New Translators: Getting Out of The Starting Blocks

We’re often approached by ambitious young translators just starting out in the industry to ask for guidance and advice. Being able to remember quite clearly what it was like when we were starting out, we’ve therefore decided to write a series of posts addressing some of the challenges/dilemmas they most commonly face. We hope it’s of help and of course, let us know if you have any other questions related to starting out in the industry… 

Challenge no. 1: The ‘No experience, no work’ vicious cycle

One of the most difficult issues to overcome when starting out in any new industry (whether you’re looking to work for someone else or for yourself) is getting a foot in the door. All too often, jobs, or obtaining work from clients, is dependent on experience, and yet only by doing a job or working for a client can you gain experience. Ouch! Where to start?

As with most things in life, tenacity is vital, an element of (good!) luck always helps and thinking outside of the box never hurts. So, here are TransTeach’s tips for trying to get work and experience simultaneously…

1) Volunteer

Whilst of course this doesn’t involve payment, one of the best ways to gain experience in any industry, translation included, is to volunteer your services in the appropriate quarters. In the world of translation, there are a number of entities looking for pro bono translators, and these cn give you valuable experience as well as providing you with something solid to add to your CV.

Examples of such entities include:

www.translatorswithoutborders.orgwww.permondo.eu and www.volunteermatch.org

2) Apply for an internship

Many companies who don’t have the capacity for to pay an extra employee throughout the year will take on students or recent graduates for short-term internships. This helps the intern gain experience and provides the company with valuable extra man power – usually someone who is studying or has completed studies in a related field. Internship positions are often advertised in universities and colleges but can also be found online on common translation portals such as http://www.proz.com and http://www.translatorscafe.com.

In addition, contacting agencies directly (by phone – personal contact can often give you an edge over the competition) can yield surprising results. Some may offer you something for just a few weeks with some travel expenses included, even if full payment is not. This can be a great way of adding industry-specific experience to your CV.

3) Apply for in-house jobs

In-house translator positions are not, contrary to popular believe, generally found at translation agencies. They tend to occur in larger companies which have regular, field-specific translation needs (e. g automotive companies, banks and financial entities, press agencies). These positions are generally advertised on both the company’s own website but also on the larger online employment portals. These include international employment sites such as www.monster.com, translation-specific sites such as http://www.translatorscafe.com and also country specific job sites such as https://jobs.theguardian.com and http://www.nytimes.com/section/jobs.

The two key advantages of working in-house are the experience you gain and the regular salary you receive, but there are many others: professional development opportunities that come as a part of your role; growing your network of industry contacts; the opportunity to try other translation-related work (editing, proofreading, terminology management, desktop publishing); and of course time to decide whether or not a particular field of translation really interests you.

4) Apply for translation agency jobs

A huge quantity of the translation work that takes place around the world is done through agencies. The volumes requested by large companies who don’t have their own in-house translation team can only really be effectively managed by an agency with a team of both project managers and translators. Translation software is of course also imperative for large projects today, to ensure consistency, and generally, it is only agencies that can afford to make the investment in the variety of necessary technologies.

Consequently, working for an agency can be an extremely varied role and one which provides you with a wealth of different translation-related experience. Project manager roles provide an understanding of the overall translation process, from quote to delivery, whilst quality assessment work can give you exposure to translations performed by experienced translators, which are invaluable for honing your own skills. There are now also many industry-specific quality certifications that agencies obtain to increase their credibility (e.g. ISO 9001:2008, UNE EN-15038:2006, TÜV Rheinland). Knowledge of these can be an extremely useful addition to your CV.

A word of warning: translation agency jobs can often be very pressurised and demanding. Whilst interaction with clients and having colleagues around all day are undoubtedly two of the very positive elements of such roles, dealig with customers who want work completed within unrealistic deadlines and long working hours can also be commonplace. Before taking on any role with a translation agency, try to gauge what their corporate culture is like. Some offer a better work-life balance than others and if you are thinking of working for an agency as a long-term prospect, you’d be well advised to do your research beforehand.

5) Apply for freelance work

Where, how and with whom to find freelance translation work is the subject of another series of blogs in its own right. However, it will suffice here to say that in order to gain experience, any and every opportunity should be taken. Often, this may involve freelance work, whether full-time freelancing is the particular career you are after or not.

As well submitting your CV and a covering letter to agencies or private clients directly, get yourself an online presence as quickly as possible (as website can be created for next to nothing when you first start out these days). That way, people can contact you and it’s surprising what experience can come your way via this means.

If you do nothing else, set up your own profile on the globally renowned translator sites www.proz.comand www.translatorscafe.com.

Where possible, identify more experienced freelance translators as many of them have too much work coming in to complete it on their own and regularly outsource smaller or more generalist pieces. Contact them and explain that you are new to the industry and want to gain experience. Just as agencies often ask for a test translation, they may ask you to translate a few hundred words (do not agree to do more than this!) for free, to demonstrate your ability. If they are satsfied with your work then you could find pieces coming your way almost immediately and working with a more experienced professional will enable you get open and honest advice on rates, certain types of translation work and so on. View it as a translation apprenticeship and you could potentially be looking at a very long and fruitful working relationship. In the freelance translation industry, which is generally an extremely helpful and supportive one, this is exactly what we’re all after!

Sincere thanks to all of the new translators we teach, train and come into contact with, whose thirst for knowlege about the industry continues to inspire us and has us racking our brains to come up with more helpful information and advice.

Thanks in particular to James Hewlett (M.A. – as of today!) whose recent set of extremely articulate and detailed questions helped prompt some of the content in this series. Congratulations on the distinction in your newly acquired translation qualification James! May you have a long and successful career in the industry 🙂

If you found this post helpful or have any more questions about getting out of the translation starting blocks, drop us a line at info@transteach.com.

5 Top Tips For New Translators

Well before I founded TransTeach, I was was training new translators. In fact, I started training new translators just a few months after I stopped being one myself (a new translator that is!) With a background in education, I was approached about a year after I finished my own translation masters to teach on the very same course. And thus, over a decade of translator training was born.
 
I see lots of advice given to new translators these days, most of it extremely beneficial. I certainly wish some of it had been on offer when I started out!
 
Based on my own personal journey, the following are 5 top tips that I believe all new translators can benefit from, to ensure their career goes from strength to strength.

Tip 1 – Don’t undersell yourself!
Someone gave me this very piece of advice when I first started out and I’ve never forgotten it. Translation remains an underrated profession. If you don’t value your time and skills then no-one else will. So, do your research is necessary and then set yourself a baseline. Decide the minimum amount (daily/hourly/per word) you’re prepared to work for and then don’t budge from there. Ever! The minute you do, you make it harder for both you and every other professional translator to raise the bar and have people hold the profession in the esteem it deserves. Obviously, your minimum amounts may vary over time and indeed increase as you become more experienced. However, translating needs to pay you a wage you can live on, and are happy with, otherwise, to be frank, you might as well go and get a job which gives you holiday pay, sick pay and a pension on top!

Tip 2 – Don’t get obsessed with ‘specialising’ too early on.
When I started out, people had me down as a finance, technical and medical specialist (because my studies happened to focus on those areas). Ten years later and I’ve managed to cast off this mantle, as I discovered that I don’t particularly enjoy working in these areas. I’m creative; I like books, films, travel and the arts. Unsurprisingly, these are areas I’ve gravitated towards and the ones I now predominantly work in. I thought I had to know what I was going to want to translate from the off. I was wrong. Experiment, take on different types of work (skills and confidence permitting) and don’t pigeonhole yourself until you’ve developed plenty of experience and know yourself and your interests inside out, through trial and error.

Tip 3 – Keep your options open
I’ve seen translators come and I’ve seen them go. Some stay in the industry a lifetime, some are gone within a year. Translating, whether in-house or freelance, isn’t going to suit everyone for the long term, so keep your options open. If you have experience working in education, marketing, hospitality, the sciences or any other of a multitude of areas, don’t just let it slide. Keep your hand in, if possible, and further your knowledge and skills in that area. Not only will it serve you well if you decide you want to use it as your specialist translation ‘niche’, if you decide translation really isn’t for you at any point, then you won’t find it anywhere near as hard to get back into the job market.

Tip 4 – Develop, develop, develop…
As with any other self-employed professional, no longer will your career development be planned out for you. It’s all down to you from here on in. So, make sure you find time (and save money) to take any courses that appeal to you and keep up with the latest developments in the industry. Investigate opportunities and don’t be afraid to try out new aspects of the profession (proofreading, editing, copywriting, transcreation, localisation, subtitling etc). It’s amazing what comes your way when you have an open-mind and are willing to take on a new challenge. As with any career these days, if you snooze you lose. So, make your own professional development a priority and plan it in to your yearly schedule like your boss would do (if you still had one!)

Tip 5 – Find strategies to deal with the dry times.
Translation, if you’re working as a freelancer, offers no guarantees in terms of workload. Sometimes there’ll be so much on offer you could cry. Others, there’ll be so little available…you could cry (even more!) Very few translators love the uncertainty that comes with the professional territory but there are definitely ways of making it more bearable. Whether you use quiet times to get stuck in to administration and marketing yourself or to catch up on household chores and family time, always have a plan for the next time you’re without a deadline. And if you don’t like being without work (and I can assure you lots of us really don’t!) then find other ways to subsidise your income – teaching, part-time work in another field, writing etc – so that you don’t have all of your eggs in one basket. For any self-employed professional these days, diversity is the name of the game. We no longer live in a ‘job for life’ world, so ensuring you have several strings to your professional bow is a must, not a ‘nice-to-have’.

Claire Culliford – TransTeach founder

If you found this post helpful or have any more questions about starting out in the translation industry, drop me a line and let me know at info@transteach.com. And of course, good luck on your own translation journey. Enjoy the ride!