For this week's instalment of My French Career, we meet Katherine Perkins who works as a Programme Coordinator for the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris.
How did you end up working in Paris?
My parents lived here while I was studying at University in Liverpool so I would come here during the holidays. When I graduated I came back here for one summer while I decided what I wanted to do and, over ten years later, I’m still here.
What did you do when you first got here?
I worked in English bars. My brother was working here as a bar manager at the time so that helped me to find work and it was also a great way to meet people.
How did you get a job at the OECD?
When I first arrived here, I only intended to stay for a short time but I decided to work on my CV and try and find a job in a sector that interested me. I found a few international organizations in Paris and sent my CV off – the OECD got back to me very quickly and called me for an interview, then offered me a job within a couple of weeks. I started off as an auxiliary in the Nuclear Energy department which was not really my area of interest. However I worked there for about six months and made the most of the opportunity to learn a lot about the OECD and its work and then was able to apply for and get a job in the Development Cooperation Directorate.
Tell us about your role?
I am now the Programme Coordinator in the Global Relations Division in the Centre for Tax Policy and Administration. We basically act as a bridge between the OECD member countries and non-OECD economies to assist them in implementing effective and efficient tax systems to aid development, whilst giving them a voice in developing international tax standards and guidelines so that these economies remain relevant in the global economy.
What advice would you give someone hoping to work at the OECD or a similar organization?
OECD has two official languages (English and French) so you need to be fluent in at least one and they do often ask for some knowledge of the other. Also, experience in working in multicultural environments as we have 34 member countries and they are all represented within the OECD secretariat so we have a lot of nationalities under one roof. Always keep an eye on the website as that is where positions are posted, along with advice on applications.
Are there any qualifications you need?
That really depends on the job you go for. Most of them ask for a university degree or equivalent. Then for the more specialized positions they look for Masters, PhDs and certain levels of experience.
Do you need to be fluent in French?
No. It is a bilingual organization so they ask you to be fluent in either English or French and now as we open up even more they like to see other languages represented.
What else would you advise people to do if they are looking for work in Paris?
I actually really appreciated working in English bars when I first arrived as it was a great way to meet people. All of us working there knew what it felt like to be a foreigner here in Paris and I found that people were usually more open and friendly because of it. I would encourage anyone to learn French, even if it means an easier time chatting to colleagues at the coffee machine and, if your French is good enough, try putting together a bilingual CV. Here at the OECD we have a section on our website where you can upload your CV and fill in job requirements and then receive notifications when a job comes up that fits your criteria.
What is the best thing about working in Paris?
As I work in an international organization, I am not under the French system so I don’t actually receive the benefits of travel subsidy and lunch vouchers (French companies pay half your travel pass and give you “ticket restaurants” to cover meals) but I do hear that they are very appreciated, along with their 35 hour week of course! We have pretty good holidays here too (six weeks per year) plus I love the four bank holidays in May and the lovely quiet Paris in August! Of course, the best thing about working in Paris is the fact that you get to live in Paris… I live by the Canal St Martin and on a nice summer evening after work, just sitting by the canal enjoying the world go by really can’t be beaten!
What are the disadvantages of working in Paris?
As most people know, the bureaucracy here can be a little tiresome and trying to get anything done that involves official paperwork becomes quite a dread. I do also remember the days of apartment hunting when we would have to jump on the first chance to visit somewhere and queue up with numerous other hopefuls, dossier in hand, just to be told that the place has been taken.