Expat Life/ Finland/ Helsinki/ worklife

Building a career in Finland

Hyvää Yrittäjän päivää! Today is the day of the entrepreneur in Finland and that had me reflect on my almost three years of being self-employed. Running your own business as a foreigner is challenging, there's no denying that. But I also had to acknowledge, that the last years have been extremely exciting and with many ups and downs, but mainly I have learned a lot. From my peers, from projects and from putting myself out there. Hopefully some of this will be helpful, regardless if you're looking for a job, planning on or having your own business.


Self-employment is not for everyone and to be honest, 5 years ago I couldn't have imagined this kind of life with full responsibility for myself and my work. But once you're there - there's no going back. I've come to cherish this path and I want to try to do my part and help others figure out their way too, if they want to. Creating your own career in a country where you don't speak the language requires an even bigger effort but the working environment and the entrepreneurial and startup community is the most welcoming ever - hard work pays off and there's help all around.
However, I've picked out a few hands-on pieces of advice for you and hope they can guide you somehow. Disclaimer: I'm not a professional advisor or coach. I don't know what I'm talking about, I am sharing things from my experience and tell you about a couple of things that I have learnt along the way.

Learn how to network effectively

As already listed as a vital part in job and project search in this post, I cannot stress this one more. Not only in Finland, but generally, the most valuable contacts are the ones you make personally. Cold-calling or random e-mailing only works rarely, it's hard to find the right words and spark peoples' interest from out of nowhere, particularly if you "only" want to introduce yourself. And believe me when I say: I had to learn this myself. I'm not the most naturally outgoing person, I prefer to stick to myself or people I already know, and approaching new people was somewhat anxiety-inducing to a certain extent - but if you want to build a network, it's inevitable to beat this. For me, it has been mainly a huge learning experience which really demonstrated the power of networks and connections. And in Finland, those are even more valuable because they are genuine.

Networking hacks

  • Don't be afraid to use English or to respond in English when someone approaches you. Often people hold back because they think the lack of Finnish skills immediately puts others off. I disagree, because ultimately this leads ultimately to #2:
  • Use your story - us foreigners have the ultimate ice-breakers on hand because we have our background to use as an easy conversation starter. #1 often results in the inevitable question "where are you from?". I was simply sick of answering it - but see it as an opportunity to instantly tell something about you that will make people remember you. Include some fact or anecdote that is memorable. For me that's easy, being from Luxembourg the response in 85% of all cases is "oh, I've never met someone from there" - so I'm the girl from Luxembourg and chances they'll remember that are not bad. Go on, dare to make an impression that lasts, even with something simple as that!
  • Make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to par / Invest in a (simple website) - this doesn't have to be anything fancy, but basically have your portfolio and references accessible at any time. LinkedIn is a strongly underrated tool that's used by more and more recruiters. The better you present yourself there, the higher are your chances to appear in search results and be contacted. Benefit of having your own website: getting your own domain also gets you a personalised e-mail address which is more professional than any @gmail.com etc. contact.
  • Professional visuals: especially in a modern and design-driven country like Finland, the presentation of yourself and your portfolio is so important! Business cards (get some immediately btw!), website, proposals, offers, e-mail signatures - make sure it's top-notch and stands out. It will pay off in the long run.

…Some tips on finding networking & educational opportunities in Helsinki

  • Join relevant Facebook groups & Communities: When it comes to finding events and get-togethers, the social network has actually become a very valuable tool for me. If it's groups that bring together people of the same profession (eg. marketing, finance, social media etc.), the same industry (tourism, education etc.) or the same status (self-employed, freelance etc.) - there is certainly something that fits you. For example: HYNY, PING Helsinki, Creative Mornings Helsinki, Marketing Meet-ups Helsinki
  • Check out University organisations & Accelerator programs: even if you're not a student anymore, this can be a very helpful thing to get into. Alumni meetings, Entrepreneur associations, training sessions or educational talks can be super inspiring and lead you to like-minded people. For example: Helsinki Think Company, Startup Sauna, Aalto Entrepreneurship Society, Microsoft Flux, The Shortcut , Hub13etc.
  • Investigate on state funded entrepreneur programs and organisations: programs like the EUs social fund helps self-employed people and startups (both locals and immigrants, by the way) to find funding, explore options, learn about the culture and the language and basically help you boost your business in any ways they can think of. Not only will you be able to get hands-on advice from coaches and maybe find a mentor, but it offers excellent networking opportunities with people with the right mindset and companies. Check out for example TE-toimisto and NewCo which supports (foreign) entrepreneurs in Finland with all kinds of events, language courses, training and mentorship.
  • Conferences, trade shows, governmental meetings, industry meetings: keep an open mind for any kind of meeting or congress around you. Don't underestimate those! They are often free of charge for attendees and only requires you to register online. You should take every opportunity you can to attend those because you never know who you will meet and where it will get you. Even if the event at first glance might not be what you're looking for, think outside your box. This is of course very industry specific but in Helsinki the must-do's would be Slush Helsinki and the Nordic Business Forum; as well as PING Helsinki Business Festival and Arctic15.
  • Co-working spaces: at least here in Helsinki they are sprout like mushrooms from the ground (high five for German literal translations). Co-working spaces that offer freelancers, startups with small teams and self-employed peeps like ourselves working space with strong wifi, good coffee and the opportunity to get away from coffee shops or your couch. Sometimes these often are free of charge (!), just do some research on coworking spaces and check them all out. Even paying a fee is often a great investment, given that at least I get so much more done compared to the times I work from my home office. These spots are a great platform to meet like-minded people and connect on a daily basis. Full blog post on local co-working spaces coming soon!

Have a clear portfolio

Some people I follow change their job and service description up every other week, and eventually they seem like they don't even know what they're doing. The same goes for the number of certain services you offer, when I meet someone and I ask what they do and they reply with "everything!" - I immediately stop listening. Be crisp and clear because specialisation is the key. Pick three or four main points. A huge list of varied qualifications and random references does not actually make you seem more professional, it just looks like you think you know everything but you're actually not very focused. The more clearly you have specified what you do, the easier it will be to sell your services or product, and also it will make you an expert in your field. 

Keep up to speed with your industry

Make sure you're always a part of the ongoing conversation. Invest in yourself: keep up with new developments, innovation, products and even scandals - it's essential that you're aware of what's hot in your field and that you can contribute. This not only makes sure that you are on top of your work ability but also shows passion and commitment to what you do. Attend seminars and webinars, workshops, conferences and congresses, read online papers and articles, sign up to relevant newsletters from your field, be attentive on platforms like LinkedIn where people from your professional network are more likely to publish something interesting.

Research your potential clients

Research is such a core part, especially when you start out. In the beginning when nobody knows you, you can't expect to get calls with job or project offers, but you have to hunt them the fuck down. Pro-activity, engagement and presence in you industry are absolutely essential. Think outside the box of the companies you know, look up start-up collectives, look up conference participant lists or just simply keep your eyes open. If you see a sign or a tag somewhere of what might be an interesting contact for you, take a note or a photo and look into it later. Also random company logos you see on a building as you pass by with the bus are something to remember.

This post has been supported by a cooperation with the Labour Mobility in Europe ESF-project. More info here. Thank you!

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