Don’t Just Translate Your Resume! How to Structure and Write a French CV Like the Locals Do
If only there were some magical way to make job hunting less awful.
Especially for those of us looking for jobs in a foreign language.
Talk about stress!
Unfortunately, we don’t have a stress-reducing potion or a crystal ball to see into your future career.
But we do have something that’ll boost your confidence and put you in a much better position to land that dream job in a French-speaking city.
Our guide to writing a CV in French is exactly what you need to look professional, qualified and prepared for French office life.
We’ll show you how to structure a French CV, what type of vocabulary to use and what elements of your English resume should be left out.
It may not be magic, but it’ll help you levitate far above the competition.
Components of a Professional French Document
As you’ll see below, French CVs are highly structured documents with a range of style and formatting standards. So let’s take a quick look at some French vocabulary you’ll need to know when crafting professional documents in French.
These will also benefit you once you land a spot in a French office, so you’re not totally lost when trying to navigate Microsoft Word in French!
Les marges (Margins)
Le bas de page (Footer)
La alinéa (Indent)
Le formatage (Formatting)
La police (Font)
Souligner (To underline)
La feuille de papier (Sheet of paper)
How to Write a Killer CV in French and Land That Dream Job
1. Header and Introduction
Before getting into the body of your CV, you need a header, just like in English. This is the first impression that a prospective employer will have of you. You’ll find that the French header contains a lot more info than an English one.
Place your header in a column on the lefthand side of your CV. The information about you must fit in this column. You should include:
Nom — Name (When writing your name in French, be sure to capitalize your last name: Jane DOE.)
Adresse — Address
Numéro de téléphone — Telephone number
Courriel — Email
Nationalité — Nationality
Âge — Age
Date de naissance — Date of birth (Remember that dates are flipped in Europe vs. the U.S., so January 31, 2018 becomes “31 janvier 2018” or 31/01/2018. Also note how the months in French aren’t capitalized and there’s no comma separating the month from the year, like there would be in English.)
État civil — Civil status (What the heck is civil status? This is where you put whether you’re married or single. As you can see, what would almost be considered an invasion of privacy in an English CV is common in the French version.)
Next to your header information on the righthand side of the CV, you should include a photo of yourself.
Like I mentioned before, you’ll include much more information on your French CV than you would on your English one. Accordingly, it’s important to place a headshot or other professional-quality photo of yourself in this space.
Here’s a fairly standard example of a French CV with a header and headshot, to give you an idea.
2. Professional Objective
Just as the header contains a lot of information, I find the body of French CVs to be much more detailed than CVs written in English.
You’ll start the body by stating a professional objective. Write it just under the header and photo. It should encapsulate what you’re looking for in a career.
This could be a big-picture goal, such as:
“Cultiver une carrière professionnelle” — “Cultivate a professional career”
But it would be better to tailor it to the job you’re applying for:
“Cultiver une carrière professionnelle dans l’ingénierie des systèmes de chauffage” — “Cultivate a professional career in heating systems engineering”
It’s also common to write a (very brief) narrative about yourself and what you’re looking for in a job, under the heading Profil (Profile). Here’s an example of a French CV that has a profil.
3. Educational Experience
In French, this section is called your Formation.
You basically put the same information as you would in English:
Name of the university where you studied
Matière principale — Major
Matière secondaire — Minor
Note moyenne — GPA
In a column on the right, put the time range. For example, if you’re still a student, you could put Septembre 2014 – en cours, which would mean “September 2014 – ongoing.”
4. Non-professional Experiences
This is also similar to English CVs. Here’s where you put anything of interest that’s not work experience, such as research, projects, student groups, whatever. In my French CV I called this section Expérience de recherche (Research Experience).
Other possible headings could be Volontariat (Volunteering), Groupes étudiantes (Student Groups), etc. Be creative!
5. Professional Experiences
In your Expérience Professionelle (Professional Experience) section, for each entry, you put:
Name of the Company
Two or three puces (bullet points) that summarize your work there.
Each entry in your work experience section must have phrases that begin with an infinitive verb.
“Résumer l’ensemble des objectifs scientifiques pour la mission” — “Summarize all the scientific objectives for the mission”
“J’ai résumé l’ensemble des objectifs scientifiques pour la mission” — “I summarized all the scientific objectives for the mission”
Here’s another example of the correct way to do it, which someone with teaching experience might use:
“Maintenir une atmosphère scolastique dans la salle de classe” — “Maintain a scholastic atmosphere in the classroom”
Finally, remember to put the dates in the right column. These experiences should be placed in chronological order from most to least recent.
If you want to see some stellar examples of professional experiences, check out the models here.
6. Technological and Linguistic Aptitudes
Below the work experience section it’s a good idea to add a section detailing your competences techniques (technological aptitudes) and the langages (languages) you know.
Technological aptitudes can include Systèmes d’exploitation (operating systems) with which you have experience, langages de programmation (programming languages) that you know and logiciels (software) that you can use.
Finally, when listing the languages you speak, make sure to put which language is your langue maternelle (native language) and put your levels for the others.
For example, if you speak a language well, put courant (normal, day-to-day use). If you’re just starting out, put notions (notions/ideas). If you’ve taken formal language tests such as an AP exam or DELF/DILF/DALF, make sure to mention the level you scored.
At the end of your CV it doesn’t hurt to discuss your pastimes, because this will tell your prospective employer a lot about your personality.
For example, in my case I have Tennis (Tennis), Ski (Skiing) and Randonnée (Backpacking).
You can just put the activities in a list.
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Finding work in France or another French-speaking country could be the experience of a lifetime. But to make this happen, you have to start with a CV.
It should be noted that not all French CVs are exactly alike. Be that as it may, your CV should always have the detailed header information, a photo and formal, meticulous writing, as we described above.
In so doing you’ll not only improve your French writing, but you’ll also gain incredible cultural know-how. You now have the tools needed to write a killer CV in French!
And one more thing...
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