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Recruitment in France presents some characteristics that we must understand before starting a new project in the country. Bruno J. Bénavail is Country Manager at binternational and he is French labour market specialist.

Bruno, is the French labour market seeking for a job proactively or does the recruiter have to conquer the candidate to switch jobs, on the contrary?

I have come to identify three kind of people throughout my whole career experience:

– People who want to evolve rapidly and that after 1.5 – 3 years time in the same company, they are willing to go to another one if they aren’t given any internal employment opportunity at their current firm, and they are motivated by career goals and salary raise.

– Calm people that above all, they want to have a job that brings them peace, serenity, good relationships with colleagues, a fair salary to fulfill their regular expenses… Conquering those is way more complicated because they don’t want to stay out of their comfort zone.

– The invisibles. They are normally great candidates, but they are hidden for various reasons: they are aware of their potential, they perform really good… In fact, their own network allows them to find new jobs when they need it without trouble. They are specialists in their competences, with great work capacity, excellent sense… They are normally smarter than the rest and know how to negotiate. They are the most wanted. Conquer them is extremely difficult because they aren’t on the Internet, we have to practice headhunting.

What peculiarities does the French labour market have (salaries, unemployment rate, benefits, will to switch cities, language skills…)? 

Salaries are usually higher in France, but we have to be careful because tax rates are also higher in comparison to other European countries and the rest of the world. We have to add up bonuses for quantitative and qualitative objectives. We can also encounter people who own shares of their companies for 20-30% of their value and that are blocked for the first five years of their stay in the company.

We also have to take into consideration the whole sphere of extra benefits that only exist in big and international companies and that is directly related to the wage strategy for employees and every other advantage linked to that (car and school for expatriates, housing…). This is an strategic tool, and that is why HR Directors know their competitors benefits offer to attract the best talent.

We usually talk about car, credit car for gas and expenses, bonuses, smartphone, laptop… That’s what we call ‘benefits in kind’. There are companies that provide them with up to five weeks of vacation with a discount of around 80-90% (in a 3000 € travel, we would only be paying 300 €) as well as plane and train tickets for employees and their families (mostly those related to the tourism sector).

On the other side, there are trainings. Every employee accumulates 20 annual hours of training that must use in aspects that help the employee and his/her company: professional development, language skills… Even yoga or gardening. In addition to that, each company allows their employees (since it is mandatory in France) to have at least one Social Security supplement known as ‘une mutuelle d’entreprise’. The company usually pays for the 40-70% of the total cost, and the rest is paid off by the employee.

What is the most common notice period in France when a candidate tells their employer that he or she is leaving the company? 

We are normally talking of about three months for C-level, depending on the collective agreements made by the companies they are working for. For the qualified employees or any other employee could vary between one to three months. The rest of employees can warn their employers between fifteen days up to two or even three months in advance. We also have to take into consideration the internal situation of the company so an employee or executive could resign and have the permission from their supervisor to leave the company with a shorter notice period.

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You were talking about taxes. How is the French labour market in terms of these? Are taxes really high? 

We need to add up between 25-30% of taxes to the gross salary payroll base to know exactly how much does an employee cost to your company. Also, from a gross to a net salary, we need to deduct approximately 21-25% of the social taxes. But it doesn’t end up here: once a year, we have to declare the annual income a person has received: so to say, added to the other taxes, we have to sum an additional 10-12% of taxes on the annual total income.

In my opinion, French people allocate 60-65% of their income back to their nation and the unemployment rate is still pretty high (9% according to the INSEE and the Government, although this percentage could be even greater if take into account that job seekers attending formative courses aren’t included)

Apart from all the above, if a company wants to start their activity in France, what other challenges is it going to face (legally, socially or politically speaking)?

We have a really hard social history here, since the end of the nineteenth century, based on terrible strikes that could paralyze the whole country due to the medical, social, services and transportation sectors. Trade unions have a strong presence. Laws for establishing companies and concerning work matters (timings and contracts) are heavier. It seems like the French General Administration would have fun putting obstacles to individual initiatives and would block the fast decisions. Most of the French laws still aren’t adapted to our reality and are absolutely age-old (some of them date from the early nineteenth century and their origin dates from the Napoleonic era), which is totally opposite to the English-speaking countries.

However, having a subsidiary in France is a great thing to do: a firm in Paris can hold a good reputation when you want to integrate the European market, even though having one in some other countries could be way easier. Strasbourg can also be a good location, but Paris tends to always be the chosen one.

Coming back to recruitment, would you say that French companies have a remarkable corporate culture? 

Corporate culture, as we have been taught by Business Schools professionals and professors twenty years ago, is slowly changing because of the new generations that are arriving to the labour market. This are the so-called X and Z generations, that are imposing disruptive states of mind and behaviours regarding past generations (X generation). But can still find strong corporate cultures  (in sectors such as the pharmaceutical, automotive, heavy industry, nuclear, metalworking, defense and aeronautical…) linked to old ways of working and which have difficulties to act in a more flexible way and to adapt to new ways of interacting with people.

To sum up, there is a true issue in France, and in Spain too. Companies rarely give opportunities to candidates who don’t have a similar experiencia to the one demanded. Companies usually want candidates that have a concrete experiencia in the same functions and same sector. This creates a vicious circle on the person. It is really difficult to make companies understand that there is also a great potential in other sectors profiles that may have a similar experiencia (as, for example, back-office positions, or technical profiles from sectors such as defense, aeronautical or automotive). In the end, they are missing those workers open minds, multi-functional, who knew other ways of doing this, and different processes or management methods.

Do most companies in France follow these old-fashioned ways?

The bigger ones, the older ones. Start-ups are obviously different. They tend to have a distinct personality. Their members are in constant movement, versatiles, usually switch companies often, they work for projects and have new ways of working. Young individuals nowadays are way more mature than us when we had their age. They acknowledge that the Earth is not great right now and exchanges between countries neither. They are doomsayers, but still remain positive in what they are able to do. They are teaching us important lessons on re-learning when it comes to working together, since the Internet placed us more than 1.000 km far from each other. We talk on Skype, but we never met in person. We have networks everywhere, but we are way more distant than before. On the other side, new generations gather together in small communities, they help each other, share opinions, experiences, attitudes.

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Employees must share the company’s philosophy in order to work comfortably and being more productive. How do you explain candidates what the culture of the client is about? How can you detect if their values are going to be a match with those of the company? 

Wow, that’s a trap question! There is one thing that cannot be forgotten: a recruiter has feelings, values… He/She is a human being, not a machine! Some times, when you talk with a potential client, you don’t necessary have to like their services/products. You have to go beyond that: getting to know the personality of the person you are talking to, their internal goals, future changes that can be anticipated, the internal philosophy… Right after that it has to be your ‘own magic’ what is gonna perform based on your analysis: we need to identify what kind of topics could the candidate be passionate regarding the client’s company, and, quickly, recognize what their primary motivations are: money, the job itself and the working environment or their improved life quality. It is pure psychology: convincing the person at the same time we respect his/her own interests and the company’s.

Candidates from the same sector could be interested in the company culture or at least be able to understand some of the processes that they already saw in their own company. However, sometimes it doesn’t happen this way and convincing our candidates will be even more difficult, you will need to go far beyond. The following interviews between the company and the candidate would be decisive to know if the person is going to be hired or not. What comes next it is just the feeling between employers and employees.

Last but not least, we would like to know what makes you being so passionate about recruitment and what motivates you to continue searching for the best candidates. 

Without any doubt: human beings passion. This is the core of recruitment. Every mission is like an unknown world that opens up before us, you have to recover each time, leaving your prejudices and what you have learnt until now apart, and to reborn permanently. It means starting a new adventure that you hope to accomplish quickly and positively, and with great satisfaction for every player: client, candidate and yourself. Recruitment opens up different doors in the area of human resources such as the board of directors, individual or collective coaching… It is something to be passionate about, the same as every other subject that develops in the associated topics related to HR such as quality of produced work in terms on the quality of the working environment. Loads of books are written also regarding people development, and that enables us to grow internally to subsequently influence positively the people we are working with on a daily basis.

I try to do my job correctly and with a sense of humanity. For a lot of people, candidates are just numbers and that is it: you are money. If you got rejected by the company, they don’t even take the consideration of explain you why you are not going to be evaluated anymore in the process. At binternational we always give candidates feedback and we tell them why or why not. In addition, I am a very intuitive person, I feel things and I carry out a job that some people tag as profilling. Sometimes you feel that the candidate is not the best for the client, even though the candidate may have the needed competences.

I read an article back in France that talked on how companies choose the HR consultancies they want to work together with and made a formal and legal proposal on creating a satisfaction survey to evaluate the services of the differente consultancies. At binternational, when a selection process is completed, our clients take our Satisfaction Survey to understand if there are improvement areas and how can we comprehend more effectively our clients needs. This is the only way to provide them with the service they are expecting.

Are you looking for professionals to work in France, or French workers to work in any other country? At binternational, we are experts in recruitment of local and international candidates.

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