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Working in Finland

Working in Finland

Be warned, the Finns take business very, very seriously! They have been traveling and trading for centuries. Even Henry VIII (the English king with six wives in the early 1500s) was buying tar from the Finns to make his new fleet, and Finland still has a profitable and successful shipbuilding industry.

Anyone naïve enough to think that they have struck a win-win deal with a Finn will sooner or later realize that the Finn has really got the better end of the deal. This happens not because a Finn is trying to get the better of you, but because they are very shrewd. They have had to live by their wits for generations. Finns can be formidable and they achieve whatever it is they set out to do.

Because they are modest, they make you out to be cleverer than they are, bestowing on you attributes that they lack—but be warned! You are about to lose the spotlight. Finns are perfectionists and managers are highly-qualified technicians or engineers. They have state-of-the-art working environments and training centers with the most up-to-date technology. They have sports facilities, saunas, creative thinking spaces, subsidized canteens and anything else to enhance productivity.

This fact really should not be ignored when considering the forces that shape the future of global economics. In 1998, I wrote, ‘the Finns have all the attributes to become phenomenally successful in a global, commercial future». And now they are placed top or within the top ten countries of the world in so many leagues. Their limited resources, both natural and financial, and their distance from large consumer markets meant that Finland has had to find a different way to compete in the commercial world.

When Europe and the USA were competing in a mass production market of consumer goods, Finland recognized it could not hope to compete and concentrated on high-value, upmarket selling. They sell quality, not quantity. They sell applied knowledge, and it’s good, very good. So what are these attributes that make them phenomenally successful?

  • Meticulous attention to the quality of their goods
  • Obsessive about cleanliness, hygiene, and purity
  • An obsession with high technology and anything modern
  • Respect for nature and its forces at a spiritual level
  • Hard-working and full of stamina
  • Conscientious and reliable
  • Straightforward, steady and using common sense
  • Skilled workmanship „ Respectful of good education and its appliance
  • Safety for all
  • Deep-rooted entrepreneurial and trading skills
  • In-built honesty and ethical behavior
  • Hatred of debt
  • Innovation and «out-of-the-box» thinking
  • Impressive language skills „ Quick decision makers
  • Flexibility in meeting customer demands
  • Respect for all whatever their position in life
  • Tolerant of others
  • Create, adapt and improve—everything!
  • Pioneering spirit of trying to build up their country, such as existed in the USA in the 1800s

Above all, Finland has a high-technology environment. She is commonly reputed to be the world’s leading information society with an advanced communications infrastructure and with the highest penetration of mobile phones and Internet connections in the world. The Finns are also considered ‘tech-savvy» and respond well to technological innovations, welcoming the benefits that they can bring to their working and domestic lives. It has been the rapid adoption of these new technologies by many industries and especially financial institutions that have made them world leaders in several sectors. It seems hardly surprising then, that Finns always adapt to «e-services» so quickly, such as online buying, medical and bank services.

My motto for Finish business: ‘solutions come from closing your ears to everyone who says it cannot be done.» This demonstrates their sisu (persistence in the face of adversity).

However, there are a few traits that let them down and which stops them from realizing world domination. First of all, they are very poor at marketing themselves. They won’t push themselves forward. They need to get over their shyness, their reserve and the attitude that anyone being «pushy» is bragging. They have to come to terms with the fact that they can remain «Honest Joe», not lose their integrity and still communicate better to the outside world. Remember, that Finns are suspicious of those who boast and are talkative—perceived as distrustful.

Secondly, they are uncomfortable with the idea of partnerships. There still seems to be an inbuilt suspicion of sharing. Things are changing, but I believe it will take another ten years before global partner shipping becomes the norm, rather than the exception. Thirdly, the Finns are only just beginning to understand the concept that all customers may have different needs. The Finns value the quality of products before all else and think that you will either want to buy them, or you won’t. Because of the customs and traditions in Finland, the Finns are not used to being sold to. (Remember this is invading privacy.) This has a detrimental effect when they try to sell to or compete with other more «pushy» nations of the world.

Fourthly, they are poor at small talk and striking up relationships. As one manager said to me, «I»m there to do business. Not to find out how his wife is!” As 90 percent of the world’s population buy on emotion and justify with fact, the Finns have a lot to learn in this respect.

As Russell Snyder writes, «Although Finns are not the world’s greatest experts in small talk, they are attentive and good listeners. You will find them eager to entertain you with sightseeing, a visit to the sauna, a meal in a good restaurant, an evening of drinking and dancing at a nightclub.» They have a good sense of humor, especially at their own expense, and they love telling jokes and exchanging business cards. They are very disappointed that the world as a whole knows very little about them, especially when they are so well educated in geography, economy and current affairs! They will be much impressed if you can name a few of their famous athletes or racing drivers or any other facts you know about their country. Ask as many questions as you like about Finland because the Finns enjoy talking about their country. This is the only time you will see a Finn passionate—in public, at least!

Finding a job in Finland

Finding a job in Finland

The following information should help you to get started in finding out about jobs and employment opportunities in Finland. Good luck!

Finland Job Recruitment Agencies

Below are a few of the recruitment agencies and services operating in Finland:

  • http://www.aarresaari.fi—this is a network of Academic Career Services representing 19 Finnish Universities
  • http://www.monster.fi
  • http://www.mercuri-urval.com
  • http://www.proselectum.fi
  • http://www.mps.fi. Click ‘työpaikat»
  • http://www.eurojobs.com
  • http://www.jobsite.co.uk. Search «Finland».
  • http://europa.eu.int/eures/home.jsp?lang=en
  • http://www.cimo.fi
  • http://www.cvonline.net Click «Avoimet työpaikat» (Open vacancies) This site comes up in English
  • http://www.rekry.com Click «Uusimmat työpaikat» (New Jobs)

The Finnish Labour Administration (Työministeriö)

From the website of the Finnish Labour Administration, you can find some information about working life in Finland. The website is available in Finnish, Swedish and English. The website also contains listings of job vacancies in Finland. Unfortunately, most of these listings are published in Finnish or Swedish. The Finnish Labour Administration (called Työministeriö in Finnish) can be found at the following URL: http://www.mol.fi

Advertised Jobs in the Finnish Media Many

Finnish printed newspapers contain «employment sections» listing available positions in Finland. One of the main newspapers in Finland is the Helsingin Sanomat which publishes an extensive employment section in their Sunday editions (http://www.helsinginsanomat.fi).

Finnish Company Job And Career Website

Nowadays, most larger companies have an employment section on their websites from where they advertise job vacancies, or invite applicants to send their CVs.

I recommend that you visit http://www.uranus.fi. This website provides a large amount of information in English which can be very useful to non Finnish speaking people seeking information about employment opportunities in Finland. The website is available in Finnish, Swedish and English .

Applying for a work permit in Finland

Applying for a work permit in Finland

A foreigner wanting paid employment in Finland must usually have a residence permit as an employed person. A person engaged in an independent business or profession in Finland must have a residence permit for a self-employed person. However, there are many exceptions to this rule.

For example, citizens of European Union (EU) Member States and equivalent persons do not need a residence permit for an employed person or for a self-employed person. Similar provisions on the right of movement that apply to citizens of EU Member States also apply to citizens of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

Corruption in Finland

Corruption in Finland

As previously stated, honesty and integrity are high on the list of Finnish attributes, therefore, corruption is rare. If there is ever the slightest hint of corruption or bribery in government, there will be a huge spread in the daily papers. The Finnish find it difficult to deal with some foreign nations, when everyone in the chain expects to have a «bung» (a financial payment for their effort).

If they had a choice, they would prefer to walk away from these deals. They regard the whole concept as totally dishonest. In a recent survey on comparative corruption levels in countries around the world, Finland took the number one spot as the least corrupt country.

In everyday life, there is no tipping. Tipping is not in the Finnish culture at all. You do not need to tip taxi drivers, waiters or hairdressers. Even the hotel porter does not expect to be tipped. Please do not feel that you are doing them a favour by leaving them a few «odd coppers» on the side.

They genuinely take it as an insult. This is because in an egalitarian society, everyone respects people for the jobs that they do. If their job is to drive a taxi, this is what they are paid to do, and to be civil and polite whilst doing their job is what is expected. They do not need to be tipped, and do not expect it. However some Finns, you will notice, will pay a bill by rounding up the money by a few cents (10p–15p) and will not expect the change.

Payment terms in Finland

Payment terms in Finland

The world would be a better place if we could all deal with the Finns. If you send them an invoice which says payment within seven days, you will have your money within seven days. They are prompt payers and always pay to terms, which are normally within 30 days. Okay—there are a very few exceptions. Average payment days in Finland are 24 days.

The Finns are very naïve when it comes to understanding that the rest of the world does not operate in such an honourable way as they do. They are not used to having to chase money and, as they are not used to complaining in their every day lives, some nations really do take the Finns for a ride—but only once.

Although most deals will be signed and sealed officially, you will never need to doubt the word of a Finn. A handshake will seal the deal. The Finns are honest and respect integrity above all else. They will not double deal you. They are frank and open, and appreciate your honesty and frankness. You need not fear laying your cards on the table. But just be aware, that they are good and hard negotiators. After all, they are used to dealing with the Russians!

Customer care in Finland

Customer care in Finland

Once again I bring up the subject which, for this purpose, I have called «Customer Care». Who is to say what is right and what is wrong in customer care? Who can say that one country’s service is better than another’s? However, what I can say is that many foreigners» impressions of the Finns are based on their interpretation of the service they receive; especially if they do not have the opportunity to meet some Finns on a one-to-one basis. To many, the Finns seem abrupt, rude, grumpy and uncaring. This greatly saddens me because I know they are not.

Remember, the Finns will only give minimal information to any question you ask. Therefore, it is important to get the question right in the first place. For example, last week I was at Helsinki airport being served at the Finnair desk on the international side, when two Japanese ladies came up and asked, «Is there a bank?” Without looking at the two questions, the Finnish receptionist said, «No. Not on this side”. The abruptness of the answer caused the Japanese ladies to stop in their tracks.

They clearly expected an additional response. When that was not forthcoming, they eventually moved away. When I had been served, I sought out the two ladies and asked whether they were looking for somewhere to change money or an actual bank. Of course, they were looking for a Bureau de Change and I explained where it was. There are two points to consider here. First, the Finn answered the question and no more. It is not in their culture to expand upon the obvious.

There is no thought as to what the «customer» really wants, no ability to look beyond the question to see what the problem is or the question should be, and there is no responsibility to find a solution. It appears that the Finns are quite unable to use their initiative in this respect. This is really not the case, but «going beyond the call of duty» is just not expected of them in their environment. The second point to consider is the lack of eye contact.

Eye contact, especially with strangers, is kept to a minimum. One Australian I happened to meet on his first visit to Finland was almost pulling his hair out at the treatment he was getting from a girl behind the airline desk. She was clearly telling him that he could not board the plane but kept averting her eyes from his. Whatever he said, she just repeated the same message like a stuck gramophone record, and continued the same averting of eyes.

He was becoming very agitated and in desperation exclaimed so the whole room could hear him, «It’s almost as though I weren’t here. Why won’t you look at me?” It was obvious the girl behind the airline desk was getting distressed. After all, she would be used to the Finns obeying the rules and just going away and not making a fuss.

Served by Grumpy

Buying a pizza in a restaurant: «I glanced up from the menu to see a grim-faced waitress, whom I»ll call Grumpy, standing by our table… our pizzas arrived…when I noticed something disturbing: three sharp pieces of mussel shell were staring at me…I was appalled and expected an apology, a new pizza, a complimentary bottle of champagne and, of course, no charge. When I showed Grumpy the pieces of shell, she just shrugged her shoulders, reluctantly changed the pizza for something else, and offered me free coffee for my inconvenience. Then she had the nerve to charge me full price on the bill. I was angry. Ready to complain to the manager …but Pekka didn’t want me to make a fuss. He asked me to keep silent about the matter. «We may want to come here again,” he said.» —Russell Snyder

(The Optimist’s Guide to Finland for Business People, 2003)

Another similar incident I witnessed happened to an Englishman in a supermarket. At the cash desk, he asked whether the shop took VISA. The answer came back, «No”. Unfortunately, we then had to wait at the till until the man found enough cash to pay for his items. Actually, the shop took other forms of credit cards and debit cards but not VISA. If the girl behind the counter could not speak English well, she could have pointed out the symbols/logos of the cards they took. But whether she spoke English or not, she was not going to go beyond the obvious question. Her responsibility ended with the answer, «No”.

One evening, my Finnish colleague Timo and I were dining out. We both wanted just a light evening meal and decided to stop at a branch of a restaurant chain. He just wanted a plain omelette and ordered it from the waitress, who showed some anxiety about this. After some while, she returned to say that they were unable to cook an omelette because it was not on the menu. We left.

One client travels the world as customer service manager for a Finnish owned multi-national company. He said, for the first edition of this book, that he is appalled at the service levels in his country and was often making comparisons with the Far East and America. He exclaimed, «We put up with anything. We never complain!” He believes that the quality in Finland is perfect but they can’t organise service, whilst in Asia they can organise service but the quality is dreadful.

In a recent conversation, Timo H. updated his views by saying that service levels have transformed in Helsinki due to more international travel, competition and exposure to other cultures. Helsinki has become more cosmopolitan. He believes that people are starting to become more assertive in what they want and how they want to be treated, which he sees as a good thing. Having returned to Finland last year after living in the States for a few years, he noticed a vast difference from when he left.

A Finnish Barber
A foreigners experience in Finland, from Rob J: «My first visit to a Finnish barber made me nervous. Will they cut too much off and understand me? However, nothing prepared me for what actually happened. He had almost finished, when I asked if he could style my hair with some gel. He replied in English, “Can you do it? I don’t want to make my hands sticky.”

Negotiations in Finland

Negotiations in Finland

If you want to sell something, you have to be very knowledgeable about the technical side of your product. You are better off sending your technicians to Finland rather than your sales people, as the culture is engineer-dominated. You need to be able to supply relevant facts and figures and know the specification details well. There are no long, hard bargaining sessions.

Get straight to the point—you can even lay your cards on the table and you will NOT be taken advantage of. The Finns respect that you need to make a profit not only for your sake but for their good as well. They are not deceitful, so take them at their word. They keep their promises and a friendly handshake seals the deal. Written contracts will normally be short and straightforward, outlining everyone’s obligations and deadlines. However, with the EU experience, they are learning to use carefully written agreements. Remember: Finns are shrewd, disarmingly honest and usually get the better deal.

Finnish Business Values «Jorma Ollilla, Nokia’s dynamic CEO … was asked in 2002 about the reasons for his and his company’s great success. He answered that Nokia has gained its strength from its firm underpinning of uncomplicated, sincere, durable tenants taken straight from Finnish rural society.» —Richard Lewis (Cultural Lone Wolf, 2005)

Meetings and appointments in Finland

Meetings and appointments in Finland

It is important to note that you should arrive at any business meeting on time. That doesn’t mean to say that the Finn will always be there and ready to see you, but s/he is more often than not. However, punctuality is seen as a virtue, though a few minutes either way is not seen as detrimental.

Office hours are generally 8:00 am to 4:00 pm, Monday to Friday, and business meetings might well take place from 8:30 or 9:00 in the morning. Good manners would dictate those afternoon meetings should be arranged to finish by about 3:30 in the afternoon so that people have the opportunity to make last minute phone calls before the end of the working day.

People like to clear their desks and leave a little early on a Friday afternoon, so you need to finish promptly if you see anyone then. It shows respect for their work-life balance. The Finns do work hard; they work conscientiously and many works beyond 4:00 pm. It is not uncommon to find people still at their desks at 5:00 or 5:30 in the evening.

Opening Hours

  • Banks are open from 9:00 am to 4:15 pm, Monday to Friday.
  • Post offices are open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, Mondays to Fridays.
  • Both are closed Saturdays.
  • Office hours are from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm, Monday to Friday.
  • The majority of shops are open from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm, Monday to Friday, and 9:00 am to 3:00 pm on Saturdays.
  • Larger shops such as department stores are open until 8:00 pm, Monday through Friday, and 4:00 pm on Saturdays.
  • As alcohol can only be bought in the state-owned Alko shops. It might be worth noting their opening hours: 9:00 am to 8:00 pm, Monday to Friday, and Saturdays from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm.

You will be served coffee, tea, and pastries at whatever time of day you visit. There will be a very small amount of ‘small talk» because you are a foreigner. You can then get straight down to business with a no-nonsense approach. If there is an agenda, it will be followed efficiently.

You may be invited to stay for lunch which will be in the company restaurant-cum-canteen. No alcohol is served. Most people drink water or milk, possibly fruit juice. Lunch, even though it may be three courses, will be light as Finns do not like to over-indulge. In true egalitarian fashion, everyone clears away their dirty plates and leaves the table clean and tidy for the next users.

Getting down to business

Getting down to business

You will really impress a Finn by getting straight down to business after shaking hands. The Finns are very frank, to the point and will tell you all that they think you ought to know to make a decision. On the other hand, they expect you to be the same with them. You will have your chance to say what you need to say and give them all the information they need to make a decision. They will rarely ask questions, believing that any information, if it were important enough, you would have already told them.

I still remember vividly giving my first presentation to a group of Finnish business people. It is still my worst nightmare! My brief was to give a half an hour presentation and allow time for questions and answers afterward. I gave what I thought was a good and interesting presentation. I ended with a few words of Finnish, which I also had written in my PowerPoint presentation so that everyone would understand what I was endeavoring to say. The mere fact that I had tried to speak Finnish was obviously well liked and appreciated. However, when it came to the question and answer time, I thought I had died. No one spoke. There was a deadly hush. The faces of my audience were very somber.

There was no spark of emotion and there didn’t seem to be any interest whatsoever in asking any questions. At that moment, I felt totally lost; I didn’t know what to do. It was the first time that I had ever experienced anything like this. The Finnish boss duly caught my eye gave me a reassuring little smile and a nod. Someone eventually asked a question, which I answered, and so the meeting ended. I was completely away from my field of experience. I had no way of perceiving whether I had done well or badly. As it turned out, I had done well and I was asked to give some more presentations.

On my third presentation to some Finnish people, I paused and asked whether anybody had any questions. After a long pause, huge grins appeared on the faces of the audience. Someone laughed and said, «Debby, hasn’t anyone told you we’re Finnish?” In the surprise, I asked what being Finnish had to do with asking questions. Back came the reply and the enlightenment.

The gentleman replied, «Oh, in Finland we don’t ask questions. We give you one chance to say everything you need to say, and if it is important you will say it. Then, we will evaluate what you have said, but we don’t ask questions. If we don’t like what we hear, we will then go and listen to somebody else”. So my initiation into doing business in Finland really did seem like a baptism of fire. However, this illustrates a point—the Finns are thinking about what you have said and, most importantly, they don’t think and talk at the same time.

The Finns like to be viewed as specialists and experts and, believe me, the majority of them really are well qualified and well experienced in whatever it is they are doing. They are experts. They hate to look silly and do not like to be shown up in front of others. One writer likens them to those in the Far East who cannot abide losing «face». They will expect you to be very well prepared, will take you at face value, but assume that you are an expert in your field. They will respect you, just as you should respect them.

Remember that the Finns aren’t used to being sold to. In practical terms, this means that if you begin to push your product and tell them how wonderful it is, especially if you are going through the process of an «American sell», you will be seen to be bragging. They don’t like this at all. A typical Finnish expert will be slow, calm and soft-voiced. He will know his ‘stuff», and the quality of the products will sell the goods for themselves. However, this said, the Finns are pretty tolerant of odd people and funny habits. There is no real formality about them and they are, therefore, generally very easy to do business with. They will accept you for what you are.

Customer care in Finland

There is something that will strike the visitor to Finland as peculiarly odd. It is the Finns’ attitude to customer care. They haven’t got any, or so it seems. This may sound very harsh, but in truth, the Finns address customer care in a completely different way from the one that British, Asians or Americans would be used to. Herein lies the first real culture shock that most visitors to Finland will experience.

Customer care in Finland

Tourist about serving customers in Finland

One evening, I was sitting with a colleague of mine in a hotel restaurant. I had ordered my evening meal from the menu and she had decided that she wanted just a plain ham sandwich. She went into some detail to explain to the waitress that all she required was two slices of bread, plain, with plain ham in the middle. She stipulated that she wanted “no green stuff, no red stuff, no fruity bits either”; just a plain ham sandwich. My dinner arrived, her sandwich didn’t. I had almost finished my meal when her sandwich eventually arrived. In all its glory, with all the greenery, the red bits and the fruity bits came her “plain” ham sandwich. When my colleague quizzed the waitress, she was told this was how the sandwich was served, and if she didn’t want all the other bits and pieces, she could take them out; they wouldn’t mind.

It’s also very difficult to get served in a Finnish restaurant once you’ve received your initial order. You can never seem to catch the waitress eye, so you might well have to resort to gesticulating madly. This usually provokes a quick but dismissive nod, as the waitress walks off in the opposite direction. This leaves you wondering whether she will return. It is rare that anyone will come over to ask whether you would like another drink. I recall a time I called a waitress over to complain that my soup was not hot. She commiserated with me, said “shame”, and ran away quickly. There have been occasions when I have stood up to leave a restaurant, in order to get my bill, so that I could pay. These incidents might lead the reader to think that the Finns really don’t care, but nothing could be further from the truth. You have to understand the Finns’ psyche in order to understand that they really do care. The first instance with the ham sandwich demonstrates the Finns ability to genuinely give you what they think you really ought to have—not what you’ve ordered. The first time I tried to buy a pair of boots, the assistant kept bringing me different models to try on rather than the ones I originally asked for.

The first time I tried to buy a pair of boots, the assistant kept bringing me different models to try on rather than the ones I originally asked for.

In the second case, the Finns believe that it is an invasion of your privacy to have eye contact, so they leave you alone in silence and without any contact to enjoy your meal, and it’s up to you to get hold of them. The Finns don’t normally complain and they fi nd it very diffi cult to handle a complaint. Therefore, when I mentioned about the soup, the waitress really didn’t know what to do about it. I have since learnt, that if I have cold soup, I have to say, “Excuse me my soup is only warm would you please take it away and make it hot.” This allows them to understand what I want. The Finns are not used to pushing themselves forward, and in a very egalitarian society, they are not used to being subservient. It is therefore down to you as the customer to make clear your wishes. In a restaurant, apart from asking about desserts, they will not come and ask you if you want anything else. In other words, you will not be “sold to”. This will be seen as being an invasion of your privacy and an interruption of your personal silence.