Finding a job in a French-speaking country doesn't usually happen overnight. Whether you're looking in France, Quebec, French-speaking North Africa, or elsewhere, there can be long lines and red tape along the path to employment. Here's some foundational knowledge to get you started. (For specifics on French visas, job boards, and more, check out this article on getting a job in Paris).
A French-language CV does not look like an American resume or an English CV. In a French-speaking country, CVs tend to emphasize different components. Also, there's a more formalized methodology for drawing one up. It's made up of the following sections:
- Personal information - Your name, address, phone number and email are listed first, and unlike an American resume, you might include a personal photo of yourself.
- Education (Formation) - Your academic qualifications from high school onward should go in this section. If you have any qualifications that translate into the French system, like a Baccalauréat, put those here.
- Work History (Expérience Professionnelle) - This section houses your most recent work history at the top and works backwards chronologically from there. Include the years worked, your title, and a very concise list of your responsibilities. Feel free to leave off positions that aren't relevant to the role for which you're applying.
- Specific Skills (Compétences Spécifiques) - Include your language skills, tech competencies, and other specializations you've gained over the course of your career and education.
- Hobbies (Centres d’Intérêts) - It might feel corny, but there's usually a short section on the bottom for your hobbies. Keep it relevant to the position, or to something that makes you unique. Don't be surprised if these points come up in your interview.
The Interview Process
You'll want to go into your interview with a handle on French-speaking interview customs. Although they vary from country to country, some commonalities do apply. The interview process won't be a huge departure from the interviews you've done in your home country. Here are the steps you should take to prepare.
- Research the company's background. From mission to history to leadership to main clients and stated goals, give yourself a solid overview of the company you hope to join.
- Practice answers to standard interview questions. French-speaking interviews will usually ask standardized job interview questions, such as "Tell us about yourself" and Why do you want this job?" and "How has your experience been relevant for this position?" You can practice your answers ahead of time, so you're not caught off-guard on the big day.
- Practice the questions that you'll ask your interviewers. Just like in an American or British interview, French interviewers will want to know if you have any questions for them. It's a good idea to write your questions in advance, about what the typical day looks like, or what an ideal candidate would do in his/her first weeks on the job. Just like in English-speaking interviews, make sure to avoid questions about salary, benefits, and holiday time. That should come up once you have the offer in-hand.
- Get familiar with French-speaking etiquette. You may be asked questions about your marital status, whether you have children, or other personal questions. Don't be alarmed, this is simply part of the business etiquette and is not usually seen as inappropriate. Make sure you're punctual, and err on the side of formal dress if you haven't been instructed otherwise.
Historically, French was the language of diplomacy. In today's global ecosystem, other languages have surpassed it in terms of their dominance on the world stage. However, there are still many industries where a working knowledge of French is a huge asset. Here are some of them:
Interpretation and Translation
The European Parliament spends one week a month in Strasbourg, France, where dignitiaries from across Europe convene to discuss matters of governance. From literature to civic documentation to commercial and policy discussions, French-speaking translators can find plenty of opportunity to put their skills to work, especially in Europe and the Americas.
From airline crews to tour guides to ski instructors, you'll find that wherever there are tourists, there's a need for French speakers. With tens of millions of native speakers around the world, French is one of the most common languages spoken in touristy areas. Hotels, resorts, restaurants, and tour companies are always on the hunt for French speakers that can cater to their international clientele.
If you speak French, there are many opportunities for you to go abroad and teach French. Your access levels to these jobs will depend on your education; if you have a formal teaching credential, you're more likely to have a chance at a full range of jobs in education. Figure out what the credentialing process is like for the country and age group where you'd like to teach. In most cases, you'll be required to have at least a Bachelor of Arts degree to enter into a public school system.
Embassies and consulates around the world require that everyone who works there speaks the local language. If you can become a foreign service officer with French-language skills, you'll be poised to land a coveted role at an embassy or consulate within the Francophone world. Becoming a Foreign Service Officer is highly competitive, and you'll need to undergo a rigorous exam (for example, here are the rules for the American Foreign Service Officer Test).
Banking and Insurance
Because the banking and insurance industries are so international, there are always jobs for French speakers. These regulation-heavy industries do business with many different cultures and countries. Where negotiating, deal-making, and compliance are central to business operations, knowing French makes you a desirable job candidate in several departments, from marketing to legal services.
French is one of the official working languages of many international organizations. If you're looking for your next French-speaking job, check out the following:
- Doctors without Borders (Médecins sans Frontières)
- The United Nations (Les Nations Unies)
- Amnesty International
- International Rescue Committee (Comité International de Sauvetage)
- Teaching Assistant Program in France (TAPIF)
- The African Union (l'Union Africaine)
- Québec en tête
Each French-speaking country has its own professional flavor and culture, which you'll get to know as you research and network. In the mean time, use this guide as a springboard for getting familiar with the French-speaking work ecosystem. The time you spend now will benefit you for years to come - French is one of the best languages to know if you want to work abroad.
Although some of the quirks may surprise you, take comfort in the fact that your education and work experience at home has prepared you for what's to come.