A cover letter in France is called ‘lettre de motivation’ and as in every other country, it has to complement the CV and convince the reader of your competency.The cover letter has to be of maximum one page and written in French unless otherwise specified. The writing style has to be polite and courteous, and the grammar impeccable.
When writing a French cover letter you should be polite and courteous. Address the reader with Madame or Monsieur, without adding Cher/Chère nor the family name of the person. If you don’t know the gender use Madame, Monsieur.
When ending use the following phrase as to say ‘best regards’: ‘Dans l'attente de votre réponse, je vous prie d’agréer, Madame, Monsieur, mes sincères salutations’. If you want to use a simple version, you can go with: ‘Je vous prie de croire, Madame, Monsieur, à ma considération distinguée.’
It is best to do a proper research of the most used terms and have a native French speaker to reread the letter, as there are many mistakes you can make. Some of the most common ones are:
- Using mes salutations distinguées instead of mes sincères salutations. You want to express your feelings not your regards.
- The expression: ‘Je vous prie d’agréer, Madame, l’expression de mes respectueux hommages’ is simply too old fashioned.
- Avoid using Je vous prie de croire, Madame, Monsieur, à instead of Je vous prie de croire, Madame, Monsieur, en. The term croire en is used when referring to God or Justice, for example. It will sound exaggerated to the reader.
- Avoid using ‘Je reste à votre entière disposition pour un éventuel entretien. En espérant que ma candidature retiendra votre attention. Cordialement,’ Hoping for an interview is not the best approach because it will disadvantage you. Think of positive sentences which show confidence.
Remember that French is a formal language and you should never address someone with ‘tu’. Use instead ‘vous’.
The French job market is very degree oriented. If your degree matches the job description your chances of being called in for an interview will increase, so state the name of your degree in the beginning.
If you have previous knowledge of the industry or experience from a similar job, do show this, but don’t show off. Remember, the universal rule of the cover letter is to make yourself stand out from the crowd - highlight your skills and personality without overselling yourself. If you feel like you need a more general introduction on how to write a cover letter, check out the Graduateland guide.
You should structure the letter so it corresponds with three basic questions: 1) the reasons for your application, 2) an introduction to who you are (you can write about your goals and aspirations here), and 3) why do you want the job.
Here are some advice regarding sentence structure and structure in general:
- Avoid using too complicated and long sentences.
- Never begin your letter with ‘I’ (‘je’).
- Avoid repetitions.
- If you decide to add a title, try to write something that is consistent with your goals.
- Use conventional fonts, like Arial and Times.
Words are powerful and if used correctly they can tip the balance in your favor, so make sure to use positively charged action verbs and nouns.
Lastly, after you type your name, remember to add a handwritten signature, even if you send the letter by email.