When building-up this Partner’s Path A-to-Z, most of the words for each letter were obvious. Some of them took us a little while to find, but overall, each letter had a logical and useful word attached to it. When it came to Z, we really scratched our head for a long time. A few common but empty words came up such as “zeal” or “zen”. And it then appeared that maybe we should let the “Z” go. As we saw with many of our clients, there are, when integrating, some “impossible factors”. You and your partner will try to make sense out of certain situations, you maybe will try to fill the gaps up with random or shallow actions. But we really hope that you also understand that not every situation can be faced equally. That it is okay to let go, to admit that one option is just not right.
Not finding a word for the letter “Z” doesn’t erase the 25 other letters before that.
Not finding the perfect answer doesn’t erase the rest of your Path.
As a foreigner with a Finnish spouse, living in Finland, looking for a job and integrating, we would like to remind you to focus on your unique richness: you!
We have very often supported and worked with participants who were focused on the threats and challenges that they were facing or about to face on the Finnish job market. When analyzing your environment is a smart strategy, solely focusing on the threats isn’t. At Partner’s Path, we have found out that the one factor that makes a difference in a CV, a cover letter, an interview or a networking event, is personal story. Who are you? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What is your unique story? Based on who you uniquely are, what are the opportunities on the Finnish job market? Remember that your mother tongues, your backgrounds of origin, your story in Finland, all of that is a formidable open door on who you are and how you could benefit a company and society. Don’t hesitate to explore your own story and dig out for storylines. We have often seen in our groups how difficult it can be for our participants to find interesting events, skills or abilities from their own lives. Peer-support group and mentorship are very efficient ways to realize how individual stories matter in employment and integration. Hearing other people’s stories is a powerful way to be reminded how the individual unique choices and path can weight in. We often feel powerless, following a chain of events that are decided for us, or trying to catch opportunities passing by instead of creating some. Remember how you have been shaping your path, the challenges you’ve overcame, the choices you’ve made. Do not forget that you have the resources in you to keep building up your path.
A very efficient way to introduce yourself to others, make friends, network or give an interesting twist to a cover letter or an interview, is to talk about your X-factor. What is it that you have and that no one could suspect? Of course, you do not have to reveal your deepest secrets! But thinking about your x-factor is an interesting a powerful exercise, for at least 3 reasons.
During the three years that lasted our project, the theme of well-being has been at the center of several events and groups that we have organized. We realized with our participants that often, the job-hunting process becomes solely focused on looking for jobs and slowly excludes social life, healthcare, relationships and family or hobbies. During our event called Kickstart, we worked with our participants on how to improve their skills and networks in order to find a job but also on their well-being. When asked questions such as “how are you? How well do you sleep? How do you take care of yourself”? at a job-hunting event, many people were quite destabilized.
But sleeping well, taking time to rest and have fun, is a crucial part of the job-hunting process, that we have encouraged our participants to pay attention to. It may seem like a waste of time, but the keyword here is balance. The more balance in each areas of your life, the best you will get out of the time you invest in your actual job hunt.
Another important point is that once at work in Finland, your well-being and the work-life balance are both very important topics. In most workplaces, and in general in Finnish work culture, it is normal to be flexible on one’s working hours based on the need of their family. It is perfectly ok to be on sick leave, to leave a bit earlier one day to go to a hobby or to work from home from time to time. Many companies also offer different kind of benefits to support your well-being and encourage you to balance your life.
Alongside with balance, the other important word is “efficiency”. By taking care of your own well-being, you will be more productive and ready to be active.
Investing some of your time as a volunteer is one of the main entry doors to Finnish job market, to be part of a group and community, to make friends, to feel good and to develop your skills and professional networks. It is also a very good way to improve your Finnish language skills.
Volunteering is something that we have advised to do to our participants, especially those who have a lot of transferrable skills, or who are trying to start a career. On top of everything that we have listed above, volunteering is a way for you to perform tasks and build up genuine relationships, based on trust. As we mentioned several times, trust and references are extremely important when looking for a job, and getting them by volunteering is, in our opinion, one of the best ways to do so.
There are two main ways of volunteering. In many organizations, you will be proposed pre-existing tasks to perform. Many associations have a list of tasks that are usually given to volunteers, from very simple ones to the most complex, depending on your skills and availabilities. Many organizations also value the volunteer’s own initiatives, ideas and creativity. A lot of them are more than open to new ideas. You can very often become a volunteer and develop your own idea. This is a very efficient way to develop and showcase your skills, and at the same time build up your networks!
Volunteering in a Finnish speaking environment is also a valuable experience, to both improve your language skills, but also justify that you can be part of a Finnish speaking team, even if you’re not yet fluent.
Volunteering is also a simple way to make friends and meet like-minded people. Finland had clubs and associations for almost everything! You’ll most certainly find your people by being involved in an association or an organization!
Lastly, by volunteering and being involved and active, you will support your own well-being. Being a volunteer gives you a sense of meaning and purpose, that many foreigners might feel that they lack during their job-hunting period.
Go for it!
The Finnish labor force is highly unionized. More than 70% of the work force belongs to a union, and the figure has even come down in the recent years. Employer and employee unions on the umbrella organization level negotiate with the government on the tripartite TULOPOLIITTIINEN KOKONAISRATKAISU, but unions themselves are not political. There are no repercussions for joining a union or being active in one in Finland. In some cases, it may even make it easier for you to enter a certain job, showing you have connections and expertise. Finnish Unions and some unemployment funds are most of the time affiliated with one of the 3 main confederations: STTK, SAK and AKAVA.
The main reasons people join unions are the unemployment funds and the collective agreements. When you have been part of a union and unemployment fund long enough, you will be assured to receive unemployment benefits that are higher than the ones you would receive with KELA. You can join the unions even if you are unemployed or if you are a student.
Unions are industry-related, but you can join any union you want. Their role is also to protect your rights, give you valuable information and trainings related to your industry but also your skills and the Finnish job market in general. Unions are particularly useful for people looking for a job. They can help you prepare for an interview (for example by giving you salary ranges), or during your job-hunting process.
Some unions have specific services for foreign workers or job seekers and can be contacted online or directly by phone.
With our participants, we have been exploring Finnish work culture, and tried to help them navigate it. Trust is maybe the value that influences most of the behaviors in the workplace, and more generally on the Finnish job market. References, or more generally reliable people who can vouch for you when looking for a job are one of the main keys to the Finnish job market. Trust and genuine relationships are a cornerstone of recruiting processes in Finland. Therefore, building networks is so important.
Trust also influences the way the recruiting processes are held. Make sure that you can prove everything you mention, and that you don’t lie on your resume (see our article “anatomy of a resume) or your cover letter. In Finland, information is checked, at least for your first positions.
In your workplace or as a volunteer, you will quickly notice how much people trust each other within teams. Finland and other Nordic countries are well known for their “flat hierarchy”. This doesn’t mean that there is no hierarchy in Finland, far from it. But as a foreigner, you might be a bit baffled by the freedom that you may experience at your workplace. Once recruited, you are expected to know what your tasks are, and you will be trusted to perform them, with minimum supervision. You’ll be trusted to do what you say you’re doing, to be sick if you take a sick leave, or to be done when leaving early one day. For many foreigners, this might seem in the beginning as if there was a lack of management or structure. We encourage you to discuss about it with your superior, ask for regular feedback and meetings, and communicate clearly on your needs as an employee.
Moving to a new country and looking for a job can be a very stressful time. If you had a career back in your country, being jobless and not managing to get an interview, let alone a new job, might be extremely frustrating. The first advice that we have been giving to our participants was to evaluate their skills. Your first skills are hidden in your own personality and personal history. Which characteristics are influencing your skills sets? Are you outgoing? Cautious? Do you plan ahead? We have encouraged our participants to take different personality tests (for example 16 personalities) as well as feedback tests (like the Johari window). Knowing your own personality is a great tool to start thinking about the things that you are or the things that you do naturally and how they can be presented as skills.
Once this is done, focus on your strengths and weaknesses. What are the things that you are good at, that you have experience in? On the opposite, where do you know that you need to develop your skills sets? Focus on you and your own abilities. Once this is done, think in terms of threats and opportunities. Once put on the Finnish job market, how valuable are the skills that you’ve identified? What can be seen as an opportunity and on the opposite, what can be a threat?
For this aprt, you might need other people’s opinion. Your TE advisor is of course a good resource, but we also strongly encourage you to meet people who work in your industry, who do the job that you want to start doing in Finland. Ask them what are their skills, what are the ones expected from a worker in this field? Asking questions about skill sets, expected skills or even the trainings that people in the industry have received, will give you a very precious understanding on where you stand.
Participating in peer support groups and mentoring programs is also a very important tool to understand what other people in a similar situation as you have been going through and what kind of paths and decisions they have made.
Your skills come from your past experiences, and when you moved to Finland, it might be a very disappointing feeling. Many of our participants have expressed that they feel that their skills and abilities are not recognized or have lost all value. This is mainly because you have to rethink your skills in terms of the Finnish job market. Being here, you are competing with Finnish workers, who often have the language as an advantage. This will require you to be honest with yourself in analyzing the needs on the markets and how you can, with your unique skill set and experience, fill it up.
Unemployment can also be a very good time to rethink your skills, want to get more trainings or education, or even change your career path.
Unemployment and integration can cause a lot of stress to your couple. In most of the couples that we have been working with, some feeling such as guilt, anxiety, stress and frustration often emerge on the path to integration. Guilt is felt on both sides of the relationship. The Finnish partner often feels guilty and responsible for the foreign partner’s difficulties in Finland. For the foreign partner, not being able to contribute financially, being dependent on their Finnish partner for all kind of support, not having friends or networks outside of their relationship, all this can build up guilt. Guilt and the feeling of being responsible for another person are both very common feelings, that we try, at Familia to discuss with the couples who come to meet us. What were your expectations when moving here? What were your partner’s? What is your perceived and actual responsibility in the way your integration process is developing?
In your couple relationship, during your integration process, you will both also feel anxiety and stress. You or your partner will both feel helpless at times. Most of the stress and anxiety that you may feel personally, might be increased by miscommunication within the couple. For a Finnish partner, many things might seem obvious or might never have occurred to him/her, when for you they are creating major worries. For your Finnish partner, some of your behaviors, or difficulties might be difficult to understand or empathize with.
We strongly advise you to be open and discuss about these misunderstandings. Being able to step in the other person shoes is one of the most powerful way to reduce stress and anxiety as a couple.
In intercultural couples, “culture” itself is not necessarily seen as an issue or seen at all. Culture may manifest on very unexpected occasions or in very specific topics. Among our clients, the questions of gender roles, finances, relationship with the families were among the most common sources of difficulties in the couples. If communication and open discussion re crucial for your couple, we have also seen that being aprt of peer support groups might be of tremendous help. Meet people who share a common experience, listen to their stories and advice, have a safe space to vent. This has proven very efficient to improve the general well-being of couples, and to help participants in feeling better and therefore more ready for their job hunt.
Having a partner is a very precious resource when looking for a job and integrating in Finland. Having a space where you are loved, where you can feel safe and supported is extremely important for your general well-being. Set aside some time for your relationship and your partner, and don’t forget to also communicate openly about the positive feelings that emerge from an integration process: pride, ambition, hope and joy.
Moving to Finland and integrating here, especially when looking for a job might be baffling. Many of our participants have been very surprised by some procedures and have lost a considerable amount of time following one path before realizing that another would have been better for them.
In Finland, and especially with the administration, you will receive general information. Even though most of the decisions (administrative, legal, social) are based on individual cases evaluation, the information received is most of the time very general. One of our main advice would therefore be: ask questions. For many of the public agent or social workers who will receive you, most of the things that are unclear or worst unknown for you, are obvious for them. You might miss very crucial information, just because you didn’t ask a clear and direct question. Don’t hesitate to use a translator, ask to meet people in person and prepare questions in advance.
This is also valid for your job interviews, during networking events, with your spouse. Asking questions is your responsibility. Don’t assume that things are working the same as in your country, don’t decide based on your friends or spouse experience. Your case is unique, and you should ask as many questions as you can.
Social and NGO workers are a precious source of information, as they might have more time to spend on your own specific case. Peer support groups are also very efficient in guiding you to the right places to get answers.