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.

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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