Job hunting a la France

Updated: Nov 29, 2019

I moved to France six months ago after giving up my job in the UK. Since then, I've been job hunting here but it hasn't been easy. Having spoken to lots of CERN (the European nuclear research centre based in Geneva) spouses, I've found this isn't at all unusual. We give up our jobs in our home countries where we understand the language and the job market. It's a completely different world here. Without speaking fluent French, my job options are more limited.

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What makes it harder is that I'm just outside Geneva. While this has the benefit of there being more jobs available (particularly for English speakers), competition is incredibly high. There are thousands of people who want to work with the United Nations, World Health Organisation, World Trade Organisation, or any of the pharmaceutical/accountancy/technology companies based in the city. Many of the NGOs (non-governmental organisations that normally work on humanitarian issues) here do such wonderful things, and the high salaries don't hurt! Imagine working for a cause you feel really passionately about, and being paid twice as much as you would be back home. Throw in French food, Swiss chocolate and world-class healthcare, and the level of competition makes sense.

The recruitment system here is very different to what I experienced in the UK. There can be many stages, and more than once I've had a telephone interview with no notice. That said, this sort of experience isn't new to me. A little over six years ago, I was also job hunting. Before too long, I started in my first graduate job at a wonderful small business. It started my career in communications and I was part of a family I still keep in touch with.

Living here, it feels like I'm back to being a new graduate. I don't fully understand the system but am hoping that my dream job will come up, just as it did six years ago. Of course, there will always be ups and downs. I applied for a job recently where the telephone interview, first face-to-face interview and second face-to-face interview were all completed within a week, but then I heard nothing for weeks. The second interview took three hours, involved four tests, and four meetings. They said they were in a rush, but then I didn't hear from them for weeks. After finally getting a response, it took a further two months to get any feedback. Apparently I was over qualified (I knew it was a fairly junior role, but was willing to take a step back for the Swiss job experience). Needless to say, I was annoyed and felt like I'd been strung along.

On the positive side though, I am meeting companies, but it just takes time. In the meantime, I've been blogging, walking dogs and taking on some freelance comms work. I've also learnt so much more about my personal impact on the environment so am cooking more vegetarian food, as well as making my own oat milk and toiletries. Being surrounded by NGOs makes me more aware of what impact our decisions have on others.

The CERN spouses here have taken a variety of approaches to dealing with the job hunt. Teaching English as a foreign language is a common one. Some partners take a career break. After all, a job at CERN might only last three years. Volunteering is also an option. Despite high salaries in Geneva, there is still lots of poverty and volunteers are needed to work at food and clothing banks, or teach English to children of refugees.

As for my charity work, I love working with animals. My ex-husband kept my cat (as well as my piano which he can't play but that's irrelevant...), and my family dog is back in the UK. I miss them both dearly, so I am about to foster a dog here. Not only will it keep me occupied in my job search, but it's great for my mental health. As for the pup, her adoptive family pulled out at the last minute so now she needs a home with lots of walks and cuddles. Of course nothing is final until she's with me, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Leah x

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