How to Break into a Career in Translation: Starting from Scratch

This post is the second (read the first post here) in a series of five posts written in response to questions we at The Savvy Newcomer have received, sometimes from people within the translation world, but also from bilingual friends and family who are interested in translation and interpreting (T&I). Our hope is that this series will serve as a guide for people who are considering a career in T&I and want to know where to begin.

Starting your freelance translation business from scratch can be a daunting task. Below are a few of the most fundamental questions to ask yourself as you begin to think about building your business.

Do I need further training to become a translator?

There is no one “right” way to become a translator, but most professionals feel it is important to have at least one of the following two qualifications: a) experience (could be from a previous job or volunteer position), or b) training (from an academic program in translation or at least education in another language).

If you are interested in becoming a translator but do not have much experience, taking a course may be a good place to begin. You can find translation courses at many major colleges and universities, some of which are offered online. If you enjoy the first course and want to pursue a career in translation, it may be of benefit to you to meet other translators and get a feel for what it takes to become one. You can even ask them how they got started. If you decide academic training is the best route for you, checking out the schools we have featured in guest posts here at The Savvy Newcomer may be a good place to start.

Academic programs in translation and interpreting range from certificates to PhD’s, and may be either online or in person. No gold standard exists for individuals entering the translation field, and some translators start off with a few years of experience from other sources and then get a degree in the field later on in their careers. It just depends on your situation! Getting a degree or certificate in translation can help to develop your skills, lend credibility to your resume, and give you a network of colleagues and classmates to support you as you get started with your career.

How can I get experience with translation?

There are several ways to get experience when you know another language but have no experience. One is to work with another translator who has at least a few years of work under his or her belt. If you know someone who is willing to work with you and edit your work, this is a great way to learn the ins and outs of translating without worrying about making a big mistake! You could act as a sort of intern or apprentice for this translator, who would provide you feedback and ensure the translation is accurate and ready for delivery.

Another way to get experience as a translator is to volunteer. Some charities and non-profit organizations may have small and low-risk documents that need to be translated (for instance, letters from a sponsored child to his or her sponsor, or brief and informal messages to connections in other countries). It can be hard for these organizations to afford translation of this kind, so they will often seek volunteer translators to help out. Groups like The Rosetta Foundation work to connect organizations with willing translators. Another volunteer opportunity exists in conjunction with the well-known TED Talks, which recruits volunteer translators to subtitle videos into other languages to help inspiration and ideas spread across borders.

How do I find clients when I am ready?

Once you have some experience or training in translation, you are ready to begin looking for clients. For the most part, translators who are just getting started will work with translation agencies that receive requests from a variety of different companies and source each project to the right translator for the job. You may eventually work directly with companies that need your services, but this involves a different level of client education and collaboration. To begin working with translation agencies, consider some of the following techniques for finding clients:

  • Cold emails/form submissions: Find the websites of different translation agencies and search for instructions on submitting your resume to be considered for freelance work. Each company will probably have different instructions—some may ask you to submit a form online, while others will provide an email address where you can send your resume and cover letter.
  • Directories: After you join professional associations such as ATA, NAJIT, or local associations (see a list of local associations here: http://www.atanet.org/chaptersandgroups/index.php), you can usually list your services on the association’s membership directory. This is an opportunity for clients to find you and contact you about your services.
  • Conferences: Many associations hold annual conferences attended by both freelancers and translation agencies (for instance, ATA is holding its 58th Annual Conference at the end of October 2017: www.atanet.org/conf/2017). Oftentimes you can meet agency representatives at booths or networking events and make a personal connection that could lead to freelance work in the future.
  • Contacts: One of the most common ways to find clients is by word of mouth. Translators may refer other translators for work they think suits them, so networking with contacts of all kinds (colleagues, classmates, friends, and family) can help spread the word about your services and let people know you are open for business.

We hope you have learned something new from this post about starting from scratch! Stay tuned for the next article in this series, Services and Specialization.

Branding Yourself – Create a Professional Portfolio

 Reblogged from The ATA Chronicle with permission from the author

In today’s business world, it is becoming increasingly difficult to make yourself competitive, especially as a translator. More and more freelancers are being added to the market, so what can you do to make yourself stand out in a sea of many? A great place to start your differentiating process is by creating a professional portfolio. A portfolio is an invaluable tool in more ways than one. But what exactly is it, and exactly how can it help you?

What Is a Portfolio?

A portfolio is simply a collection of your work that can be used to market your language services, apply for a job, highlight your professional experience, or document what you have learned. As a translator, you need a portfolio to create the link between what you can do and what the prospective client or organization wants from you. Your professional portfolio will distinguish you from the competition. It will clearly highlight your experience and demonstrate that you are serious about your career as a translator and your job search. It will show examples of your unique strengths and pique the interest of your potential clients or employers. In addition, it will help you build confidence in what you can do.

How Can Your Portfolio Help You?

What are your professional activities, and what are the outcomes of those activities? Are you documenting them adequately so others can see your contributions? Do your activities and the outcomes they produce match your profession? What do you need to change or enhance about what you do and the outcomes you document? A professional portfolio will be an immense help in answering these questions constructively. It helps you keep track of everything you have done in your career as a professional translator or interpreter and points out where you should go next. Most importantly for freelancers, it will definitely get you attention and help you stand out from the crowd.

The Importance of Your Unique Value Proposition

Before you embark on creating your professional portfolio, you must first identify your value proposition—a clear statement in line with the market’s challenges and your desires, communicating the unique contribution you and your services are providing that is different from your competitors. Try to answer the question, “Why should I do business with you and not someone else?” Your unique value proposition must appeal to the client’s strongest decision-making drivers. It should be believable, authentic, and specific. Once you have a statement that you are confident communicates your value, you have the basis on which to build your professional portfolio. Like a classic novel that has a specific theme or overall message, your unique value proposition should pervade your portfolio. Whoever is reading it should get an overall sense of your value without your having to state it explicitly.

What Goes Into a Portfolio?

The key point of your portfolio is that you want to give an employer cause to hire you or a prospective client reasons to retain your translation or interpreting services. You want to showcase your education and work experience by showing examples and evidence of your work, skills, and accomplishments. While your portfolio can be creative and contain an array of items based on the exact message you are conveying with your unique value proposition, there are some elements that are absolutely necessary. These are your career summary, bio, personal philosophy, and mission statement.

How to Make Your Career Summary Interesting and Relevant

Your career summary is simply a description of who you are through what you have done throughout your career as a linguist. It typically includes information not on your résumé, such as your work ethic, professional interests, and your philosophy about life and work. In your summary, aim to quantify your achievements by using varied adverbs and more descriptive detail. Instead of simply mentioning that you did X translating job for Y company, make a statement saying something along the lines of you consistently did X job, translating 3,000 words per day at Y company.

How to Define Your Personal Philosophy and Mission Statement

This is a personal statement about the principles that guide you, your purpose, and your value proposition. Consider this your personal executive summary. While it may be short, this is important for singling out your mission as a linguist and expressing your uniqueness.

Perfect Your Bio

In the business world we summarize our experience, qualifications, education, skill-sets, and any other important aspects of our professional life (and sometimes even our personal life). This is contained in what is typically known as the résumé or CV (curriculum vitae). The information presented, its style, format, length, etc., all vary among cultures. Nevertheless, it is an important component of your marketing kit, regardless of the culture you are targeting. However, this tool does not really highlight all of those personal characteristics that make you different from others. The biography is a highly underestimated, yet very powerful, tool that should be essential in any marketing kit. It is simply the story of your life.

A résumé lists your credentials. A biography presents them in a story, automatically making the content much more interesting. Stories are fascinating and have the ability to engage and connect us with our target market through purpose and passion. Let your human side shine through your story. Your audience wants to find that special connection with you, and there is no better way to connect than by sharing your story. Do not be bland. Personal hobbies and interests, while not necessary, may be helpful in letting your readers get a taste of who you are as a person.

When composing your bio, consider your audience—who exactly will be reading it? This is important, because what you include in your bio should and will vary depending on your target audience. While this may be difficult to achieve, a good bio is short—somewhere between 150-300 words. To keep the length to a minimum, it is important to focus only on the highlights or more significant moments. Use phrases such as among others or to name a few. These phrases keep lists short, but convey the notion that the list continues. Your bio should also be written in the third person in order to keep it formal and professional.

Some Other Items to Consider in Your Portfolio

While every one of the following items is not required in your portfolio, you should try to include what you feel is necessary to convey your unique value proposition. Consider the following:
• Career summary
• Goals
• Personal brand statement in a tagline form
• Mission statement
• Bio
• Résumé
• Accomplishments
• Work samples
• Research publications and reports
• Testimonials
• Letters of recommendation
• Awards and honors
• Conferences and workshops
• Transcripts
• Degrees
• Licenses and certifications
• Professional development activities
• Volunteer and community service
• References

One thing to keep out of your portfolio is your rates. Also, if you are targeting translation agencies, include the tools and technologies you use; however, when targeting direct clients, this information is not necessary and may even confuse your potential buyers.

Stylistic Tips to Keep Your Portfolio Professional

Use an assortment of syntax and vocabulary so that your portfolio does not become boring to the reader. Be careful to stay truthful. If you are caught lying or even stretching the truth, you will lose a lot of precious credibility—and likely a client as well. In addition, industry jargon should be kept to a minimum. What good is your portfolio if the reader does not understand what is being said? Monitor the length of your sentences so that the flow of your statements does not become choppy or confusing. Keep in mind that bulleted lists are easy to follow and show organization. Avoid words that are too “flowery”; that is, if you think your reader might have to go to a dictionary for it, do not include it. Definitely omit pronouns, as they make your portfolio look less professional. You should always keep your intended audience in mind when planning your approach. Perhaps your readers would prefer something a little more personal. Always remember that your portfolio should motivate the reader to take action.

Stand Out from the Crowd with Your Work Samples

Regarding samples, if you are a translator, make sure you include the source and target translation. If you really want to stand out from the crowd, you can simply include a hyperlink to the source document and the corresponding translation if they are available online (like a website). Instead of just including the source and target translation, focus on highlighting any outcomes that resulted from your translation. For example, if you translated a website, and that website is reaching out to X amount of people, point that out. If you are an interpreter, you can include a link to a short video clip of an actual interpreting assignment along with a brief description of what the gig was all about. A word of caution: if you are going to include hyperlinks to projects or assignments on which you worked, make sure you always get the proper permission from your client to do so. You do not want to infringe on any confidentiality agreement and jeopardize not just the relationship with your client but also your professional reputation.

Your Portfolio: Why It Should Be Online

Google is your biggest promoter. The Internet is the biggest gallery in the world, with millions of potential clients online. You need to make sure they can find you and your work. An online portfolio gives you the perfect opportunity to do this. With numerous social media outlets, you have the ability to showcase yourself and your work to thousands of people not available via traditional methods. Think about the implications of not popping up on someone’s online search for your name. Will you lose all trust or credibility since you are not in the results set? Are you hiding something? If others cannot find you online, you have done a poor job of letting people get the chance to know you and your services. Your online portfolio is available around the clock. You want your online portfolio to be like a website that is well designed, easy to use, and tells the reader exactly what is wanted quickly and without hassle. Not to mention, you want it to be instantly inspiring upon first glance. One of the most important aspects of your online portfolio is its appearance—easy to read, clean, and thorough. When you create easy-to-read application material that paints a detailed, well-matched picture of your professional self, you make recruiters, clients, and employers happy and interested.

Online Tools to Create Your Online Portfolio Find websites that can both stylize your portfolio with graphics and organize your information in a visual and compelling way. There are numerous free and inexpensive tools online that allow you to create graphical representations of your skills, working history, and professional achievements. If you do not already have your own personal website, consider investing in one. Make it easy for others to find and be impressed by you. Make them think, “Wow, I need those services, and now!” It is easier than you think to make yourself accessible. You will find that your professional portfolio (particularly one that is online) will do that for you. All the effort required is the initial creation of the portfolio. So, go out and self-promote. After that, your clients will come right to you!

Image credit: Pixabay

Author bio

Marcela Reyes is the chief branding officer for Latitudes | Training, Coaching and Consulting. She is an entrepreneurial marketing expert and business coach with over 20 years of experience. She partners with language services providers around the world to help them communicate their value to attract more clients, expand their services, and develop their own brand in local and international markets. She gives presentations around the world and is a published author. She has a bachelor’s degree in communications and an MBA with an emphasis in marketing. Contact: marcela@latitudescoach.com.

How is the T&I industry laid out?

This post is the first in a series of five posts written in response to questions we at The Savvy Newcomer have received, sometimes from people within the translation world, but also from bilingual friends and family who are interested in translation and interpreting (T&I). Our hope is that this series will serve as a guide for people who are considering a career in T&I and want to know where to begin.

—–

How is the T&I industry laid out?

As a preface, I can think of numerous times since I began working as a translator that friends and family have come to me with questions about my work. Do I actually have a job? Do people pay me to do it? Who do I work for? The questions are not always this blatant, but I can often sense the underlying question of how the translation and interpreting industry really works, and whether it is a viable career for someone who knows a second language. In short, the answer is yes!

The question of how our industry is laid out is usually one that people do not ask straight-out, but it is the first topic I address in my response. It is crucial to have this foundational knowledge before you consider becoming a translator or an interpreter so you can decide if you—your lifestyle, your skills, your background—will make a good fit for the industry, and vice versa.

Translation vs. interpreting

The first distinction to make is the difference between translation and interpreting. Check out the infographic below to get an idea (credit: lucomics.com). Translation is written; when you translate, you receive a document in one language and translate it into another language—usually on a computer, but sometimes by hand. Interpreting is spoken; interpreters work in person, by phone, or by video, interpreting words spoken in real time by conveying the same message out loud in a second language so that another person or other people can understand what was said.

Translation and interpreting require very different skills; translators are strong writers with a good grasp of writing conventions in their target language. They need to be able to properly understand the source language to create a suitable translation. Interpreters, on the other hand, should have a strong command of speaking skills in both languages and must be able to produce coherent and accurate renditions of what is being said as it is said.

What is a language pair?

The combination of languages in which a translator or interpreter provides services is called their “language pair.” Translators usually work from one language into another; for example, I work from Spanish into English (Spanish>English), which means that my clients send me documents in Spanish and I deliver translated documents in English. It is a good rule of thumb to remember that translators usually work into their native language. This is because most of us are naturally better writers in our native tongue, so we work from our second language into our first. Interpreters, alternatively, may work with both languages at the same level; for example, if an interpreter is hired to help a doctor communicate with her patient, the interpreter will need to speak both languages so both parties are understood. In this case, we would say that the interpreter’s language pair is Spanish-English, since he is not working into one language or the other. As a side note, some interpreters offer their services at conferences where the speaker or presenter speaks in one language and some or all attendees need to hear the presentation in their own language (this is called conference interpreting). If, for example, a group of marine biologists from Mexico attends a conference in Miami, their interpreter would be working from Spanish>English, and would most likely provide the interpretation simultaneously through a headset while the speaker is speaking.

Who do you work for?

This is one of the questions I hear most often. A high percentage of translators and interpreters are freelancers, which means we work for ourselves! Our clients may be translation agencies or direct clients from other companies that require our services. Most T&I professionals work for clients all across the world, which makes for an interesting workday! Some full-time employment opportunities exist for translators and interpreters, but much of the industry is built on an independent contractor model. There are pros and cons to working for yourself:

Pros Cons
Flexible schedule Unstable income
The more you work, the more you earn Loneliness
Work varies and can be very interesting No employer benefits

What does it take?

To become a skilled and successful translator or interpreter, it is important to be self-motivated! Especially if you are going to become a freelancer, you want to be sure that you have the fortitude to set your own schedule, manage your time, and keep growing your business. It is also essential to have strong language skills in two or more languages. It is important to recognize that being bilingual does not automatically make someone a translator or interpreter! Knowing two languages is crucial, but it is important to have training or experience that teaches you the ins and outs of translating or interpreting: the pitfalls you may encounter, best practices, and the code of ethics by which you must live and work. Bilingual individuals who are not cut out to be translators or interpreters and want to use their bilingual skills in other capacities can find great career opportunities as language teachers, bilingual medical or legal providers, language project managers, and so forth. In fact, bilingual individuals can play a key role in just about any profession imaginable.

We hope this helps to answer some of the initial questions you may have about translation and interpreting! Stay tuned for the next installment: “Starting from Scratch.”

Header image: Pixabay

Five Steps to Make your Freelance Translator CV Stand Out

During the last three months, I have reviewed hundreds of CVs (or resumes) from freelance translators for a new language group we are targeting at our translation agency, TranslationPartner. Some CVs caught my attention, and others were rejected within 10-20 seconds. To help you out, I have written down some of my notes about why some translators’ CVs were shortlisted and others were not. It is my hope that this will help you to design your resume better for the next time you are introducing yourself to potential clients. Note that I will use “CV” and “resume” interchangeably in this context, but you can find more information on the difference between these documents here.

  1. Use direct language

There is limited time to check each CV when the person receiving your file has a stack of them a mile high, so important information should be introduced as early as possible. Superfluous sentences such as “I am the best translator in…” are a waste of time for the reader, and if a sentence like this is at the beginning of your curriculum vitae, it is likely to be one of those that gets rejected within 10-20 seconds. When writing your CV, ensure that the language you use is direct and clear. Each sentence should provide a new piece of information. Stay away from flowery language and remember that you only have a few seconds to convince the recipient that they should keep reading.

  1. Numbers and figures make your resume more reliable

Always use numbers to support your experience; these will show that you are qualified and may be of value to the potential client. For example, you can use numbers to show your years of experience, your interpretation hours, specific course hours or the word counts/number of hours for key projects you have completed with current or previous clients. If you do not have exact numbers, just give approximate ones. Numbers will make your CV seem more trustworthy and show the reader that you are reliable.

  1. Organize it properly

I was surprised to see dozens of CVs written as a group of paragraphs without sections, titles, subtitles, or bullets. Make your document easy to scan—the person who reads your resume is going to be looking for certain information and must be able to find it quickly. Use section titles or subtitles to indicate what information is found where. Under each title, you can use bullets to indicate details, but I do not recommend more than five bullets per title/subtitle.

For example, you may want to add a subtitle for your translation achievements, where you mention your most important projects with their estimated word counts. Also, include your address, contact info, and education in sub-sections and organize them properly so the person who reads the CV can find them easily.

  1. Keep it short and condense information

You CV is usually the first step in the recruitment process with a potential client, so it is not necessary to include all possible information (a one or two-page document is enough). In particular, you do not need to add all your certificates and work history in the resume. Just write the information that your potential client needs; i.e., if you are applying to a translation agency, there is no need to mention your background as a language teacher. If you wish, you can add a section in your cover letter or at the end of the CV mentioning that other information can be provided upon request, such as references or additional work history. Using bullets is one of my favorite organization tips. I use bullets when I write my curriculum vitae, emails, project summaries, and many other documents. These bullets do not have to contain full sentences, just a phrase to show your point.

  1. No spelling or grammar errors

Why would I trust you to complete an upcoming translation project for my company if you have not performed the most basic quality check on your own CV—checking for spelling and grammar? Some translators just rush through their resumes in an effort to win the project bid quickly, without checking their writing on the CV and cover letter they send to the job poster. Be sure to reread your document before sending it, and don’t forget to run the automatic spellcheck function of your word processing software.

Conclusion

Keep in mind the perspective of your reader when writing a CV or resume. In conclusion, you should only include relevant information, keep it organized, and just get to the point!

Image credit: pixabay

Author bio

Sherif Abuzid is an English to Arabic native translator and Key Accounts Manager at TranslationPartner, a translation agency. He translates to Arabic and manages projects in African and Middle Eastern languages. Sherif studied English and Translation at the Faculty of Arts in Egypt and Sales and Marketing at the American University in Cairo, and holds a MBA in International Business Administration from The Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport. His translation agency website is http://www.translationpartner.com/. The company translates medical, technical, and software documents into Arabic, Middle Eastern, and African languages.

When translation clients ask for favors

Here’s a situation we’ve all probably encountered: clients asking for favors. “Any chance you could quickly translate 25 words?” “Do you have time to look over a couple of sentences in a source document in your language?” “You’re so great with this piece of software; any chance you could take a quick look at a problem we’re having?”

A client favor can be one of two things:
-An opportunity to solidify the relationship with a client you love
-A source of resentment when the favor spirals out of control, or the client abuses your generosity

Let’s take a look at how to handle client-requested favors.

Tip 1: If the client is a valued one, and pays well and on time, just do the favor. Don’t charge for it, and don’t make a big deal about not charging for it. Just say, “This only took a few minutes; no need to invoice for it.” It’s like giving your boss a ride home when their car is in the shop; it’s an investment in the relationship and in workplace harmony. This is the tactic I take with most of my direct clients. I even offer them free favors, in the sense that if a project is truly tiny—something that takes half an hour or less—I don’t charge for it at all. Personally I would rather charge a higher rate overall than nickel-and-dime the client over 15 minutes of work. Sometimes I will note the item on an invoice, and put “Courtesy” instead of listing a charge (i.e. “Mailing hard copies of documents: courtesy”), but that’s as big a deal as I make out of it.

Tip 2: It’s also fine to charge for everything. You’re in this business to make a living. Do not ever (ever) feel guilty about charging a client for your time. After all, they’re probably not calling in favor jobs from their attorney, or asking their plumber to come unclog a drain without charging. Charging for everything also makes it clear what is billable and what is not, because everything the client sends you is billable. The key is to remain cheerful and polite while making it clear that you’re going to charge for the quick look at their TM bug. “I’d be happy to take a look; if it’s something I can figure out, I’ll just invoice you at my regular hourly rate after it’s done. Let me know if you’d like me to go ahead with it.”

Tip 3: Keep ethics and optics in mind. At least several times a year, direct clients ask me to work on projects that are peripherally related to their jobs. “Could you edit the blog post I wrote in English about this workshop I attended?” “I’d like to create business cards in English, could you help me?” and things like that. Often, they’ll hint—or just come out and say—that they’d like a discount on my regular rates. I’d usually be happy to do these jobs for free, but some clients are prohibited from accepting those kinds of favors from outside contractors.

If that happens, you need to respect the client’s situation, but it’s also not ideal to show the client that you’re willing to work at a great discount. When that happens, my solution is to propose a lump sum that is a lot lower than my regular rate, without explicitly saying, “I’ll do it for half of my regular rate.” This is a subtle distinction, but I think that the optics matter; rather than explicitly offering a 50% discount, you’re proposing an “honorarium” that the client can accept without crossing any ethics lines.

Tip 4: Beware of habitual favor-askers. Favors are a great way to cement a relationship with a valued client. But they can become a major pain if the same client asks over and over again for a half hour of free work here and there. Additionally, if the client is an agency, they are most likely charging the end client for the work that you’re doing for free. So, if a client (direct client or agency) crosses the line into abusing your generosity, proceed to Tip 2. The next time they ask, politely but clearly respond that you’d be happy to do this task, at your regular rate. Leave the emotions out of it. Don’t point out that you’ve done three small jobs for free during the past month. Just make it clear that from now on, favors are billable.

Header image credit: Picjumbo

Author bio

Corinne McKay, CT, is an ATA-certified French to English translator and the current ATA President-elect. She specializes in international development, corporate communications, and non-fiction book translation. She is also passionate about helping beginning and established translators launch, run, and grow successful freelance businesses. Her book, How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator, has become a go-to reference for the industry with over 10,000 copies in print, and her blog, Thoughts on Translation, has been a lively gathering place for freelance translators since 2008. You can keep in touch with Corinne on Twitter @corinnemckay, or on LinkedIn.