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Top tips: Surviving a job interview in France

Dan MacGuill · 28 May 2013, 13:01

Published: 28 May 2013 13:01 GMT+02:00

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Not everyone who applies for a job will get called to an interview, so already you're in a good position.

Meeting face to face with your would-be employers, though, can be make-or-break. All the usual advice applies in France, of course: be punctual, research the job, know your CV and know how to relates it to the position, smile, be positive, and be ready to ask questions.

However,  the French workplace has some unique features, and some particular do's and don'ts that are crucial for you to remember. Since they could make all the difference between landing your dream job, and going back to the drawing board, The Local has enlisted some expert advice to help you through the interview process.

With help from Samia Zeriahene, Senior Consultant at the recruitment agency Euro London Appointments in Paris, here are six top tips for a Job Interview in France.

1.     Keep your lips to yourself. If you’re new to France, you might have been told that the locals are big fans of kissing on the cheek when meeting for the first time.

And you’d be right, but never in the setting of a job interview. A warm, firm handshake with eye contact and a smile is as appropriate in Lyon as it is in Leeds or L.A.

2.     Even if you’ve just arrived in France, and no-one knows you yet, the same moral rules apply.

“Don’t lie!” says Zeriahene. “If you put a job on your resume, French employers can easily do a background check on it, even if it wasn’t in France.”

3.     Stick to the subject. A typical job interview in the UK or Ireland can often start with some simple small-talk and ice-breakers. “How was your weekend?” “Any plans for the summer?” and so on…

Not in France. You’ll be expected to talk about how well-suited you are to the job at hand, and why. And that’s it.

Launch into your best inter-railing anecdote, or get started on how it’s the humidity, not the heat that bothers you, and you will be perceived as unprofessional, and not a serious candidate, rather than as a friendly individual.

By contrast, if you get hired, expect your colleagues and your bosses to invite you for a glass of wine on a regular basis. That’s the perfect time to get personal.

4.     Formally speaking… You always want to build rapport with your interviewers, but remember – the French grammar rule of using “vous” and “votre” applies strictly in an interview. Even if the interviewer is around the same age as you, or they seem besotted by you, wait for them to invite you to "tutoyer" them.

Furthermore, until you’re invited to call an interviewer by their first name, they are ‘Monsieur’ or ‘Madame’ to you.

You shouldn’t be stiff and overly-formal in an interview, but no-one has ever lost their chance of a job by remembering and respecting these little quirks of French culture.

5.     Appearances count. Whereas in the English-speaking world, it is generally mandatory for men to be completely clean-shaven and wear a full suit and tie, even for an interview at a fast-food restaurant, this is one area where France differs, according to Zeriahene.

“It really depends on the company and the job you’re applying for. Something in IT, marketing or communications, for example, probably wouldn’t require a suit and tie for men, and you could be ok with a beard,” she says.

Story continues below…

“However, for anything in banking and finance, it’s essential to be clean-shaven, and to wear a suit and tie.”

“Both men and women should have well-groomed hair, and women should wear make-up that is professional, but not over the top. Jeans and trainers are never appropriate in any setting.”

 “Being well-groomed and neat shows respect for an interviewer, and it strongly suggests that you have good attention to detail, which will help with any job,” she adds.

6.     France might be famous for its cigarette-friendly public spaces, and constantly-smoking workers, but watch out, warns Zeriahene.

“I always tell our candidates, if you smoke, do not smoke right before an interview,” she says.

Dan MacGuill (dan.macguill@thelocal.com)

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