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Finding a Job, CVs, Interviews and Etiquette for Expats in France

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: November 2014

Finding a Job

It is important to be patient and well-organised when looking for a job in France, as they are currently in short supply. However, if you are skilled in an area that is in demand, you should find it much easier. One sector in particular where France has an acute shortage is in IT. Online job portals are a convenient way to start your job search, as they enable you to filter your search according to job function, industry, salary and location, or search for keywords. Some of the most popular English-language portals are:

There are many more portals in French only, including:

As these lists suggest, it is very important for your employment prospects to be able to speak French. Moreover, the better you speak French, the wider your range of potential employers. For tips on how to improve your French, see Languages.
You can also extend your search to the European Job Mobility Portal, EURES. Most daily newspapers also publish job advertisements both in their printed issues and online. Some of the most widely read newspapers that have sizeable employment sections are:  

Once you have arrived in France, you will find that local newspapers are a good source of job vacancies, as is the local branch of the Pôle Emploi. Another good option for jobseekers in France is to make speculative applications. To do this you need to send a cover letter and your CV with references (it is usually a good idea to attach a photo.) Job seekers can also turn to private recruitment agencies. If possible, before committing yourself, check that the agency is accredited and look at some online reviews. There is a comprehensive list of recruitment agencies in France on the EURES website. Finally, make sure to look at ‘Vacancies’ sections on websites of organisations that interest you, and be aware that networking can offer opportunities too.

 

CVs

The English terms curriculum vitae and CV are also used in France (the US term résumé – originally from French – is a false friend as it means ‘summary’ in French.) As your CV is an introduction to a potential employer, it is essential to make it strong, highlighting your academic qualifications and professional experience. Most companies will expect your CV to be written in French. If you need help with this, this page provides translations of many of the standard phrases you will need for CV and cover letter writing. If the job advertisement is in English, you can leave your CV in English, though your cover letter should still be in French.

French CVs tend to be more concise and sober than those of other countries are. A French CV should generally be one page long, and absolutely no longer than two pages, even for a senior position. It may be a good idea to attach a recent passport-style photograph to the CV, especially if you are applying for a job where looks are important.

The CV must be well structured and written according to the French style. You should not start by writing ‘Curriculum Vitae’ at the top, but with your personal details: name (in the standard French format ‘SMITH John’), address, phone number (preferably a landline), nationality, age and marital status. If you are newly graduated, Education should come next. Include dates attended, the name of the educational institution, study programme, degree obtained and your study focus. You only need to give details of your highest academic qualification.

The Work Experience section should be arranged in reverse chronological order, accounting for any gaps. It should include start and end dates, job title and name of the organisation you worked for. Include brief details of primary responsibilities in your recent jobs. This section should be put before education if your work experience is more relevant now.

After this, include an IT and Language Skills section; this should give details of all your abilities in these areas. There is also the option of writing a projet professionnel, which is a brief description of your career goals in the next few years. Finally, you can add a Hobbies section if you like.

 

Cover Letters

Employers typically require a cover letter (lettre de motivation.) This helps to explain your motivation for applying for the position, the extent to which your skills and qualifications match the employer’s requirements and what you will bring to that particular role. This should be short, containing no more than 20 lines of body text, and be drawn up as a formal business letter. The letter must be in French, and most employers will expect it to be handwritten (not in biro.) This is because many employers indulge in the (scientifically dubious) practice of graphology.

In all correspondence with your prospective employer, check that your spelling and grammar are correct, avoid using informal or colloquial language and explain any abbreviations used.

 

Interviews

Many companies based in France will start the assessment process with psychological tests. Only of you pass these tests will you be considered for interview. In contrast, larger assessment centres and group interviews are rare in France. In recent years, telephone and Skype interviews have become more common, especially if the candidate is abroad at the time of interview. Do not hesitate to mention mutual acquaintances, as this will help to establish trust with the interviewer.

The French interviewing style is quite formal. Generally, interviewers will first give you the opportunity to introduce yourself, present your motivation and argue why you are a good candidate for the position. After this, employers will ask questions about your previous employment and test how your skills match their requirements. Finally, you will have the opportunity to ask questions about your potential future role. In all cases, it is crucial to show that you understand how the organisation operates, what its objectives are, and how you could contribute to its success.

 

Etiquette

When attending a job interview, punctuality is key! Additionally, it is important to address interviewers with sufficient formality and respect. Shake hands rather than kiss, and address people with title and surname, using vous rather than the over-familiar tu.

Another important rule is to dress appropriately. Even if the organisation does not have a specific dress code, it is still advisable to dress conservatively, in business wear in discreet colours. Women should wear something stylish and avoid eye-catching jewellery, heavy make-up and short skirts. Throughout the interview, make sure to sit straight and make appropriate eye contact with the interviewers. Show that you are professional and do not forget that a smile can take you a long way!

 

 

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