How to Write An Effective CV in French
If you’re applying for a job in France or with a French company, you’ll need a French CV. However, drawing up a CV in French can be trickier than creating a CV in English. You’ll, of course, need to speak French well on a professional level, but what else do you need to consider? Does a French CV differ in layout, sequence and content from an English CV? Which sections do you need to include and which can you leave out? Here are some tips.
Most French employers will expect your CV to be in French, even if you’re applying for an English-language position. Sending your CV in French also demonstrates respect for the customs of the country.
Writing style and French CV terms
Unlike English CVs, the writing style on a CV in French is business-like, short and direct. Instead of using your CV as a marketing document, it’s best to stick to a fact-based approach when writing about your education, work experience and skills.
In addition, it’s also important to use the correct CV headings in French:
- Personal details - Coordonnées/ Information personnelles
- Desired work - Emploi recherché
- Work experience - Expériences professionnelles
- Education/training - Formation/éducation et formation
- Skills - Compétences
- Languages - Langues
- Courses - Cours
- Extra-curricular activities - Activités extra-scolaires
- Hobbies - Centers d'intérêt
If you’re unsure about translations for specific headings, you could look these up online or ask a native speaker. To save time, you could also use a CV builder such as Jobseeker, where section headings will automatically be translated to French. All you have to do is provide the text for each section.
As France will most probably have a different education system to your country, it’s a good idea to include the French equivalents of your qualifications:
- Baccalauréat – exams that allow you to apply to university
- BTS/ DUT/ IUT – 2 years after completing the Baccalauréate
- License or Bachelor – 3 years after completing the Baccalauréate, equivalent to most undergraduate degrees
- Maîtrise/ Master – 5 years after completing the Baccalauréate, equivalent to most Master’s degrees
- Bac+(x) – the number (x) is equivalent to the years spent in education after completing the Baccalauréate
In a French CV, you’ll need to include more personal information than you may be used to. Besides stating your name, address, telephone number and your e-mail address, it’s also customary to include your place of birth, your age and your nationality. You can also choose to include your marital status, although this information is not mandatory.
Men also usually need to indicate whether they have been in military service (‘service militaire’) or not.
Include a photo
In France, as in many other European countries, including a photo of yourself is encouraged. A good photo conveys professionalism and allows recruiters to form a personal connection with you.
Rather than trying to take the photo yourself or using a photo from your Facebook account, it’s best to go to a professional photographer, as they will very well know what the requirements are for a CV-style photo.
Projet personnel: career plan
Your personal motivation for the job you’re applying for is very important when preparing your CV for a company or organization in France. This is why it’s important to include a ‘Projet Personnel’, which acts as an introduction to your CV.
While it’s similar to a personal profile or statement, where you summarise your career history in a brief paragraph, it’s not quite the same. Instead, a ‘Projet Personnel’ is rather like a career plan, where you describe your long-term goals, what you’re hoping to get out of your next role, what skills and experience you bring to the table and the salary level you’re looking for.
The structure of a French CV
As with many CVs, you list your work experience and education in reverse chronological order, meaning you start with your most recent work experience and education.
As well as start and end dates, include the name of the employer/academic institution. However, there’s no need list all of your jobs - you only need to include relevant experience.
You could also opt for a skills-based or functional CV with a CV in French, where the emphasis is on your skills, personal characteristics and personal qualities. This is a good choice, considering that French employers attach great importance to the personal characteristics and competences (Compétences) in a candidate.
Indicating languages on your French CV
If you’re applying for a job in France, in most cases, you will be required to speak French. If you also speak English and a second foreign language such as Spanish alongside French, then these language skills need to be on your CV.
You can use the following vocabulary to indicate how well you speak a language:
- Mother tongue, native language, native speaker – Langue maternelle
- Fluent, near native – Courant
- Proficient, advanced – Très bonne maîtrise
- Intermediate – Niveau intermédiaire
- Basic, elementary – Niveau élémentaire
- Writing skills – Écrit
- Conversational – Parlé
International standards for language skills
A common way to indicate your language ability is to refer to the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference), which uses letters to describe different language proficiency levels: A (basic), B (intermediate) and C (advanced):
- A – Basic user
- A1 – Breakthrough or beginner
- A2 – Waystage or elementary
- B – Independent user
- B1 – Threshold or intermediate
- B2 – Vantage or upper intermediate
- C – Proficient user
- C1 – Effective operational efficiency
- C2 – Mastery or proficiency
Most employers will be familiar with this framework and therefore, how your language skills can be used in a professional environment.
The different levels also leave little room for exaggeration. As you have to pass exams to attach each level, employers will most probably request proof if you state, for example, that you speak French at C1 level.
In any case, it’s never a good idea to lie on your CV, as the truth always comes out, sooner or later.
Proofread your CV
Even if you speak French at a fluent level, make sure you proofread your CV before sending it.
You could use an online grammar checker such as Scribens or Bon Patron; however, these may not be 100% accurate.
If possible, get a professional translator or native speaker to look over your CV to see whether what you’ve written sounds natural and slows well.
- Use infinitives to describe your responsibilities rather than the past or present tense to keep your CV factual.
- Avoid using abbreviations as these will most probably be unfamiliar to French employers.
- If you’re currently living abroad, it’s a good idea to include the country code with your phone number, so that employers can easily contact you.