Winning the international competition for top talent is a team sport
“We’re building a new community.” When Ilkka Paananen first got in touch and told me about Finnish Startup Community and its goals, I was struck by how similar they were to what we’re trying to achieve at Unity as a growth company. A key goal for us and the community is accelerating international talent hiring.
Solving growth challenges
Unity has been actively recruiting internationally for over 5 years and foreign talent has been a key enabler of our growth in Helsinki. We recruit on average 30% annually from abroad because there simply isn’t enough talent in Finland.
What kind of talent is most needed? The majority of foreign hires at Unity are senior software developers, who are in short supply globally. We also search for senior leadership with experience from rapid growth companies, and we hire a lot of artificial intelligence and product management professionals from overseas.
It’s not easy to attract foreign talent to Finland and even after a hiring decision, the process can take a long time. Relocation processes take on average 6 months from when we open a new position to when a new employee can start in their role. This is a long time in any industry, but especially so in fast-growing technology companies like ours.
Unity has 45 offices around the world, so if we don’t succeed in attracting a candidate to Finland we can offer them a place in one of our other locations. That means, however, that part of the growth we planned for Finland happens in other countries, which is a lot for our society.
Why move to Finland?
There have to be rational reasons for top talent to want to move specifically to Finland. It’s not enough for there to be one interesting company. When people make career choices, they look at the bigger picture. Is this a professional environment I want to be part of long term? Are there other companies with career opportunities, interesting communities and colleagues to learn from? A growing ecosystem not only attracts foreign talent to Finland, but also encourages Finnish talent to stay here.
The gaming industry is a great success story. Finland has a large concentration of gaming industry companies and professionals that have grown into a strong community that attracts people from around the world.
The job itself is an important factor in decision making, but if we think about top talents with families, the future prospects for their spouse and children also play a big role. Finland’s less attractive features have to do with the relative scarcity of English-language school options, taxation, the climate, the cost of living and employment opportunities for spouses. The minimum requirement is an English-speaking school for their children. Finnish taxation and living expenses don’t rank well in comparisons of European startup hubs and many cities offer tax benefits to foreign talents. Non-Finnish speaking spouses often struggle to find work; in addition to the language barrier, this has to do with Finnish companies’ inexperience in hiring foreign employees.
A world-class talent, who is actively considering moving abroad for work can often afford to be a little picky. They can compare options in San Francisco, Montreal, Stockholm and London. A Finnish company looking to compete against these alternatives needs to be well prepared.
Expert support is needed
When companies start recruiting internationally, they need support and up-to-date information on what to expect from the process. At first, we did everything in-house at Unity. We still have a big recruitment team that scouts and interviews candidates in both Finland and abroad, but we now also have a specialized partner that takes care of the visa and relocation processes
In the competition for talent, it’s a huge asset to have a partner that can ensure the process is as smooth as possible and can talk about Finland and the practicalities of immigration in an encouraging way.
During the final steps of the recruitment process, they take the lead and make sure that the necessary paperwork is all in order and the candidate moving to Finland has enough information and support. The documentation and application needed for a work visa are not simple. Often the worst delays occur when the paperwork isn’t complete the first time. If a candidate’s family plans to move to Finland later on, their visa process will be considerably longer.
The relocation process has many moving parts
Many of the problems involved in immigration have to be with how many different stakeholders are involved. It’s not just Migri’s process or a single tricky step along the way. The situation fluctuates and delays can occur during different parts of the process. For example, during COVID, identification became a bottleneck. Applicants have to go to a local embassy in person for this step. Embassies have been closed at times and in some cases, applicants have to travel to another country for identification.
From the candidate’s perspective, the process from signing a contract to the point when life feels normal again and they’ve received their first salary in a Finnish bank account and their spouse and children’s healthcare is all set up can be very long. Small things like opening a bank account or mobile subscription can take a disproportionate amount of time and effort.
Finland has a lot to gain in this competition
I strongly believe in diverse teams and that it’s difficult to build international growth if everyone comes from the same background. Diversity is a great source of wealth and growth.
From Finland’s perspective, these top talents have a lot to give. They’ve received their education and early healthcare somewhere else, and are coming here to work and build businesses.
Another positive aspect of international recruiting is that once an employee arrives in Finland and they’ve integrated into the local community, their job satisfaction and tenure at the company that brought them here are above average.