Cover letters (lettres de motivation) are very important in France. First of all, they have to be written in French. They should explain to the recruiter why you are applying for the job and how you fit their requirements. You should also give examples of this based on your most recent work experience. The letter should be concise, occupying no more than three quarters of a page. Finally, education (grades and achievements) and the qualifications you have received are very valuable in France so you should definitely include them, but avoid talking about your degree if it is not relevant to the job.
A typical cover letter format:
- The top left-hand side of the page has your name and surname, full address and telephone number with international code.
- The top right-hand side includes the date followed by the company address and the person to whom the letter is addressed (A l'attention de M./Mme... ).
- The letter’s subject or reference (e.g. Sujet: Poste de Junior en Marketing).
- The cover letter itself.
- The bottom right-hand side has the candidate’s signature.
In addition, you can also include a reference from a previous job. It has been proven that references are among the most used criteria by employers in France when choosing a candidate.
Curriculum Vitae (CV, résumé)
As always, a solid, well-formatted CV is essential. Be careful though as the typical format of a French CV may differ dramatically from your country. For instance, education tends to be put first. The entire CV is usually a single page, but with a longer professional career (over 10 years) or for senior positions, it can be up to two pages.
The format of a CV can vary depending on the industry and nature of work. It can be conservative or the applicant may benefit from showing some originality. The classical format is usually based into three main parts.
- Name, address and personal telephone number (with international code numbers).
- Date of birth, place of birth (in some cases), marital status and nationality.
- Information concerning your religion, state of health, family and political and trade union affiliations should not be shown on your CV.
Professional experience (expérience professionnelle)
This is the most important part of the resumé for most French employers. It should be in reverse chronological order so that your most recent work experience is at the beginning of the CV. One paragraph should be dedicated to each period of your professional career and they should include:
- Dates, company name and location (with mention of the industry and company activities if necessary).
- The title of your current role and your position in the company’s hierarchy.
- Responsibilities (in terms of employees and budget).
- Achievements within the company.
Although this section usually goes after ‘professional experience’, you always have the freedom to swap the order of the two if you consider that education is your biggest strength or you don’t have enough work experience. It should include the following:
- Diplomas and qualifications obtained, giving emphasis to the ones related to university or vocational education.
- The beginning and termination dates of courses.
- If possible also include the French equivalents and a description of the content.
- Courses taken during employment (mention only the most important ones).
- Language skills and level of proficiency (very important, especially when you are a foreigner).
Personal activities, hobbies, miscellaneous
Including this section in your resume can be optional and in the majority of cases it receives much less attention. However, a few well chosen items can give recruiters a better picture of your personality. This is especially useful if they are related in some way to your profession. Examples could include: extra-curricular responsibilities (student bodies, associations), leisure activities and travel experience (e.g. if you have already visited France), etc.
There is also a European curriculum vitae model, developed by CEDEFOP, the European Centre for the development of Vocational Training, aiming to offer a comprehensive standardised overview of education attainments and work experience. It is not extensively used in French corporations, but could be an advantage when applying for a company working at a European level or within EU institutions.
After you've sent the application
Once you start sending out CVs to companies, don't sit back and wait for companies to call you. Be proactive and follow up with phone calls. Start a week after with a first call, asking if your application was received. If somebody at the company promises to call you back and fails to do so, do not be afraid to call them again. It is important to be persistent.
When invited to an interview (entretien), make sure you have a good understanding of what the company does and find out at least the basics about the business (try the company’s website).
Depending on the position and the company, interviews vary enormously in format - if not given details, ask in advance. Bring photocopies of certificates of employment (if you have any), references and diplomas with you. You may be given a psychometric or specific functional/knowledge-based test. If there is something you do not understand or are not sure about, ask the person handling your application for clarification or more information.
Here are a few tips and advice on how to have a successful interview in France:
- Unless you are told otherwise, you should always address the interviewer with honorifics (Madame or Monsieur and the last name).
- Same as with Madame or Monsieur, you should always use the formal “vous” instead of “tu” to address someone.
- Avoid greeting the interviewer as you would with your French friends (two kisses), always shake hands.
- Be prepared to be asked personal questions as this is a common practice in France.
Always follow up an interview with an email, note or even a phone call. Thank the interviewer for their time, ask them if you can provide any further information and express your interest in the position if this is the case. If you think there was something that was not clear in the interview or a point occurred to you afterwards, take advantage of the opportunity to do something about it. Don't be afraid to ask whether they have made a decision or when they will make one.
Lastly, don’t forget to have your social media profiles, especially LinkedIn, updated. Most companies nowadays will probably check these kind of profiles before hiring someone.