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'Things have changed': Can you get a job in Geneva without speaking French?

Michael Stuchbery
Michael Stuchbery - [email protected]
'Things have changed': Can you get a job in Geneva without speaking French?
Geneva is a world hub of diplomacy and cooperation - but can you find a job there without speaking French? Photo: Pixabay

Geneva must be up there when picturing an international city where language is no barrier. Does this hold true for those looking for a job?

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Organisations such as the International Red Cross, the World Health Organisation, and the United Nations are either based in Geneva or have a significant presence there. 

Furthermore, the Geneva region has a population of over half a million, making it an ideal base for global businesses to reach Swiss (and European) markets. 

There is no doubt that the city is a centre of international diplomacy and business and has been for decades. 

Having said that, how hard is it to find a job in Switzerland’s largest francophone city? Or indeed anywhere in Suisse Romande in general? Do you have a chance of securing a role without French language skills? 

The expert view

Recruiters think you might find it challenging if you’re not planning to work for one of the major international bodies. 

Anthony Caffon, Director of Finance at Michael Page, a significant regional recruiter, told The Local: “From our perspective, as a large operator in West Switzerland, only a few roles don’t require candidates to speak French. 

“A few years ago, there was indeed a shortage of skills in the market, and coupled with major multinational companies located here, companies were open to employing non-French speakers. 

“We now notice a change. French is required in 90 percent of the roles we recruit outside international organisations. 

"Organisations would only take on non-French speakers in some highly technical roles, for which there is absolutely no local talent pool," he said.

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'It was critical for wider job opportunities'

However, when surveyed, readers of The Local had differing perspectives on whether not knowing French was a hindrance to searching for a job in Geneva. 

Sofia, an American, responded: “It depends on the job and sector. French is desirable but not required for international organisations, NGOs, and many private companies such as EA Games or financial companies like Barclays.”

However, she noted that speaking French became more essential when settling in the country.

“It was critical for my Swiss naturalisation, but also to have a wider spectrum of job opportunities and better working relationships.”

Generally, to apply for Swiss citizenship in the canton of Geneva, one must achieve French oral B1 and written A2, as set in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). 

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Michael, who lives near Lausanne, agreed with Sofia, telling The Local: “It depends if you work for a multinational or a local company." 

“If you work for a multinational or Swiss company, you need French. But you can generally use English in the office at Nestle, BAT, PMI, Novartis, or WHO.”

Another respondent, Phil, believed that speaking French would assist in job searching. 

He stated, “I think it depends on your industry. If you work in the pharmaceutical area, then just English is fine.

“If you speak French, however, I think it’s easier to understand the application process and job descriptions.”

A Briton, Katie, thought speaking French could also help smooth the way when starting a new role in Geneva. 

She responded: “It shows you are curious about where you live. It helps build relationships with colleagues and, of course, for some jobs, it is needed.”

‘You can get by fine’

Those seeking to work in Geneva who don’t speak French shouldn’t fret just yet. 

An anonymous respondent from Ireland told The Local: “Some basic French is needed not to look utterly dysfunctional in casual social settings, but if the business works in English, then that is generally sufficient. 

“Once you can complete the technical requirements of your job well, you can get by fine," they said.

“Some employers will specify that French and English are requirements on the job listings, even if you only need English to do the job. 

“Not having any French can put people off applying for many openings when, in fact, they might be fine applying anyway.”

What have you experienced finding a job in Geneva? Did you need French skills? Let us know in the comments. 

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