How to get hired by a French startup. No Bullshit.

Ok, so before I get started, this article presupposes that you have the legal right to work in France – either you’ve got an appropriate VISA or you’re a citizen in a country in the European Union (ps: check where your grandparents were born if you don’t have the right to work in France – odds are if they’re from a European country, that country offers citizenship through birt hright of a grandparent).

So, you want to work in a startup. Maybe you’re fresh off the boat, fresh out of college, or fresh out of ideas of what to do with your life. Either way, you’ve read about Zark Fuckerberg and decided “he dropped out of Harvard and made a billion dollars, why can’t I!?” Unfortunately, all those job posts on RemixJobs, Monster, and Craigslist require “confirmed” and “senior” developers in languages you didn’t even know were programming languages (Symfony? seriously, I have no idea what that is.). Maybe you have a coding background, maybe you’re like me and decided you didn’t want to code, but didn’t bother taking marketing classes in school because you thought Latin would be much more cool. You tried applying for that marketing position, but they didn’t even bother sending you the auto-reply saying they received your application. You considered going for the position for Social Media Director – after all, you’ve been using Facebook since it was only for colleges – but then the application required 5 years of social media experience (isn’t Twitter only 5 years old? WTF).

Here’s some stuff you need to know:

1. Everyone takes a pay cut – when a senior developer at Microsoft Facebook leaves to go work for a seed startup, he take a paycut. So guess what? You’re going to take a pay cut, too. You might pay rent, but you’re better off living on a friend’s couch for the first few years (especially in Paris!).

2. Everyone wants your job – right now there is a global talent drain. It’s so bad that we have pre-funding startups in Paris that are competing against each other (PS: if you have a pre-funded startup and know of another pre-funded startup in the same country as you that is a direct competitor – that’s not a competitor, that’s your co-founder(s). Call them now.)

3. You can learn how to do your job online – almost every job that a startup is looking for – iOS/Android/HTML5 developer, product designer, community manager, etc. – has a corresponding network of blogs and websites devoted to educated people doing that job how to do that job better. It’s one of the perks of being in Internet Startups. For example, I learned everything i know about Community Management from Social Media Examiner which has over 120,000 subscribers – trust me, it’s more than just sending a tweet from a company twitter account.

The Bad News.

So, if you don’t qualify for the senior-level positions, you’ve got to take a minion position and crawl your way up. The bad news is, the only minion jobs that aren’t internships are only offered from big companies, like Atos Origin and CapGemini. Even big startups like Facebook and Google only have offices in Paris for major development talent – and I doubt their doing anything other than shipping whatever Palo Alto sends their way. The other bad news is that, of course, in France, in order to do in internship, you are legally required to be a student – it’s not something businesses control. And the reason they want interns is because they pay less taxes on your salary than if you were a real employee ( I say real because the contract you sign puts you in partial responsibility of the company, and partial responsibility of your university).

The Good News.

In order to lower the unemployment rate a few years ago, the French government created a status that anyone can sign up for in 15 minutes online called Auto-Entrepreneur. This status takes you off of unemployment (benefit for the government) and creates a 1-person company out of yourself. Now you can work freelance at whatever rate you want. With this Auto-Entpreneur status, you can approach a hiring startup and say “look, would you rather some student who doesn’t care at all about your company, or someone who wants so badly to work in startups that they removed their eligibility for the ridiculously high unemployment wages paid out by the government?” Now you get the startup to pay you an adjusted salary (part-time, full-time, who cares? you’ll work there from sunrise to sunset no matter what..) so that they pay what they would have originally paid the intern and maybe even a little more, since you’re more competent and more valuable than an intern.

So go job hunting in startups – most internship positions could be filled by part-time employees anyway. Hell, you’re Freelance now, so why not pick up two or three of these internships and do them all at once!

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Check out some of our other articles:

  1. Turning Angry Users into Users for Life
  2. Startups: To Outsource or Not To Outsource?
  3. France should stop saying “GET OUT” to talented foreigners
  4. A mini wave of French acquisitions?
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Categories: Entrepreneurship, European StartUp Scene, RUDE Developing

Author:Liam Boogar

Co-founder of The @RudeBaguette, I'm a Californian native bringing you French startup news in English.

13 Comments on “How to get hired by a French startup. No Bullshit.”

  1. December 22, 2011 at 11:09 am #

    Nice article but I wanted to comment on your advice regarding auto-entrepreneurs.

    The situation you are describing is “hidden employment” and if an AE has only one “client” (or hidden employer in this case) URSSAF are known to get suspicious about those cases and it can result in a law suit from URSSAF against the young startup (without even asking the AE his opinion).

    One possibility is to have at least an other client (real freelancing btw).

    • Thibaut
      December 22, 2011 at 12:15 pm #

      Nice article indeed. Thanks Liam for stressing the point that France is not as bad as people think. And thanks to special governmental schemes, tax-rate is not so high for innovative start-ups.

      Regarding Auto-Entrepreneur (AE) status and URSSAF (which the French salary tax-collecting institution, for those who wonder what this acronym stands for): it could only be an issue if the start-up has, say, 1 employee and 5 AEs. If it’s the other way round (5 employees and 1 AE), I don’t think you need to worry because you’re way below URSSAF’s radar. On top of that, the AEs are paying taxes to URSSAF as well (less than a company pays, but still).

      From the AE’s point of view, it’s indeed better to have many clients (business 1-0-1).

      It’s also worth mentioning that AE’s turnover is limited to €32k per calendar year (pro-rata if you start your activity after Jan 1st): above that threshold, the AE has to set up a real company, which is a different story.

      My piece of advice is: as it’s free to register as an AE (you start paying taxes only when you earn money), I suggest you sign-up as an AE as early as possible in the calendar year (otherwise you might be capped in terms of turnover or be forced to set up a Limited Company…).

      • December 22, 2011 at 12:37 pm #

        I don’t think it is always a good advice to register asap as an AE as when you are under 26 yo you are eligible for the ACCRE which can only be activated 45 days max after your AE registration (ACCRE = 5% social charges first year instead of 20% and 10% the following year and 15% the third year).

  2. Joe
    December 22, 2011 at 12:09 pm #

    I agree but the freelance stuff is OK for a few months, risks from URSSAF and the employee that can sue to re-qualificate his contract in a regular working contract are high.

    Risky but acceptable, I’m doing it right now.

  3. December 22, 2011 at 12:32 pm #

    “PS: if you have a pre-funded startup and know of another pre-funded startup in the same country as you that is a direct competitor – that’s not a competitor, that’s your co-founder(s). Call them now.”

    This is a true gem!

  4. December 22, 2011 at 1:01 pm #

    Interesting! Concerning the ‘Auto-Entrepreneur’, here’s a nice french post explaining how to create your own company in one day :

    (in French)

    http://blog.gymglish.com/2011/09/comment-creer-son-entreprise-en-une.html

    • December 22, 2011 at 1:09 pm #

      Interesting that a company that gives personalized English courses maintains a blog in French… #notveryRUDE

  5. Thibaut
    December 22, 2011 at 1:33 pm #

    @Etienne: hopefully, ACCRE also works for people above 26yo! In that case, you just need to be registered as an unemployed person to the “Pole Emploi” (=unemployment agency) first.
    And asking for ACCRE status is just a box to tick when you register as an AE and a very simple document to fill in and mail to your local administrative center (see http://vosdroits.service-public.fr/pme/R17122.xhtml for the form and explanation. Sorry, it’s in French ;-). So not a very big deal.

    • December 22, 2011 at 1:38 pm #

      I forgot the unemployment case, my bad 😉 Thanks for the info.

      The only downside to this technique however is that you you won’t be able to activate the ACCRE for a few years (I can’t remember how long) after that. This might pose a problem to potential founders as they will have to shut down their AE status if their became “gérant” of their SARL (or the equivalent for SAS). I guess very few people are concerned but that’s currently my situation 😉

      • Thibaut
        December 22, 2011 at 2:08 pm #

        You’re right. I think you have to wait for 3 years to benefit from ACCRE for another venture.

        Founders won’t have to shut down their AE status though, because ACCRE is linked to the individual, not to the structure (if I’m not mistaken). So it won’t change anything.
        You can always ask URSSAF how they deal with that situation: they are more open that one can think and sometimes suggest solutions (they always prefer you ask them the question first!).

        In a nutshell: it’s a matter of “tax-reductions” optimisation regarding your multiples structures :-). I thought about the situation you’re in before I applied for it (and I got more benefits from my AE status than asking it for my start-up). The key in the calculation is the number of employees you would like to have in your SARL or SAS, and how much you (and/or the start-up) can benefit from tax-reductions. Not an easy question though…

        Good luck anyway!

  6. December 22, 2011 at 3:39 pm #

    I’m both French and American but I’ve always lived in France and I’m currently auto-entrepreneur.
    In 2012, I’m getting the hell out of France, to go either to California or Oregon, I’ve had enough with this shit.

  7. December 22, 2011 at 5:24 pm #

    IMO this is very bad advice. The AE status was not made to circumvent employment law. This is especially very dangerous for the startup since the AE could sue to be considered like a real employee (in undefined term contract – CDI).

    There are several other options:

    * If what you need is an internship you can buy the required statutory document (convention) from some companies. You could also actually become a student at a French university – it is not very expensive, a few hundred euros at most.

    * If the company can pay you more than the minimum legal wage but isn’t sure about you can do, they can sign an indefinite term contract (CDI) with a long renewable trial period (période d’essai), for instance 2×4 months. During that period the French employment laws don’t protect you and the company can fire you easily. You could also go with pre-defined term contracts (CDD).

  8. December 28, 2011 at 6:38 pm #

    I’m not sure getting a job at a French startup is really as difficult as you make it sound. I got mine just 1 month after moving to Paris from San Jose, Ca.

    For those of you who want to get a job at at startup the old-fashioned way (and can read French), some advice from Mathieu Lhoumeau, co-founder of Contract Live (and my boss): http://www.hec.fr/incubateur-hec/2011/12/09/comment-obtenir-votre-stage-dans-la-start-up-de-vos-reves-par-mathieu-lhoumeau-de-contract-live/

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