Advice for a new translator on job hunting

By Jill Sommer

Reblogged from Musings from an overworked translator with permission from the author

I received an interesting comment from Martha, a new translator. I felt this was important enough that it shouldn’t be buried on a page no one will see. Martha has agreed to my posting it here for everyone to comment on. I particularly hope that some of my former students will share their insights (May, Justin, Emily, etc.) since they broke into the market more recently and are busy in their own rights.

I have to say that as a new translator, I’ve read these ideas to keep rates standard 100 times but find it very difficult to find any work at all if I can’t show I have much experience in any field yet. Does anyone have a good strategy of how to hunt for potential jobs (besides I thought working for one agency and showing them that I could complete a quality translation would be an effective way to start and yet I finished a large project for my first employer and am now questioning whether I’ll be paid a dime for it or anything I’ve done since. Other translation agencies do not seem to be interested once they find out I have limited knowledge of a trial version of a CAT tool and have only offered small and sporadic work so I’m starting to feel overwhelmed. Do you seasoned translators have any suggestions?

Here are ten tips from me to get started. I hope others can share what worked for them.

1. Start marketing yourself to as many translation agencies and/or direct clients as you can. They won’t know you are available if they don’t know you exist. I wrote a guest blog post at Naked Translations explaining how I broke into the U.S. market when I moved back from Germany in 2001. Think about what makes you stand out from all the other translators out there looking for clients and highlight it to new clients.

2. Get active on the local, national and international levels. I was the president of the Northeast Ohio Translators Association for eight years. Not only was I the face of NOTA to local and regional businesses, I established good relations with my NOTA members (both agencies and freelancers) and kept urging my members to act professional at all times. I also highly recommend attending some of the smaller ATA regional conferences that are more specialized in the fields you work in or would like to work in. At the national and international level I attend (and present at) the ATA conference every year, am active on various translation listservs in the U.S. and Germany (word of mouth and referrals from colleagues who are too busy are VERY helpful – both when you are starting out and once you are established and you have a lull), maintain this blog, and use social media like Twitter, XING and LinkedIn. I have also written articles for our local newsletter (the NOTA BENE) and the ATA Chronicle. People actually do remember them years later.

3. Have you read Corinne McKay’s book, How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator, or Judy and Dagmar Jenner’s The Entrepreneurial Linguist yet? Both offer valuable advice for new and experienced translators alike.

4. Use a full version of your CAT tool – not a trial version. There are some excellent tools out there like Fluency or OmegaT that do not cost an arm and a leg (in fact, OmegaT is free!). Once you start earning more money you can consider branching out and purchasing one of the more expensive translation environment tools (if you feel you need to). This is where I feel sites like can come in handy, because they occasionally offer group buys that make a software like MemoQ more affordable.

5. Stay strong on price. I just announced to my favorite client that I was raising my word rate by $0.01, and they were okay with it. Quality agencies are willing to pay for quality work. Don’t let yourself be beaten down by the bottom feeders. Have you spent any time on No Peanuts! for Translators? They offer some convincing arguments you can use when you are pressured by a lower paying agency.

6. Be sure to check out the agencies on non-payment sites like Payment PracticesTranslator-Client Review, the Blue Board and Translatorscafe’s Hall of Shame. Get on non-payment listservs like WPPF and Zahlungspraxis (in German). This ensures you won’t be taken in by unscrupulous non-payers who prey on (desperate/less-informed) translators.

7. Take some college courses to expand your knowledge and experience in the field you are interested in and let potential clients know you have taken them. You don’t need to get a degree, but it shows you are interested in becoming a better translator. For example, Kent State University offers classes that they consider their core requirements (Translation Theory, Documents in Multilingual Contexts, Terminology and Computer Applications, and hands-on translation courses in the practice of translation, sci-tech-med, legal-commercial and literary-cultural).

8. Consider working on holidays, weekends and during the professional conferences (and advertising that fact) until you establish yourself. Many agencies scramble to find translators when their established translators are not available, and if you do a good job and impress them they will come back.

9. Be prepared to work hard. It takes about a year to establish yourself. Consider taking on a part-time job until you start becoming busier.

10. Most importantly, keep your existing clients very happy with quality work (hire a proofreader if you have to) and deliver quickly (if not early).

Ten Tips for Translators

notepad-117597By Holly Mikkelson

Whether you’ve had formal training as a translator or not, you may find these tips helpful for making your initial ventures into the profession a success.

  1. Before you begin translating a text, read it all the way through, without thinking about how to translate it into the target language, and get a general sense of what it’s all about, what the author’s perspective is, and how best to convey that message to a readership in the target language. If the text you’re going to translate is longer than 10 pages, just a quick scan will do, as long as you can determine the writing style, the topic(s) covered, and the author’s point of view. This first step should be done immediately after you receive the text, because you may discover that something is missing. In that case, you need to notify the client right away.
  2. Once you’ve determined the text type (birth certificate, business report, information brochure, advertisement, speech, short story, etc.), find parallel texts in your target language. Thus, if I’m going to translate a lease from Spanish to English, I’ll find English leases on the Internet and compare the terms and phrases used. They won’t all be perfect matches, of course, but after you’ve read enough documents of a similar type in your language pair you detect patterns of usage in each language.
  3. Assemble the printed and online references you need for the document in question — always including a good monolingual dictionary and thesaurus in each language, a comprehensive bilingual dictionary, corpora in both languages, and usage guides in your target language – in addition to any specialized dictionaries or glossaries you own or have access to on the Internet. Begin a new glossary in a spreadsheet program such as Microsoft Excel so that you can enter new terms as you encounter them in the translation. Include the source where you found the translation of the term (dictionary, website, etc.) for future reference.
  4. Begin your draft translation, without being too concerned about style at this point. Name the file according to the client’s instructions, if any, or give the file a distinct name so you can find it easily later on and won’t confuse the translation with the source text (“translation.docx” is not a good name to give a file!). Try to have large blocks of time available for translation so that you don’t lose continuity. It’s important to avoid distractions such as emails or phone calls while you’re working. If you have a long translation that you must work on for several days or even weeks, before you begin each day’s work, review what you’ve already translated so that you’ll get back into the flow.
  5. After you’ve finished your first draft, no matter how long or short the document is, set it aside for at least an hour (take a lunch break, switch to another task such as reading emails, or go for a walk). Leaving it overnight is even better. After that hiatus, read your draft again, without looking at the source text, and imagine that you are the end-user of the translation who is seeing it for the first time. Is it clearly written? Does it make sense? Does it flow smoothly (if applicable — obviously, if it’s an official form like a birth certificate, the fluency of the prose will not be a consideration). Are the spelling and punctuation correct?
  6. Proofread the text one more time to make sure you haven’t omitted a word, misspelled something (your spell checker may not catch everything), or made some other mechanical error. Reading the text backwards is a good way to catch mechanical errors, because your brain won’t fill in missing words or overlook repetitions of the same word (e.g. the at the end of a line, followed by another the at the beginning of the next line).
  7. After you’ve made any necessary corrections to the target language text, go back to the source text and check for accuracy and completeness, sentence by sentence. This is a critical step, because you may have skipped an entire paragraph in your draft translation, or transposed some digits in a figure, or omitted a negative and turned a no into a yes.
  8. If it is at all feasible, within the constraints of today’s I-need-it-yesterday deadlines, set the translation aside and read it one more time before delivering it to the client. It’s surprising how often major errors jump off the page as you give a translation a final read just before turning it in.
  9. After you’ve delivered the completed product, make up an invoice for your client. Many translators mistakenly put off invoicing because it’s such a tedious task, but if you let too much time go by, you may forget important details and delay payment. Be sure to follow the client’s instructions about including identification information such as purchase order or job numbers.
  10. Update your glossary to make sure it reflects your final decisions on terms, and save it on your computer. You may want to file it in a directory dedicated to glossaries, or keep your glossaries in separate directories by client, along with the source and target texts. Storing source and target texts and relevant glossaries in a systematic way is important for saving time in the future when you do similar translations. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself looking up the same terms all over again, without reaping any benefit from the hours you invested the first time. However, if your client asks you to destroy all copies of source texts after you’ve translated them in order to protect proprietary information, you must comply with that request, as well as adhering to any confidentiality agreements you have signed.

As someone who’s been translating for over 35 years, I’ve learned many of these lessons the hard way, and I still have to remind myself of them sometimes, lest I try to cut corners. As the old saying goes, “Haste makes waste.”


About the author: Holly Mikkelson is Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Translation and Interpretation, Monterey Institute of International Studies. She is an ATA-certified translator and a state and federally certified court interpreter, and has taught translation and interpreting for many years. She is the author of the Acebo interpreting manuals as well as numerous books and articles on translation and interpreting. She has been a consultant with many state and private entities on interpreter testing and training, and has presented lectures and workshops to interpreters and related professionals throughout the world. She was awarded the ATA’s Alexander Gode Medal in 2011.