Basic Business French 5 :
The Job Interview and Hiring

© 2015, Greg Lessard

About this module

In the last two modules, we learned about the format and content of a CV and a covering letter. The goal of both documents is to get you to the next step, un entretien d'embauche, the hiring interview. The goal of a hiring interview is to exchange information to determine whether the candidate is a good fit for the potential employer, and vice versa. For that reason, most hiring interviews are built around sequences of questions and answers. In this module, we will focus on those, through the following steps:

As you read these materials, keep your own situation in mind and try to consider how they might be useful to you in the future.

Invitation to an interview

You have submitted your CV and covering letter and finally you are invited to a job interview. The format of the invitation can vary considerably. The following example, from the Lettres gratuites site, gives a typical model:


Faisant suite à votre candidature que vous nous avez adressée le [date], nous avons le plaisir de vous informer qu'elle a retenu toute notre attention.

Afin d'approfondir cette dernière, nous vous serions obligés de bien vouloir contacter [titre, nom, qualité] au numéro de téléphone suivant [numéro] afin de convenir d'un rendez-vous.

Nous vous prions d'agréer, Monsieur, l'expression de nos salutations distinguées.

Notice that the salutation and closing of this letter follow the model we have seen for your covering letter. To see the translation of the other parts, mouse over the Translation bar below.


Dear Sir,

We are pleased to inform you that we were impressed by the application you submitted on [date].

To get more information, we would be grateful if you could contact [title, name, position] at the following telephone number [number] to schedule an interview.


So now you must think about your job interview, and specifically the questions that might be asked.

An overview of question types

Questions can be divided into several broad classes, as the following illustration shows:


Yes/no questions are the simplest, and seek to gain confirmation or disconfirmation of some state of affairs. Wh questions are designed to seek information. They are of two types. Pronoun questions ask about who or what. On the other hand, adverb questions ask about some characteristic of a state of affairs, as in why, or how, or or where or when.

The relation between questions and answers

A question sets up a context for its answer, as the following table shows. Read these questions and answers in French to find the appropriate question words in French and the format of possible answers.

Structure Possible question Typical answers
Yes/no question Êtes-vous disponible pour travailler tout de suite? Oui.
Non, je dois donner un préavis d'un mois.
wh- question about a thing Que sont vos projets pour l'avenir? Je voudrais devenir actuaire en fin de compte?
wh- question about a person Qui est votre employeur actuel? J'ai un contrat de six mois avec la compagnie XXX.
Interrogative adverb (why) Pourquoi avez-vous quitté votre dernier emploi? La compagnie était acquise par une autre et on a réduit le personnel.
Interrogative adverb (where) Où accepteriez-vous de vous situer? J'aime voyager, alors je travaillerais n'importe où au monde.
Interrogative adverb (when) Quand pourriez-vous commencer? Je dois donner un préavis de trois semaines à mon employeur actuel et je pourrais commencer tout de suite après.
Interrogative adverb (how) Comment avez-vous appris à programmer? J'ai suivi trois cours au collège après avoir terminé mes études universitaires.

Notice also that questions and answers can talk about the past (Pourquoi avez-vous quitté votre dernier emploi?), the present (Êtes-vous disponible pour travailler tout de suite?), and the future (Quand pourriez-vous commencer?). As a result, when answering a question, you should pay attention to these two things:

A few words of review also on the structure of questions in French.

In the case of yes/no questions, three formats are possible, as the following table shows:

Example Structure
Avez-vous terminé vos études? The verb avez is placed before the pronoun vous
Est-ce que vous avez terminé vos études? The expression est-ce que is placed at the start of the sentence.
Vous avez terminé vos études? The question is marked by a rising intonation.

All three forms are used, so you should be prepared for any of them.

In the case of pronoun questions like Qui est votre employeur actuel? or Que sont vos projets pour l'avenir?, the object pronoun becomes the subject of the sentence and is placed before the verb. A related structure is found in the case of interrogative adjectives like quel/quelle/quels/quelles and interrogrative pronouns like lequel/laquelle/lesquels/lesquelles, as the following table illustrates.

Form Example Explanation
qui Qui vous a engagé pour votre dernier emploi ? Qui is used because we're talking about a person.
que Que pensez-vous de notre compagnie ? Que is used because we're talking about a thing.
quelle Quelle université avez-vous fréquentée ? Feminine form (quelle) is used because université is feminine.
quelles Quelles langues parlez-vous ? Feminine plural form (quelles) is used because langues is feminine and plural.
quels Quels domaines vous intéressent ? Masculine plural form (quels) is used because domaines is masculine and plural.
lequel Lequel de vos employeurs antérieurs avez-vous préféré ? Masculine singular form (lequel) is used because employeur is masculine and because we're talking about one of them.
laquelle Laquelle de vos langues parlez-vous le mieux ? Feminine singular form (laquelle) is used because langue is feminine and because we're talking about one of them.

Finally, in the case of interrogative adverbs, the adverb is placed before the verb, and the verb and its pronoun are inverted, as the following examples show. Note that in the case of the third person, the subject is placed elsewhere in the sentence.

Form Example Explanation
pourquoi Pourquoi voulez-vous travailler avec nous? After pourquoi) in a question, the pronoun goes after the verb (voulez-vous.
Où avez-vous étudié la comptabilité? Notice the difference between (where) and ou (if). The first has a grave accent.
quand Quand avez-vous terminé vos études universitaires? Approximate synonyms of quand include en quelle année, à quel moment. As in the case of the other forms, the verb and pronoun are inverted.
comment Comment votre ancien employeur a-t-il évalué votre performance à l'empComment avez-vous appris l'existence de cet emploi? Remember the inversion of the verb and pronoun.

Now that we have reviewed the format of questions in French, let us turn to the types of questions often asked in employment interviews.

Practicing question types

The following quiz will help you ensure that you understand the different question types. You will see a sentence in French and below it three possible translations in English. Click on the appropriate translation. There are no marks attached to this quiz, although there is a score provided at the end. Also, since there are more than seven questions in the question bank, you can take the quiz more than once.

Some typical job interview questions

Interview questions are designed to elicit information about you, to help an employer decide whether you're a good choice. They typically focus on the past, the present and the future. Their goal is to elicit specific information, not just generalities, so knowing yourself is crucial. Try to think of specific cases to prove your points. Interviewers also expect that you will have done some research on their organization.

Here are some specific questions based on the content of the following Canadian, French and Belgian sites:

These sites provide additional links and details and many other sites can be found by searching the web for questions interview embauche.

The questions below are divided into past, present and future. When answering a question about the past, remember to use a past tense, and when talking about the future, use the future or conditional. In some cases, variant forms of the same question are shown, separated by slashes.

In each case, once you have read the question, spend some time thinking about how you would answer it, then answer briefly both orally and in writing. Mouse over the bar entitled Translation and Suggestions to see the English version of the question, and some things you should think about when answering it.

  1. Comment vous décririez-vous ? / Décrivez-vous en cinq mots. / Comment vos anciens collègues vous décriraient-ils ?
  2. Translation and Suggestions

    How would you describe yourself? / Describe yourself in five words. / How would your former co-workers describe you?

    • think about the adjectives you have seen earlier, and the personality test you did
    • be brief, but try to show your strongest and most distinctive points
    • relate them to the position being sought
  3. Quel est votre principal défaut ? / Quelles sont vos faiblesses ?
  4. Translation and Suggestions

    What is your greatest flaw? / What are your weaknesses?

    • again, think about the adjectives you have seen earlier, and the personality test you did
    • be candid, but try to show how you have worked to overcome your weaknesses
  5. Quelles sont vos forces ? / Quelles sont vos principales qualités ?
  6. Translation and Suggestions

    What are your strengths? / What are your best qualities?

    • again, think about the adjectives you have seen earlier, and the personality test you did
    • be brief, but include short examples to illustrate your strengths
  7. À quel problème majeur avez-vous dû faire face et comment vous en êtes-vous tiré ? / Décrivez une réussite dont vous êtes fier/fière.
  8. Translation and Suggestions

    What major problem have you had to deal with, and what did you do? / Describe a success that you are proud of.

    • think about a real-life situation; if you don't have a lot of job experience, take an example from everyday life
    • be brief, but try to show what you learned
    • be prepared for supplementary questions
  9. Pourquoi vous intéressez-vous à cet emploi ? / Que savez-vous de notre entreprise ? / Que savez-vous de ce poste ?
  10. Translation and Suggestions

    Why are you interested in this job? / What do you know about our company? / What do you know about the job?

    • show that you have done your homework by giving specific examples about the potential employer
    • link the potential employer's goals to your own
    • be enthusiastic, but don't be afraid to mention challenges you see
  11. Comment vous entendez-vous avec les autres ? / Êtes-vous capable de travailler en équipe ? / Préférez-vous travailler en équipe ou tout seul?
  12. Translation and Suggestions

    How well do you get along with others? / Can you work in a team? / Do you prefer to work in a team or on your own?

    • think about the adjectives you have seen earlier, and the personality test you did, and link them to the job description: what personality type is being sought?
    • be frank and honest
    • give concrete examples
  13. Donnez-nous une situation qui vous cause du stress, comment le gérez-vous ? / Racontez une situation où vous avez dû faire face à un conflit. Comme l'avez-vous réglée ?
  14. Translation and Suggestions

    Give us a situation that you find stressful and tell us how you deal with it. / Describe a situation where you had to resolve a conflict. What did you do?

    • this should be a real-life example, even if it is a simple everyday one
    • make sure to show that you thought about your actions, and show what you have learned
    • be prepared to discuss what you might have done better
  15. Décrivez brièvement votre trajet. / Pourquoi avez-vous quitté votre dernier emploi ?
  16. Translation and Suggestions

    Briefly describe your background. / Why did you leave your last job?

    • don't just repeat your CV, but rather link what you say to the potential employer's needs
    • be brief and synthetic
    • be frank and honest about any negative issues, but show that you have learned and moved on
  17. Comment réagissez vous face aux critiques ?
  18. Translation and Suggestions

    How well do you deal with criticism?

    • give an example where you have learned and improved based on constructive criticism
    • show your ability to be self-critical and thoughtful
  19. Quel poste aimeriez-vous occuper dans 5 ans ? / Où vous voyez-vous dans 5 ans ? / Quels sont vos projects pour l'avenir ?
  20. Translation and Suggestions

    What job would you like to have in 5 years? / Where do you see yourself in 5 years? / What are your future projects?

    • think ahead of time about your plans for the future
    • ask yourself what the employer is seeking: this should be a good fit; so don't be afraid to ask questions
    • be realistic
  21. Quelle est votre disponibilité ?
  22. Translation and Suggestions

    When would you be available to start?

    • justify any timeframe you give
    • ask the potential employer about his or her needs
    • be prepared to negotiate

A sample employment interview

One of the advantages of the web is that there exists a vast number of sources for advice on how best to behave in a job interview. We will begin be viewing one of them below.

This interview is divided into two parts, a first part where the candidate performs badly by simply repeating her CV, and a second part, after coaching, where the candidate makes three central points of interest to the employer. To view the video, click on the play button. To see the written form of the spoken language, click on the cc button. And to see the English translation, mouse over the Translation bar below the video.

Play this video several times to pick up on different points of language and approach.


On-screen text: Simulation 2 of a hiring or recruiting interview

On-screen text: Simulation 2: ASSISTANT

Interviewer: Madame ... Dubois?

Mme Dubois: Yes.

Interviewer: Can you say something about yourself?

Mme Dubois: Ok, my name is Nicole Dubois. I have a diploma in secretarial studies. I worked for three years in the ready to wear clothing business and for two years in a place that makes pallets. But I think the place is going to close, so I thought I'd try something else. I would be ready to work right away.






On-screen text: Simulation 2, Version after coaching

Interviewer: Ok, tell me about yourself.

Mme Dubois: So, my name is Nicole Dubois. I have five years of professional experience. I can offer three advantages to a potential employer. The first is my mastery of the usual secretarial tasks, including typing documents, greeting people, and so on. In addition, I have the advantage of being very good at spelling. For example, I won several regional spelling contests.

Interviewer: Very good.

Mme Dubois: My second advantage is that I have a good commercial sense. I worked for five years in the ready to wear clothing industry, so I am at ease with sales, so if you had customers with questions, I would be ready, perhaps, to answer their questions, and I would like to improve in that area if my position allowed it. And finally, my third advantage is that I am discreet. I know that as a secretary you hear many things, but I think it is important to keep things to oneself.

Some outcomes of a job interview

Now that you have had your interview, there are two usual outcomes: you get the job or you don't. Sometimes these results are transmitted orally, and sometimes (even worse!) you just don't hear. But in many cases, you will receive a letter letting you know how you did. These are typically very brief, especially in the case where you aren't hired, as the following example illustrates, but occasionally there might be clues about why you didn't get the job.


À la suite de votre entretien d'embauche du 15 octobre, nous avons le regret de vous informer que votre candidature n'a pas été retenue.

Nous sommes sensibles à l'intérêt que vous avez porté à notre société, mais parmi les candidates et candidats il y en avait plusieurs qui avaient plus d'expérience que vous.

Nous vous souhaitons bonne continuation.

Veuillez agréer, Monsieur, nos salutations distinguées.


Dear Sir,

We regret to inform you that on the basis of your job interview of October 15th, you were not chosen for the position.

We appreciate your interest in our organization, but among the candidates there were a number who had more experience than you.

We wish you the best in your future endeavours.


In the case where you are successful, there are usually more details, as the following example from the Lettres gratuites site illustrates.


Faisant suite à notre entretien du [date], nous avons le plaisir de vous confirmer votre embauche à compter du [date] en qualité de [emploi].

Votre serez rémunérée conformément à notre convention collective [montant] euros bruts.

La période d'essai est de [nombre] mois au cours de laquelle les parties auront la possibilité de rompre unilatéralement le contrat sans respecter de délai de préavis.

Vous trouverez ci-joint deux exemplaires de votre contrat à dater et à signer.

Je vous prie d'agréer, Madame, mes salutations distinguées.


Dear Ms. X,

On the basis of your interview on [date], we are pleased to inform you that you have been hired starting [date] for a position of [position].

Your gross salary of [amount] euros, will be in accordance with our collective agreement.

There will be a trial period of [number] months during which both parties may unilaterally break the contract with no advance notice.

You will find attached two copies of your contract to sign and date.


Notice several expressions that will come up again later in business correspondence:

Reading passages

Earlier in this module, we saw a simulated hiring video. To let you practice your understanding, here is another video giving advice on how to answer the question Parlez-moi de vous. The presenter speaks fairly quickly, so use the CC button to see the subtitles in French, and pause regularly. Pay attention also to the words projected on the screen. They give the central points being discussed. Don't be discouraged if you only understand part of the video. Keep at it and you will be surprised at your progress

After you have watched the video, try to comprehension questions below to check your understanding.

Some comprehension questions

  1. Who is speaking?
  2. Answer

    Yves Gautier, a motivation coach

  3. Why is the question Parlez-moi de vous? important?
  4. Answer


    • it's the start of the conversation and sets the tone
    • it lets you send a strong message
    • it gets the interviewer's attention
  5. What are the three frequent mistakes made in answering the question Parlez-moi de vous??
  6. Answer
    1. reciting your CV
    2. giving too much detail and taking too much time
    3. giving information that isn't pertinent
  7. What are the three possible approaches for presenting oneself?
  8. Answer
    1. a thematic approach
    2. an approach based on goals (vos objectifs) with supporting information
    3. an action plan

Summing up

You should now feel comfortable with the following concepts:

  1. how questions are asked in French
  2. what format to use in answering a question
  3. the most typical sorts of questions asked in a hiring interview
  4. what to aim for in a hiring interview
  5. the most typical outcomes of a job interview.

For the next modules, we will assume that you have been successful in gaining employment and that you will be starting a new job. A crucial element in all jobs is effective communication. So in the next two modules we will be looking at some of the basic principles of oral and written business communication, at both the informal and formal levels.