Six surefire ways to further your career in France in 2020

Make 2020 the year that you take the next step in your international career with these six moves that will help you to rise the ranks in France (and beyond).

Six surefire ways to further your career in France in 2020
Photo: ESSEC

No matter how high up you were in your career ‘back home’, it can feel like you’re starting from scratch when you move to a new country. This is especially true in France, where the rigid job market can be tough to crack if you haven’t followed the traditional French career path.

That’s not to say you can’t quickly rise the ranks with a few tweaks to your CV and a couple of professional add-ons. The Local has partnered with prestigious Paris-based business school ESSEC to bring you the following essential tips for furthering your international career. 

Top up your professional qualifications

Few things top having studied at a school that the hiring manager recognises and admires. Seeing a qualification from a respected French institution on your CV can help you to stand out from other international job seekers.

ESSEC, which came seventh in the Financial Times European Business School rankings 2019, offers a range of full-time general and specialised MBAs and part-time Executive MBAs to help you unlock the next career level, whether you plan to stay in France or move elsewhere following your studies. 

Open Day at ESSEC. Photo: ESSEC

Head along to ESSEC’s Open Day in Paris on February 1st to speak with alumni and programme directors and find out what you can get out of the programme. It’s your chance to discuss your career objectives and find an MBA programme that helps you to meet them. 

If you can’t attend in person, you can always join the Digital Open Week in March where you’ll have the opportunity to ask questions in real-time during live webinar sessions.

Learn French

This one really goes without saying, but did you know that French is also one of the world’s most important business languages? So whether you plan on working in France for the foreseeable future or moving onto another country further down the line, you never know what doors speaking French can open for you. Better start learning to parler français

Whip your CV into shape in French and English

Photo: ESSEC

It’s common sense to write your CV in French if you’re applying for jobs in France but don’t archive your English CV just yet. Many international companies in France have HR teams based around the world and so you never know where your CV will end up once you fire it off. Cover yourself by submitting it in both languages and remember to keep it short — the French like concise CVs so stick to two pages, or one if you’re a junior. 

Whether you’re applying for jobs in France or elsewhere in Europe, it’s best practice to submit your CV in the local language (unless the job is solely in English). It’s always a good idea to speak to a local recruiter to find out how CVs are typically presented in that country and format yours similarly. 

Highlight your education

Perhaps more so than in other countries, your educational achievements matter in France. Companies will scrutinise your studies and qualifications (and probably check up on them too, so don’t be tempted to tell any tall tales just because you’re abroad!). It may help to list the original degree or diploma result as well as the French equivalent. For example, a British 2:1 is the equivalent of a mention bien in French. 

An MBA from ESSEC will elevate your CV whether you plan to stay in France or relocate after your studies. The highly-ranked business school has an excellent reputation around the world that will instantly set you head and shoulders apart from other applicants. 

Build your profile

Get yourself on the radar of recruiters and companies by saving your CV on jobs boards or sharing it with hiring managers or recruitment agencies. But try not to hide behind the keyboard: put yourself out there and be bold, go out and meet people so they can put a face to a name.

Social networking site Meetup lists plenty of networking events where you can meet other English-speaking professionals. Get to know the places where other international residents congregate; often, you’ll find, they are keen to lend a helping hand to others in the same boat. Meetup is a global platform so is a handy resource wherever you decide to pursue your career; likewise, Facebook often has expat groups you can join to meet other international professionals.

Photo: ESSEC

Once you’re enrolled at ESSEC, you’ll have access to the business school’s extensive network of partner companies in Europe, so you can begin building your profile in and outside of France. There’s also a 60,000-strong global network of alumni who you can connect with for advice or to enhance your future career prospects.

Do your homework

Professional decorum differs everywhere and familiarising yourself with the way of operating in the country you hope to work in should be high up on your agenda. For example, interview etiquette is important and France has its own set of rules to remember such as not kissing the interviewer on the cheek and sticking with the formal vous if you’re speaking French, as well as referring to your interviewer/s as Madame or Monsieur until they invite you to do otherwise.

MBA participants at ESSEC can take advantage of personalised mentoring to help them understand the industry they want to enter as well as the market. The career services department supports participants to develop the skills to become stand-out candidates for world-class recruiters. It’s the cherry on top of a rigorous programme that will prime you to take the next step in your career, be it in France or beyond.

Business etiquette may differ but one thing doesn’t: MBA demand around the world is high.


The biggest culture shocks foreign students face in France

France is one of the most popular destinations in the world for international students, but for those who are used to studying in English-speaking countries, there are a number of things about French universities, and student life, that take some getting used to.

Paris-Saclay University  on the outskirts of Paris. Public universities in France do not charge EU students tuition fees.
Paris-Saclay University on the outskirts of Paris. Public universities in France do not charge EU students tuition fees. Photo: ALAIN JOCARD / AFP.

Of course, the main difference is the price. Students in France pay just €170 per year at undergraduate level, and €243 for a master’s degree. Recent reforms have made this a lot more expensive for people without an EU passport – €2,770 and €3,770 – although some universities have refused to raise fees for foreign students.

The reality though is that France’s commitment to cheap public education is at the centre of a very different conception of what university is supposed to be. This, along with the usual culture shocks involved when moving to a new country, means that foreign students can find it difficult to adjust.

Here are some of the biggest differences you’ll find when studying in France.

It’s worth noting that if you’re attending a fee-paying university such as Sciences Po, you might find the experience is closer to what you’d expect in English-speaking countries.

READ ALSO Eight ways to save money in France as a student

Everyone goes home at the weekend

Since undergraduate courses on offer at different French universities are largely similar, it’s very common for students to go to their local institution. As a consequence, a large proportion go home to stay with their family every weekend.

If you’re living in student accommodation, you will witness this shift every Friday, as the hallways empty out and people leave carrying heavy duffel bags full of dirty clothes, looking like they’re heading off to war.

That means the weekends are quiet, and by extension, Thursday is the traditional student night when young people will hit the bars and clubs in town. So if you make friends in your classes, be prepared for messages asking for your notes from any Friday morning lectures.

There are lots of classes

Although university is very cheap in France, students here are made to take more classes than they would in many other countries. Public university students spend on average 19 hours in class every week; humanities students have the fewest contact hours, with 15 on average.

If you’re from a country such as the UK where students, particularly in the humanities, are encouraged to do lots of reading outside of class hours, be prepared for shocked looks when you tell people how many contact hours you had back home, and how much you were paying for them.

Students at Paris-Saclay University. Students in France spend a lot of time in the classroom.

Students in France spend a lot of time in the classroom. Photo: ALAIN JOCARD / AFP.


While you’re likely to have more classes, lots of this time will be taken up by presentations. Oral presentations are a more common evaluation method than essays in France, and once you get to the second half of the semester it’s not unusual to have a two-hour class which is entirely dedicated to student presentations.

And it’s not just the number of presentations that may come as a surprise, but also the format. While it’s not a requirement at university, French students are conditioned from an early age to structure presentations in three parts, plus an introduction and conclusion, with each of the three parts typically having two or three sub-sections. So while many professors will appreciate creativity, it’s still important to have a clear structure.

It’s even more likely there will be a firm expectation of this three-part structure – which often takes the form of “thesis, antithesis, synthesis” – for written essays.

It can seem chaotic

Studying at university is a good introduction into the world of French bureaucracy, and you’ll soon learn to stop asking “why?” and accept that some things are out of your control.

Above all, once you realise they’ll change the room your class is in at the last minute and everyone seems to get the memo except for you, you’ll get into the habit of checking the notice board outside of your department’s secretarial office every morning.

There aren’t as many clubs

This is definitely one thing which will differ depending on whether you’re at a public or private university. But generally speaking, you’re unlikely to find the same variety of clubs and student societies you might be used to back home.

You will be able to meet people through sports, since most universities have a service called SUAPS which organises a plethora of different sports activities. However, don’t expect to find a ‘Harry Potter society’, or other incredibly specific clubs, neither do French universities usually have fraternities or sororities.

READ ALSO These are the culture shocks you will experience as a foreign student in Paris

Fortunately, you can meet other foreign students by attending activities and trips run by the Erasmus Student Network. The association is present in 37 French cities, and they organise events which help you to meet people and discover the culture as well as trips to other cities in France.

Sharing is caring

If you do manage to make a connection with a group of locals, you’ll find that the French social life is pretty similar to what you’re used to, with only slight differences. Students still like to organise pre-drinks to socialise and get drunk on cheap alcohol before heading into town, although they use a different English term – le before – to describe this ritual.

But it’s the small differences that can take you by surprise. For example, it’s common at parties in France to coordinate with the rest of the group beforehand so that not everybody brings the same thing, because once you arrive, everything is shared, so you might not even end up drinking what you brought. Don’t be surprised then if you’re at a party and see someone you don’t know helping themselves to the wine you brought.

Of course, if you’re from the United States, it might come as a shock simply seeing 18-year-old students being allowed into bars and clubs.

Clouds of smoke

Since most lectures in France last two hours, it’s common for professors to give you a break halfway through, and most students will head outside, either to smoke or to accompany their friends, leaving just a few students alone in the classroom. If the professor is a smoker, they might even announce it as a pause clope (smoking break), and it will last the time it takes to go outside, smoke a cigarette, and come back.

Here, the clichés are true, at least to an extent. Young people in France are among the most likely in Europe to smoke. 23.5 percent of French people aged 15 to 24 are daily smokers, compared to 16 percent across the whole of the EU, according to Eurostat figures from 2014.

Student housing

Just as classrooms and lecture theatres are usually pretty basic, since most people aren’t paying expensive tuition fees, so student housing in France is designed to be cheap and cheerful.

The CROUS university accommodation is genuinely affordable, since as well as international students, it’s mostly targeted at students from low-income families. It’s a great way to save money for doing all the fun things you have planned for your year abroad, but if it’s luxury you’re after, you’d be much better off looking into private housing.

READ ALSO Five crucial tips for Americans who want to study in France