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Last updated on 10/13/16

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Course introduction

You’re ready to reply to job offers… but what can you do to make your application stand out from the rest and improve your chances of being asked to interview? How do you know if the reality of the job advertised corresponds to the idea you have of it? And how do you attract the employer’s attention with your CV and cover letter? Remember: it is absolutely essential to tailor your cover letter and CV in response to each job offer. In this course, you’ll learn how to develop different profiles to suit different offers and their respective contexts.

Correctly interpreting a job offer!

You may be interested in several different job offers. What’s important next is to know how to interpret them. Knowing how to interpret a job offer (and sometimes reading between the lines) will allow you to present the best possible application. In fact, most job offers are full of information that will help you understand what the recruiter is looking for in an applicant. It’s then over to you to select your skills that best correspond to those sought after by the employer. Interpreting the offer is therefore an essential step to application success. Let's get started!

Interpreting a job offer in 3 easy steps:

Interpreting a job offer in 3 easy steps
Interpreting a job offer in 3 easy steps

Step 1: Read the offer carefully and identify the key words

For each job offer that interests you, it is vital to take the time to read it carefully. This is a key step that will have an impact on the quality of your application. So take your time!

Below is an example we will refer to on several occasions throughout this course. This is a job offer for a Project Manager position (offer in French). The first step consists in reading the offer several times to try and make sense of it and identify what they are precisely looking for.

Exercise: Read the following offer for the Project Manager position carefully. Then follow our guidelines to help you dissect it, step by step!

Job offer

Descriptif du poste : Chef de Projet h/f

Entreprise : Entreprise de technologies et de services portée par l’innovation , XX compte 3500 collaborateurs dans 11 pays et a réalisé un chiffre d’affaire de 494 millions d’euros en 2014.

Sa filiale X recherche un Chef de Projet Agile

X est un éditeur d’applications web et mobiles, spécialisé dans le développement de solutions collaboratives. Ses solutions permettent à leurs utilisateurs d’être à la fois mobiles et connectés pour échanger à distance sans contrainte de temps ni de lieu. Avec plusieurs brevets à son actif, son département R&D est à la pointe de l’innovation et ses produits sont déjà distribués dans plus de 25 pays.

Localisation : Boulogne-Billancourt (France)

Missions : Au coeur des équipes projets, vous participerez au déploiement et à l’exploitation de l’offre Y chez nos clients.

Vous animerez les groupes de travail et formaliserez le besoin avec le client en terme de plateforme technique et de services. Vous concevrez la solution et rédigerez les spécifications associées, vous piloterez les développements et coordonnerez la phase de recette avec le client.

Par la fiabilité et la qualité des solutions mises en place, vous serez un contributeur essentiel de la satisfaction de nos clients. Vous réaliserez vos missions dans le respect du budget, des délais, de la méthodologie de projet Y et des engagements contractuels.

Vous serez amené à organiser ou animer des formations d’utilisateurs finaux.

Vous travaillerez en relation étroite avec les autres services de l’entreprise (Sales, Support, R&D, Formation), les partenaires et les fournisseurs.

Profil : De formation supérieure (Bac +5), vous disposez d’une première expérience réussie dans le déploiement d’applications mobiles, Web, BI ou CRM et connaissez la méthode de gestion de projet Agile.

Compétences et qualités requises :

Vous disposez d’une bonne connaissance du secteur des nouvelles technologies et de l’industrie pharmaceutique. Par ailleurs, vous êtes reconnu pour votre esprit de synthèse, ainsi que pour votre aisance orale et rédactionnelle.

Les équipes étant présentes à l’international, un niveau d’anglais courant est exigé.

Download the offer in PDF format

To help you dissect the offer, it is a good idea to make use of highlighter pens and to colour code the different elements of information provided. As you read through the offer, underline the points that you think are important, those that help you to better understand the position in question. For example, what is the sector concerned? The size of the company? The challenges? The context of recruitment (replacement contract? Hired for a specific project, etc.?). All of this information is extremely useful.

Exercise: Using two different colours, underline the key information relating to

  1. the company, and

  2. the position in the above job offer.

Download the corrected version

Step 2: Identify the ideal applicant profile

Now put yourself in the employer’s shoes! Re-read the offer and ask yourself the following question: what is required or expected of the applicant? 

Select any words and phrases relating to the ideal applicant profile and any requirements or qualifications needed for the position. You may have already selected and highlighted some of these as the key words in the previous exercise.

 With regard to the ideal applicant profile, there are three possibilities:

  • The skills sought after by the employer are clearly advertised in the offer (typically in list format, in which case all you have to do is highlight them);

  •  Some skills are implicit: you need to deduce these from the tasks and responsibilities referred to;

  • Both of the above at the same time.

In any case, it is worth writing out a list of these skills and requirements, possibly making two lists for those that are an absolute necessity and those that are preferable. This list will help you when adapting your CV and cover letter. It’s also a way of making sure that you don’t forget any important details.

Exercise: Using the above offer, list all the elements that correspond to the desired applicant profile (skills/abilities/experience/qualifications). Don’t forget to read between the lines!

Download the corrected version

Step 3: Find out more about the company in question

An employer expects an applicant to have a minimum of knowledge about the company (domain, market position, challenges/stakes, etc.) and the job on offer, when applying.

For this, you can make use of the information given in the job offer, but you can also further your knowledge by doing some additional research online, especially if the offer lacks detail.

For example, if the offer refers to the international market, why not find out more about the company’s overseas branches or subsidiaries and see if there is an upcoming project in any of these countries?

Exercise: Go back to the Project Manager offer and identify the key pieces of information that need to be researched in greater detail by doing an online search.

Download the corrected version

Over to you

Now have a look at an offer that interests you and follow the same procedure. Once you’ve finished, you can then begin to prepare your application (CV and cover letter).

Tailoring your CV to the job offer

Your CV is the equivalent of a business card. For this reason, it should showcase the relevant educational and professional history with regard to the type of job you would like, or in response to a specific job offer. This is why it is essential to tailor your CV to each job applied for. The same should be done with the cover letter.

CV format

A French-style CV should consist of at least 4 sections, including:

  • Your contact details

  • A title ‘Responsable Marketing’ / ‘ingénieur en système d’information’ for example…

  • Your professional background and/or skills

  • Your educational background (degrees, diplomas, etc.)

You are then free to add some additional sections relevant to your background and the position you are applying for. For example, if you are applying for a job as a business manager, you might want to mention on your CV that you have a 5 years' experience coaching a basketball team. It is common to add a section with miscellaneous information mentioning involvement in clubs and associations, artistic and/or sporting skills, interests and hobbies, etc.

What are the golden rules to respect in France?

  • Your CV should be no longer than 1 page. Be concise.

  • Give your contact details at the top of the CV so that they are easily visible to the employer: surname, first name, postal address, email address (professional sounding email addresses only), telephone number.

  • Give a title to your CV that corresponds to the one used in the job advertisement. If you don’t know the exact job title or if you are sending a spontaneous application, target the type of position you would like.

  • Make sure your CV is easy to read. Don’t condense the text too much or use too small a font size. Make distinct sections, make effective use of bold and italics (in moderation).

  • Pay attention to the margins. Make sure that the format of your CV respects printing margins. Otherwise, the employer may be left with an incomplete or truncated printed version.

Should I add a photo?

Adding a photo to a CV is no longer obligatory but is often appreciated by French employers.

If you decide to add a photo, make sure that it is a professional-looking image (no holiday snaps or overly casual pictures). The photo should correspond to the dress code and general attitudes of the sector you are targeting.

You can create an original format for your CV depending on the sector targeted. But be careful not to go overboard. If you are applying for a job in a bank for example, it’s best to use a standard CV format. On the other hand, if you are applying for work in the creative or artistic sphere, an original CV is certainly an advantage.

Content

You can arrange your CV in chronological order or by skillset (especially for applicants with a lot of professional experience or very specific skills).

Whatever the case, for each of your previous jobs, it’s important to specify the following:

  • The job start and end date;

  • The name of the company;

  • The location;

  • Your primary activity (provide details relevant to the job you are currently targeting);

  • The skills acquired on the job, again relevant to the position you are currently applying for. It’s best to refer to these skills in a factual manner (for example: ‘Responsible for supervising a team of 5 people for 2 years’, ‘Responsible for managing a client portfolio of 50 SMBs’, ‘Commercial objectives: 5 contracts per month. Results: 7 to 8 contracts per month over a one-year period’, etc.). It’s important to highlight these to the employer and make use of key words so that he/she can identify your skills more easily (‘client portfolio, ‘commercial objectives’, etc.).

Don’t try to include everything in your CV: Select the information relevant to the job applied for. No need to include secondary school results and avoid bland phrases like ‘I love the cinema and music’.

In general, your recent diplomas/degrees are the most important and should be relevant to the job you are applying for. For example, if you are applying for a job as HR Manager, it’s important to mention your Masters in HR on your CV. There’s no need to refer as far back as your secondary school education.

Exercise: Let’s return to the example of the Project Manager job offer. Here is an example of a French CV drafted by an applicant. See in what ways the CV corresponds to the job offer and the desired applicant profile. Can you see the elements listed from step 2?

Over to you

By now, you should have at your disposal all the keys to creating a relevant, pertinent CV. Now, it’s time to draft your CV and ask your family and friends (especially those familiar with the sector you are interested in) to read it and give you their honest opinion. It is always interesting to have an objective perspective.

Writing an attractive cover letter

The cover letter is sent as a complement to your CV. It should explain why you are interested in a particular job and should be tailored to suit the targeted position. Every cover letter should be unique to an applicant and unique to a job offer. There’s no such thing as a generic letter. Below is some advice to help you write a cover letter that stands out from the rest.

Form

  • Today, most cover letters are typed and sent by email rather than handwritten and sent by post. When you send the cover letter, make sure you convert it to PDF format to ensure you have sent a non-editable version that can be easily opened by the employer. You should do the same with your CV.

  • Make sure the cover letter isn’t too long (no longer than a page in standard font). Provide essential information likely to attract the attention of the recruiter when he/she reads the letter. The goal is to attract his/her interest so that you are offered an interview where you can elaborate on the information referred to in the cover letter.

  • Structure the letter with paragraphs and make sure it’s easy to read. Don’t make the font size too small or have the text too dense.

  • It is worth personalising your cover letter by signing it.

  • Finally, pay extra attention to grammar and spelling! Remember to re-read the letter before sending it and make use of the spell check function and other tools (BonPatron.com for example for cover letters written in French).

In some instances, you may be asked to explain why you are applying for the job in a section especially provided for this purpose (APEC), or within the body of an email. You don’t need to include your signature here.

Content

Below is a sample outline to help you draft your cover letter:

THEM

About the company
2 to 4 lines maximum

‘Why I’m writing to you?’

Demonstrate your knowledge of the company and your understanding of the position on offer

For example: ‘Vous êtes une entreprise spécialisée dans (…) et vous recherchez un consultant capable de (…).’

ME

About the applicant
6 to 8 lines maximum

‘What are my strengths? Assets?’

Highlight your past experiences that are relevant to the job in question and its proposed tasks and activities.

Illustrate, using concrete examples, the correlation between your profile and the qualities they are looking for in an applicant.

For example: ‘Comme vous pouvez le constater à la lecture de mon CV, j’ai déjà travaillé dans (…). Cette expérience m’a permis de développer des qualités de (…)’.

US

About the Applicant + Company

‘Let’s meet’

For example: ‘Je serais très heureux de pouvoir mettre toutes mes compétences et ma motivation au service de votre projet, pour contribuer ensemble à faciliter la collaboration au quotidien de milliers de personnes. En espérant vous rencontrer très bientôt, je vous prie de croire, Madame, Monsieur, à l’expression de mes salutations les meilleures’.

 In addition, feel free to add the following:

  • to the THEM section: information you have found from an Internet search (try to mirror your language to theirs, refer to company values, etc.)

  • to the ME section: additional information about one or two experiences or skills, mentioned in your CV and relevant to the job

  • to the US section: your willingness to put your skills at the service of the company to which you are applying and stress your availability for an interview.

Download an example of a cover letter

How to follow up on your job application

Once you are happy with your application and have sent it off, remember that you may not receive a reply for some time. Below is our advice with regard to following up:

  • Wait 8 to 10 days before following up on your application.

  • You can follow up initially with a neutral email (checking to see if the application was received, see below for example) that doesn’t put pressure on the employer:

Madame or Monsieur or Madame, Monsieur,

Je vous ai adressé ma candidature pour le poste de XXXXX le date dernier.

Je me permets de revenir vers vous pour savoir si celle-ci vous est bien parvenue.

En vous remerciant de votre réponse et restant à votre disposition, je vous prie d’agréer l’expression de mes bien sincères salutations.

Albert Duranton
06 XX XX XX XX

  • If you haven’t heard back within a week, we recommend you telephone the contact person or the HR department, who should be able to provide you with more information on the recruitment process.

Good luck drafting your cover letter! Now, let’s turn our attention to the next stage: the employment interview.

 

 

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Example of certificate of achievement
Example of certificate of achievement