So you’re a Francophile, are you?
Is your French so good that people often mistake you for a native?
Did you feel the need to live and breathe France so much so that you up and moved there?
Well, in order to live the French life, you’ll need to make some French money. This means getting a job, which means acing your entretien d’embauche (job interview).
Acing your interview is all about playing the game, which is to say, striking a balance between being professional and personable. Walk with me.
Resources for Being on Point for Your French Job Interview
Cover letter and other required documents
- Polite salutations. This list contains the proper openings and closings for your lettre de motivation (cover letter). These salutations will also be helpful in crafting the thank you message to your interviewer.
- The right words. Check out this list of 206 adjectives to add a bit of extra oomph to your cover letter.
- Europass. A must for expats, Europass is your one-stop shop for those who need to write CVs, cover letters and convey their skills and qualifications in a way that conforms to the expectations of the French job markets.
- Business lingo. For the vocabulary necessary for navigating the French business world, check out this post and this post.
Finding a job in France
- Job Teaser. Job Teaser is a great resource for all things job-related. Not only does it contain a database of different positions to be filled, it has a collection of videos to help job-hunters get their heads in the game. Also, this interview simulation is a must-watch.
- UNESCO jobs listings. If NGOs are more your bag, UNESCO, whose mission is to promote world peace and justice by way of education, science and culture, regularly updates their job listings.
Formal French Habits You Should Use During Interviews
Use vous (you – formal)
Throughout your interview, you should address your interviewer in the formal register. If on the off-chance you end up with a super laid-back interviewer who addresses you with tu (you – informal), keep at it with the vous form until (or if) he/she says, “Tu peux me tutoyer” (You can address me with the tu form)!
Basically, le vouvoiement (the act of using the vous form to address a person) is the gold standard. Speaking of formality, you know all of those complex sentence structures you took great pains to learn? This is the time to whip them out.
Keep your lips to yourself
While it’s true that la bise (cheek-kissing) is a mainstay in French society, and it’s not uncommon to see colleagues greet one another in this quintessentially French way, you should consider la bise (cheek-kissing) to be strictement interdit (strictly forbidden) in the context of a job interview.
Instead, you should firmly shake hands with the person who will be conducting the interview. (The wet noodle handshake has no place here! Shake hands like you mean it!) Make sure to smile and look your interviewer directly in the eyes.
Keep your stories to yourself
In certain Anglophone contexts it’s not uncommon for a bit of small talk to take place before getting down to business. In French contexts, however, small talk is less customary. Your interviewer will be unlikely to ask you if your summer holiday went well or if you’ve seen Dany Boon’s most recent film.
Speaking of keeping one’s stories to oneself, let’s get right to the chase, shall we?
10 Questions You’re Bound to Hear During a French Job Interview
The aim of a job interview is a simple one: to find out if you’re cut out for a job or not. Acing a job interview, however, is not always so simple, especially in a foreign language.
But fear not, I’ve got your back! It can absolutely be done!
Here’s the thing: Job interviews across domains are rather similar in terms of the types of questions you’ll be asked. Acing your job interview in French boils down to doing a bit of research on where you’d like to work (How long has the company existed? Who founded it? How big is it?) as well as practice, practice, practice, which means anticipating the type of questions you’re likely to be asked.
Do these things and you’re on the way to a CDI (contrat à durée indéterminée, which is to say a permanent contract). Bring on the questions!
1. Parlez-moi de votre expérience professionelle.
(Talk to me about your professional experience.)
This is the question in response to which you’ll be expected to talk about your prior work experience. Even if your parcours (trajectory) seems a bit décousu (disconnected, lacking coherence) upon first glance, it’s up to you to create a coherent narrative. A great way to do this is by explaining how the skills cultivated in your previous positions make you a great fit for the job for which you’re currently applying.
Let’s say you’re applying for a job at a tutoring agency.
Pendant mes études je travaillais comme guide touristique et puis j’ai travaillé quatre ans comme comptable au sein d’une agence de voyage. Aujourd’hui je suis intéressé(e) par votre entreprise car elle me permettrait de relier ma passion pour le partage de mes connaissances en art et en histoire et mon caractère minutieux.
(During my studies, I worked as a tour guide and then I worked as an accountant for a travel agency. Today I’m interested in your company because it would allow to me connect my passion for sharing my knowledge in art and history and my detail-oriented personality).
2. Quel est votre parcours scolaire ?
(What is your academic background?)
While in many Anglophone contexts, employers want to know what kind of training you’ve had after high school, in France, references to the type of baccalauréat (there are three broad categories: general, professional and technical) one has obtained is rather common.
In your response you should therefore mention the year in which you finished high school (I also recommend mentioning where) and then mention any other degrees obtained thereafter.
Après avoir obtenu mon baccalauréat en 2006 aux État-Unis, j’ai poursuivi mes études en histoire de l’art et j’ai obtenu une licence en 2010.
(After having received my high school diploma in 2006 in the United States, I studied art history and I received my bachelor’s degree in 2010).
3. Quels sont vos centres d’intérêt ?
(What are your areas of interest?)
Upon hearing this question, resist the urge to respond “Netflix binges,” because that only conjures up images of blanket forts and not enough showers.
It’s important to keep in mind that your interviewer will ask you this question as a means of guaging not only your on-the-job personality and how you’ll get along with potential coworkers, but also how you “recharge your batteries” (so you’ll be in tip-top form when on the job).
Craft a response in which you speak about something you’re passionate about that also allows you to come across as the kind, dynamic, curious, initiative-taking person you are. For example, mentioning your dedication to a particular sport is a great way to convey commitment, discipline and team spirit, while your love for travel can be indicative of an ouverture d’esprit (open-mindedness).
4. Pourquoi voulez-vous quitter votre travail actuel ?
(Why do you want to leave your current job?)
When responding to this potentially prickly question, tact is essential. Never, under any circumstances, bash your current workplace, even if you find the work tiresome and your current boss makes you want to scream.
Instead, the key to answering this question is to make yourself the focus (and not your current boss). A great way to do this is to convey a desire for future growth. Let’s take a look at some examples:
J’ai envie de relever de nouveaux défis. Je suis intéressé(e) par de nouvelles responsabilités qui me permettront de mettre mon expérience et mes acquis en valeur.
(I want to take on new challenges. I am interested in new responsibilities that will allow me to let my experience and my skills shine through.)
Je suis quelqu’un d’ambitieux et je souhaite évoluer vers un poste qui n’est pas disponible au sein de mon lieu de travail actuel.
(I am an ambitious person and I would like to move towards a position that is not vacant at my current workplace.)
5. Puis-je appeler votre ancien employeur ?
(May I call your former employer?)
Unless you were fired or you’re embroiled in a messy lawsuit, you should respond to this question in the affirmative: Oui bien sûr (Yes, of course).
If you did leave your workplace on not-so-great terms, responding to this question will require a bit of maneuvering. One strategy is to mettre les pieds dans le plat (literally “put one’s feet in the dish,” this vivid expression means to frankly discuss a subject matter that is generally avoided) and straight-up tell your interviewer that things are less than ideal between you and former boss-man or lady:
Je dois juste vous prévenir que Monsier Ledésert était un peu déçu de mon départ et que cela ne s’est pas passé de façon harmonieuse. Je ne sais donc pas ce qu’il peut vous dire à mon sujet.
(I must warn you that Mr. Lédesert was a bit disappointed with my departure and it did not go over smoothly. I therefore am unsure about what he will say about me.)
Another strategy is to gently guide your interviewer to those who aren’t necessarily your boss per se, but who can attest to your work ethic nonetheless:
Si l’objet de votre demande est d’échanger avec des personnes qui m’ont vu(e) travailler, je peux vous proposer d’échanger avec Monsieur Leroy et Madame Watteau, les deux directeurs de mon équipe.
(If you’re asking in order to talk with people who have seen me work, I recommend talking to Mr. Leroy and Ms. Watteau, the two leaders of my team).
Giving the names of three or four people should be sufficient damage control.
6. Quand serez-vous disponible pour commencer ?
(When will you be ready to start?)
When you hear this question, there should be absolutely no hesitation on your part. You should confidently respond le plus tôt possible (as early as possible). Although there are several logistical factors to consider in terms of when you can actually start your new job, the job interview itself is not the place to do your hemming and hawing (you can do that once you get home).
Besides, most interviewers are well aware that le plus tôt possible (as early as possible) does not mean demain (tomorrow) and that many employers require une ou deux semaines de préavis (one or two weeks notice).
7. Quelles sont, selon vous, les qualités requises pour ce travail ?
(What qualities, according to you, are required for this job?)
In order to respond effectively to this question, you have to make sure you know the fiche de poste (job description) like the back of your hand. From there, you should draw as many parallels between what is expected of employees and your prior experience.
In asking this question, the interviewer wants to know “Why should I hire you?” Here’s an example of an appropriate response:
Selon moi, ce type de poste exige avant tout un esprit d’équipe et un caractère minutieux. C’est d’ailleurs exactement ce que m’a apporté mon travail au sein de l’agence de voyage.
(According to me, this type of position requires first and foremost team spirit and a detail-oriented personality.)
8. Quels sont vos points forts ?
(What are your strengths?)
This is the moment to sell yourself (within reason, of course!). When responding to this question, be confident (but don’t exaggerate) and state only the qualities (two or three will suffice) relevant to the job at hand. It will not suffice to simply list your strengths, however; you’ll need to provide some evidence (charts and graphs are not necessary; anecdotes will do the trick).
Here’s an example:
Je suis persévérant(e) et résistant(e). En effet, j’ai participé à un tournoi de golf l’année dernière, et j’ai échoué au premier tour. Je me suis beaucoup entrainé(e) et l’année suivante, je me suis réinscrit(e) et j’ai gagné la compétition. Je ne me suis pas découragé(e), et je pense que c’est une qualité nécessaire pour être cadre ; il ne faut pas avoir peur de l’échec. Au contraire cela doit être une source de motivation.
(I am persevering and tough. I participated in a golf tournament last year and I struck out in the first round. I trained a lot, I signed up again and I won the competition. I didn’t get discouraged and I think that is a necessary quality to be a manager; one shouldn’t be afraid of failure. On the contrary, it should be a source of motivation.)
9. Quels sont vos faiblesses ?
(What are your weaknesses?)
Ahh! La question qui tue (the fatal question)! Responding to this question too literally is a no-no. This moment in the interview is neither the time to divulge your deep-seated insecurities or anxieties, nor the time to patently present yourself in a negative light without qualification (“I’m impatient” or “I’m always late”).
Conversely, pretending you don’t have any faults is not the way to go, either. Do not be that person who says, “My worst quality is that I work too hard, I care too much and sometimes I can be too invested in my job.” The key to responding to this question is striking a balance between self-awareness and a desire to improve. Here are some examples:
Je suis un peu timide, mais lorsque je commence à me sentir bien dans un groupe, je suis capable de m’investir.
(I am a bit shy but as soon as I begin to feel at ease in a group, I’m able to give (my work) my all.)
J’ai une petite tendance à être soucieux/soucieuse lorsqu’on me confie un travail très difficile ou complexe, mais c’est par souci de bien faire les choses. Lorsque je me trouve dans cette situation, je valide mon travail plus souvent auprès de mon supérieur.
(I have the tendency to get anxious when I’m entrusted with a very difficult or complex job, but it’s due to my wanting to do things well. When I find myself in this situation, I check in with my superior more often.)
10. Avez-vous des questions ?
(Do you have any questions?)
Pretty much every job interview ever will end with this question. Even if everything seems crystal clear, it’s not an option to say non (no)! Of course you have questions!
Think of the moment when your interviewer asks you if you have any questions as your moment to shine. It’s not, however, the moment to completely turn the tables and interview your interviewer and ask him/her if he/she thinks you have what it takes to succeed at the job at hand.
Asking your interviewer about his/her areas of interests is a no-go as well. Rather, you should ask questions that convey how curious and enthusiastic a person you are.
Questions You Should Ask During a French Job Interview
- Avec combien de personnes vais-je travailler ? (How many people will I be working with?)
Asking a question like this shows that you’re already projecting yourself into your (hopefully) future position and are eager to work with others.
- Pourquoi ce poste est-il disponible aujourd’hui ? (Why is this position currently vacant?)
Is the company hiring because an employee went on maternity (meaning they will eventually come back) or because someone has just retired (meaning they have exited the job market)? By asking this prudent question, you’re conveying a concern for your future evolution in the company.
- Comment se déroule une journée type ? (What does a typical (work) day look like?)
If you’re applying for a management position in which you’re expected to be a self-starter (and it will be up to you to plan the work days of others), such a question may be frowned upon.
If, however, you’re applying for a position in which you’ll be working under someone else’s orders or supervision, this question conveys a conscientious disposition. After all, doing good work means knowing what work there is to be done.
Ending Your French Job Interview on a Good Note
Shake on it (again)
At the end of the interview, get up from your chair and shake your interviewer’s hand firmly (sound familiar?) while smiling and looking straight into their eyes. Afterwards, you should say a cool, calm and collected “Je vous remercie beaucoup” (I thank you very much).
Thank you note
(Okay, okay, thank you email). An interview isn’t over once you walk out the door. Sending a short (5- to 6-line) thank you note to your interviewer allows you to express your appreciation for his/her time and your interest in the position. It’s a good idea to wait about 48 hours; you’ll be less anxious and on edge, and it will give you time to compose a concise, unemotional message.
In your message you should reiterate the highlights of the interview (Did your interviewer mention that a series of new products are in the works? Mention your excitement to be a part of such innovative environment), reiterate the skills required for the job in your own words and then reassert how your profile fits the bill. If necessary, you can also add any important details you forgot to mention during the interview itself.
I think that just about covers it!
With a bit of foresight and a bit of elbow grease, your French job interview will go swimmingly.
Now, au boulot (get to work).
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