Presentation is the word you want to remember when you write a CV or prepare for a job interview. A CV in France is always a very formal affair and should be impeccable and error free. As for job interviews, they can be pretty formal too.
Preparing a CV
If you can’t present your CV in French, then general consensus is that your CV can be in English, depending on the job posting, but the cover letter must always be written in French.
Here is a useful link to create a bilingual CV online using European Union standard formatting:
A cover letter should always be handwritten, unless it is specified that you can submit it online. Bear in mind that the French are keen fans of graphology, which means your letter might be analysed for clues to your personality. With this in mind, avoid writing sentences that slope downwards (the sign of a defeatist nature) or sloppy joins (which suggest a slapdash character).
Keep it short and sweet. ‘When I read a cover letter I want to know straight away what this person can offer me that no-one else will be able to provide’ says Joel Weismann, manager of a textiles company in the south of France.
For maximum impact (and minimum chance of spelling mistakes) keep your cover letter to one page and clearly state why you want the job and what you can offer the company in question. The same rule applies when it comes to writing your CV. Unless you have solid gold qualifications, keep your resume to a single sheet.
What do I write at the top?
Head your CV with the following information: name, address (in France, if you have one), phone number (include a landline if you can – this definitely adds credibility), email address, nationality and marital status. Unless you want to be called ‘Mr Paul’ during the interview, don’t forget that in France names are written ‘back to front’ i.e.: surname first.
What comes next?
Education generally comes next, with your most recent qualifications listed first and primary school feats listed right at the end. Give the address of each educational establishment, subjects studied, dates and qualifications achieved. Make sure you mention any relevant additional courses or specialised training that should be taken into account.
Follow education with a list of jobs (again, most recent first) and don’t be afraid to give detailed information about what each one involved. Susan, who now works for a well-known chain of hotels, says, ‘I was a waitress for three years but it didn’t look good on my CV, so I set out my duties – taking phone calls, organising wedding buffets, co-ordinating a team of six waitresses – my CV looked far more impressive,’.
Any special skills?
If you speak fluent Russian, or have a black belt in judo, this is the time to mention it under the heading ‘Special skills’. Remember there is such thing as too much information, keep it professional. If you have references available, add a line at the bottom saying so.
And before you post that envelope… remember to add a passport-sized colour photo.
Preparing for a job interview
When it comes to job interviews in France it’s best to behave as if the clock’s been turned back 30, or 40 years. Except in the larger towns the French workplace still tends to be pretty conservative, which means long hair for men is best tied into a ponytail, earrings and piercings out. Women should wear light makeup and a minimum of jewellery. Tattoos are best covered up.
Revise your wardrobe
French business attire is generally sober and you only need to browse shop windows à la rentrée, or during les soldes to see that seasons tend to be colour-coded, with pastel shades and summer spots of colour fading to sober burgundy or blue in time for the long decline into winter. Avoid distracting your potential employer away from your personal skills, which is what you are there to communicate.
Do some research
Find out everything you can about the company before the interview, use any information that you can angle to suit your own capacities and don’t be afraid to slip in a few knowledgeable remarks. ‘I got my job because I spent a few hours researching the company before I had the interview,’ says Sandra, who now works as a buyer for a large clothing company. ‘I spent time on the internet and discovered that the company had just landed a big deal in the States and planned to expand. When I brought this up at the interview – and pointed out how useful it was that my maternal tongue was English – my boss was so impressed she more or less hired me on the spot.’
Say who you know
You may perceive name dropping as pretty cheesy but in France it’s a fact of life, so if you know someone who knows your potential employer, don’t hesitate to say so. Not only will this give you a common topic of conversation, it will also establish that you’re the sort of person who knows the sort of people this employer likes to know.
The French workplace generally functions according to a well-defined pecking order, so it’s worth knowing the titles of your interlocutors – not only Madame, Monsieur, etc, but the proper title of their position in the company – and using them when appropriate. Unless you are a personal friend, first names are definitely out and it’s always ‘vous’.
Last, but not least, expect ‘nosy’
Expect to be asked the most intimate questions during a job interview – and don’t think it depends on the function you’re required to fulfil. A female shop assistant is just as likely to be asked if she’s planning to have children as a female engineer (i.e. is she likely to cost the company in maternity leave?)and a single barman will be on the same par as an unwed architect when it comes to intrusive questions about wedding plans (i.e. are you the sort of man we can rely on?)
Help writing a covering letter
•With thanks to Heidi Fuller-love