The path to get a job is full of ups and downs. It is not an easy task, especially when facing unemployment in a different country, and lacking a professional network. This is a short story of my journey to get my first full time position in Finland, and what I learned along the way.
Maybe you, like me, have heard tons of stories about what a struggle is to find a job in Finland (even more in COVID times). Anger, frustration, and fear are some of the many emotions I remember when talking with people who had already gone through that path. I did not want the same, so I did my best during my study years to pave my way to a job, as smoothly as possible.
When finishing my studies everything was ready. Or I thought it was. But in the end, as often in life, a sequence of unexpected events put me in the situation I was more scared of. Back then I had to face the upcoming ending of my residence permit with no job and just enough savings for some months. A foreigner job-seeker with a strong determination, which was tested several times in my pursue of a full-time job to make a living in Finland.
THE BEGINNING OF THE JOURNEY
I came to Finland with the sole goal of finishing my degree within my two-year scholarship. The idea of staying here came after meeting my (now) wife. We agreed that this cozy Nordic country was more convenient for our future plans. Hence, I had to carefully prospect my next steps. If coming here took me a couple of years of planning, to get a job without a network and knowing the language was not going to be an easy task. Anyway, I was happy to face it.
After living here a while, I realized that regarding humanities, which is my field, Finnish was a huge obstacle to get a job. Also, although I have a reasonable previous working experience, since my mother tongue is not English, I was in disadvantage to native speakers when applying to job positions asking for “native or almost native English language skills”. I mean, I am proficient, but I make mistakes every now and then.
Therefore, I considered as the most suitable option, to apply for a doctorate position. I enjoyed doing research, I had previous teaching experience so it seemed like a good option. But to get the study rights to a doctorate position and to get a paid position are different things. A job does not just fall from heaven. So, I went back to planning stage, prospecting different research groups in Finland and also nearby countries, just in case.
Luckily, after writing many mails, research plans and motivation letters, I got a paid doctorate position. It was not in Finland but close enough to have a reasonable long-distance relationship of visiting my beloved once or twice monthly. Also, it was aligned to my previous line of inquiry. I was happy, and for a moment I felt in heaven. Little did I know, it hasn’t all been said yet.
DON’T COUNT YOUR CHICKENS BEFORE THEY HATCH
After arranging all the papers, saying goodbye to my friends, making plans with my partner, and stressing over COVID travel, I arrived at the new city. Then everything started to crumble.
I knew that part of my income would come from the government, but I ignored that it was a grant that in some cases was denied. Even doctorate students who got it, did not get the money until they got the local residence permit. But the tricky thing was that the process takes two months, and I got the acceptance letter barely 15 days in advance. The cherry of the cake? My boss and my coordinator told me different things when asking them about it.
All those incidents were red flags for me. I have worked in organizations with similar problems before, and I have to say my experience was not good, to say the least. A piece of advice: if you detect them, stay and contribute to fix them or leave immediately. Also, after living in Finland for a couple of years I realized that at the bottom of my heart I love order and clarity. So, I declined the offer and came back knowing my plans for the next four years were crashed.
This time I had not chance to do some prep-work or plan. After deducting the travel expenses and money spent on preparation for a 4-year stay, I had enough savings for some months. The clock was ticking, and I had to start looking for a job straight away.
IT AIN’T OVER UNTIL IT IS OVER
Back in Oulu, I knew my next step was to register as an unemployed job-seeker in TE-Toimisto, which is the Finnish employment agency. However, this was not an easy move to make. From my perspective, asking for help to get a job from an institution meant to me not being able to find it by myself. I felt kind of defeated. And while attending the language course, one thought was still echoing in my head: what if you don’t get a job?
Before I finished the university, I met several people who struggled professionally here. It was not easy to listen to them and witness their frustration. All of them had relevant professional experience and English was almost a second native language, however they could only get a job as cleaners, dishwashers, or fundraisers. In such positions, I felt their energy was drained twice: for doing the job, and for coping with the idea they could do better.
I could feel this feeling nesting in me. And I was fighting it when applying for different jobs and getting interviews invitations. In some cases, I got to the third, fourth or fifth interview but then an email beginning with “Unfortunately…” dropped me back to that feeling again: resentment.
At some point it became overwhelming, and it was difficult to manage. I blew up interviews, vomiting my frustration or bragging about my skills. And the consequent rejections drown me even deeper. Somedays I could not recognize the resentment and sadness in my eyes looking at the mirror.
I started to blame myself for leaving that doctorate position. Many times, I found myself not paying attention to the class but desperately searching for jobs online. Several months later, there was not yet a real offer on the table, my savings were almost gone, and my only real option was to deliver food. My self-confidence was crumbling when I complete the registration form of one of these companies. Like preparing myself in case that real job I was looking for did not happen after all.
HAPPINESS WITHIN THE DARKNESS
During my job-hunting process, countless times I felt like quitting. And every time, the encouraging words of a beloved one arose to support me. Despite the problems at home and discussions because of money issues, my wife always pushed me forward. Kind words and caresses before sleeping helped me to overcome frustration and sometimes despair. Same with my parents. Them telling me their anecdotes of raising three children during a tough economic crisis. If they could cope with that how I could not overcome this?
Friends also played a key supportive role during this process. Some of them encouraged me to explore other fields, introduce me with people that could help me, or even invite me to collaborate in projects together. Moreover, they were also a source of inspiration to realize what I really wanted.
Amid my struggle, my initial search for jobs related to my field was broadened towards positions such as content marketing, coordination, or audiovisual production. But through some deep conversations, I could realize why I decided to leave positions related to media and use that expertise in educational settings. Based on my own experience as a student, I wanted to create a rich and nurturing experience for my students. One beyond learning content but helping them to grow as human beings.
When realizing my purpose I looked in hindsight. Every time I took a job just because of the money I did not enjoy it at all. It was just money. I felt uncomfortable not giving my 100% because, conscious or not, I was seeking the job I wanted to be in. On the other hand, when I have found a job aligned with my values. Oh my god, that was heaven. And that was what I was looking for.
THE (HAPPY?) ENDING
After reaching that clarity, I got a job interview for a position as a lecturer. This time I did not hesitate to express my ideas and beliefs. I wanted the job, but I was also confident in my approach, and why I wanted the position. I wanted to help, and I had a certain idea of how to do it. I left that conversation with the confidence that whatever I got the position or not, I said what I honestly believed.
A couple of days letter, I found in my inbox an email starting with: “We are happy to announce you…”. My wife got worried seeing me crying, but few minutes later we both hugged and laughed. That afternoon we celebrated – worries were finally over after almost 8 months of stretching our budget to unexpected levels of creativity. Let me tell you, trying to have a balanced diet with a narrow budget is certainly a trigger for inspiration.
Now I have a job for one year. What would happen after that? I don’t know. I will do my best to keep it, but unexpected things can happen anytime. Life cannot always be happy, so more likely I will face times of uncertainty in the future too. So, now I will enjoy this new job, time with my wife, and the yoga classes, which were an additional resource to keep my mind focus on difficult times.