"Kela manages social security services and benefits, such as the national pension, child benefit, basic unemployment security, sickness and parenthood allowance, income support and rehabilitation. Kela also provides health care benefits paid for private health care.” https://www.infofinland.fi/en/living-in-finland/settling-in-finland/finnish-social-security
The system might be difficult to understand when you just move to Finland, especially if your partner never really has had to deal with it. One thing that is quite unclear for many foreigners is the link between KELA and TE-toimisto. As of when we are writing this article (Spring 2020), KELA and TE are two different entities. Being a client of TE-toimisto (the agency that helps you look for a job) doesn’t entitle you to any benefits from KELA. Benefits depend on your own personal situation, and we strongly advise you to not base your plans on what you’ve heard or read online when it comes to money, benefits and support that you could or couldn’t receive from KELA.
If moving to Finland and being able to speak English makes the process somehow easier, it would be wrong to say that English is enough to always get by. As always, in some individual cases, English is enough. But for most of our participants, language is if not the most, one of the most important topics related to their job search. Because your partner and his family speak Finnish, because of your kids, to make new friends, to have more options for work… Finnish language is present everywhere. When integrating, it may be the cause of a lot of stress and anxiety, for both the partners. How long will it take me to learn Finnish? Do I need Finnish to find a job? How can I help my partner learning Finnish?
Learning Finnish often becomes at least a preoccupation, and is very often lived as a constant challenge, present in every aspect of one’s life.
One of the main questions that we’ve received has been on how to keep motivated/be motivated. Motivation is a double dynamic, that comes from will and from results. Wanting something can motivate you to take actions. Getting or achieving something can also make you motivated to keep going.
We therefore encourage you to be able to define your goals, but also to develop gratitude. Where do I want to go and what do I have now?
Motivation is like a motor and participating to events or group meetings where you get to hear other people experiences helps you to build motivation. Sharing experiences is also a powerful reminder that your motivation doesn’t always have to be at its best, that you don’t have to feel guilty about not being motivated, and that your mental and physical health and well-being are condition sine qua non for your motivation level.
Networking is a way to get in contact, develop relationships with people and build networks. In one’s own home country, networks are built since childhood. Networks come from your family, your family’s friends, school, hobbies that you’ve had growing up, local community’s activities etc. In your home country you also have developed, on top of that social network, a professional network. Colleagues, partners, people working in your sector that you met at professional events. You have direct networks (people that you know personally) and indirect networks (friends of friends for example). In both these networks, you have developed different kinds of relationships, based on shared interests, and mutual help and support. You knew who could help you with something, and people would turn to you for other topics.
When moving to Finland, most of our participants have to start all over again. Your partner and sometimes his friends and family become your only network. This can create a lot of stress and anxiety for both the foreign and the Finnish partner. Unwanted power dynamics in the couple, isolation and loss of self-esteem may develop, and hinder both the couple’s relationship and the job hunting and integration process.
NETWORKS AND WELL-BEING
Before talking more about the importance of networks in job hunting in Finland, it is important to understand the importance of networks for one’s well-being, mental and physical health. Isolation, depression and anxiety are extremely common among foreign partners. Making friends (of your own), feeling useful, heard and supported is extremely important. Peer support groups, hobbies and volunteering are three ways of making friends. Many of our participants have also met friends at their language courses. Do not neglect the importance of friends and social life, as your mental health and well being are the foundation of a well-functioning job hunt.
NETWORKS AND JOB HUNTING
Networks, especially in Finland, are the key to find a job. 7 to 8 jobs out of 10 (in Spring 2020) are not advertised, and most people find their jobs through their networks and personal contacts.
Networking requires you to put yourself in contact with strangers and might feel a bot uncomfortable and scary. You can participate to fairs, go to events from your own industry and go to actual networking events. But other ways also exist to expand your professional networks:
In Finland, open applications are quite common. Sending open applications is of course a way to maybe get an interview, but it is also an efficient way to get acquainted with the market.
To make an open application, you need to study the industry and the company you’re applying to, get informed about the current state of business and read the news about the field. Developing a network is an important part of sending efficient open application, since that’s how you will most probably get to hear about good opportunities or good timings to send your resume and cover letter. Discussing with your networks is also very important if you want to better understand the kind of skills needed for a certain position or company, as well as their current challenges.
It usually works better to send an open application to someone you have already met, or to a company you’ve already been in contact with somehow.
Open applications work the same way in Finland as in other countries. You can send an email to get a confirmation that they’ve received your resume about a week after having sent the first one. Calling is always a bit sensitive in Finland, unless you already know the person or have at least already met somehow.
Open applications can also be a bit unformal, at least for a first contact. LinkedIn is a very good tool to let people know that you are interested in their company or product.
An open application should contain who you are, what you are able to do, how this skill set relates to the company challenges or needs and why they should consider you. This can be done in a very concise and clear way, in an email, a cover letter and a resume.
In Puolison polku - Partner's Path, we have been working extensively with foreigners who have a Finnish spouse, but also with these Finnish spouses directly.
Having a spouse or partner often plays quite an important part in one’s emotional well-being. Finnish or not, your partner will give you support that some immigrants, who are alone, might lack. This is an important resource, as emotional and physical well-being is a crucial part of any integration process.
Your Finnish partner will bring you all kid of support, especially in terms of networks, language and culture sensitivity.
When you move here for a Finnish partner, or when you meet a Finnish partner here, as you become a couple, his or her family and friends become yours. You will have a direct access to Finnish society and people, that might be more difficult to get for other foreigners. This can cause a lot of guilt, dependence and isolation for you and your partner (see “couple relationship”). In the case of your job hunt, we encourage you to mention to everyone you meet through your partner’s networks that you are looking for a job. Ask questions about someone’s industry, go for coffees, expand your networks. Friends and family are an important circle of trust and we encourage you to make the best out of it!
A Finnish partner can be a great support in learning Finnish and more generally speaking in dealing with Finnish language. Many Finnish partners translate paperwork, help with writing a resume or a cover letter, help to read job offers. Even though your partner is offering this help, remember that he or she is not entirely responsible for your learning. Practicing Finnish with your partner can be very tricky, especially if you have a common language.
Make your home a safe space where you can practice Finnish, without making your partner a language teacher, and without forcing yourself.
Having a Finnish partner gives you a direct access to Finnish culture and habits. We have encouraged our participants to enjoy this opportunity to learn “from inside” about the behaviors, the traditions, the cultural references. This will come as a very precious support for your own general well-being and to build up a feeling of belonging. However, many participants have also mentioned that they have felt like they were “disappearing”. Make sure to discuss openly with your Finnish partner about your own identity and culture. Reserve some time for your own food, music or movies, speak your own language with your friends and family.
You will slowly build up a third culture in your home, in which you will feel safe and confident. Two feelings that will be extremely important on your path to employment.
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.
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 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.
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.