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Week of November 12, 2012

Students learn how to write resumes, cover letters the French way

James Power is learning that when you write a resume in French, you’ve got to get personal — really personal.

You need to provide a photo of yourself as well as your age, birth date and marital status — details that could trigger a lawsuit if requested by an employer in America.

James Power, a sophomore in aerospace engineering, swaps advice with a student in France about writing resumes and cover letters in a Business French course that uses video conferences to link up students.

“It’s just so weird to see a resume with a photo,” said Power, a sophomore majoring in aerospace engineering with a minor in French.

Power is polishing his French resume in a business French class that pairs U-M students with their peers at Enseirb-Matmeca, a graduate school at the Bordeaux Institute of Technology.

Once a week, the students meet for a videoconferencing session at U-M’s Language Resource Center. The 22 students at U-M share their resumes and cover letters on Google Documents with their French peers and discuss them via Skype.

As they connect with their partners, the language center looks and sounds like a busy call center, with headset-wearing students sitting in front of computer screens, chattering away like French telemarketers.

Power’s French partner is Yann Boisset, an engineering student who is drafting an American-style resume. The first piece of advice Power had for him was: “Get rid of the photo!”

Power explained that French employers want so many personal details about an applicant because labor laws make it difficult to fire workers.

“So they want to know everything they can about you,” he said.

The class is another example of how U-M goes out into the world and also brings the world to Ann Arbor. It’s just one of many courses that use videoconferencing to create a global experience.

A medical Spanish course connects U-M students with third-year residents in Colombia. A sports management class in the School of Kinesiology is co-taught with the German Sport University Cologne.

In the business French class, the students begin chatting as soon as the Skype connection is established. There are no awkward silences or prolonged bouts of tied tongues. And the conversation continues through the last minute of class, with some students still conversing after the bell.

Rachael Criso, a French lecturer who teaches the course, said that in a traditional language class with 25 kids, each student might get to say six or eight sentences.

“But here, they’re talking nonstop,” she said.

Often, students learn more from their peers, she added.

“We can stand up all day and talk, but when they hear it from another 18-year-old kid, it’s much more real for them,” she said.

They converse like good friends, and many do establish special relationships.

“We have had people go visit their partners during the summer,” Criso said.

Along with the resumes, the students help each other critique cover letters.

Eva Pullano, a U-M junior majoring in international studies and French, said the French tend to be more reserved in their cover letters, while Americans are more willing to promote themselves.

“The French cover letter is more like an actual letter where you express your interest in the company,” she added.

Pullano’s French partner is Hala Lamdoyar, a telecommunications major who speaks “amazing English” and is writing a cover letter for a position at Cisco Systems Inc., the giant U.S. firm that makes networking equipment.

The U-M student is advising Lamdoyar to talk more about the projects she tackled in a recent internship.

“In an American recruiting environment, it’s more cutthroat,” she said. “You have to put yourself out there and sell yourself.”

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