A guide on how to write a French-style CV and cover letter, plus job interview tips to give you the best chance of finding a job in France.
The job search in France is time-consuming. Once you find a French job that you like it is important to present your cover letter and curriculum vitae (CV) in a format that French interviewers expect in order to increase your chances of being hired. In French the word résumé simply means ‘summary’, so instead the term ‘un CV‘ or ‘un curriculum vitae‘ is typical in France.
There’s more to writing un curriculum vitae Français than just translating the CV you used in your home country; you can improve your chances of finding work in France by presenting your skills in a French-style CV. You’ll also need to know what to expect in a French job interview in order to avoid making behavioral errors. Here are a few tips on how to apply for a job in France.
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Jobs in France: the application
You can send an application for a job in France by e-mail, through an online application process, or by mailing your CV.
Write your application in French or English?
Send in your CV and letter in the language of the job advert. You’re most likely going to need to prepare a French CV and covering letter. Even for multilingual jobs, you may need to provide both.
If you’re applying in French, ask a native speaker to read through your CV and cover letter before you submit it in order to check for grammatical or spelling errors on your curriculum vitae Français.
Writing a French-style CV
Keep your CV formal and concise. If you’re applying for a senior position, try not to exceed two or three sides of A4. If it’s a junior position, keep it to one side only.
Start with your name, address, phone number, e-mail address, age, and marital status. In France, the surname comes before the first name. Be open about your nationality. Mention if you have a French work permit.
Next, include a projet professionnel, which is a few lines summarizing who you are and what you want to achieve.
List your work experience or expérience professionnelle in reverse chronological order. Give the name of the employer, including the sector if it’s a foreign company. Follow this with bullet points for each responsibility.
Next comes education or formation. List all educational achievements, including industry certificates and training; educational qualifications are highly valued in France. List education first if it’s your strong point.
Then it’s langues. Highlight your skills in detail, especially if you’re multilingual. Specify your mother tongue and list your proficiency level for others, including any French courses you’re taking. Don’t overestimate your French.
Under informatique, list technical skills.
Lastly, include any hobbies under centres d’intérêt, especially if they’re relevant to the job. Prepare yourself to talk about them in an interview. List professional memberships in an appropriate place.
Be honest. Don’t think that just because a company is foreign that they won’t check.
Many French companies expect a passport-sized photo to accompany the CV, although it is not obligatory. Choose a headshot that projects professionalism, appropriate for the position. Resist the temptation to cannibalize a group shot.
French-style cover letter
You can type your cover letter, or une lettre de motivation, or write it by hand using an ink pen and good quality writing paper – some French companies employ graphologists to analyze handwriting to assess candidates. Write your name and address in the top left corner and the name and address of the person handling your application, along with a job reference, if you have one, in the top right corner.
The letter should be short, no more than 15 to 20 lines long. Highlight your most recent work experience. Set out, with succinct examples, why you are the right person for the job.
Don’t enclose references or educational certificates; you can take these along to the interview. However, The Society for Human Resource Management found in a study that references are in the top three of selection strategies used by hiring managers when selecting suitable candidates for different roles. Cleverism.com can help you compile your job references together.
French job interviews and the selection procedure
Attending up to four job interviews in France is normal for some jobs. For French job interviews, you should do your homework about the company and position you’re applying for beforehand, as well as have an understanding of French employment jargon like CDIs (permanent contracts) and CDDs (temporary contracts). You should arrive on time, know your CV back to front, be ready to explain how your experience relates to the job, and have a few questions ready for the interviewers.
French interviewers will be looking at your personality as well, besides your experience and skills. An interview, for example, could include psychological testing or you might be asked to write a short motivational letter by hand so a graphologist can assess your personality and advise the job interviewers about your suitability for the job. For most jobs, you will need to show that you speak fluent French.
French business culture is typically hierarchical, so be respectful. French interviews tend to be quite formal; don’t expect a joke or small talk to put you at your ease. Equally, don’t make jokey or over-familiar comments yourself, and avoid using slang words or informal conjugations. It won’t come across as friendly, just unprofessional. Be very polite and positive but not boastful.
French interview tips
- You should dress and groom smartly.
- Address the interviewer as Monsieur or Madam.
- Always use vous and not tu, even if the interviewer is younger or the same age as you. Wait for the interviewer to invite you to tutoyer them.
- Shake hands on greeting – strictly no kissing in interviews.
- Don’t sit until you’re invited.
- Be prepared to be asked personal questions, for example, whether you’re married, or if you’re planning to have children
- Don’t interrupt the interviewer.
- Don’t criticize former employers.
- Keep to the facts – don’t be tempted to lie about past jobs because they were in a different country. French interviewers can, and occasionally do, email or pick up the phone to check.
- Provide examples to illustrate your achievements.
- Take along copies of references and educational qualifications.
- Prepare for questions about your hobbies if you’ve mentioned them in your CV.