First Interview

Thursday, September 4, 2008

So, I've been sending my CV off for various job postings that I've found mostly on the lifesaving Fusac website and magazine. I'd say that I've applied to about five different places, and I've received three calls back, which isn't as bad as I expected. Despite the fact that the information about my basic French skills is clearly stated in English on my CV, the first two people who called me only spoke French and told me that I would need to have a good grasp of French for the job. I've been really upfront about my skills (or what I perceived as being upfront), but apparently that's of no consequence to some folks. Thankfully, I've been getting great advice from seasoned transplants who've gone through the ropes of job-searching and interviewing with French companies, and it's really been invaluable. Now, I know a little more about what's expected of me, what "basic French" means to prospective employers and how to handle myself a bit more on the phone. (Thanks Sam and Emily!)

There aren't many jobs around here that don't involve at least a good grasp of French, so my choices have been pretty limited. Even if a job posting says that the work will be done completely in English, it usually involves working with other francophones and having the ability to casually converse with others (which is the type of job I'm hoping to land). So, I was a little relieved and surprised when I received a call back from someone speaking perfect American English, requesting a phone interview with me. When I called back, I realized that the American voice was just a proxy to the real interviewer and I had the daunting task of speaking French for the first half of the phone interview. After a rough start, I was finally and thankfully asked to switch to English to be better understood (yikes!). Despite my acknowledged basic French skills, my prospective employer seemed to like me and asked me to come in to see her for a face-to-face interview.

My interview was scheduled for this afternoon, and knowing that I'd be interviewing in the 1ère arrondissement I was a little intimidated. Even though I spend my days in and around Paris, buying baguettes and drinking wine, I'm no vraie Parisenne and am always very conscious about my position as an outsider. The 1ère is the physical epicenter of Paris, the heart, the point from which the entire city radiates from. And, it's home to the Louvre, Palais Royal, the Ritz and Les Halles. It may not be the most popular or populated district in Paris, but to me it's where Paris begins. I had no idea what to expect, how to prepare and I was especially distraught with how to dress.

After raiding my shabby closet, I finally threw together a modest ensemble, slipped on a pair of the second-tallest heels I own, grabbed my passport and hit the cobblestone. I quickly realized why my heels had been tucked in a shoe box at the back of the closet since I brought them here in April. And now I know that only vraie Parisian women should wear heels higher than two inches when walking around the city.

I made it to my rendezvous with time to spare, but was quickly let into a first floor converted office. The woman who was to conduct the interview was apparently busier than she'd expected to be and kept me waiting a long time before seeing me. When we finally got to talking, I felt a little more comfortable about the job description and understood the basic daily operations of the business. Then, just when I thought the interview had come to an end, she asks me to do some on-the-spot writing samples for her. Writing? Ok, cool. I can do this - I write all the time, and I've written countless business letters on a multitude of topics, so I've got this. But, oh no. She wants me to write a mock business letter and then translate it into French. Even after I laughed, asked if she was serious and gave her a you-obviously-don't-understand-what-not-knowing-French-means look, she said she wanted to see a French translation. Fine. But, knowing that translating practically word for word is a big no-no, I did it anyway (seriously, I had no other option) and had my told-you-so face ready when she finished reading the first sentence, responing with pas de tout and what I swear was the phrase c'est nul under her breath.

But, apparently that wasn't enough to persuade her to end the interview because she then asked me for one more writing piece. This time, she wanted me to write her a letter, to tell her why I should be hired and what I can bring to the position (in English, thank goodness). In an attempt to redeem myself, I wrote a pretty decent cover-letter-type letter to her, which she read right in front of me. (Awkward.) I was worried that maybe I didn't mention enough specifics or provide enough information, but then she responded by saying that she was rather impressed that I was able to compose such a letter in a few moments. And then I breathed a sigh of relief and felt a little redemption. 'Guess those standardized writing tests in high school really paid off.

Two hours and three letters later, I walked out of the office still not knowing if I'd be offered the job, but feeling rather satisfied with my first French interview. I'm not putting much pressure on myself to find a job quickly, and I still have a few options, like continuing language classes full-time and doing volunteer work until I have the skill set I need to work in a French environment. But, I'm taking every opportunity seriously even if as nothing more than a learning experience. It feels really strange to have nearly 10 years of working experience yet feel like an entry-level candidate. There's a big part of me that's dying to get back to work and willing to take whatever I can get. But, I've still got a little pride to knock out of the way before I can feel comfortable starting at the bottom again. Right now, it seems my options are to take what I can get now and hope to advance my French skills while on the job, or dedicate my time to mastering the language until I'm comfortable to apply for a more agreeable bilingual job (which could take at least 6 months of full-time studies). I'm hoping the answer comes to me soon, but in the mean time I'll be preparing for more writing exams and 2-hour interviews.


Evolutionary Revolutionary said...

Oh sweet lord! That made ME nervous. I would have left the interview crying, I'm sure. Congrats on a job interview well done! :P

Josephine said...

Gosh! I felt I was the one being interviewed. You seriously need to write a book about your job hunting experiences. It might just help someone who does not have any friends in "know".

!Ay! Caramba!

lulu said...

OMG I am so proud of you. How freakin intimidating! I realized I was tapping my foot the whole time I was reading this entry. Yikes! I think you handled that quite well and that is probably why she wouldn't let you go. lol Keep up the good work. I bet you are learning more and more French everyday.

I am buying you a virtual margarita for that.. cheers.

Ksam said...

Congrats!! It sounds like the interview went very well!!

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