Charting a career path with a French accent

Have you ever considered living and working in another country?

Our alumna Gina Dunn, CPS’15, did just that, moving to Paris in 2016 and applying her communication expertise as an independent consultant. In this interview, I ask Gina about her decision to work in Paris, her impressions of French communication styles, and the value of her learning journey here at the College of Professional Studies.

Carl Zangerl (CZ): Gina, thanks so much for taking the time to discuss your experiences since graduating from our program in 2015. Deciding to work in another country, in a different cultural setting is such a big step. What made you take that step?

Gina Dunn (GD): After graduating, I spent some time traveling in Europe, but after visiting Paris, I knew that was the place for me! I’m interested in the fashion business and wanted to see how I could apply my communication expertise. I also decided to take a deep dive into the language and the culture. So, I earned a French certificate in marketing and landed an internship at a fashion house that produces both haute couture-inspired artisanal collections and ready-to-wear collections. There I worked in the PR department, compiling press reports and helping organize fashion shows.

CZ: Now you’re working as a marketing and communication consultant for a wide range of organizations. Tell us about one of your recent consulting jobs.

GD: One of my most challenging engagements was for the International Chamber of Commerce. They were initiating some major organizational changes – just as the Covid-19 pandemic broke out! I helped develop the messages for employees to keep them up-to-date on the changes. It required me to interact with both the HR and the communication teams, a real-life example of cross-functional communication. I worked on both the strategic and tactical aspects of the initiative. It was like one of our capstone projects on steroids!

CZ:  In our program we talk a lot about communication styles, about how culture affects the way people communicate with each other in organizations. What are your impressions of French communication styles? Of the way people interact at work?

GD: It’s very different from the U.S. The expectation is that everyone has an opinion and should express it. When I did my internship at the fashion house, I was really surprised at first. I wasn’t treated like an intern. My co-workers expected me to participate in the conversation.

And, people are very direct. For example, if your supervisor likes something you’ve done, she will let you know; and if she doesn’t like something, she will let you know that as well. You don’t have to try and figure out where you stand.

There’s also a stereotype of the French as being rather distant and reserved. My experience at work has been the exact opposite. Lunch time is an important part of the workday. Eating alone is not the norm. Co-workers want to know who you are — who is this person I’m working with?

CZ: When you reflect on the work you’re doing, what are the ‘evergreen’ concepts from our program that you find to be most valuable?

GD:  When I craft messages, I often apply the Do, Know, and Feel formula — the action equation — that’s described in Matha & Boehm’s Beyond the Babble. What you want people to do when you communicate with them – and what facts and motivational triggers do you need to incorporate in your message to move them to take action. I’ve also thought a lot about the Hofstede research on intercultural communication.

A more general takeaway from our program is it’s focus on application. Nothing can substitute for the kind of experiential learning we do in our courses. I sometimes feel that everyone should experience a Northeastern education because it prepares you so well for real-world situations. I have the confidence to meet any communication challenge!

Posted by Carl Zangerl, Faculty

From the Reading List

Hofstede insights on French cultural norms

An interesting blog post on French and Dutch communication styles by Alicia Kreijger

Matha & Boehm, Beyond the Babble

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