Moving to France can be quite a daunting experience. The struggles with finding a flat, the endless red tape, making new friends, fitting in culturally… it’s all quite challenging. But it’s a piece of cake compared to finding a job in France. Makes house-hunting a walk in the park! Finding a job as a lawyer.
When my husband got offered a job in Paris, I didn’t think twice about quitting my own job and coming with him to France. I was working as a lawyer in a failing hedge fund, professionally miserable and eager for a change. This was the perfect opportunity to give my career the 180 it needed!
Being fluent in French, I was pretty confident that it would be a swift move. I had a solid CV as a lawyer so, head held high, I started sending my résumé to UK and US law firms and head-hunters, hoping my bilingual background and international experience would be appealing. Out of the over fifty CVs and cover letters I sent out, I got two answers: one was a polite “no thanks” and the other was an offer as a temp secretary which I was then turned down for because I was over-qualified…
I was finally called into interview with a head-hunter who bluntly explained why I wasn’t getting any offers:
“Listen, your CV can look great anywhere else in the world, but not in Paris. There isn’t a single French reference here. You need to have either studied at a French University or worked in France, preferably in a French company”.
I felt defeated. How can they be so narrow-minded? I’d always thought diversity was a positive thing. Well, apparently not in France.I kept getting turned down for jobs either because I didn’t have a French background or because I was over-qualified.
What can a lawyer do
I decided to take the head-hunter’s advice and enrolled at the Sorbonne for a Masters degree. It was a huge financial investment and frankly something I didn’t feel I needed or wanted to do but, just like the headhunter had told me, once I had this“French line” on my CV, I started getting calls for job interviews. This was it!
The lack of experience was no longer an issue but I there was still a second hurdle. “You need to qualify as a French lawyer”. “Hmm, but I’m a EU-qualified lawyer, as in the European Union, i.e. this thing France founded!”. “Yeah, still no”.After what felt like an endless bureaucratic process and a written and oral exam, I finally qualified as a French lawyer.
Almost a year and half after having arrived in Paris, this was it! I was finally fully fit for the French labour market! Hurray!!
I got a job as an in-house lawyer with a French advertising company. Sounds cool, right? Wrong! It was a nightmare. I was the only non-French person in the entire company (with over 500 employees). No one spoke English or gave a crap about my international background. It was a family-run business and corporate was as old-school as it gets. I was accustomed to the highly digital working mode of law firms, had never used a fax in my life and didn’t understand how someone didn’t have a secure database. In this company, everything was printed, handwritten and manual. All documents were physically filed in fat folders: nothing was archived on an electronic database because it wasn’t supposedly trustworthy! Whereas before I’d simple send out a two-line email, I now had to write a two-page letter with the eloquence of Proust just to schedule a meeting… I felt highly inadequate and under-appreciated. Cherry on top: I had the worst possible boss, a cliché of the quintessential Parisian b*tch, who chain-smoked, wore exclusively black (and Chanel) and constantly berated me because I wasn’t French. “Peut-être on n’a pas ça chez toi, mais en France on…” (I don’t know how it works where you come from, but in France…”). I would cry before leaving the house because I didn’t want to go to work and then cry when I got back because of the horrible day I’d had at work. I was having trouble conceiving and my depression and angst because of work certainly weren’t helping. My husband, the wise, sensible man that he is, told me this was ridiculous and I needed to quit.
The day I finally decided to give my notice, I got a call from a head-hunter I’d interviewed with a few months earlier. She asked me how I was doing and if I was happy with my job. “Well, funny you should ask…”! She was looking for someone to work with a UK company, in an international position. Fate, right?
I was two months pregnant when I interviewed and told them about it, even though I wasn’t showing yet and had no obligation to do so. My interviewer – now boss – later said that it was my honesty that got me the job.
Although I work with a UK-based team and English boss, most of my colleagues are French. The interaction I have with them doesn’t compare with my previous job, and for that I’m very grateful: it has allowed me to shed my prejudice against Parisians and working with them. I have a wonderful relationship with my French colleagues, in and outside the office, and respect them highly.
Perhaps I was just very unlucky in my previous job and it had nothing to do with it being a French company. I do feel, however, that there is a huge difference in the workplace between Paris and London, and I found that adjustment much more difficult than any other aspect in my life in Paris. My experience has been that the French labour market is still very narrow –minded: employers cannot think outside the box and appreciate an international profile. They need something they can value and compare you against other candidates.
Even if you work or want to work in an international company with an international environment, speaking French (even just a little) is key. It helps not only on a social level (it’s nice knowing what people are chatting about around the water fountain), but will help them consider you as a peer rather than the “English girl from the 3
Each experience is different and I’m sure that some have had lovely encounters and much less of a struggle finding jobs, so it is impossible, as with everything, to generalise.
My only advice will apply to job hunting in Paris, and anywhere else in the world: persevere! Hard work and determination always pay off. There might be some odd jobs and pathetic wages on the way but in the end, you’ll get there.