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What have you learned in in-house jobs?
Thread poster: Ricki Farn

Ricki Farn
Local time: 12:05
Member (2005)
English to German
Mar 31, 2006

In the recent poll about "would you rather be freelance or an employee", the discussion concluded that the joys of free(lance)dom are best savoured after first gaining some experience in an in-house type job. Here's my question to those who worked in-house before freelancing: What are the important things you learned in-house, which now help you in your freelance life?

Here are some of mine:
- how freelancers are viewed "from the other side", how much input from a freelancer is appreciated and from what point on in starts getting on one's nerves
- how pricing / price negotiations with freelancers look from the other side
- how a terminology (-determination) process works
- I found some lovely buddies to have as friends in later, lonely freelance life
- CAT tool expertise (with someone around to ask for help!)
- how much research on any given brainer is justified before giving up and writing a paraphrase / good guess
- how high emotional waves can go in a cramped agency, and how freelancers best surf them
- always to keep a spare keyboard/mouse/etc handy
- and always to keep a roll of toilet paper on my desk for the case of spilled coffee.

What did you learn?

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Local time: 12:05
French to English
+ ...
as an advocate of in-house.... Mar 31, 2006

In the poll you mentioned, I was one of those who argued in favour of in-house experience. Let me explain why:

When you qualify - assuming you do - as a translator and/or interpreter, you are bound to be pretty wet behind the ears. I say this from experience: first of all, my own, years ago, and then from having helped recruit new staff and having had to hold their hands in their early days at work.

I am not decrying the courses dispensed by the various educational establishments but, by definition, these can only hope to scratch the surface and, since most students are relatively young in years, there is no substitute for life experience. One rider here might be the courses offered in some places in Germany that extend over several years and seem quite complete. Good students from such schools tend to be up and running almost at once, which is not something I would say of schools elsewhere (no names, no pack drill). Remember I am only speaking from my own experience....

The great thing about staff jobs (I'll only talk about translation here, for obvious reasons: interpreting is similar but different and not the topic at issue) is that:
1) There are other people around you to help you if you get stuck
2) Team work is usually encouraged, with one person checking another's work
3) If you have good colleagues they will even explain when you don't understand
4) If you work for a company or trade association, you can usually go on technical visits and actually see what you have to write about with your own eyes: this usually pays enormous dividends when you have to translate complex or badly written texts. It is vital to UNDERSTAND what you are talking about and not be wedded to the word alone. If it were just about words, computers could replace us at the drop of a hat...
5) Normally you will have access to in-house glossaries, databases or even other colleagues' glossaries. This will be invaluable to you at the time and later.
6) Just seeing how other people work is an enormous advantage.
7) With the system of checking and counter-checking often in force, if you make a mistake, it will usually be picked up before it is too late.
8) You soon realise how little you know and can then begin to learn.

OK, I have to admit that I love working with other people and sharing/knocking around ideas, so I may be prejudiced but I still think it is easier and more effective to hone your skills where you are unlikely to do too much damage than to go straight into freelancing where you are responsible for your own errors at once.

Now - how about working with freelancers as seen from inside a company?

In my last job and even now, I still commission work from freelance translators or agencies and I have found it a very hit-and-miss process.
When you find someone good, or potentially good, you tend to stick with them and grow with them as they begin to understand your world. In the end, through going out on a hunch and providing your translators with a maximum of help, you can build up an excellent working relationship with people who at times will even go the extra mile.

Once of the things, however, that drives me crazy is that freelancers, unlike staffers, may have other priorities than "your" work. As the middleman, if I have an urgent letter that everyone is waiting for, I find it tough to be told that I will have to wait two or three days - believe me, this often happens! In a staff job, there is always someone who will jump to it at once. However, the carrot of being able to charge a higher price mostly works a treat! This is fine as long as my patrons recognise that we are in a market environment and everything has a price...

One last comment: one of the things that saddens me the most about freelance translators is that there are far too many people out there who shouldn't be doing this job at all and they do nothing for the reputation of the good guys out there. I have seen some pretty dire work in my time - a few choice anecdotes spring to mind but I'll spare you the detail (maybe I'll get round to writing my book one day and these tales could be grist for the mill!). A client who, through no fault of his/her own comes across this sort of thing on a regular basis could be forgiven for taking a dim view of the profession!

Enough said - that's got a load of my mind

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Patricia Lane  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:05
French to English
+ ...
tell us more! Mar 31, 2006


Could you expand on the first three things you listed you learned as an in-house translator? That would probably help many of us keep in mind the "other side" better!



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Sylvia Scheibe  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:05
English to German
+ ...
Organization Mar 31, 2006

Hi Ricky,

the most useful thing I learned working in an agency was how to get organized, e.g. a well arranged directory structure for the jobs I work on and how to keep an order book - things you do not learn at university. When I look back at my freelance work from the time before I worked in-house I just see a complete mess of files

Kind regards,

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Local time: 17:05
Member (2006)
English to Indonesian
+ ...
in-house & freelance Mar 31, 2006

Hi Ricky, Patricia, Sylvia..

A. In-house:
a.1. experience
a.2. money
a.3. boring and stagnant (?)

B. Freelance:
b.1. experience
b.2. money
b.3. joy and independent (?)

While in-house >< freelance
a.1 = b.1
b.2 > a.2
a.3 & b.3 support each other

Good luck!

Siti Nur Aryani

[Edited at 2006-03-31 14:05]

[Edited at 2006-03-31 15:55]

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lalabelle  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:05
English to French
Gave me the confidence to go freelance... Mar 31, 2006

Hi Ricky,

What I learned mainly when working 6 months in house was to deal with different projects at the same time and coping with the stress of having short deadlines, without the possibility of refusing the jobs (which you can always to as freelance). Now that I am freelance, I do not hesitate to take on different projects at the same time and I think I am more effective because of that experience. Also, it has given me a chance to "see" the project managers dealing with translation projects, and I have undertood that most of them are not translators. As a freelance, it helps me to have a better communition with PMs.
Overall, I think it has given me a lot of confidence in my skills as a translator to set up as freelance.

Best wishes,

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Pablo Mayen  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:05
English to Spanish
+ ...
That you should try to stay a freelancer... Mar 31, 2006

Hi all,

Currently I work as an in-house translator and at quitting time I head home and take on translation jobs from a couple of clients.

The most important things I've learned as an in-house worker are, in no strict order:

1) time management: once you understand the basics of organization (objectives, deadlines and all), it's easier to arrange your work outside.
2) the cost of some things you take for granted while you are on a payroll: take medical expenses, for instance, which are paid by the company.
3) Terminology. Perhaps it would be difficult to gain experience as a patents translator, because of the access to this type of work as a freelancer (currently my field of expertise).

However, the donwside of all this is that, when I calculate the rates I'm being paid per word translated is....well, close to ridiculous:(

Would have to mention as well that I'm the father of a 2-year old girl, which makes me think twice of going freelancer only.

Nevertheless, considering the rates I charge for my external customers, in the near future perhaps I will go that way exclusively.

My two (or three) cents...



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Local time: 17:05
Member (2006)
English to Indonesian
+ ...
different company Mar 31, 2006

Hi all,

On previous comment i symbolized money for freelance is greater than in-house. I emphasize that it is relative and was my experience. However now i work full-time as a translator and editor and very enjoy because i fairly charged by my current company.

Best Regards,
Siti Nur Aryani

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Rosa Maria Duenas Rios  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:05
A slightly different perspective... Mar 31, 2006

I am in a bit of a rush now, but did not want to pass the opportunity to comment on this thread.

I have been working as a freelance translator for more than eight years now. However, the in-house experience I acquired was not with translation agencies/companies.

I worked in various types of business and, in retrospective, I now can see that everything I learned at those different jobs is very useful in my freelance career.

Colleagues have already mentioned ORGANIZATION, as one of the most important things learned. Keeping an agenda, deadlines, systems, etc. is something one learns in almost any office position.

In my case, TAKING CARE OF THE CLIENT is another one. I learned this not only from the point of view of a private enterprise, but also from the government perpective. One needs to listen to the customers, understand what are their wishes and fears, and do our best to try to satisfy such wishes and diminish the fears.

Learning to be FLEXIBLE (and, at the same time, knowing where and when to draw the line) is another valuable asset, I think. Yes, there are rules and processes everywhere (thank God); however, working in different environments I have learned that in many cases and situations, exceptions have to be made, and systems twitched from time to time, in order to satisfactorily complete a job or provide a service.

Learning to work as PART OF A TEAM, where you cannot deicide by yourself, where you need support from others and to support others. No big project can be accomplished by one single individual. The key is COLLABORATION, and not egoism. We are all in the same boat.

Learning the VALUE of one's SKILLS. Being part of team also provides good insight on what you contribute to its successes or its failures. Sometimes one is surprised to realize how much value-added the skills one contributes to a position or a job bring to a company or an organization.

Not to mention the fact that my work in different organizations turned out to be the source of some of my working fields, and that having worked in these places, I have a better understanding of how they function, what they like, and dislike. From time to time, this experience also provides a kind of "premonitory" power that allows me to know, sometimes with surprising precision, how a certain situation will evolve, just because I have seen it happen in any of my pst jobs.

This is what comes to my mind right now. Of course, I would have never been able to enjoy so much the "freedom" of freelancing, had I not experienced what it is to have to stick to a strict working schedule, or dressing code; to have to put up with an abusive boss or with a sabotaging colleague; to have to fight for one's skills to be recognized (both in monetary terms and performance evaluations); how difficult it can be to have to supervise people, and a long list of etceteras which conform the "experience" accumulated thoughout all the years I worked as an employee.

[Edited at 2006-03-31 17:19]

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United States
Local time: 05:05
English to Russian
+ ...
A lot Mar 31, 2006

My honest personal opinion - finding and taking a position in a big project is great luck and a superb experience for a younger translator, the beginner - first taste of the nature of the business and its "environmental conditions", insight, working in close contact with professional editors from the very beginning (extremely important and humbling experience, in my opinion), getting your name known in the industry, making friends in the same trade who will later recommend you and you will return favors. Sure, this is the time when you give up your freedom and money, but this is also the time when not too many clients hunt you down offering top rates because you are an unknown rookie, so you are quite free to count nickels and frantically market yourself in the abundancy of spare time. Fruit come later. My full respect to those who overcame this initial stage on their own and became independent PROs.

I truly believe that with such experience half of the questions asked here under "Business issues" and "Getting established" would simply become unnecessary. Not like people should stop asking them:-)

I'm very grateful to have such experience and terrific teachers in my life, but no way I'd go back to in-house work now - that stage is over and done with, I'm a big girl now, free and happy.

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Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:35
Member (2006)
English to Hindi
+ ...
Exposure to the latest technology Apr 1, 2006

I have had a long stint working in an in-house capacity, and looking back on those days I think the most important benefit I derived from that experience was the exposure to technology that it gave me.

I joined the firm straight from college, and though I had been writing and translating since school days (school magazines, etc.) I had been using till then the most primitive instruments of the trade, mainly paper and pen and an old, tattered, dog-eared Oxford Concise Dictionary handed down to me from my elder brother, who himself had inherited it from our father.

It was pre-computer days then, and I saw my first typewriter in that office. I soon mastered it, and when the firm acquired a Hindi typewriter, mainly for my use, I soon had that under control too.

The company had a vast library, which included, among other things, the complete set of the Oxford English Dictionary (some 14 or 15 volumes) and a large yearly budget for buying new books. I just had to recommend a book to my librarian and it would eventually be on my desk.

The company had a fetish with new technology and very soon I was working on my own PC, which had a DOS operating system, 16 MB of RAM and a hard disc of 640 MB. The editing programme I used then was WordStar 3.1.

Soon the company acquired a few Macintosh computers and then a phone-based connection to the Internet. The office LAN and a dedicated broadband connection were acquired as soon the technology for these became available.

Today, when I am freelancing, I have a supporting environment (both hardware and software) that can match the best in the world, including my old company, but if I have today become computer and technology savvy, it was largely thanks to the years I spent with that organization.

As far as actual translation skills are concered, I must admit that they were acquired mostly by my own efforts. I was a writer before I became a transltor. Since I am ambidextrous in English and Hindi, very often I would translate what I had written in one of these languages into the other, just to maximize my earnings, and eventually started to do this for others too. Now my translation earnings exceed my creative writing earnings so much, that I have practically stopped writing anything of my own now, which I greatly regret on a gloomy, rainy day when I am in a brooding frame of mind.

What I wanted to say in this long post is simply this, in-house experience cannot make a translator out of you, if you are not one already. Yes, it can expose you to enabling technologies and resources, and incubate you financially till you are able to muster the courage to fly out of the nest for good.

[Edited at 2006-04-01 08:26]

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Ricki Farn
Local time: 12:05
Member (2005)
English to German
Things I learned in an inhouse job Jun 22, 2006

Sorry (especially to Patricia) for writing this so late - it just took me ages to come up with it.

1. When to stop discussing - if the freelancer sees a bug or an inaccuracy in the reference material or similar, they should definitely point it out once. If they are ignored or misunderstood, they’ll need an antenna for whether to discuss or shut up. This antenna is easiest to develop while on the other end of the relationship - i.e. as a technical, terminology or project management person inside the agency / outsourcer / customer’s language department.
You will develop a sense for when you have to ask and what just to resolve yourself. E.g. some end customers want bugs corrected, others insist on their instructions and processes even if this implies leaving the bugs in - and some even explicitly want the same bugs to be present in all languages, so they can correct them in sync later. After having seen some varieties of this from close up, you’ll learn to deal with it a lot more effectively.

2. CAT tool / Operating system / applications tips and tricks - can be learned online, but it is so much faster when someone can just show it to you in person.

3. How much work to invest into researching and when to switch to paraphrase / best guess / writing a query. Again, this is an antenna thing and a question of how well one understands end customers. Some customers care as much as you do or more, some just want the result to be in your language no matter how bad, and most are somewhere in between.

4. What the person inside the agency / outsourcer / customer’s language department does all day, and in what emotional condition they are likely to be when you talk with them. Kind of like the "men are from Mars, women from Venus" theories - how to decode what a member of another species means by what they are saying.

5. How they experience rates negotiations from their side, and what types of negotiator personalities exist. Also, how far you can go when you sense what level of despair in them

6. What types of communication partners you can expect to be dealing with in general - for instance, there is a whole greyscale between "crabby linguist" (why are there so many of them?) and "friendly linguist", or between "control freak project manager" (who treats you like a twelve-year-old in a correction facility) and "laissez-faire project manager" (who may discover too late that something has gone wrong long ago, and then try to push extra work your way).

7. Metrics, rates, and what is expected of a translator / with what type of text (e.g. how much perfection, free or literal translation ...); self-management, self-organization, when and when not to panic. All of these can be learned from fellow freelancers or via ProZ, but that takes more time. And of course the addresses of a couple of really friendly colleagues who can help you with your start in freelance life ... just all the small things you happen to pick up if you have nice big ears.

Sorry, I can’t transmit these "antennae" in a written document - that's what makes the inhouse experience so unique. Try it


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