Columns, Opinion

HAUSER: Anxiety of French interviews


My foot was tapping frantically on the commuter rail train heading to Saint-Ouen from Paris, not out of fear of being late as I was destined to be 30 minutes early, but out of anxiousness as I read through notes on my phone. I was on my hour-long commute to an interview as part of my internship program here in Paris. I finished class at noon, went out for a quick lunch and had a delicious croque-madame (a grilled ham and cheese sandwich with an egg on top) and a slice of cheesecake with my work-study boss to discuss projects in the office. Then I departed on my way for an interview that could land me an amazing opportunity at a non-governmental organization based in Paris — Le Mouvement de la Paix (the Peace Movement).

While the internship program sets up the interview for you in your field of interest, you still have to do the interview to actually get hired by the organization or company. I have had successful interviews in the United States and they do not worry me anymore. But when it comes to interviewing in France, I was freaking out. The entire interview was going to be in French. Even though I have been here for about five months now and know my French is at a high level, the thoughts about making grammar and pronunciation errors in front of a potential employer made me anxious. Even though we had been reassured multiple times by the study abroad staff that making mistakes would not hurt your candidacy since the employers are looking for bilingual students with international experience, the prospects of bumbling around in a foreign language was a real and daunting possibility.

So here I was heading to my interview and worrying like crazy, desperately wanting this internship as it directly relates to my major and interests. I got off in the Paris suburb and wandered around for about 25 minutes through the neighborhood, stopping in a park which conveniently had a “Central Perk” theme based off the iconic coffee shop from my favorite TV show, “Friends.” This small sliver of English and the United States calmed me down slightly as I made my way to the interview.

I walked in and politely asked a man sitting at a table in the center of the office if the “maître de stage,” my potential boss, was there because I had an interview at 2 p.m. He said she was going to be back in a couple of minutes from her lunch break, so he invited me to sit down. This ended up being one of the best moments in the office as we started chatting about sports in France and how we both love hockey, then our conversation digressed into French castles and the restoration of historic sites. We spoke in French for about 15 minutes, during which I calmed down, slowly forgot that I was even preparing for an important meeting.

Then Inès, the “maître de stage,” told me she was ready and welcomed me over to a desk to conduct the interview. She asked me first to describe myself and what I have done in the past, which I did easily as I had practiced it word for word on the train ride there. After that, she immediately said she was impressed by my level of French and told me to “tutoyer” her, which is the French form of being extremely casual in the workplace. This further calmed me as I was not expecting this so soon, or even at all. She then wrapped up the meeting by asking me about my various interests, to which I responded the migrant crisis in Europe and human rights, and then told me she would see me at 9:30 a.m. on March 13, which she had already written in her pocket agenda before I had even arrived.

I thanked her and walked out of the office feeling extremely confident and happy that I would be working in such a chill yet interesting workplace for the remainder of the semester. I am excited to get started working toward world peace, but I do know that my spring break in two weeks will be a well-deserved break to come back fresh.

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