The French job market is a tough nut to crack, especially as a Londoner looking for an internship in the fashion capital of Paris. Upon applying for a fashion internship abroad as part of my university course requirements, I suddenly felt like a mere English apple pip in a vast French fruit market. Whilst I have fortunately created a network of contacts within the UK fashion community, I had no prior links to Paris apart from family members living in the city. As a result, I found the process to be much lengthier and more difficult than I had, rather naively, expected.
However, sparing any more metaphorical fruit references, I eventually found success on the other side of the application process with a Paris fashion internship at ELLE International (excitement does not quite describe my current state of mood). Although my position starts in September, the process itself was a huge learning curve.
If you too are thinking of making the move across the channel in pursuit of ‘la vie Parisienne’, here are some personal tips to score your ideal fashion internship abroad and the lessons that I’ve learnt as a result of my own experience.
For starters, translate your English CV into French, or another foreign language if you are applying abroad elsewhere. Make sure that it is grammatically and factually correct. I worked through 5 drafts of my French CV before I was happy to send it to employers. It takes up much more time than you would initially think, but it is worth it. It is far better to be certain that the CV is near-perfect than to send one with mistakes that might jeopardise your chances of being shortlisted.
Effectively, you have to lay the solid foundations in order to bolster the brickwork of your application. Applying to a fashion internship abroad is a learning process and it is certain that you will make mistakes along the way. Minimise these hurdles by checking your CV with a native speaker and making sure both your cover letter and CV are relevant to the job post. C’est simple!
The Cover Letter
The French cover letter layout is very similar to the British format, but it is slightly more formal and ‘to the point’. In the first paragraph, solely state the position that you are applying for, your current professional status and your availability for the internship (or job start date). Use ‘Monsieur’ and/or ‘Madame’ to address the prospective employer(s) and include phrases such as ‘bien cordialement’ (the equivalent of Kind regards) in your email sign-off. I created a personalised cover letter for each application that expressed interests in specific areas of the company or examples of their work that I particularly liked.
Learn the lingo
It is essential that you know what you are talking about and so do take the time to familiarise yourself with the lexicon before interviewing, as they are usually all conducted in French. I had a number of telephone interviews and quickly learnt how to interview well in another language. The process itself is very similar to an English one, in the sense that you give a ‘présentation’ about your current education, previous professional experience, any extracurricular endeavours and then followed by a number of questions about the specific position and your reasons for your application and for picking that particular company/brand/designer. It is nothing too dissimilar to any other interview process, except that it is in another language and you may be restricted by a limited vocabulary range.
My current university degree is French & English Literature and having spent major holidays abroad I can, fortunately, speak French. However, I was ignorant to the gamut of fashion-related jargon. I have now added words such as ‘la sponsorisation’ (sponsoring), ‘les compétences rédactionnelles’ (copywriting skills) and ‘une table ronde’ (panel talk) to my French vocabulary. I would advise anyone applying to read up on all of the fashion lingo beforehand. Train yourself to be confident on the phone in both English and French. Read up about the brand or company in depth before your interview. I had to learn how to keep calm (and carry on, lol) during a telephone interview, as I knew that I would find it harder to speak fluent French and present myself well if I was panicking and faffing around behind my mobile. Moreover, I was once asked about the history of a brand and I was very grateful that I had taken the time to research it beforehand as otherwise I would have been left floundering!
I started the application process in April 2018 and received my internship offer last week. However, I started looking for jobs in September 2017. Unlike the UK, French internships have strict six-month contracts, so although I was eager to apply last winter, I quickly realised that relevant job posts wouldn’t be released until Spring 2018.
In my experience, rather than only applying via conventional application websites, it is useful to directly contact the senior professional in charge of the team that you aspire to join. I applied to ELLE through a direct email and also through an online application – this displayed my genuine passion for the publication and my commitment to the application process.
I hope these tips demonstrate that you don’t have to have a large web of contacts abroad in order to secure your dream position; you just have to accept that there will be pitfalls and a journey of ‘trial and error’ along the way. Most importantly, be persistent, dedicated and passionate to succeed.
Words by Lucy Ing