Author Letty David
First things first, if you’re job hunting in France, sign up to Pôle emploi; they will register you, and support you, and can prescribe free French lessons and subsidised training courses. You will be assigned a personal advisor (“conseiller”) whose job is to help you. If you have worked in the EU prior to arriving in France, bring them your U1 form which can entitle you to unemployment pay (long story and not the subject of this article, but well worth googling).
Now I’ll state the obvious; if you don’t already speak passable French, get learning as fast as possible. Find out if your Pôle emploi can get you free classes, and while you’re on the waiting list, get a card for your local ‘médiatheque’ (library) and borrow books, CDs and DVDs so you can immerse yourself completely. Médiathèques often host events, book clubs, and sometimes language exchange sessions as well so sign up for their newsletter and check their public notice board.
A friend arrived in France having only ever been here for a long weekend and learned enough to get a permanent job (CDI) by reading children’s books and listening to the radio. Within a year of working in a French speaking office, they were nearly fluent.
It isn’t easy, but it is doable; you just have to be determined. Watch French TV, subscribe to French YouTube channels, use French recipe books, and join local associations; yoga, dance, painting, football, whatever your hobbies are, do them in French! (Go to your mairie and ask for the list of sporting and cultural associations; some of them even do language exchange and lessons.) Switch your phone and other devices to French, even switch your mobile applications and Facebook to French. All this will help you to learn the language, but, almost more importantly, it will help you learn about French culture and meet French people, which is KEY to getting a job.
Aside from learning French, remember that your language skills and cultural background make you stand out.
An acquaintance found a permanent job in France after 3 months even though they spoke no French simply because they spoke fluent English which no one else in the office did.
List the languages you speak on your CV, and mention your background in your cover letter. Speaking English fluently is a great start, but it’s worth reminding people that you also have a cultural understanding of Anglophone/English/American/or other foreign clients and their expectations. Depending on your experience, you can also list that your work ethics and customer service skills were formed by your experience in American or British working environments (if that’s the case), meaning that you are hardworking and have excellent customer service skills for example. In short, no matter which country you come from, show HOW this makes you the better candidate. If you’ve lived and worked in Asia, that is likely to impress, so accentuate it in your application. Foreigners are exotic, so get out there and brag a little bit!
Your CV is expected to be one page maximum emailed in PDF format or printed out. Most people now include a picture of themselves. You can be as creative as you like with layout and colour schemes so it reflects who you are and your skills. Research the key skills expected for the jobs you are applying for (see fact-box at the end of this article) so that you know what is expected and which vocabulary to use. Make sure that they stand out by putting them in a box out, or in bold for example (soft skills are called “savoir être” and hard skills are “compétences”). Look at other people’s CVs on LinkedIn, and don’t hesitate to ask people for feedback on your CV. Be ready to regularly tinker with layout and update your CV.
This is expected to be no longer than one page in PDF format. Attach it to your application rather than send it as part of your email’s content.
Traditional layout is expected with your name, address, and contact details at the top left of the page, the employer’s name and address top right of the page, a subject line, an opening (“A l’attention de…recipient’s name”, or “Madame, Monsieur,”), followed by your text (and formule de politesse), and then your signature.
Your structure should have three parts; “you” (the company you’re contacting), “me” (your background, experience, qualities), “us” (how you can work together/what you can contribute to the company).
The first part shows that you have researched the company and are aware of their current projects and aims. The second is your chance to sell yourself. The third can be as short as one sentence synthesising your enthusiasm about working with the company and how you can drive their development.
Give concrete examples in your cover letter, and use keywords. This is your chance to add things that wouldn’t fit on your CV or expand on something that’s very important. Make sure to personalise your cover letter for each application.
Put the details of the position you are applying for in the subject line, for example; “Candidature au poste de -job title-” or “Candidature à l’annonce N3458” (advert number).
The content of the email should be short and sweet, something along these lines;
Madame, Monsieur, (use the person’s name if you have it)
Avec plus de 5 ans (insert number of years) d’expérience dans (your industry or speciality) , je vous adresse ma candidature au poste de (job title) (référence n°45656). Vous trouverez ci-joint mon CV ainsi qu’une lettre de motivation plus détaillée.
En vous remerciant par avance de l’attention que vous y porterez.
(Madame or Monsieur your Surname and Name)
Yes, some companies still ask for manuscript cover letters to be delivered in person or posted. If you’ve been asked for a manuscript letter or a writing sample (also a thing) it’s because you will be judged on neatness, handwriting, and presentation. Use plain white paper, blue or black ink (use a nice ink pen or fountain pen instead of a biro), and make sure to write neatly in straight lines. I always put a lined sheet of paper underneath the sheet I’m writing on to make sure my writing is evenly spaced and straight. Use cursive handwriting.
“Formules de politesse” are your opening and closing lines and they’re a bit of a fetish in France.
The easiest opening to use for emails and cover letters is “Monsieur -insert surname-” or “Madame -insert surname-”. If you are unaware of the gender or name of your recipient, you can use “Madame, Monsieur,”.
Closing formulas come in all shapes and sizes. Usually, the more important the person you’re addressing is, the longer and more complex your formula is. You can end emails slightly informally with; variations on “Cordialement”, “Salutations distinguées”, “Respectueusement” or “Salutations Respectueuses”.
When to remind someone of your application is a tricky subject. Try to find out what the deadline for applications is, and don’t contact a recruiter about your application until after that. If there is no information regarding the application deadline, most people wait about 2 weeks after they sent in their application to contact a company. There is no solid rule about this though, so play it by ear. Just try not to come across as desperate because it could make recruiters nervous. Don’t hesitate to ask your Pôle emploi conseiller or anyone in your network what they think about this subject as it can vary according to your situation.
If you have been given an interview for a job, it is usual to email the recruiter within 24/48hrs to thank them for their time. Keep it short and snappy.
Someone working at Pôle emploi recently told me that 60% – 70% of people hired in France get their jobs through the “marché caché”. He described the “marché ouvert” as the open job market; jobs advertised online and in papers; the visible part of the iceberg. The “marché caché” is the larger, hidden part of the iceberg; it encompasses jobs which are never advertised because they are offered directly to acquaintances, interns, or people who sent in spontaneous applications. Because of this, your most prized job catching apparatus is your network; your “réseau”. The larger your network is, the more flies will get caught in it.
Your network includes everyone you’ve ever met. Traditionally, people’s network would include school mates, ex-teachers, parent’s colleagues, mentors, and extended family members. If you’re new to an area and don’t have a lifetime’s worth of acquaintances stored up, you’ll need to start from scratch. Tell everyone that you’re job hunting! Practice dropping it into the conversation; mention it at your children’s schools, to people you meet at social events, your neighbours, and your local baker (bakers know everyone, especially in smaller towns and villages). It’s a good idea to carry business cards you can hand out if anyone looks even vaguely interested.
Ask your Pôle emploi conseiller about their network; do they know anyone in your line of work who would be happy to meet up with you or chat over the phone?
Meeting people in person has to be your aim because it builds trust. People who have met you in person are more likely to recommend you and help you. You can do this by going door to door handing out cards and CVs and speaking to people. However, this can be very time consuming, and you risk only speaking to people who don’t have the power to hire you such as secretaries or interns. This is why I strongly recommend using LinkedIn.
If you don’t already have a LinkedIn profile, sign up and get going. Make sure that your profile picture is an accurate representation of you, in focus, looking professional. It’s a good idea to have a banner picture; you can find one by googling “your industry/speciality + linkedin banner”. Your headline should list your speciality and that you are actively seeking work. If you speak several languages, make sure to fill out your profile all of them (find out how here). The more detailed your profile is and the more skills you list, the more likely to are to come up when recruiters search for candidates. Make sure you list your current location or mention that you are mobile. Start adding people to your network.
Use the search bar to find people in your industry near you and ask to connect with them. When you do this, there’s an option for adding a “note” to your request. I recommend adding a note explaining that you have recently moved to the area, are job hunting in X industry, and are trying to expand your network. You can also use this note to ask for an “entretien de réseau”.
“Entretiens de réseau” are networking interviews. Start by asking people you admire if they would be so kind as to share their expert advice with you. Ask lots of people because not everyone will respond. When someone agrees, organise a phone or Skype call, or a meeting in person (even better if you can). Prepare for the meeting by rehearsing your elevator pitch introducing yourself, your experience and skills, and laying out your aims. Then prepare some questions to ask. You can also ask for constructive criticism on your CV and cover letters.
Ask about your interviewee about their network; do they know anyone else who would speak to you?
Do they know other people in your industry?
Do they know of companies you could approach who might be interested in your profile?
The idea is for you to get advice but also expand your network using other people’s networks. If you didn’t meet your interviewee on LinkedIn, ask if you can add them. After someone has given you an entretien de réseau, send them a thank you email and demonstrate how they have helped (send your updated CV and list the steps you have taken). When you do find a job, let them know, and thank them again for their support.
Once you’ve applied to all the job offers you’ve found advertised, make a list of organisations you would like to work for or whose missions or ethics you admire, and send them spontaneous applications. People often look through their archived spontaneous applications before even advertising a position so this can give your profile extra privilege.
Ask your Pôle emploi conseiller about doing “service civique”, an “immersion professionnelle”, or a “stage”; which are all great ways of getting a foot in at the door of whichever industry you want to break into. You’re more likely to be hired by someone who knows you, or a friend of someone who knows you.
It’s a good idea to mention in your spontaneous applications that you are available to undertake an “immersion professionnelle” with the aim of developing your skills and making yourself known. “Immersion professionnelle” is an unpaid opportunity to integrate a company for a short time (usually a week) so that you can develop your skills, learn about the organisation, and demonstrate what a good employee you would be. Asking for such an opportunity is a good way of standing out; if you undertake an “immersion”, you will expand your network and are more likely to be hired later on by that company as they know you. A contract is signed between your Pôle emploi, the company, and yourself, laying out the aims of the “immersion”. This is designed to protect you from being exploited. You can download an information pack to send out with applications on the pole emploi site (see fact-box).
“Stages” are internships; the pay isn’t huge, but this can be a great way of building experience of working in France with French people, and might help you find your dream job. You can search for “stages” on the Pôle emploi site and all other job hunting sites.
“Service civique” is similar to volunteering but you get paid between 500 and 600 euros a month. This can be a great way of practising French, meeting people, and developing skills to enhance your CV. For more information and to search and apply for positions go here.
January-April: This is a good time to job hunt in most industries as it’s the new year and new financial year. If you work in tourism/hospitality/entertainment, this is when people hire for the summer season. As companies come to the end of their financial year in April, personnel might be very busy and take time to get back to you so don’t stress; send a polite email reminding them of you about two weeks after you applied.
March-May: Good time to find last minute summer seasonal jobs. If you’re thinking about doing training or pursuing further education, you need to get organised now to start in September.
June-July: If you work in tourism/hospitality/entertainment and want a winter seasonal job at a ski resort, this is a good time to start looking as the good jobs with included accommodation tend to go early.
July-August: Bear in mind that the high summer season is from approximately the 14th July to 15th August; if you work in tourism you’re unlikely to get any rest during this period. If you’re job hunting in the tourism industry, make sure you’re available during this period; no one wants to hire staff who have holidays planned when they’re most needed!
August: If it’s the 1st August and you still don’t have a job, it’s time to take a break from sending out applications. Most of France shuts down over August; even my local nursery school and bakery close for three weeks. You’re unlikely to receive many responses from companies until the first week of September. This makes August a good time for you to recharge your energy, focus on updating your CV, practising your French, improving your cover letters and LinkedIn profile etc. Why not improve your chances further by taking an online course? There are plenty of free courses run by universities which can enrich your CV and show that you’re a proactive candidate (see fact-box).
September: The first Monday of September is “la rentrée des classes” or “la rentrée”; children go back to school, adults go back to work, and you’ve got a few months of productivity before the Christmas shopping season starts and things tail off again. This is a good time to grab people’s attention when they’re freshly rested from their summer break. You might not get many responses in the first week of September as people catch up with colleagues, attend meetings, and sift through all the emails they received in August, but by the 15th September, things should be more dynamic. This is a good time to expand your network, ask to meet people, search for mentors, and apply for jobs. September is also when most associations and meetups start again. Ask your local mairie or google “forum des associations” in your area; these are like Freshers fairs where associations and clubs have stands and hold displays to attract new members in the autumn. Joining clubs and associations will help you expand your network and integrate. This is also a good time to search for last minute winter season jobs.
December: This can be a difficult month; some people have given up by this time and have left the office early to go skiing and Christmas shopping. However, some people will be desperately trying to get things organised (and hire people) before going on holiday, so it’s worth continuing to make yourself known. You can also use the season as an excuse to wish people “Joyeuses Fêtes” or a “Bonne fin d’année” by email (remind them of your existence and dynamic attitude), and schedule January meetings with mentors or people from your network.
January: In France, New Years cards are more popular than Christmas cards. In fact, people spend most of January and February wishing each other a happy new year. Again, this is a great excuse to send out messages wishing people a “bonne année et bonne santée” and attaching a cheeky updated version of your CV, or asking for an entretien de réseau.
Sign up to Pôle emploi + check job listings here
If you’re in the Gironde department, follow their Pôle emploi Facebook page; they’re active and host networking and job dating events all over the Bordeaux area.
France université numérique is a platform hosting free digital courses run by French universities. The courses cover a wide range of subjects and some are available in English.
Use MeetUp to find social events and even meetings aimed at professionals in your area: “After work” meetups often attract a large crowd of people worth adding to your network.
If you are in Gironde, check out Bordeaux Expats Facebook pages and groups, as the international community is very active.
Your CV and lettre de motivation:
Search these sites to find out about key skills in your industry/job, and French vocabulary:
ONISEP is the national office for information about training and professions. Their site is a gold mine of information about education and jobs. Visit this page for practical info about job hunting, tips for writing your CV etc.:
Find free CV and cover letter templates here:
Layout template for lettre de motivation:
Great advice for putting together your motivation letter here
This blog is full of great tips and info.
Christopher is based in the Bordeaux area and also offers help with CVs, cover letters, and interview preparation. He has a big network so check him out on LinkedIn too.
LinkedIn groups to join:
Job pour TOI Sud Ouest (people post job adverts here, also a good place to share your CV):
Linkeat&Events Sud Ouest (lunchtime networking events organised all over the southwest)
Business Sud Ouest (for business owners, but still a useful place to be present)
People to add on LinkedIn:
Stephane Pusset runs the Linkeat events; he knows loads of people in lots of different professions and his events are incredibly worthwhile: he’s very approachable and always happy to help.
Amandine Carrier is a coach specialising in helping people with their CV and interview skills. She can take you through mock interviews and give constructive criticism in person or over Skype.
Entretiens de réseau information pack and template:
Immersion professionnelle information pack:
About the author:
Letty David was born and brought up in France but her family is originally British. Being bilingual but not understanding British culture at all, she wanted to learn all about it so she spent 5 years in Scotland catching up on English TV, discovering Scottish music, and bingeing on curry… She is now proud to call herself not only bilingual but bicultural. She is happy to be back in France, even though she knows that she’ll never properly fit in anywhere because she’s not 100% British or French… She is however a true European!