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Navigating job interviews in Finland: Know your rights

Kuvassa Nick Walters
Written byNdela Faye
PhotographerKatja Tähjä
Kuvassa Nick Walters
Questions which may seem harmless in a job interview, can actually break your rights as a jobseeker.

“How old did you say you were?” “How many kids do you have?” “Do you live alone or with a partner?” “Where is your family originally from?” These questions may seem harmless in a job interview, but they actually break your rights as a jobseeker.

We spoke to three foreign workers about their experiences of job interviews in Finland, while Trade Union Pro’s Head of Legal Services commented on what an employer is and isn’t allowed to ask in a job interview.

For Nick Walters the interview process for his current job role in Finland was an interesting one. Having previously worked as a postdoctoral researcher, he decided to enrol onto a Finnish integration course. After about seven months on the integration course, he saw a job advertised at Natural Resources Institute Finland, Luke. Walters went through the interview process and got the job, and he now works there as a Grant Writer.

Overall, Walters found the recruitment process smooth – but one thing that came as a surprise was the fact he had to attend a psychological aptitude test once he had reached the final stage of the interviews. During the test, a candidate is usually expected to spend a full day at their own expense completing various tasks to assess their suitability for a role.

– In my case, the test was mostly computer-based, and focused on logic, prioritisation and decision-making skills. The test was followed by an interview with a psychologist, who wrote a report on my skills, that got forwarded to my then-potential employer.

– Although I wasn’t expecting to be assessed like that, I found it a good and valuable experience. It might take someone by surprise if they are not used to such a practice, though, says Walters.

According to Patrik Stenholm, Head of Legal Services at Trade Union Pro, aptitude tests during a recruitment process is quite common, especially in high-skilled and managerial jobs.

– If an applicant is willing to undergo an aptitude test, it shows commitment and dedication to the job.

He notes that a successful candidate might sometimes need to decide when it’s best to go along with what a potential employer is asking for.

– Although asking for a candidate’s photo in the job application or at a later stage of the recruitment process might not be standard practice in some countries, in Finland it’s becoming increasingly common, and it’s quite customary to attach a photo as part of a CV. It most certainly won’t be compulsory, but again, a candidate who is willing to share a photo of themselves might be perceived as being more open, self-confident and committed to the role, Stenholm says.

In terms of having tips regarding the interview process in Finland, Nick Walters says be careful to not talk over people.

–  I've noticed Finns sometimes use long pauses when they talk, and they might not have finished their sentence yet, even though it might appear they have. In order to not appear to be interrupting anyone, pausing an,d waiting before answering is the way forward, he explains.


What’s OK and what’s not?

There are a number of questions that a potential employer has the right to ask a jobseeker. From a candidate’s language skills, their readiness to travel or relocate, to asking about professional goals and hobbies and interests, all questions asked in a job interview should serve to determine a candidate’s suitability for a role, and they should be directly relevant to the job in question.

– The purpose of a job interview is to have a conversation between a jobseeker and a potential employer. The job applicant has to try to establish that they are the best choice for the available position, says Stenholm.

However, there are a handful of questions an employer is legally not allowed to ask. These include questions about an applicant’s:

  • health (unless directly relevant to the job role. In some cases a job might require a health inspection, for example in some governmental positions)

  • criminal record (same exception as above)

  • ethnic background and/or religion

  • sexual orientation

  • marital status – spouse, children, pregnancy or future plans regarding having a family

  • any possible substance or alcohol issues and addictions (although a candidate may be asked to provide an official drug test certificate but the applicant does not have to comply)

  • credit rating information (when the work assignments require accentuated reliability and trustworthiness, an employer has the right to check credit information from an employee who has already been hired for a position, i.e. NOT without the applicant’s consent while the application process is still ongoing)

  • trade union membership

  • military service or military rank

Evidently, a candidate does not have to answer questions they feel are inappropriate. Trade Union Pro’s Head of Legal Services Patrik Stenholm also notes that a candidate cannot lie in a job interview, but they can give insufficient or indirect answers to questions at their own discretion.

He also points out that an applicant does not have to answer any questions that are irrelevant to the job position. However, he says that an applicant should remember that sometimes answering even “irrelevant questions” might give a good impression.

– An employer might take it as a sign that the candidate is cooperative and approachable, he says.

The ‘hidden job market’

Lisa Jakonen, originally from Spain, has worked for multinational companies across Europe before settling in Finland in 2018. She did not have a conventional route into employment in Finland, as she was able to get a job transfer and continue working in the same role in the private sector. She recently applied for a position at an IT-company, based in Finland, and thought the recruitment process was fairly standard.

As a tip regarding the interview process in Finland, Jakonen says that punctuality is very important.

–  And by punctuality, I mean making sure to arrive 15 to 10 minutes early, she laughs, half-jokingly. 

Jakonen also believes that Finns appreciate honesty, and a ‘can-do’ attitude goes a long way, and says anything that shows that a candidate has used their own initiative and has a passion for their vocation is valued.

When she came to Finland, Jakonen was surprised by the so-called hidden job market, where up to 80 percent of jobs in the country are not advertised or posted online. “I was very surprised to find out that the majority of positions are filled internally or through networking contacts,” she states.

– Recommendations and referrals through professional contacts and friends also seem to be favoured. I’d imagine it’s quite difficult for someone without a professional network to break through these kinds of barriers, she continues.


“Network, network, network!”


This view is shared by Peter Henningsen, who moved to Finland with a job transfer from Brazil 15 years ago. Although the job market has changed a lot since then, he has extensive experience from recruitment processes with Finnish companies and believes that the key to career success in Finland is in the power of networking. 

Henningsen got a job with an IT-company after a recruitment manager he knew told him he was a good fit for the role, and encouraged him to apply.

– To summarise my experience of finding a job and working in Finland: network, network, network. It's difficult especially for a foreigner to get a job if they don’t have any connections
either in the company they are applying to, or someone outside the company who can help them. That’s unless they have a very specific qualification or niche knowledge on a topic”, Henningsen says.

Networking events like Slush and Arctic15 are invaluable in terms of being able to connect with companies and employees, as well as recruiters, according to Henningsen. He also believes networking in Finland is much easier than in some other countries.

–  Even though I have extensive work experience and relevant education, a lot of my career success in Finland has been down to being in the right place at the right time – and having an extensive network, he explains.

– It’s not considered strange to reach out to a Managing Director of a company you’re interested in, for example. Joining online seminars and reaching out to companies who are also attending is also a good idea if you want to build a network. Networking sites such as LinkedIn, or Business Finland's website are good places to start if you want to keep an eye on companies.