After seriously looking for work in France on both sides of the Atlantic for over a year, I finally secured a position in L’Héxagone after taking the search local for three months. As I reflect on the approach I took, I’ve realized that there were moments typical of any job hunt or phase of unemployment. But there were some aspects of job-hunting that were specific to France, too. Here are some tips on how to navigate the job hunt in France:
Figure out the visa situation
In my experience, the most challenging part of finding a way to live in France is to get a visa. Committing to the idea of getting a job, specifically, will make your search very difficult. If possible, seek out alternatives like the government Teaching Assistantship program, or becoming a student or au pair.
If you’d really rather work, be prepared for a challenging ride. The best possible outcome would be to get a job offer from an employer in France who is willing to sponsor your visa. Companies do sponsor non-EU nationals for visas, but it is rare. If you’re American, I’d suggest looking into the French-American Chamber of Commerce’s American Trainees in France program to see if you qualify for their visa sponsorship services. Without this amazing program, I highly doubt I would have been able to find a sponsor on my own.
Network like crazy
You’ve probably heard this before, but it’s all about who you know. The hidden job market, or marché caché, accounts for 70% of job openings, meaning that most spots are filled before even being posted online. Cultivate your network as much as possible by reaching out to friends, family, former study abroad professors, alumni networks… Really, any connection in France could give you some perspective or advice. The best interactions I had were thanks to friends of former colleagues, believe it or not. Attend networking events and don’t be shy about what you’re looking for. You never know who will have a lead; the goal is to remain top-of-mind in many people’s minds, so they contact you first when they hear of a well-suited opening.
Remember to send regular updates on your search, to thank your contacts for their time and energy, and to return the favor if and when you can. Good karma is universal.
Be “spontaneous” and persistent
The French have a type of application called a candidature spontanée, where you contact a company you’d like to work for and offer your services (rather than responding to a posted job offer). This type of application requires more research, as you’ll have to find a company you’d like to work for, as well as tailor your résumé and cover letter to what you think they are missing (that you can give them). But I found this approach most effective, and ultimately, this is how I found my job in France.
Although it’s easy to feel pushy, follow up as often as is polite. I noticed that the French are often averse or unresponsive to e-mail, so I suggest you call the office you’re interested in directly to follow up on your application. Don’t worry about seeming too aggressive – it’s standard practice to telephone!
Be a knockout
In preparing my applications, I struggled with seeming like a young American and actually being a young American. I feared that it would discredit me to write my cover letter in a tone that would match my strongest selling point, or to use a hip font for my résumé. I ended up going with a more “daring” approach, using three bullet points instead of a conventional cover letter and including all my social media profiles. Indeed, that approach wasn’t the best suited for every opportunity. But it did distinguish me from other candidates, and I believe I was noticed more for my gutsiness in presenting myself. I would encourage you to find your own niche, and tailor your applications to that sphere without inhibition.
Don’t take it personally
If there’s one thing I learned during my 12 months on the French job market, it’s to expect the unexpected. Companies may ask you personal questions, like whether you’re married (or intend to be), what your ethnicity is or where your accent comes from, why you’re so young or old, why you’ve chosen a specific career path or education, why you formatted your cover letter the way you did… and my advice is to just go with it. Unless you find a question or exchange downright offensive or inappropriate, try to relax, take a deep breath and answer with a smile. It’s hard to resist an unfailingly positive candidate.
Bon courage in your own search, and I’d be curious to hear your own tips and tricks in the comments section!