Application advice for France

Key differences from UK CV's and covering letters

  • French CVs often include photos but they must be professional
  • Your ‘Interests’ section will be appreciated in France as evidence of your “culture générale”
  • Handwriting may be analysed if you are asked to provide a hand written cover letter (going out of practice)
  • Languages need their own section on the CV

These are generic guidelines - companies may have their own requirements for CVs (such as email with no attachment, etc) so it is important to always pay attention to company requests. Remember that you should always tailor your CV for specific requirements from companies.

Covering Letter (“Lettre de motivation”) Advice

  • A cover letter, or lettre de motivation, should be short and focus on the position for which the jobseeker is applying for and be no more than one page in length.
  • Cover letters include a reference line at the top with the offer reference or the title of the position for which one is applying. An opening paragraph, one or two main body paragraphs outlining key qualifications for the job, and a closing paragraph normally suffice.
  • Try to avoid overly positive personality descriptions as recruiters evaluate applicants’ personalities at the interview stage according to their own criteria. In general, the candidate should concentrate on highlighting his or her qualifications for the target position.
  • Some employers may specifically request a hand-written cover letter in a job advertisement or after a first pre-selection. Certain French recruiters use handwriting analysis to detect personality traits. Asking for hand-written letters is also a means of ensuring a more personalized letter though this practice is getting increasingly rare and obsolete.
  • Make sure you set the letter out formally with yours and the employer’s contact details. Mention that you are available to meet to discuss your application further- showing enthusiasm and dynamism. Don’t use “une formule de politesse” that is too florid and try to avoid using the word “sentiments” when signing off your letter.

CV Advice

  • Preferred CV formatting for France is similar to conventional UK CV layout (reverse chronological order, education, then work experience, interests to be included etc). As with English CVs evidence your skills and adapt the CV to specific jobs.
  • Lengthy  CVs are not popular with recruiters; CVs should be no more than two pages long.
  • Explain or remove any abbreviations that may be confusing for French employers.
  • Traditionally marital status and number of children have been mentioned on a French CV but increasingly only contact details are required and it is up to the candidate to decide what to include as there are no hard and fast rules.  
  • Fluency in foreign languages, including English, is so important in France that it warrants its own section on a CV. If English is the candidate’s native tongue, they should say so, as some position descriptions may include this as a job requirement (as in EMT, or English Mother Tongue, in French Anglais Langue Maternelle). The applicant should identify his proficiency level clearly using words like bilingual, fluent, conversational or basic (bilingue, courant, bonnes notions, débutant) and mention levels of written fluency too (see  Common European Framework for language levels http://europass.cedefop.europa.eu/en/resources/european-language-levels-cefr). It is a good idea to qualify a language level by mentioning any special certificates, foreign study or stays in the relevant country in this section. 
  • References should not be listed on the CV but may be requested after the first interview or on an application form. It is a good idea to have a prepared page that lists these details.
  • In France, it is still customary to include a photograph on the CV; however, this is not obligatory. Should the candidate wish to include one, a small, good quality, formal photograph can be scanned onto the top right corner of the resume/CV with the applicant’s name and contact information justified to the left. A friendly but not overly smiling pose, exuding professionalism and seriousness, is best. 
  • Keep details of promotions, awards and any special recognition simple and modest, as culturally, this information is kept more discreet. 
  • Interests and activities (Centres d’intérêts or Activités extra-scolaires for students and recent graduates, or Activités extra-professionnelles for professionals): This section is relevant as it gives the French recruiter a sense of a candidate’s interests outside of what is purely work-related. In France, a well-rounded individual, one with a strong culture générale or general cultural knowledge, is highly valued.