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.
Job search in France is time consuming, once you find a 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 typically used 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 and experience in a French-style CV and cover letter. You’ll also need to know what to expect in a French job interview in order to avoid making behavioural 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 email, through an online application process or, more commonly, by posting your CV and a cover letter to the company.
Write your application in French or English?
Send in your CV and letter in the language of the job advert, so you’re most likely going to need to prepare a French CV and covering letter. Even for multi-lingual jobs you may be asked for 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 curriculum vitae Français formal and concise. If you’re applying for a senior position or have been working for many years, try not to go over two or three sides of A4 unless you have considerable information that could aid you getting the job, such as specific projects or research. If it’s a junior position, then keep it to one side only unless you’ve had some particularly interesting or important jobs that you want to include – but if you do, be succinct.
Start with your full name, address, phone number, email address, age and marital status. Remember that in France, the surname is written before the first name. Be open about your nationality and mention if you have a work permit or not. You can find more information about legally working in France in our guide to French work permits.
Next you should include a projet professionnel, which is a few lines summarising briefly who you are and what you have achieved or want to achieve.
List your work experience or expérience professionnelle in reverse chronological order with dates, so that the most recent goes first. Give the name of the company you worked for, including the sector if it’s a foreign company that a French employer may not know, and your job title. Follow this with bullet points for each main responsibility or achievement.
Next comes education or formation. Make sure you list all your educational achievements, including industry certificates and training, as educational qualifications are highly valued in France. Due to the high emphasis on education, you may consider listing education before experience if education is your strong point. Include the name of the university or college with dates, the courses taken and the results, ideally with their French equivalent.
Then it’s langues. This is important, as you’re a foreigner. Highlight your language skills in detail, especially if you’re bilingual. Specify your mother tongue and list your level of ability for any other languages, including any French language courses you’re currently taking. Don’t say your French is better than it actually is – you’ll be found out in the interview.
Under informatique you can list your computer skills.
Lastly, include any hobbies under centres d’intérêt, especially if they’re relevant to the job – and be prepared to talk about them in an interview.
Listing professional memberships in an appropriate place on your CV can also be beneficial.
Be honest: don’t think that just because a company is in another country (or continent) that a French employer won’t check up – they will.
Make sure the CV is completely up-to-date, with any gaps in between jobs or study accounted for.
Lots of French companies expect a passport-sized photo to accompany the CV, although it is not obligatory and increasingly less expected. Choose a head shot which projects a professional image, appropriate for the position for which you’re applying – resist the temptation to cannibalise a group shot: take some photos specifically for this purpose.
Europass provides downloadable French-CV templates and instructions on writing your French CV. You can also see an example of a French curriculum vitae template or a shorter one-page summary template. You can also get your CV checked by TopCV who will help you on your way to finding that perfect job.
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 analyse 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 and 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
You may be asked to attend up to four job interviews in France 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 so 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 friendly, just unprofessional. Be very polite and positive but not boastful.
French interview tips
- You should be smartly dressed (no jeans or trainers) and well groomed.
- 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 criticise 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.