The Living France guide to... finding a job in France

Kate McNally has everything you need to get your job search across the Channel off to a flying start

So, you’ve got your qualifications, clocked up a good few years’ of experience and those evening classes have brought on your French a treat. All set, then, to make the big move across the Channel, find yourself a job and settle into life in France. Ah, if only it were that simple!

It’s that little question of finding a job that often puts a spanner in the dream-works.

Never mind the economic crisis in Europe, which has reared its ugly head in recent years, the main obstacle is the French employment structure. It is more rigid than an oak tree’s trunk, with legislation more intricate than your great aunt’s cross-stitch pattern, and trying to persuade an HR manager (or RH as it is in French) to accept that 10 years spent working in marketing is more than equivalent to a French marketing diploma is akin to bashing your head against a brick wall.

Suffice to say, it can be very hard to secure a full-time permanent job in France, let alone a well-paid one, even for a French native. Around 80% of all new employment is on a fixed-term contract, usually anything from three to 12 months, so be prepared for a frustrating job search and be open to all opportunities because you may well find you are not able to work in the same field or at the same level as you were in the UK. If your work is very important to your personal fulfilment, or if you have financial obligations, it is advisable to fully research the French job market before you make the leap across the Channel to be sure you can secure the type of employment you want or need. Still up for the challenge? Then let’s get started…

Frenchify your CV

It is called a résumé in French and, as such, should be kept to a page if possible; two pages maximum. This is easier for a French person as they tend to change jobs much less frequently than the average Brit, but it is possible if you focus mainly on your most recent and pertinent work experience. You can always fill in the gaps at the interview stage if asked.

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Remember that UK company names and job descriptions may not resonate in France, so put the emphasis on your skills (compétences) and personal qualities (aptitudes); setting them out in the first third of your CV ahead of your list of work experience. Take a look at sample French CVs online or ask French friends if you can study theirs in order to use the correct words and terms.

The French workplace is very diploma-centric, so again put your qualifications, professional training and any awards high up on the page and, where possible, translate them directly into the French or European equivalent. An ‘upper second estate management degree from Reading University’ or an ‘NVQ stage 3 in web design’ won’t mean much to a prospective French employer.

Similarly, if you work in a regulated profession, such as nursing, try to get your qualifications certified for recognition in France as this could facilitate your integration into a similar role.

Bear in mind, too, that some professions, for example in the legal, building and healthcare sectors, will require additional training and qualifications if you want to exercise them in France, for the simple reason that legislation, materials and working practices differ from those implemented in the UK.

For work history (expérience professionnelle), you can simply stick to dates, company name and job title. If you’ve already described your skills, there’s no need to go into detail about your role in each job. And don’t worry about references – the French don’t tend to bother with them on a CV.

Finally, always get a native to read through and correct your French CV. The reader may make allowances for a few grammar and spelling mistakes from a British national, but then again, they may not.

Lettre de motivation

This is effectively the application letter sent to a prospective employer with your CV. The clue is in the word ‘motivation’. You need to explain succinctly why you are interested in the position and why you think they should be interested in you.

Don’t be shy and retiring when it comes to the letter and the same applies should you secure an interview. A common opening question at interview is ‘tell us about yourself’ (parlez-nous de vous) which is basically an invitation to give a mini-presentation of your skills, work history, successes and expectations. You need to capture their interest at this point and then hopefully more specific questions will follow.

Again, look for examples of lettres de motivation on the internet as there are a few rules, especially regarding French formality, which are important to get right.

The job centre

The first port of call when seeking a job in France is the local pôle emploi – basically the job centre. The majority of jobs are advertised at the pôle emploi, including some more qualified positions, and the independent recruitment agencies will often also publicise their vacancies there.

It has a comprehensive website www.polemploi.fr where you can sign on, upload your CV, view all the job posts for your area, and carry out all the administration associated with your job search and unemployment benefits. Speaking of which, check your benefit rights with the unemployment office in the UK as you may be entitled to unemployment payments for a couple of months in France while you look for a job, but you will need to organise any relevant paperwork in advance.

Staff at the pôle emploi will ask you to attend an initial interview with a job advisor so they can better understand your skills and experience. Be sure to ask about any workshops or training (formation) they offer and enquire about organising an assessment of your skills (bilan de compétences) as this can help to orientate yourself in the French work market and assess your realistic opportunities.

Online agencies

There are several online agencies in France; some are specialists in certain sectors. It can be time-consuming to register as they often want you to fill in detailed work history (some simply enable you to upload an existing CV) but it’s definitely worth identifying two or three that best fit your job search as they are well-used by employers.

As well as some of the major sites known to UK users, such as Monster, some of the best-known online recruitment agencies in France are:

www.indeed.fr – the leading US recruitment site has a strong foothold in the French market. Indeed.fr follows the site’s usual modus operandi, collating the most recent vacancy postings from thousands of company websites and job boards, classifying them under sector headings and regions. So, you can register your interest, say, for engineering work in Alsace and request an email alert for anything that fits the bill.

www.apec.fr – the most popular site for management positions or more highly qualified jobs, as well as for recent graduates. In France, jobs that include a certain level of management responsibility or skilled professional knowledge are defined under the term ‘cadre’, which implies an unstated, but clearly understood, notion of superior social standing as well as greater earning power. Apec enjoys excellent working relations with thousands of France’s leading companies and equally has a strong reputation in advising its job-seeking clients on continued career development. If you are in the upper echelons of the workplace – and think you can sustain the same level in France – register yourself on Apec and also take a look at www.cadremploi.fr.

www.regionsjob.fr – this website has several offshoots focused on particular regions in France, for example www.nordjob.fr and www.rhonesalpsjob.fr. Similar to most online recruitment sites, you can narrow down geographical parameters to within a specific radius of where you live, specify job type categories and set up an email alert. If your search is limited to a set location, this is a good site to register with.

Temp agencies

Another option to consider when job-hunting in France is to register with the temporary employment agencies (agences de recrutement interim), although they are arguably more active in filling positions for employers as opposed to focusing on job-seekers’ needs, so don’t expect too much for them, especially as your CV may not be an obvious fit for many of the vacancies. Be prepared to scour their websites for vacancies regularly and actively chase them if you think there is an opening for you.

You can find some well-known names among the agencies in France – Manpower, Hayes, Adecco – plus several that are less known in the UK, such as Start People and Morgan Interim. Identify which agencies are most active in your region and your field of work, and either arrange a face-to-face meeting (they often won’t see you if you simply call in off the street) or register with them online.

Although many of these agencies specialise in temporary assignments, they are often asked by employers to advertise permanent positions as well. And bearing in mind that the majority of permanent jobs are initially offered on a temporary basis in France, it is well worth considering the ‘interim’ route at the outset.

Contacts

We all know the saying ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’. This is true the world over but it’s particularly pertinent in France with its devolved political and social structure resulting in numerous little power pockets – and power struggles.

Professional networking is very important, whether it’s joining the local chamber of commerce (chambre de commerce et industrie or chambre des métiers, depending on your profession) or simply getting active in the community. And, of course, there are numerous online social and professional networks in France. As a start, you should join http://fr.viadeo.com/fr/ – the largest business networking site in France – and http://fr.linkedin.com, which is rapidly gaining share across the Channel.