However, sending a curriculum vitae together with a cover letter is the normal approach to job applications in France. Today, many larger companies also accept applications through online systems.
Cover letters (lettres de motivation) are very important in France. They should explain to the recruiter why you are applying for the job and how you fit their requirements. The letter should be a single page (at most two), formatted in a standard way and written formally and in a succinct style.
A typical cover letter format:
- the top left-hand side of the page: name and surname, full private address and telephone number with international code
- top right-hand side: the place and date, a few lines below the company address, and the person to whom the letter is addressed (A l'attention de M./Mme... )
- the letter subject or reference (e.g. Sujet: Poste de Junior en Marketing)
- the main text of the letter
- bottom right-hand side: candidate signature
Cover letters used to be written by hand in France, but today only do this if asked for explicitly. This means the company may use graphology (personality assessment through handwriting analysis), which used to be a popular technique. Many companies now prefer to receive applications by e-mail or online.
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 more technical positions, it can be two pages.
The format of a CV can vary depending on 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 four main parts:
- Name, address and personal telephone number (with international code numbers)
- Date of birth or age, possibly place of birth, 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.
- Diplomas and qualifications obtained, mentioning those ones relating to university or vocational education with the dates. 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)
The most important part. One paragraph should be written for each period of professional experience, including: dates, company name and place (with mention of the industry and company activities if necessary), the title of post occupied and the position in a the company hierarchy, responsibilities (in terms of employees and budget), achievements (with concrete numbers)
Personal activities, hobbies, miscellaneous
An optional section, but a few well chosen items can give recruiters a better picture of your personality. This is especially useful if related some way to your profession. Examples could include: extra-professional responsibilities (student bodies, associations), leisure activities and travel experience (e.g. if you have already visited France), sports (including awards), etc.
There is also a European curriculum vitae model, developed by CEDEFOP, the European Centre for the development of Vocational Training ( www.cedefop.eu.int), with the aim 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 for working at a European level or with 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 first call, asking if you're application was received. If somebody at the company promises to call you back and fails to do so, do not be afraid to call him/her again. It is important to be persistent. Remember the only thing that matters is to get in front of people for interview.
When invited for 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 website or searching on the web).
Depending on the position and the company, interviews vary enormously in formats - 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 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.
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 subsequently, 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.