How to write your CV and cover letter in French
There are some things which are the same for a CV in most countries. As in the UK, you should try and restrict the length to just one page. To help with this when you begin to write, format the blank page as effectively as possible. Additionally, if you really want to target a specific employer with an application, you need to produce a cover letter (une letter de motivation) detailing why you would be suitable for the job and outlining where you saw the job advertised. Here are some tips for how to produce a CV and lettre de motivation in French, in a typical French layout.
In many ways, a French CV is much easier than an English one.
Obviously, you need to put your name, address, telephone number and email at the top. However, in France, you should also put your date of birth (or age), nationality and marital status (including number of children, if any).
Formation (training, education)
Not too different from an English CV here. List briefly, beginning with the most recent, where and what you have studied and your qualification. It is definitely advisable to make an attempt to find equivalents for the qualifications in French. For example, GCSEs are loosely equivalent to le brevet and A Levels to le baccalauréat. For the grade you received, use the word mention: for example, if you got a First, write something like ‘mention très honorable’ – ‘with distinction.’ For a 2:1, ‘mention bien,’ a 2:2, 'mention assez bien’ and so on.
This is where the real difference between French and English CVs lies. In English, after you have listed some of your previous work experience, you should write a few words about what your role required and the skills you gained. This is unnecessary in France. Simply write your role and the company you worked for.
‘MAI 2011 – JUIN 2012. BUREAU DE BLUEMOON. ASSISTANT(E) ADMINISTRATIF/TIVE.’
This section is very similar to an ‘Additional Information’ section. You should list any other languages you speak (mention the level you speak it to, ‘courant,’ niveau scolaire’ etc), IT skills you have, whether you have a permis de conduire, holidays you have been on… in short, anything that could boost your CV and show the employer the range of skills you have.
This could be an optional section, where you display your hobbies and interests. Note: if you want to say something like ‘Grade 7 on the piano,’ remember this means nothing in French. You should use something different, such as supérieur or poussé.
2. Lettre de Motivation
Start like you would with a normal letter, with your name and address on the top left and the name and address of the company on the top right, with the date underneath. It is fine to begin with ‘Messieurs,’ but you should try and address your letter as specifically as possible.
Begin the letter with why you are writing, which is of course, to express your interest in the job.
‘Je me réfère à votre annonce et je me permets de poser ma candidature pour le poste de…’
Briefly explain where you saw the job advertised, your current situation, and then, in some more detail, exactly why you want the job. This is no different to an English CV: the more enthusiastic and specific you sound, the more you will stand out, but avoid being cheesy.
You should then, in longer detail, discuss your personal qualities and how they make you suitable for the job. Here you should also mention how your previous work experience makes you a great candidate too.
Finish with saying how they shouldn’t hesitate to contact you for further information if need be, and a nice sentence like:
‘Dans l’attente de votre réponse, l’expression de mes salutations distingué(e)s.’
The letter de motivation should certainly be less than a full A4 page.
Above all, avoid translating directly from English where possible and never lie - it will probably be clear that you have!