Last week I had my first job interview after replying to an ad I had found on the Pole Emploi website. Pole Emploi is the French governmental employment agency; it is not exactly well-known for helping many find a job but since it is best to register with them when searching for employment, I also receive emails from them when they have an offer that match my profile and it is a good way to find out about prospective employers. This one job was pretty much perfect for me:
- Translating skills (given that I just finished a diploma in translation, that was perfect)
- Fluency in English required (check!)
- Short term employment (I am not ready to commit to something long-term quite so soon after starting my search so that was perfect too!)
Furthermore, when I first talked on the phone with the HR rep who called me to set up an interview, she told me I would work on Trados, one of the most widely used translating software, and that they would train me if needed. How wonderful!
So I pretty much convinced myself that I was perfect for the job and that it was going to happen. With insight, that might have been a bit premature! During the interview, one of the very first questions I was asked was why was I interested in short term employment and I explained that it simply was making sense for me for now. That probably was the first mistake: from a few things that were said, I now believe that they were actually looking for someone that they could keep on rehiring on a short-term basis which, from what I have heard, is something that French employers like to do in order to avoid committing to an employee too soon. Indeed, the French system makes it pretty difficult –and pricey- to fire employees which, in my opinion, could be one of the reasons why employers are sometimes reluctant to hire. By signing short-term contracts, they are periodically given the opportunity to let go of any employees that do not work out or to simply give them a new contract if needed. I have heard of major companies in Lyon that will keep on renewing their employees’ contracts for months without giving them the benefits and safety of long-term ones. Sometimes, they will even wait until the very last day of the first contract before discussing the next one, which can obviously be quite stressful.
Another question I was asked was… my age!! I found it pretty classless. In the US, it would be considered discriminatory to ask such personal questions and I am pretty sure it simply is illegal. Still, when you have someone’s resume in your hands, it is also pretty easy to figure out their age: look for the year when they finished college and that will most likely give you at least an approximate number! Then, she had the nerve to add that I would be the oldest of the group I would be joining! Ouch! She even asked me if I already had children which, come to think of it, is such a silly question. After all, the fact that I may not have had children does not necessarily imply that I don’t live with any. What if my significant other had 5 or 6 children and had full or joint custody of them? She went on to say something about how with younger women, one has to plan for maternity leave, sick children, etc. I have to guess that she implied that I, on the other hand, was simply too old to have children! Ouch again!
Within less than an hour after the end of the interview, I had an email in my inbox informing me that I was not going to be considered for the job any further. And that was it!
At first, I was a bit shocked! I have been to a lot of job interviews in the US and I actually cannot remember the last time I was turned down. The past few years, I was the one who would turn down offers. But I know this is a whole different job market so I will have to reassess my expectations and adapt. First lesson I learned from this interview: I need to start lying, or as my friend more nicely put it, I should not get into too much details about all my professional plans and I should not think that honesty is the best policy. I see! I guess I will try to work on that!