Tips for translators

We’ve already given our dos and don’ts for clients who want to buy translation services, but what about those selling them? Yes, I’m talking about translators – the missing link in our business equation. Those who help us make it happen for each and every one of our clients.

Here is an early Christmas gift – just a few pointers for translators who are looking to increase their client base (and in the current economic climate, who isn’t?) by applying to agencies.


1. Your CV: Cast a critical eye over your CV. The same rules generally apply for translators as they do for anyone applying for work: anything over 2 pages is just too long. Two pages is ample to give an overview of your relevant experience, qualificiations and specialist subjects – you can keep a list of translation projects you’ve worked on separately, then it’s ready to provide should someone ask for it. Doesn’t belong in your CV!

2. Please please please send your rates with the CV. Even if you negotiate with clients for most projects – your rates may or may not be be the deciding factor in whether you will be approached for a particular project, but you’ll almost never be added to an agency’s internal database without them.

3. Only mother tongue language as target please. “Near-native” strikes me as a vague and somewhat worrying term, and most agencies worth their salt will not use a translator who works into any language that is not their mother tongue. Interpreting and other types of language work are a different matter, each situation may call for something different.

4. Email it. Most agencies won’t thank you for a printed copy these days, as then someone has to input the information into whatever database they use. Don’t even get me started on faxing.

5. Describe yourself. It doesn’t have to be long, and a traditional covering letter may not be appropriate if you are sending your CV speculatively, but do mention your language combinations either in the subject line, or the body of your message. A short description of the type of work you are most interested or experienced in will stick in the memory of whoever receives your message. Many companies also file emails for future use, so this will be a great help if they can search for the language or specialised subject they need at that time, and your message will be found easily.

6. Offer references. Better still, include a couple in your CV as standard, if you have space.

7. Test pieces. We know no-one likes to work for free, but this can be a very effective way to get particular ongoing or large projects from agencies, and also to pick up other additional work from them along the way. Most project managers feel more secure using a translator they know has been tested, even if not for the specific project they are working on. If you are willing to do a test piece of reasonable length (no more than 200-300 words) for free, you could get a lot more work from that company. Unfortunately there is no guarantee of this, just as there is no guarantee that the agency themselves will get the work.

Keep one thing in mind: Project Managers are busy, so the easier you make the processes of remembering you, contacting you and working with you during a project, the more they will want to use you.

Happy Hunting!