March 27, 2013

Finding a Job in France

Lunch at la Table Saint Crescent

A question that frequently pops up from fellow expats in France is related to working. More specifically, how to find a job and how to get hired.* And right now, with unemployment figures what they are, things are tougher than ever.

I've heard from many frustrated people who don't understand why they're not being asked to go for an interview after submitting their CV to a company or why they're not getting hired after having an interview.

Here's what I think.

Over the last several years I've been hired by a half a dozen French companies (two of those jobs I turned down) and from my experience, the one thing that I think gave me an advantage was my ability to speak both French and English. And when I say, "speak French," I don't mean simply knowing how to order a meal in a restaurant or ask where the toilets are located. I mean being able to converse in French, talk on the phone in French and do business in French. Now I'm sure it may be possible to get by speaking only minimal French in a big city like Paris, out here in the provinces, local language skills play a pretty important role in daily life. And in finding work.

So if you don't have a good level of conversational French, you're probably going to have a tough time competing in the job market.**
Luckily, there is hope!

Fromage at the Marché

Gutting Fish in Cassis

First, get your language skills up to speed. You're going to need them to navigate the employment websites and to approach potential employers. Go take a French class, join a conversation group, whatever it takes. Second, put together a professional looking, concise CV and Lettre de Motivation and ask a native French speaker to look them over and suggest any changes or corrections that you should make.

Then, start searching!
These are some of the resources that I've used over the years and that have been recommended to me:
Pôle Emploi - the national French employment website
Emploi Annonces - job board
Les Jeudis - job board
Monster France - job board
Indeed France - job board
L'Hôtellerie-Restauration - for restaurants and hotels
Stratégies - for marketing, PR, communications
Craigslist - most offers are in Paris
FUSAC - most offers are in Paris
The American Library in Paris has a community message board at the library in Paris offering employment opportunities - no ads listed online
French national and local newspapers
Networking! Ask people you know and friends of friends

Paris Bistro

At the Café

Once you've landed an interview, don't panic like I did the first time I went for a job interview in French. I tried my best, but I stumbled over phrases and misunderstood questions. Yes, it was a great learning experience, but it was embarrassing and no, I didn't get the job. The second time I went for an interview I had a lot more confidence and I was offered the job.

You should arrive at least ten minutes early and bring some extra copies of both your CV and Lettre de Motivation. Even though they may already have a copy of each on the desk in front of them, they could ask to see another one. Dress conservatively and make sure your hair is well groomed. You will most likely be asked to describe both your best and worst qualities, so study your adjectives. Also, I think it's a good idea to research the company and have a question or two ready to pose about their business when they ask you if you have any questions. It shows that you have done your homework.
Finally, stay calm!

Job hunting is never easy, and doing it in a foreign language adds another dimension of difficulty. Try to remain positive and good luck!

As always, I enjoy and appreciate hearing from other expats who have experience job hunting and finding work in France.

More Helpful Links:
Finding a Job in Paris or the Ile-de-France Region (
Finding a Job in France (Americans in France)
{Un}Glamorous Paris: Working in France (Prêt à Voyager)
French Work Culture (Lost in Cheeseland)
Finding a Job in France (The Local)
A Checklist: Getting a Job in France (Expatica)

*Not to be confused with people who want to move to France to find work, which is an entirely different subject. Please check your local French Consulate's website for current information about obtaining a Work Visa. 

**Of course, having excellent French skills aren't the only thing you need to get hired!

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Ann Mah said...

Great post! I just wanted to clarify that the American Library's community notice board is actually *at the Library* (in the back, near the bathrooms) -- not online.

Loulou in France said...

Thanks Ann! I will modify the post so there isn't any confusion.

The Wanderfull Traveler said...

I've taken French Immersion from grade 1 to 8 but then moved to a small town finishing my high school in a location of Canada that only offered French as an elective that was losing out to Russian (many Russians settled within the area 100 years prior and their grandkids wanted to stay true to their roots). I couldn't find a job despite being bi-lingula in Canada's national languages and was unable to practice it with anyone other than the professor for longer than 30 mins, 2 days a week.

I am dying to get back into it not only personally and for travel reasons but my work is now expanding into Quebec. I can understand the majority of what they are saying but I am a little slow reciprocating.
I have been considering purchasing rosetta stone but I don't want to start from the very beginning. Then I wonder if I should pick up a French book and try that way.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on getting back into the language after you know the basics.

Sorry for the novel!


Delana@dujour said...

Good information and so true about language. I think it's also good to point out, that at least for Americans whose country is obviously not a part of the EU, it's next to impossible to get a job here unless you are married to a French person, or already employed before you move here. A work permit is very difficult to obtain. I get lots of letters from fellow Americans about working in France and I just can't come up with a solution for them. Any ideas?

Ken Broadhurst said...

In my case, I lived here for five... nearly six... years without working in order to qualify for a resident's card which gave me the right to work in France. That's the standard process, unless, as you say, you are hired by an employer in France before you actually move here. Unemployment in France is very high so the government does not try to encourage people to come here and look for work.

La Torontoise said...

Loulou, thank you for putting together this list of sites; very informative. I'd add a link related to Cote d'Azur (in this site, just scroll down to see recruiting agencies active in Provence Alpes Maritimes):

I think, in the era of social media, networking looks like one of the most promising job searching strategies. If you do not have any contacts in France, you can start developing a network by using LinkedIn, for example by joining discussion groups, connecting to those professionals in your field that are great networkers and are open to mediate and further connect you to third parties...

The interview preparation practices in this post sound down to earth and intuitive. In fact, it seems to me we can read about such practices in any good American book on job interview topics. Hundreds of immigrants to Canada read and use these books every day and do get jobs (provided the level of conversational English is
good enough for the job setting):-)
So, why not leveraging this knowledge and 'adapt' it to the French context?
Also, French book stores (e.g. FNAC) offer huge collections of how-to books on professional letters, CV-writing and so on; which is of great help in the process of composing a motivation letter in French, even in formulating answers to the usual interview questions (e.g. 'Tell me about yourself?', 'What's your greatest weakness?).

Now, one critical question that remained unaddressed in the post is the one about the salary negotiation. (BTW, that's what I think a pretty good handle of conversational French is key to.)
In my experience, it pays off to be informed about the salary ranges of the jobs in the professional sector of interest and the possible variations based on regional differences. Could you possibly recommend any trusted blog or any other reliable sources of information on this subject?

When I moved to Europe, I was a subscriber of Economist and their web site offered information servises highly relevant to job searching. I used the Econimist's reports on salary ranges in my professional field in North European countries and this created the piece of mind that my evaluation of any job offer was based on reliable data about the local market. However such a report costs $CAD 50-60, and I'd assume, by now there should be some less expensive or nearly free information sources.

Thank you for anything that you could possibly share.

Loulou in France said...

Reading French and listening to French radio are both good, and if you can try to find a conversation class, that would help your progress!

Yes, that is a completely different problem! :)
My only advice to people who want to work in France is - do your research and, like you said, try to get a job before moving. Everyone has a different situation and set of skills so it is very hard to offer advice!

Loulou in France said...

It was the same for us. The visa we obtained before leaving the US didn't give us the right to work for the 1st 5 years of living in France. Once I had the right, finding work in rural Languedoc was hard to come by! And the work I did find was only 4-5 months a year, which isn't enough to live on year round.

La Torontoise
Thank you for your helpful comment! I'm afraid I don't know of any websites that help with salaries and salary negotiation. If I come across any, I will let you know.

Michelle said...

Hi Loulou,
I've been reading your blog for a long time now and I know tons of people ask you for more advice when it comes to finding jobs in France. So feel free to ignore my annoying question ;) but...
We've been given an opportunity to house swap with a French family for a year and are trying to see if it's an option. Of course one of us would need a job in France. I'm a French teacher (with a MA in French teaching 12 years from middle to university levels). Do you have any specific advice about where to focus for a job search with someone in my situation?

Jennifer Greco said...

I wish I could offer some advice, but I really don't know where to focus, other than asking at local universities and schools. Good luck and if you do go ahead and do the swap, enjoy your time in France.

Michael Guajardo said...

Hello, great post. Just curious on what kind of jobs were you able to get? And where at in France?

Jennifer Greco said...

In hotels, restaurants, fromageries and writing jobs. In the Languedoc, Normandy and in Paris.