39

This question is mainly aimed at french speakers.

I just received on my personal mail-box a proposition for a job from a recruiter. This recruiter got my e-mail address from the linkedin website.

What is bothering me is the use of "tu" instead of "vous" :

J’ai consulté ton profil Linkedin et tu as [...] Es-tu en ...

I find it kind of unprofessional since I don't know this person and this is a first contact e-mail. I checked the reply address on the header in case it would be a scam of any sort but the e-mail address is valid, the company exists and is a headhunter company.

I don't really know how to react to this. Why are they being so informal? Am I over thinking this or does it bother you too?

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    Using formal pronouns is still a big deal in parts of Europe - so it might not be overthinking. – morsor May 31 '17 at 12:00
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    Is there any chance that the entire email has been through Google Translate? – morsor May 31 '17 at 12:00
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    Or - the email was written by an English-speaker with reasonably good school-taught French, who simply does not realize the importance of the formal/informal pronouns. As others have hinted, give the 'foreigner' some credit and focus on the content rather than the formal grammar. – morsor May 31 '17 at 12:17
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    This could also be an instance of Internet culture at work. – Simon Richter May 31 '17 at 15:16
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    Found it now: workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/90973/… (Might be duplicate even? I'm not sure) – Erik May 31 '17 at 15:33

11 Answers 11

156

What is bothering me is the use of "tu" instead of "vous" :

I don't really know how to react to this. Why being so informal ? Am I over thinking this or does it scratch you too ?

You are overthinking this by a huge margin.

But if it bothers you this much, instead of pondering why someone would use "tu" instead of "vous", just ignore this recruiter and only respond to recruiters who are much more formal.

It's a waste of time trying to play "let's guess what the recruiter was thinking" here. Just decide how much you want to let this bother you, then act accordingly.

I studied French for many years. I understand "tu". Again, there's no need for a conundrum here. If you don't like whatever a recruiter writes in an email, just move on. I would do the same if the email contained a ton of typos or grammar mistakes, or if the recruiter didn't understand my profession. It's simply not that difficult of a choice.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – enderland Jun 1 '17 at 14:25
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    It might be helpful to continue your statement on overthinking to say why, for instance, "because how a recruiter respects you is somewhat irrelevant. Even formal recruiters will be out for their own profit--not yours. To them, you are merely a commodity they would like to sell to their own client. Therefore, ignoring this informality will allow you to maximize your own options when looking for your next opportunity--just as they are doing--so that you can maximize bids for yourself. The recruiter usually has no bearing upon the culture of the client represented anyway." – Palu Macil Jun 2 '17 at 13:41
  • It depends in fact in what field you are working. In traditional sectors, like bank, law, professional services, luxary, it's rude to use Tu for an unknown person. If you work in the startup sectors, not at all. Think of it as wearing a tie : you don't wear a tie in a startup, you don't say "Vous" in a startup. I think that it's somehow related to the us/english influence, where everyone is "you". – JulienFr Jun 3 '17 at 18:22
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This could be a large product of the modern age of young people growing up on the internet. Spaces like Twitter have caused a lot of people to change their language as the Tu version of conjugation tends to be shorter and allows better usage of character limits.

Also non face to face interaction tends to cause a large relaxation in standards, social media causes a lot of people to get used to using tu instead of vous. Have a look at this article for examples

You'll probably find this head hunter is of a young age and still quite new to the system. For me, I would be insulted for them using tu instead of vous. They don't know me and it's rude to do it to someone on the street, thus it should also be the case in e-mail. However this is all down to your opinion.

You have said it is annoying you, so if you don't like the language, ignore them. They obviously are not the right people you want to be speaking to. Head hunters are a dime a dozen and if one does something wrong, just move on and wait for the next one that does tick your boxes.

  • Interesting claim. Are there any stats on the prevalence of tu/vous or Du/Sie or tú/usted on the internet, by year, location (and age of poster and respondent where known)? That would be really informative. As a proxy for age group, whether usage on Snapchat vs Instagram vs FB vs LinkedIn vs Google+ differ... – smci Jun 1 '17 at 6:22
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    I think the trend is much longer term than "growing up on the internet". My mother (in her 80's) objects to customer service people referring to her as "Jenny". She is "Mrs Bonner" thank-you-very-much. I (59) am quite happy to be "Martin" (although having moved to DE/CH I am now "Herr Bonner" to everyone). – Martin Bonner supports Monica Jun 1 '17 at 6:32
  • Feeling insulted is quite disproportionnate. Many enterprises, especially in IT fields tends to get rid of things like "using only some pompous pronouns to put some distance between we the big guys and you the poor small developper". That's indeed a different mentality. The end of the good old enterprise where chatting with your boss or manager would be impossible. That dehumanized and impersonnal system is slowly dying. Deal with it. – Kaël Jun 1 '17 at 9:35
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    @Kaël This isn't someone inside the same company, this is a head hunter coming out of nowhere using familial slang to greet me. If I've had no prior contact, then I consider that rude. If it's someone I know, then no issues. Hell, I tutoyer my boss. But some random person who I barely know and is trying to solicit business from me, I would expect some formality otherwise they won't work with me. – Draken Jun 1 '17 at 11:03
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    @Draken Nonetheless everyone is doing it by these days, that's how HR department deal with recruits, and so headhunters do the same. That's just the norm. Not something to insult you, not a disrespect, not even a proof the guy talking like this is a rookie. No reason to feel insulted at all when someone do so. Do you feel insulted when the waiter in Starbucks asks for your firstname and starts tutoying you ? I don't. – Kaël Jun 1 '17 at 13:01
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Recruiters talk to me like "mate" all the time.

It's a sales tactic. The recruiter is trying to make you think of him as your "buddy".

It's the same as when car salesmen use your first name without permission.

Just roll your eyes then get on with the business of job hunting!

  • Correct - recruiters are not your mate, buddy, pal, or friend. To a recruiter, you're just grist in the mill - same as a potato to a farmer, or a sheep to a butcher.... something to be processed. – Criggie Jun 2 '17 at 2:20
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    Anton is my middle name; when strangers use my first name in attempt to be chummy, they only remind me that they don't know me! – Anton Sherwood Jun 2 '17 at 7:09
  • @AntonSherwood: Hehe I imagine that's ironically quite helpful – Lightness Races with Monica Jun 2 '17 at 10:15
  • @AntonSherwood Same when people call me "Rick". It's a way to eliminate the bottom feeders. – Rich Jun 2 '17 at 23:34
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It could be that the recruiter is trying to bypass social norm to get you "on his/her side".

To tutoie someone (as you know) means they are on familiar terms with you or are talking to an inferior.

As a recruiter they would not want to do the latter as that would hurt their business. So they are trying to appear to be your friend.

So there are a few ways to react:

  • Ignore them
  • Tutoie them
  • Vouvoie them
  • Vouvoie them and explain that you expect the same respect.

The first three options are more professional. The last option might also be considered rude.

The simplest reaction is to ignore it.

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    3bis: "vouvoie them and if they reply with the tutoiement, explain you expect the same respect" – Someone Jun 1 '17 at 14:31
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    Fifth option is to play it buddy style until there is firm proposal. then to negociate the price again. Salesman is going to say its not fair but it does not matter. At this point he has invested time and money in the guy and has 2 options left (win no money / win less money). People do that often in a non-malicious way, when they receive simultaneously several offers. – Olivvv Jun 2 '17 at 11:34
  • @Olivvv : you're on target; negotiation is the perfect time to return their familiarity against them. "Tu te moques de moi? Tu sais bien que je vaux plus que ça..." (in english : you're laughing at me? You perfectly know I'm worth more than this) – gazzz0x2z Jun 4 '17 at 12:36
9

There is a trend in France to use "tu" inside of a company, and this recruiter seems to apply that to external communication as well. I don't think something is going (fraud etc.), this is just a young fellow starting his recruiter career who doesn't realize that he sounds ridiculously rather than friendly or cool. "Don't assume bad intentions over neglect and misunderstanding."

6

It seems like people earlier in their careers can have a tendency to really overthink a contact from a recruiter. Once you have some experience it won't be unusual to get several messages from them a day. But just like someone who hasn't dated, people earlier in their careers take every glance and smile as the beginning of a whole new life. You're just building yourself up for heartbreak if you do that since even for a person with great expertise, not every job a recruiter writes to you about is going to be a fit.

I would base my response on if I'm interested in the job they are offering to consider me for. If someone wants me to be a lead robotic engineer at Google I will respond even if they say "Hey there buckaroo, check this action out!" If it's to program PLCs for a car wash somewhere it really won't get my interest no matter how nicely they word it.

As a side note, I recommend responding to most recruiters who seem to have put in any effort. If what they offer you is way off from your interests then tell them what you are interested in. Maybe keep a blurb about this that you can re-use with some customization for this purpose. Then you have more people out there looking for what you really want to do, and if you look at it from their point of view, it's nice to know you have someone who is looking for a type of job when they do see the right type. Someone who is interested in just any work isn't nearly as attractive.

I know these answers should have links but this is just what works for me. I currently work at SpaceX and I got this position through a recruiter who originally contacted me about a job I wasn't interested in, and I responded by politely explaining what I am interested in doing.

5

He is probably informal because it is what some people want.

I think the behavior of the recruiter will become more popular. Will it be the majority? We do not know.

As time passes, the language becomes more familiar, other things like clothes at work are replaced by t-shirt and jeans. I have had feedback that some candidates decline job offers where the interview was too formal. So companies are adapting.

Virgin Mobile changed all of their messages to use "ta facture", "ton téléphone", etc. When you are exiting, you hear the word "kiss". With several companies, when reaching for the sales department or the technical support, I was greeted with: "hey buddy, how can I help you?".

Some people are happy that there is no boundary between personal life, work, supplier, customer, etc. In the past, it was bad receiving a personal call on the job. Now, it is no more astonishing as to read a response from a work mail before going to the bed. It is your personal decision if you are pleased by this attitude and it's up to you if you accept doing business with them.

  • What do you want to say by When you are exiting, you hear the word "kiss"? – Dmitry Grigoryev May 31 '17 at 16:56
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    This is what a session look like with my voicemail: | Me: pressing button to access voicemail | System say: Wow! You are popular, you have 4 messages! | Me: pressing button to listen first message | System playing message recorded by co-worker Me: pressing button to quit voicemail | System literary say Kiss | Then no tone/no line – Sebastien DErrico May 31 '17 at 18:07
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    Some people love ribaldry. But it is not what some people like what is important, it is important that people show genuine respect for other people. So if you want to contact someone who you never met before, your behavior should reflect the situation. Your example of "no boundaries" is spot on because if you are not aware that boundaries do exist, you are not aware of and you cannot defend against violations, you simply know something is wrong, but cannot articulate it. Isn't it nice if some people wants to hug you? Not if he tries to remove your wallet. – Thorsten S. May 31 '17 at 20:09
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    @DmitryGrigoryev I expect it means that people say "Bisou" (literally "kiss") instead of goodbye. Remember that in France is conventional, socially, to kiss (certain) people when saying hello and goodbye. I think the OP is saying he doesn't find such informality (or social rapprochement) appropriate at work. – ChrisW Jun 2 '17 at 18:32
  • @ChrisW I alsopersonally do not find it appropriate as a customer :) Like there is a staff member to welcome me when I enter the grocery then the same person kiss me when I am leaving. – Sebastien DErrico Jun 2 '17 at 19:01
2

Before speaking, I'm French and I don't know if it's a french problem or not.

First, in my opinion, it's a HUGE problem of (french?) recruiters on websites (LinkedIn, Viadeo, ...)

They ask future employees to be perfect (for the CV, motivation letter, ...) but they contact you like "Hey, buddy? How are you?"

One of my friends (female) received an offer like this:

"Hi, I'm not here to ask you your hand but only your brain..." or something like that. Pretty sexist!

Sometimes, they don't even change the name of the "candidate".

Second, I think companies try to be original in order to attract you, but, often, it's a fail.

The argument of "It's the Twitter Generation" is NOT an excuse! Does the recruiter speak with "Tu" to his/her boss? I don't think so. As I said before, they ask you to be perfect, but they're not!

Personally, if a company contacts me with "Tu" instead of "Vous", I don't reply or reply something like (french expression):

Désolé, on n'a pas élevé les cochons ensemble

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    BTW, I say "tu" to people inside my company, including my boss. I wouldn't say "tu" to a person I don't personally know though, except if they spill coffee on me or park in front of my garage. – Dmitry Grigoryev May 31 '17 at 17:11
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    @JoeStrazzere, what is this dichotomy between email and cover letter? I think the latter is virtually a subset of the former nowadays. – Peter Taylor Jun 1 '17 at 11:53
  • even through a recruiter say "tu", you could lang a nice contract. Accepting "tu" will increase recruiter confidence that he can do the whole thing without negociating. Which is a good thing if you plan to negociate, then surprise will provide an advantage. – Olivvv Jun 2 '17 at 12:09
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I studied at the Sorbonne (Certificat Sémestriel, Niveau Superieur I) and while I was aware of "tu" vs. "vous" from gradeschool, the only point I remember being surprised at was a sticker in the Metro, by the sliding doors, saying "...Tu risques de te pincer très fort." Beyond that, I heard "tu" and "vous" in different settings and don't remember surprise at a mismatch being an issue.

From your question title, I got the impression that the recruiter had gone way too far in the kind of intimacy that makes addressees feel sexually uncomfortable. I was surprised that the note was just over tutoyer.

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    That sticker is directed at children, which is also why it features a picture of a cartoon bunny. – jwg Jun 2 '17 at 11:16
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I don't think it's that much of a problem.

The e-mail they sent is not a generic e-mail written by a bot, they personally found you on linkedin and contacted you. People on linkedin and at tech meetups tend to be more casual, friendly especially for recruiter since their whole job is to talk to potential candidates and be social.

I would personally answer them using "vous", although I doubt it would bother them since they used tu.

0

While most of the people say this is no problem, I think that it's up to you to decide this, and if you have a problem with it, then it is a problem: I've learnt that in France, formal communication is indeed very important, and there is no reason for electronic communication to be an exception.

Now, how to deal with this situation: I'd respond to the mail, but I'd take care of two things:

  • as far as content is concerned, don't mind about the lack of formal communication (you just answer as if everything is OK).
  • as far as formality is concerned, I'd propose you write your mail, using "vous" as a way to address the person. This shows this person that his/her informal communication is not repeated and should enforce him/her to reconsider about using more formal communication.

Good luck

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    I don't believe communication is any more formal in France than it is in Britain. Regardless, English only has one second-person singular personal pronoun, while French (like Spanish, Dutch, German, ...) has two. This means you must use the correct one. 'Tu' implies 'we are familiar, either through having been personal before or through family ties', which is not the case, so it is simply the wrong word to use. You wouldn't use anything in English that implies familiarity either. – reinierpost Jun 1 '17 at 22:21

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