Quick guide to Business French

Uplift your professional career in France

One way to get ahead in the business world is to speak your clients’ language. And that might be exactly why you are taking corporate French lessons. Alternatively, you could be learning French as an additional international language if you already master a few other languages.

Whatever your situation is, business French has its own rules and vocabulary that you need to be aware of. Thanks to this quick guide to business French, you’ll be able to better understand the specificities of working in France.

We’ll give you the keys to uplift your professional career in France with just a few tips :

  1. Before getting a job in France
  2. Understanding your French contract
  3. Learning key French words related to the office
  4. Working in France
quick guide to business french

Before getting a job in France

Your French CV

Firstly, looking at the vocabulary you’ll need to apply for a job in France, we’ll go over a few words that will help you getting started.

  • Une annonce = an ad advertising it
  • Envoyer sa candidature = Send your application
  • Faire une candidature spontanée = Send your application directly, without seeing an ad
  • Postuler à = to apply for
  • Une lettre de motivation = a cover letter
Preparing for an interview

Then, if you’d like to get more details, we’ve covered this topic in the article how to prepare for a French interview.

Here is some specific vocabulary:

  • Un entretien d’embauche = an interview
  • Un poste = a position
  • Un emploi ou un métier = a job
  • Décrocher un emploi = to get a job
  • Embaucher / recruter = to hire
  • Un boulot / un taff = a job (slang)
  • Des concurrents = competitors
job interview in france

Une interview est un faux-ami. It does exist in French, but it’s used for journalistic interviews, not job interviews

Understanding your French contract

Next, you need to know that several types of contracts are allowed in France.

  • Un CDI (Contrat à durée indéterminée) is a long-term contract that cannot be terminated by either party without 2 to 3 months notice.
  • Un CDD (contrat à durée déterminée) is a short-term work contract, usually for 3-6 months. Because firing employees is a complicated procedure in France, many companies hire employees on a CDD before deciding to offer them a CDI.

Furthermore, different contract durations exist as follows :

  • Temps plein (full time) : The employee is subject to a legal working time of 35 hours per week, with a limit of 48 hours per week. 
  • Mi-temps (part time) : You work half the legal working time, generally 24 hours per week. However it may vary depending on contractual or collective provisions.
  • Temps partiel : It consists of working for a shorter period of time than that of a full-time employee (80%, 70%,..).
sign french contract

Learning key French words related to the office

Business Hierarchy in France

Afterwards, once you get your dream job, you’ll have to know the different members of the company and their positions. Just bear in mind that every company has an employeur (employer) and several employés (employees). There may also be a few stagiaires (interns), or even some apprentis (apprentices), depending on the size of your company.

Some students also work en alternancea system that allows them to attend school half the time and work half the time, funding their studies and gaining essential experience.

In addition, the CEO of the company is known as the PDG (Président Directeur Général). He or she is likely known to some as le chef or la cheffele patron ou la patronne or even le ou la boss. He or she is probably part of a Comité de directionknown as a Codir for short. Les cadres are the executives.

Freelance is also used in French and can be either a noun ‘un freelance’ or an adjective ‘je suis freelance’

Using Tu or Vous ?

On that occasion, one of the first questions I get is ‘Should I say tu or vous‘ ? Deciding whether to use tu or vous with your boss and colleagues can be more difficult when you realize there’s no definite rule! In the past, everyone in the office used vous exclusively, but nowadays, especially with the open space, the tendency is moving more towards tu. 

What I often recommend is to use the vous and to be attentive and listen to how other people are speaking. Sometimes, in start-ups and young companies, even with the CEO the tu is frequent.

business in france

Organizing réunions or rendez-vous ?

And with regards to French vocabulary for meetings, there’s often a confusion between rendez-vous and réunion.

Une réunion is a business meeting.

Un rendez-vous can be un rendez-vous professionnel but is usually more an appointment (with your dentist, your doctor), a meet-up with friends or a date.

Donner rendez-vous à quelqu’un is to arrange to meet someone.

Last but not least, if you work with clients, you can also organize un Comité de pilotage (or Copil). This is a very specific term for a project meeting between clients and service providers. It generally includes: a project director, one or several project managers, a customer success manager and technical teams. The aim of the Copil is to ensure a good progress of the project and to make any necessary adjustments.

General French Business Terms

Some French business words are straight forward such as implementation or objectives. But others are more difficult to get. We’ll review some useful corporate terms in French:

Nouns :

  • Un appel d’offres = a tender
  • Une augmentation de salaire = a pay rise
  • Une date limite = a deadline
  • Une enquête de satisfaction = a satisfaction survey
  • Une formation = a training
  • Les honoraires / les frais = fees
  • Une perte = a loss
  • La rentabilité = profitability

Verbs :

  • Atteindre ses objectifs = to reach your goals
  • Faire de la publicité = to advertise
  • Gravir les échelons = to move up the ladder
  • Mener/gérer une équipe = to lead / to manage a team
french surveys
Working in France

Lunch time at work

Unlike in the US or Australia for example, lunch time is sacred in France. You normally get a one hour break for lunch time, sometimes longer. This time is used to relax and discuss with your colleagues. This is especially true in start-ups where you can find video games or table football. It’s also very common to invite your French business partner for a lunch in a restaurant.

Many offices offer tickets restaurants (or ticket restos) allowing employees to pay half the face value for a check. It can be used at restaurants, cafés and even in boulangeries or supermarkets.

Dress code

Again, the dress code really depends on each company and the activity. Some offices have laid-back dress codes while others have work uniforms or suits. Using tu or vous will probably go with the way employees are dressed up. More casual outfits means that the tu is the norm whereas stricter clothes indicates a formal vous.

Coffee and cigarette breaks

While smoking is now limited in public spaces, many employees still have pause café et/ou pause cigarettes (or clopes in slang).

It’s a friendly time away from your screen to get to know your colleagues a bit better even if you don’t smoke.

Set up your business in France

With the pandemic, many French people decided to have more meaningful jobs and to create their own business. If you’re dreaming about setting your own business made in France, you can check the Autoentrepreneur website. This web portal will provide advice, insight and guides to establish your aspiring entrepreneur career.

business lunch in france

In conclusion, I hope you’ve found useful information to work in France and maybe create your dream business ! Feel free to contact me should you need further details. I’d be delighted to help you achieve your professional goals !

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