A Guide for American candidates interviewing with French people

October 24, 2023
min read

American interviewing with a French person? Lucky you :D

This article aims to bridge the cultural gap by highlighting key distinctions that American candidates should keep in mind when interviewing with French CEOs.

It is 100% based on my experience as a French guy working in the US for the past 6 years now and the only source is my humble opinion and experience. Nothing is always black & white and we're all human beings with our nuances and proper characteristics so take what I'm about to share with a grain of salt.

Preparing for the Interview

Comprehensive Preparation vs "Winging It"

In the U.S.: American candidates might lean towards a spontaneous approach, preparing enough to answer anticipated questions and make a strong impression but leaving room for improvisation.

In France: French business culture puts a high value on thorough preparation. Whether it's a presentation or a job interview, the expectation is that you will come well-prepared with detailed information and perhaps even visual aids like slides.

What to do: Take a page out of the French preparation book and allocate ample time to prepare meticulously for your interview. Research the company in depth, understand its market position, and be ready to discuss detailed strategies or case studies. Ensure that you're prepared to offer concrete data and examples to substantiate your points.

Answer structure

Bragging VS Showing

In the U.S.: It's ok to brag, to say you're #1 and that you "crushed it there".

In France: Bragging is frowned upon. People will try and keep a low profile even when they had great success.

What to do: You can still say that you were #1 in the team and that you killed it, but make sure you add numbers, processes, context (think about the STAR method) and nuances when sharing your experience.


Transparency vs Discretion

In the U.S.: Talking about money, salaries, and other financial matters is generally accepted, especially in a business or job interview context. Transparency around these subjects is often seen as a way to expedite negotiations and establish mutual expectations.

In France: Discussions about money are usually more discreet and sensitive. People are less likely to directly address financial matters, particularly salary expectations or bonuses, in initial conversations. This reticence can extend into the corporate setting as well.

What to do: Avoid introducing the topic of money abruptly and wait for a natural segue, often after other job aspects have been detailed. If prompted about financials, consider offering a compensation range and be ready to back your expectations with concrete data. Follow the CEO's lead to gauge when it's appropriate to delve deeper into financial discussions.


Directness vs Politeness

In the U.S.: Americans often get straight to the point and value direct communication, especially in a business context. "Time is money" is a common sentiment.

In France: Communication tends to be more nuanced and indirect. Politeness and formality are highly valued. One can expect a more circuitous approach to getting to the main subject of conversation.

What to do: Be prepared to engage in some small talk and avoid jumping directly into business matters. Take time to build rapport. When answering questions, prioritize diplomacy and depth over brevity.


Punctuality vs Flexibility

In the U.S.: Being on time is critical, and tardiness is generally frowned upon.

In France: While punctuality is appreciated, the French have a more relaxed view on time. Being a few minutes late is usually not a big deal. Don't get flustered if the person you're going to meet shows up late and apologizes lightly.

What to do: Aim to be punctual but don't be surprised or frustrated if the meeting starts a bit late or runs over time.

Hierarchy & Formality

Egalitarian vs Hierarchical

In the U.S.: The American workspace is generally less hierarchical, and first names are often used from the outset.

In France: French business culture is more hierarchical. Titles are important and formal language is commonly used, especially in initial meetings.

What to do: Read the room on that one. If you realize the CEO is really formal, you might want to address them by their last names unless invited to do otherwise. Utilize formal language until a more relaxed tone is established.

Relationship Building

Networking vs Deep Connections

In the U.S.: Networking is often wide but not necessarily deep. Quick interactions and follow-ups are common.

In France: Business relationships are often cultivated over a longer period and are considered deeper. Social gatherings and long lunches are part and parcel of this relationship-building.

What to do: Be prepared to invest time in building a relationship. If invited to a social event or dinner, accept the invitation as it is a valuable part of the business culture.

Key Takeaways

  1. Preparing for the Interview: Emulate the French emphasis on thorough preparation by diving deep into company research and being ready with concrete examples and data.
  2. Bragging vs Showing: While sharing your achievements, avoid outright bragging and focus on presenting numbers, processes, and context to back up your claims.
  3. Money Discussions: Tread carefully when discussing financials; wait for a natural segue and be prepared to offer a salary range supported by concrete data.
  4. Communication Style: Prioritize diplomacy and depth in your answers and be prepared for indirect communication and small talk.
  5. Time Management: Aim for punctuality but be flexible with time, understanding that the French perspective on time may differ from the American one.
  6. Hierarchy and Formality: Gauge the room for formality and use titles and last names unless otherwise directed.
  7. Relationship Building: Invest time in deeper relationships rather than wide networking. Accept social invitations as they are integral to French business culture.

The French don't want you any harm, they just want to find the best Salespeople out there! Make sure they understand that it's you ;)

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