to wait for your mandatory alternative work service to be complete in a year, then the only smart thing remaining is to schedule interviews only before or after work hours or on weekends.

Anything else risks getting terminated for failing to fulfill the contract you signed, and consequently getting sent directly into the military (which is what I assume you wanted to avoid by entering the SIP program in the first place).

It doesn't make sense to lie or attempt to circumvent the law here. You don't want to mess around with the government, and the potential consequences are too great.

Be aware that, if you could land a job with this "dream company" now, you'll likely be able to land a similar job at some point after you have completed your alternative service and you are legally entitled to interview. These things are seldom once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, even though it may feel that way now.

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Schedule the test or interview as early as possible in the day or as late as possible in the day. Then ask your current boss if you can work extra hours on a day and take a few hours off the next day because you have to visit your grandmother, or that you have to see off a cousin who is going abroad (check flight schedules and based on that decide which country he is going off to in case your boss asks) or some other such reason. Pick a story that does not require a document such as a doctor's letter etc. (so illness will not be a good story).

Have no moral qualms. Your employer does not have any moral qualms. That is why he makes it so difficult to find another job. The people who created the SIP program with such strict rules do not have any moral qualms either. To survive among these people, neither should you have moral qualms.

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