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My Career: From Start to Finnish

Networking helped Lukumanu land his dream job in Finland

Get to know more about Lukumanu via LinkedIn and Instagram.

Otto Virtanen

Lukumanu Iddrisu, Ghana. Project manager

This year marks the tenth anniversary of Lukumanu Iddrisu’s journey in Finland. It has been a roller coaster of a decade that has seen him evolve from a student and cleaner to a human resources (HR) specialist, project manager and father of two. Now, Lukumanu is using his learnings to support other international students and job seekers in Finland. 

There is plenty to learn from. Originally from Tema, Ghana, Lukumanu’s first encounter with Finland was through missionaries visiting his hometown during his primary school years. His curiosity deepened when a friend shared their experiences with a study programme in Vaasa. Motivated by this, Lukumanu applied to the Vaasa University of Applied Science (VAMK) and secured a place on his second attempt to study international business.

Eager to enter the job market, Lukumanu began working as a cleaner, a role that brought him to the premises of Finnish industrial giant Wärtsilä. He seized this as an opportunity to practice Finnish, engage with people, network and learn about the skills needed to succeed in the company. This approach paid off. Eventually, he joined the company as an on-call trainee and climbed the ladder to become a regional HR specialist. 

Today, Lukumanu enjoys family life in Vaasa, works with a support programme for international spouses, teaches social media marketing and actively shares his insights on succeeding in the Finnish job market. His top tips? Be patient, strive for more than just the basics and build meaningful connections. 

Coming to Finland was a cultural shock… because of the weather. I grew up in Tema, Ghana, where the average temperature is around 33–35 degrees. I came to Finland in September, and it was three degrees, which felt really cold to me. That was a shock in itself, and it was also my first time in Europe. 

Also, the way our culture works is that when you see people, even randomly, you greet them and say hi. It’s not like that in Finland, so there were a few shocks in the first weeks.

“If you are looking to have a career in Finland, it’s logical to study the language even if your role doesn’t necessarily require it,” Lukumanu says.

Harri Huusko

It took me five years to really understand the culture, how people respond to things and how you can approach them. After completing my degree, I attended integration training and learned Finnish as part of it. That helped a lot.

Finding career success 

I believe that when you begin to understand how things work…you can navigate your way to achieving anything.

When I was studying, all I got were menial jobs likecleaning and dishwashing. I was also cleaning at Wärtsilä. I used that as an opportunity to network with people working there. I was learning Finnish at the time, and we all agreed to speak Finnish. It was a way to connect with people, and I asked them what skills I would need to become a Wärtsilä employee. 

During that time, I was meant to do an internship as part of my Finnish studies. VAMK created a position for me, and I started working with their international office and the marketing team. That was my first position related to my studies and knowledge. Soon after, the Ostrobothnia Chamber of Commerce wanted to do a campaign on hiring young people and needed someone with an international background. I applied and was hired.

I was also accepted to a master’s programme at the University of Vaasa. Around the same time, I saw an open role at Wärtsilä for trainees. I got the job and, in 2021, started as an on-call trainee there. I later transferred to a summer trainee working in supply chain management.

Wärtsilä chose me as their summer trainee of the year… and also nominated me for Oikotie’s Finland’s summer employee of the year campaign, and I won. 

Then, when my contract was ending, HR called me to say that they had a new role and that my attitude, personality and skills matched the role. I was always sharing my story on LinkedIn, and the HR team saw that what I was doing there aligned with what they were doing. 

So, I joined the HR team and, with my colleagues, worked on employment initiatives, student collaborations and career days. I worked there for a year and then transitioned into an HR specialist on a temporary contract. 

 Vaasa is located on the west coast of Finland. 

Visit Vaasa / Ann-Britt Bada

I always tell people that I was a cleaner in Wärtsilä and became an employee… anything can happen when you put things together in the right way. I encourage students and job seekers to go beyond the basics, like cover letters and CVs. It took me five years to get an internship and six years to work in my dream company, Wärtsilä. 

Now I work as a project manager for the University of Vaasa’s Spouse Programme. It’s a support mechanism for international spouses in the Vaasa region to integrate socially and professionally. Many internationals lack this kind of guidance, and together with the team we’ve designed initiatives to help them network with the Finnish system and people.

Passion for supporting others

In Finland, work life is flexible… and this gives me the room to do multiple things at the same time. I have a very understanding line manager who believes in me and knows I execute my work. I also always plan my time well. 

I do a lot of other things besides my formal work. For instance, I work as a part-time lecturer at Centria University of Applied Sciences, where I teach social media marketing and e-business. 

Because of my experiences in HR and living in Finland, I’m also asked to speak to corporate clients, job seekers and others about topics like how to survive in Finland, how to network with employers and employer branding. I know how students or job seekers can stand out, and I share these experiences so they can boost their game and realise their goals.

My drive to do all of this comes from my passion for it. I struggled to get where I am today, and I don’t want others to struggle like I did. 

In 2021, Lukumanu was selected Finland’s Summer Employee of the Year thanks to his perseverance and positive attitude.  

Ville-Veikko Väisänen

My advice for internationals looking to find work in Finland… would be to treat the job search as a job itself. You have to have patience. It’s a very competitive market. If you don’t plan for it, you will fail miserably.

Look into companies that employ people like you as an international. Certain roles require you to communicate directly with local customers, and that becomes very difficult if you don’t have the necessary language skills. You are wasting your time applying there. Research companies that hire international people and look at three to five roles suitable for you based on your background. Connect with the companies and ask what skills those roles will require. Spend the time to do your research, be patient and I guarantee it will pay off. 

Also, networking plays a crucial role in getting a job in Finland. You have to network. Connect with people who work in companies you are interested in, go to events and meet people. Introduce yourself, ask about their roles and skills needed, learn the skills and then report back to them. They see you are committed and have a good attitude.

In a nutshell, my advice is to be patient when seeking a job, have a strategy for it, build genuine networks and go beyond CVs and cover letters to validate your value. 

The coconut approach

I have a simple tip for networking with Finns… they look hard from the outside but are soft on the inside. We call it a coconut culture. If you understand the culture, how Finns do things, and when they go for coffee breaks or lunch, it’s easy to use these smaller details to network with them.

I started to build stronger networks when I began to learn Finnish habits and the language. Showing interest in the language is another way to start a conversation. Even if you only know “minä olen” [I am] but use it confidently in conversation, you are telling people you are interested in their language. It’s a sign of respect. 

Lukumanu enjoyes playing football and appreciates the good facilities for it in Finland.

Lukumanu Iddrisu

Finns know their language is difficult, so they appreciate the effort. You just need to have the confidence to speak, even if you make mistakes. When you make a mistake, people will help you and are very supportive. 

Intensive classes are good, but you learn the best at a workplace. What you learn in school is written language and what you learn in everyday life is spoken language and professional jargon. You only learn these by speaking with people.

There are a lot of positives about Finland… it’s very quiet and there is less traffic compared to Ghana. Safety is one thing, and there is a lot of focus on wellbeing and working life is very good. That is why I’m living here. I cherish my journey here. All the lessons I’ve learnt in the past five years have given me a lot of experience on how to advance my career, which I appreciate.

What I am looking for is a Finland where all internationals have the opportunity to realise their goals. That’s why I’m on a mission to teach people how to achieve the careers they want.

In Vaasa, everything is in close proximity… you don’t really need a car, you can bicycle to most places. It’s not an expensive place to live, and there are a lot of sights. I’ve also been playing football since I came here. These are some of the reasons why I like living here and want to stay in Vaasa. 

Published on 05.06.2024