Job Hunting in France

There is no miracle cure for finding a job in France. The job market is difficult. The French job market is more inward-looking than in English-speaking countries. Diplomas and status are often much more important than experience. Who you know also plays an important role. If your competitor has just half your knowledge but knows your prospective employer's grandmother's cousin's cow, then he's a winner. This can make it very difficult for foreigners without personal relations to French cows to get a foot inside, unless you're one of the lucky few with high-level specialist knowledge, such as IT contractors or high-level bankers (in the latter case, just knowing how to screw the rest of us is not sufficient). The best way is to know someone who knows someone who can put you at the top of the stack - the principle known as piston in France. If it is any comfort, a Frenchman from another region is faced with exactly the same difficulties, particularly if he is a Parisian looking for work in a province.

If you are thinking about working in France, then you could do no harm to yourself reading this short article on This French Life about Jennie Wagner who ended up leaving France, being frustrated with the bureaucracy, unstable jobs, and low salary. She is much happier in Australia now. France it not the paradise you may think it is when it comes to making a living.

You can be almost certain that speaking French is a requirement. Hence, I have left the list of the job sectors expected to employ most in 2008 in French without translation. If you cannot decrypt it in French, your chances of being employed are virtually zero.

The Internet magazine L'Internaute had an interesting article in September 2009 to sum up which sectors have jobs to offer:

  • Water and waste management. 68,000 new jobs expected between now and 2012.
  • Banks: Investment portfolio management.
  • Public sector: big projects.
  • Health: medical equipment.
  • Renewable energy.
  • Insurance: business risks.
  • Health: personal services. 100,000 new jobs per year expected.
  • Shopping: local stores.
  • Group assurance.

A less recent article said the following job sectors were expected to hire the number of employees shown to the right in 2008:

Métiers Recrutements prévus en 2008
Employés et agents de maîtrise de l'hôtellerie (serveurs, maître d'hôtel...) 101,612
Agents d'entretien 65,042
Animateurs socioculturels, de sport et de loisirs 60,364
Caissiers, employés de libre service 45,521
Employés de maison et assistantes maternelles 41,988
Ingénieurs et cadres spécialistes de l'informatique (sauf technico-commerciaux) 39,390
Cuisiniers 36,982
Représentants, VRP 36,873
Maçons qualifiés 31,666
Secrétaires, assistantes 30,130
Cadres commerciaux et technicaux commerciaux 28,142
Conducteurs routiers 28,130
Vendeurs autres qu'en alimentation et équipement de la personne 25,017
Agents et hôtesses d'accueil, standardistes 24,707
Ingénieurs et cadres d'études et de recherche 22,709

The following table shows employment expectations for 2008 grouped per major sector:

Be Mobile

Mobility is becoming an important factor when looking for work in France. According to the "Capital" programme on French TV M6 23 January 2011, the régions that hire most are Auvergne, Bretagne, Limousin and Pays de la Loire (see on my map of French régions where they are - opens in a new window). It doesn't mean there is no unemployment there but that the unemployment rates are below the French average and that many companies are having difficulties finding suitable candidates willing to move there.

Some employers in these regions are willing to look more at the candidates' experience and capabilities than just diplomas, as the French tradition otherwise dictates, and they may be willing to compromise with qualifications if no perfect candidate is available. If for example a candidate with fluent English is required, they might be willing to employ a Briton with the technical qualifications but poor French and pay for French training.

The conseil régional of Auvergne has even launched a campaign to attract people to keep the population from falling. A few entrepreneurs have obtained significant financial assistance for their business projects, assistance not reserved for the French. One of the sectors assisted is tourism.

Job Classifications

Jobs are classified by ROME codes in France (Répertoire Opérationnel des Métiers et des Emplois). If job hunting, it may be useful to identify the ROME codes relevant for you. The job service Pôle emploi's descriptions of each ROME code give you an idea of what type of qualifications or diplomas are required. Don't narrow your search too much, as not all jobs are classified in a way that may seem consistent. The categories of business services may also contain services to individuals.

Pôle emploi's ROME code database.
List of ROME codes by category. Pôle emploi's site doesn't seem able to just show a list, so this site may be helpful.

Job & Contract Hunting Web Sites

French sites

123emploi. This site searches many other job sites.
Keljob. Keljob searches more than 1450 different job sites.
Jooble. Jooble searches many job sites for you. This site indexes more than 220 job sites and provides a useful starting point for job search, guiding you to the sites offering the best possibilities for you.

Open Directory. Listing of French job sites.

01net. IT.
Annoncenet. Part of the Mixad network.
Annonces de France. Free. Organised by region. Still very new, so yet few ads.
AnnoncesJaunes. Job ads from the publisher of Pages Jaunes - the French Yellow Pages.
Annonciade. Part of the Mixad network.
CadrEmploi. For managerial staff and other qualified personnel. Owned by Le Figaro.
Cadres online. For managerial staff and other qualified personnel.
Careerbuilder. No structured search facility.
Cmonjob. For non-managerial staff and other less qualified personnel. Owned by Le Figaro.
Craigslist France. Free classifieds. In English and French. Job ads on business information site.
La Guilde des métiers du logiciel . Software jobs and contracts.
Hitechpros. IT jobs and contracts.
Independants. Freelance contracts.
JobTransport. Jobs in the transport and logistics sector.
Journal du Net.
Michael Page France.
MixAd.'s site for job ads.
Monster France.
OLX. Free.
Pacajob. Regional site for the Provence-Alpes-Côte-d'Azur and Languedoc-Roussillon regions.
Pôle Emploi. The public job centre. Formerly ASSEDIC and ANPE.
Stepstone France
Super-secretaire. Secretarial jobs.
Travail Emploi.

International sites

Harvey Nash
Lorien Resourcing
Michael Page International
Progressive Recruitment

Working in France

Should you find a job, be aware that strict respect for hierarchy is expected, unless you are told otherwise. Cutting across reporting lines can be a faux pas.

Permanent jobs are know as CDI - Contrat à Durée Indéterminée and are very difficult for the employer to end. A breach of such a job contract could be very expensive for the employer if the employee goes to the employment court le conseil des prud'hommes and wins. Because of the draconian job protection measures, many employers don't want to hire anyone on a CDI. If they should hire some lazy chap and he or she only shows it after the end of the trial period, it can be a true nightmare to get rid of that employee. Holiday entitlement is five weeks per year. If the days are not taken during the contract, 10% of the salary paid must be added to compensate for the holiday entitlement not used.

Fixed term contracts are called CDD - Contrat à Durée Déterminée. The employer is only allowed to use them in very particular cases, such as replacement for someone on leave or temporary extra workload, and it can only be renewed once. The total duration cannot exceed 18 months. Again, the penalty for breaching one of the many rules can be expensive for the employer, so they hesitate too with this type of contract, although many employers happily breach the employment law and sign illegal CDDs. You are entitled to 10% compensation at the end of the CDD to compensate for being out of a job and 10% for holiday compensation if you have not had paid holiday.

Seasonal contracts are allowed in job sectors where this is needed, typically tourism. This may well be the type of contract you end up with.

There is an ocean of various other schemes and types of employment, mostly intended to encourage employment, but the result is that it's a big mess that not many understand, so for fear of getting it wrong and being penalised, or because many employers don't have weeks to study employment law and hundreds of exceptions, many of these schemes are not sufficiently used.

The social security charges weigh heavily on the employment budget. As a rule of thumb, when you are paid a net salary of €55 (after social charges but before income tax), your employer has to pay an additional €45 in social charges (employee's and employer's). To that, the employer needs to add the cost of your workspace and other overhead such as the cost of a medical and taxe sur les salaires or VAT

These are some of the odds you're up against when searching a job in France. The whole system is gridlocked because those already in CDI jobs refuse to give up their privileges so that more can get jobs. Be patient when you look for jobs.

The minimum salary is called SMIC. The most recent hourly gross rates (before deduction of employee's social charges and income tax) are:

2011-01-01: €9.00
2011-12-01: €9.19
2012-01-01: €9.22
2012-07-01: €9.40
2013-01-01: €9.43

These rates apply to work effectively carried out on or after the dates mentioned. It is a criminal offense to pay an employee at a rate below the SMIC.

You can look up the current and historical SMIC rates at the government's statistical site INSEE, but beware that they take some take to update their site with the most recent information. As of the 29 December 2011, the SMIC applicable from the 1st December 2011 still didn't appear.

The table below illustrates the figures for a minimum salary with typical social charges. The exact percentages of social charges may vary a bit with the job sector.

  2013-01-01 % of gross salary 1 hour 1 day (7 hours) Week (35 hours) Month (151.67 hours/4⅓ weeks)
Net salary 77.09% €7.27 €50.89 €254.43 €1102.54
Employee's social charges 22.91% €2.16 €15.12 €75.62 €327.68
Gross salary 100.00% €9.43 €66.01 €330.05 €1430.22
Employer's social charges 40.61% €3.83 €26.81 €134.04 €580.82
Cost to employer 140.61% €13.26 €92.82 €464.09 €2011.04
  2012-07-01 % of gross salary 1 hour 1 day (7 hours) Week (35 hours) Month (151.67 hours/4⅓ weeks)
Net salary 77.09% €7.25 €50.72 €253.62 €1099.03
Employee's social charges 22.91% €2.15 €15.08 €75.38 €326.63
Gross salary 100.00% €9.40 €65.80 €329.00 €1425.67
Employer's social charges 40.61% €3.82 €26.72 €133.61 €578.97
Cost to employer 140.61% €13.22 €92.52 €462.61 €2004.64
  2012-01-01 % of gross salary 1 hour 1 day (7 hours) Week (35 hours) Month (151.67 hours/4⅓ weeks)
Net salary 77.09% €7.11 €49.75 €248.77 €1077.99
Employee's social charges 22.91% €2.11 €14.79 €73.93 €320.38
Gross salary 100.00% €9.22 €64.54 €322.70 €1398.37
Employer's social charges 40.61% €3.74 €26.21 €131.05 €567.88
Cost to employer 140.61% €12.96 €90.75 €453.75 €1966.25

If the employer is a retailer, artisan or other professional who sells goods or services to the public, he also has to add 19.6% VAT on the net cost of his services or products (5.5% for certain sectors such as restaurants and passenger transport).

  2013-01-01 % of gross salary 1 hour 1 day (7 hours) Week (35 hours) Month (151.67 hours/4⅓ weeks)
Cost to employer incl. VAT at 19.6% 168.17% €15.86  €111.01  €555.05  €2405.20

The employee is of course not concerned with the complexities and cost of all this. But it still indirectly concerns the employee, because the cost of manpower is so excessively high that the jobseeker is often faced with sceptical or reluctant employers who need to assure that by hiring you at the minimum salary, they can increase their monthly profits by at least €2405.20 just to theoretically break even. If they increase their profits by less than this, they will lose money by hiring you, and they are not the social security office. Hence, during a job interview, you need to convince the employer that you won't just be an additional dead weight dragging the whole business towards bankruptcy even faster than the burden of the civil service, taxes, social charges and regulations are already doing it but will actively contribute to achieving the company's goals. For a small business, taking on an employee is a very heavy decision that can cost them a lot of money. The better you understand their concerns, the better you can position yourself.

Many sectors are subject to conventions collectives (collective agreements) which have the force of law and improve working conditions and/or minimum pay above the minimum level of the employment law (code du travail). If such an agreement applies, it must be mentioned in the employment contract and on the payslips.

Should you have landed a job and find yourself ill, you must of course call the employer in the morning, but that's not enough. You need a doctor's certificate very quickly. It's called an arrêt de travail. It must be posted to the employer almost immediately. It will certify that you are ill, how long time your illness will last, and when you are allowed to leave home to buy food etc. If by the end of this period you are still ill, you can get an extension from your doctor. During the first year of a job, you may be entitled to indemnités journalières (sickness benefit) from the CPAM, except for a carence (waiting period) of the first three days. When you have been one year with the same employer, the employer has to top up the public sickness benefit to your normal salary.

If you want to quit a job, you need to be careful to respect the legal and contractual terms when giving notice. If you don't, you risk a claim for damages from the employer, for example if they had to hire a more expensive replacement urgently. You cannot just walk out, particularly if you have a CDD contract which must in principle be respected until its expiry. There is a particular case that entitles you to quit a CDD with short notice: if you have signed a CDI with another employer.

Contractors in France

As in many other countries, some French companies use fixed term contractors as a complement to permanent employees, notably in IT. Both public, semi-public, and private companies in France use contractors. It relieves them of the burden of applying the restrictive French employment law and the risk of ending up with employees they no longer need but have no legal reason for laying off. French law makes the use of temporary employment illegal except in very specific and restricted cases. This makes it illegal to use temporary employees the way it is done in the UK, for example. Hence the need for contractors.

In most cases, such contracts are signed with another company that is in turn responsible for finding suitable contractors or providing their own staff on loan temporarily. If you are not already living in France, the best way to sign up is to get an employment contract with an accountancy company specialised in international contracting. They will in turn sign a service contract with the company that has the contract with the end client, although there can sometimes be further contract links in between. This can eliminate the high French social charges and replace them with the more modest charges of the UK, for example. It is also tax efficient. There is furthermore the advantage that you will be covered by French unemployment benefit at the end of the contract until you find another one, although you may have to insist quite a lot, since many French job centres don't know this and regularly tell job seekers the contrary. Some well-paid top-ranking international consultants don't know it either although they should know better.

If you are already a resident of France, it may not be possible to make use of the foreign employment route. However, even if the French administration is entitled to refuse the foreign employment scheme if you already live in France, it may well be accepted in practice anyway. It is worth a try. If it is impossible, the only way left may be to become self-employed in France. You will find more information about that on the business page. You need to be extremely careful to understand the full implications of the heavy social charges due and how they are only fully collected two years later. The social charges that can amount to 45% of the profit are a frequent cause of bankruptcies in France. This is an extraordinarily complicated subject where you need specialist advice. You can forget all about the simplicity of being self-employed in the UK or the US.

As in the UK, however, you can use an umbrella company to avoid the hassle of being self-employed. That is called a société de portage. But while it eliminates a lot of complication, it doesn't eliminate the high social charges. Technically, you will be an employee of the umbrella company. You will not be surprised to hear that the activities of French umbrella companies are regulated.

There is a further potential problem with contracting in France. Just as it is the case with the UK's IR35 and the US's self-employment test, the French authorities may also take the view that a contractor is nothing more than an employee in disguise. There is no fixed and firm rule for how to determine this, but the guidelines are fairly much like the British and American. The following questions will typically be considered:

  • Is it the only client?
  • Does the work take place at the client's premises?
  • Does the contractor use the client's tools?
  • Does the contractor take orders from the client (indicating a subordination)?
  • Does the contractor have fixed and regular working hours?
  • Is the contractor paid the same amount every month?
  • Is the contractor doing the ongoing work of the client and not one or more specific projects?
  • Is there no precise service contract?

The more 'yes' replies, the higher the risk of having a contract reclassified as employment. Many of the existing contractors in France would be reclassified as employees if these criteria were systematically applied. In practice, everybody keeps a low profile and nothing happens. Even though the unions are obviously not too happy about this, they use it as a bargaining chip to obtain other advantages for themselves rather than making a war out of it.

Although IT is one of the dominating fields in contracting, it is obviously not the only one. You probably know your trade better than I do and whether such contracting arrangements are commonly used or not. The key is not to stick your head out of the crowd. If you start making contracting arrangements in more traditional trades - being a self-employed cook in a restaurant for example - where such arrangements are not common, there is a much higher risk of trouble. In one such case, the restaurant owner found himself in magistrate's court for wilfully evading his duties as an employer.

Unemployment in France

Pôle Emploi is the public job centre. It was formed by merging the ASSEDIC and the ANPE. This is where one registers for unemployment benefit and job seeking. There are job listings online and on site.

Employment periods in other EU/EEA countries must be taken into account when they calculate your entitlement to unemployment benefit. You may need to obtain the appropriate E-form from the authorities in the other countries you worked in, to certify your periods worked.

In general, your last employment must have worked for a French employer if you are to be entitled to French unemployment benefit. However, if you have been posted temporarily to France under the exception rule of the EU social security regulation, meaning that you kept depending on the original country's social security system during your employment in France, then become unemployed while in France, then you are entitled to French unemployment benefit under European regulations. It is a problem that many pôle emploi are unaware of this and that you may have to explain the detailed regulations to them and insist before you are paid.

Unemployment Benefit regulation. The official text that regulates unemployment benefit.

Retirement in France – Zero charge foreign currency

When you work in France, you are obliged to contribute to the public pension system that corresponds to your sector of activity (with a few exceptions notably concerning temporary assignments in France and employees of international organisations such as the EU, NATO, United Nations etc.). These systems have an element of basic pension and complementary pension, both mandatory.

When you retire, you collect a retirement according to how much you have worked and paid into the system. The retirement age is presently 60 years for a reduced pension, or 65 years for a full pension although the law that increases this to 62 years and 67 years respectively is close to being final. Some special retirement schemes allow for earlier retirement.

It is possible to keep working, within certain limits, after retiring.

Info Retraite. Public site informing about retirement in France.
Overview of pension systems in France. Provided by
Assurance retraite. Site of the main pension system for employed.

Pension payments are coordinated within the European Union (EU), the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland so that if you have worked in more than one of these countries, contributions in all countries are taken into account in each pension scheme. The main principle is that each pension system must make two independent calculations: 1) based on contributions to that particular pension system and 2) based on all contributions to all pension systems, then pro-rata according to how many years you have paid into that particular system. You are paid the higher of the two amounts. You must file your demand for pension with the pension system that is competent at the time of retirement. They are responsible for coordinating pension payments from all the pension systems. Below are the European Regulations that lay down the rules of coordination:

Consolidated version of Regulation 883/2004. The updates introduced by Regulation 988/2009 have been incorporated in the original vesion of 883/2004.
Regulation 987/2009
A French circular informed the various French administrations of the introduction of these two new EU Regulations that replaced Regulation 1408/71 in 2010. EU Regulation 1408/71 was repealed on May 1, 2010.

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