Discover how to write the perfect French CV and find out how to make a great first impression at job interviews in France.
There are many avenues to finding employment in France. For instance, some people choose to work as freelancers while others opt for the recruitment agency route. But whatever path you take, the first step is writing a French-style CV that makes you stand out from the crowd and land a job interview which you will then need to prepare for.
So to help you begin your recruitment journey, this article outlines everything you need to know about the hiring process in France, including the following:
- Applying for a job in France: what to expect
- How do you write a French CV?
- How do you write a cover letter in France?
- Job interviews in France
- Recruitment tests and tasks in France
- Qualifications in France
- What happens after the job interview?
- Useful resources
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Applying for a job in France: what to expect
First, you should have a good idea of how job advertisements work in France. Most of them start by specifying whether the position is a CDI or CDD contract.
A CDI or contrat de travail à durée indéterminée, is a permanent contract, which is widely considered to be a sign of stability. It is also highly regarded on dossiers for renting a property in France. A CDD, or contrat à durée déterminée, on the other hand, is a fixed-term contract that can last up to 18 months and can be renewed by your employer.
Job advertisements in France also include a job description, as well as the desired qualifications and education level needed for the role. They are generally written in French or English. However, even if the advert was posted in English, it is possible that you will be contacted by a member of HR who does not speak English. Therefore, don’t be alarmed if you receive a call back in French.
It is worth noting that in France, it is not uncommon to bypass the job advertisement step altogether. In fact, many companies have a section on their website where people can place a candidature spontanée (spontaneous application) where you can send your CV and express your interest in working for the company, with no reference to a job listing.
If you are a native English speaker, put ‘native English’, ‘anglophone natif‘, or ‘anglais natif‘ in job search engines. This can increase your chances of applying to a company that is interested in your profile. It is also better not to look for work in the summer as most French people take nearly the entire month of August off to go on vacation, which means offices are quiet or even closed.An insider tip from our local editor
Notably, some French companies may post job adverts that specify that they are searching exclusively for native English speakers.
How do you write a French CV?
Of course, when looking for a job in France, it is crucial to have a great French CV that stands out from the crowd and helps you to make a great first impression. With this in mind, below are some tips you can follow to get noticed.
You should send your French CV and cover letter in the language the job listing is written in unless it is otherwise specified.
Your CV should start with your name, address, phone number, e-mail address, age, nationality, and marital status. In France, your last name is written in capital letters and comes before your first name.
You should then include a projet professionnel, which is a few lines summarizing who you are and what you want to achieve.
The French value educational qualifications. Therefore, it is important to list your education first, followed by your work experience (expérience professionnelle), starting with your most recent position.
At the bottom of the CV, you should include a compétences section where you list any industry certificates, languages, and technical skills that you have.
Although it is not mandatory, many French companies expect you to include a passport-sized photo in your CV. Therefore, it’s a good idea to attach a professional headshot. French CVs also tend to be designed well, and candidates may use a colorful or creative design to make it stand out.
Tips on writing a French CV
- Keep your CV brief and impactful, and try not to exceed two sides of A4
- Highlight your language skills in detail, especially if you are multilingual. Specify your native language and list your proficiency level for others. If you know your level on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), use it to be as specific as possible (B1, B2, C1, C2).
- Include an informatique section where you list your technical skills
- Include any hobbies at the bottom under centres d’intérêt, especially if they are relevant to the job, and prepare to talk about them in an interview
- List any professional memberships in an appropriate place on your CV
- Use keywords in your CV that match the qualifications and skills outlined in the job advertisement
If you need more guidance constructing your resume, there are numerous online CV builders and templates that can help you put it together:
Some helpful French CV templates (sites in French) include:
How do you write a cover letter in France?
It is customary to send a cover letter along with your CV when applying for jobs in France. However, you should check to see if the job advertisement specifies it.
An impactful cover letter should be short, succinct, and generally broken into three paragraphs: one that highlights your experience, another that focuses on the company, and a final paragraph that explains why you are a great fit for the position.
Notably, the tone of the letter should be appropriate for the role you are applying for. However, if you are not sure what tone to use, it’s best to go for something more formal, which is the most common style in French job applications.
Here are some additional tips to help you write a cover letter in France:
- Only send a cover letter if the application requires one
- Do not exceed one page
- Don’t forget to include your contact information
- Try to find out who the letter should be addressed to
- Always have someone proofread your cover letter, as grammar and spelling mistakes are treated harshly in France
Phrases and accented letters
Even if the job you are applying for is advertised in English, it is useful to know some key interview phrases in French when applying for jobs in the country. Below are some ones to learn:
- I am happy to apply for the position of… – J’ai le plaisir de poser ma candidature pour le poste de…
- Currently I am working for… and my responsibilities include… – Je travaille actuellement pour… et mes responsabilités incluent…
- Please find my résumé / CV attached – Veuillez trouver mon CV ci-joint
- I am available for interview on… – Je suis disponible pour un entretien le…
Job interviews in France
Job interviews in France tend to follow a similar format, although there are some differences depending on the company culture.
Interviews typically start with an informal, introductory call with HR, followed by an initial interview, a competence test, and additional interviews with finalists.
Of course, it is important to know what to expect at job interviews in France and to be as prepared as possible when meeting potential new employers. With this in mind, here are some key things to keep in mind.
What to expect in a French job interview
French business culture is typically hierarchical and interviews tend to be quite formal. Therefore, don’t expect to hear a joke or take part in small talk during the meeting. Similarly, it is best to avoid making jokey or over-familiar comments.
You should also avoid using slang words or informal conjugations as this won’t come across as friendly, but rather unprofessional. Instead, try to remain polite and positive without being boastful.
Generally speaking, extroverted personalities are valued, but not more so than introverted ones. Therefore, you don’t need to feel pressured to be loud or over-the-top. Smiling and appearing composed and well-prepared are much more likely to impress your interviewer.
The French value people who are knowledgeable and motivated. Therefore, one of the first interview questions you may be asked is, “Tell me what you know about the company.” Of course, it is crucial to research the company’s history, major achievements, and current news beforehand so you are well prepared to answer this.
You can also impress your interviewer by researching their career and asking questions that show you have looked them up and are interested in what brought them to the company.
What is the dress code for job interviews?
As mentioned, although French business culture can vary depending on the company, the default is formal. Therefore, it is best to wear formal attire and show up to job interviews well-groomed.
French style is generally more understated, so people tend to wear dark colors and avoid flashy jewelry in professional settings. Makeup typically looks more natural and less heavily applied than in other cultures.
If you are on a tight budget, the France-based charity Emmaüs France has stores that provide professional attire for low-income job searchers. They also offer workshops on how to dress for job interviews.
Questions to expect in an interview
Here are typical questions that you may be asked in a job interview in France:
- Tell me about your work experience
- Why do you want to work for (company)?
- What qualifications do you have for this position?
- Are you looking for a CDI or CDD contract?
- Will you need visa sponsorship now or in the future?
- Why do you want to leave your current job?
- When are you available to start working?
- Do you have any questions?
It is illegal in France for potential employers to ask candidates personal questions such as their marital status and family situation and this can incur serious consequences. In fact, the interviewer could spend up to three years in prison or have to pay a fine of up to €45,000 if a candidate sues them for asking them. They should only ask questions that evaluate the candidate’s professional skills and aptitudes.An insider tip from our local editor
Of course, it is important to have some answers prepared for these questions ahead of the interview to ensure that you don’t get caught off guard on the day.
Questions to ask in an interview
You will usually have a chance to ask your own questions toward the end of the interview, so make sure you have some prepared.
To leave a lasting impression, it’s a good idea to ask a strong, original question at the beginning and the end of the interview. Here are some you might want to consider:
- Can you tell me more about the company culture?
- Could you walk me through a typical workday? (if there is one)
- What skill will be the most important for the person who accepts this role?
- How have you learned and grown at this company?
- How many collaborators will I be working with?
- Are there opportunities for advancement within the company?
When are salary and benefits discussed during the hiring process?
Some, but not all, positions advertise salary and benefits in the job advertisement. Employers generally discuss this fairly early in the hiring process.
If the negotiation takes place in French, make sure you understand the difference between salaire brut and salaire net, which is gross salary and net salary respectively.
You should also clarify whether the position is classified as cadre (executive) or non-cadre (non-executive), as this can affect the number of vacation days, notice periods, and other factors.
Notably, it is not uncommon in France for employers to end the interview process with a candidate if the candidate’s salary expectations do not fit their offer. While there are exceptions, when an employer says they cannot offer a higher salary, it is generally not a negotiation tactic.
Also, keep in mind that employers often ask you to report your previous salary and may base their salary offer on your response.
Tips for job interviews in France
Here are some final tips for your next job interview in France:
- Address the interviewer as Monsieur or Madam
- Always use vous (the formal ‘you’) and not tu (the informal ‘you’), even if the interviewer is younger or the same age as you. Wait for them to invite you to tutoyer (familiarize yourself with) them.
- Do not sit until you are invited
- If they provide a tour of the office, say Bonjour to employees you pass by
- Never criticize former employers
- Prepare for questions about your hobbies if you have mentioned them in your CV
- Provide examples to illustrate your achievements
- Shake hands when greeting
- Stick to the facts; don’t 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.
- Take along copies of references and educational qualifications
- Try not to interrupt the interviewer
- You may need to bring documents or other materials to the interview, so double-check that you have them ahead of time
Online and phone interviews in France
Job interviews can take place over the phone or via a video call. Here are some tips to help you prepare for remote interviews:
- Dress professionally, even for telephone interviews
- Double-check the time of the interview to account for different time zones
- If your telephone interview is in French, it may be difficult to listen and understand, so stay in a quiet place and do not hesitate to ask the speaker to repeat. Wearing headphones may also help.
- Make sure you have a clean and tidy background; if possible, take the call in a study or office
- Make sure your internet connection is stable
Recruitment tests and tasks in France
French interviewers look at your experience, skills, and personality, so an interview could include tests on anything from personality to writing skills or critical thinking.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is standard in the corporate world for gauging an employee’s personality. Notably, employers generally create skills and case study tests in-house.
Most, but not all, jobs in France require you to speak fluent French. Therefore, you can expect to be tested on your knowledge of the language. A potential employer may conduct some of the interview in English and some of it in French. They may also ask questions in either language.
Some jobs may require only spoken proficiency while others may require a high level of written proficiency as well. You should clarify the company’s expectations if it does not appear clear.
Qualifications in France
In France, master’s degrees, listed as BAC+5 on job advertisements, are a very common educational route and are often required for well-paid positions at companies.
If you need your foreign diploma recognized to work or study in France, you can do so through the ENIC-NARIC France Center.
Notably, if you do not yet have the right to work in France, you will have trouble finding employment in the country. While some companies do sponsor work visas for foreigners who do not come from European Union countries, some also hesitate to do so.
What happens after the job interview?
It is a good idea to send a follow-up email to the interviewer after a job interview, thanking them for meeting with you and restating your interest in the position.
Companies in France tend to contact candidates regardless of the outcome, however, the wait could be anything from days to weeks. If you haven’t heard anything, it is acceptable to send a follow-up email. In fact, this is normal in France and won’t make you come across as being too pushy.
The application process can take anywhere from one month to longer, depending on the company. Unsuccessful candidates may not be contacted, but if they are, it will be via email. Successful candidates who move forward in the hiring process, on the other hand, may receive a call or email.
Most contracts begin with a trial period (période d’essai), which can typically last anywhere from three to six months, and are eligible for renewal.