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Is it reasonable for agencies to ask for references from freelancers?
Thread poster: tom_michell
tom_michell  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:50
Spanish to English
+ ...
Apr 1, 2008

On the surface, it seems perfectly reasonable for an agency to request references from a translator it is considering working with. It can be a quick and reliable way of finding out what the individual is like as a professional and I am sure the agency feels it is being conscientious in checking out the background of the people to whom it outsources.

However, when freelancers are trying to establish or expand their client base, they will generally enter into contact with dozens, if not hundreds, of agencies. What if every agency demanded a reference? Your poor referee, who is quite possibly an existing and until now satisfied client who you want to keep happy, is bombarded with requests from rival companies looking to occupy your time.

So what might seem to be a reasonable request from the agency's point of view actually becomes intrusive and irritating if practised on a large scale. Some agencies even ping off automated reference requests to referee email addresses entered on online registration forms. This is brilliant for them because they can shift the workload onto others without lifting a finger, a bit of crowdsourcing, very modern, very efficient, but actually very selfish.

I personally think that it is an unsustainable practice and that agencies have to accept a modicum of risk somewhere in their business. They have to invest some time and effort and accept that they cannot necessarily know everything about their freelancers from day one. Other less intrusive measures (e.g. tests, evaluation of CVs and qualifications, short initial projects) should be used instead.

So how do you treat reference requests from agencies? Have you ever refused to provide references? How was this received?


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Andy Lemminger  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 20:50
Member (2002)
English to German
I always refuse Apr 1, 2008

I always refuse reference requests for several reasons (you mentioned one of them) and I explain my decision to the potential client.

A few times these agencies did not want to work with me afterwards. For most agencies it did not matter though...

Andy

www.interlations.com


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Philippe Etienne  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 04:50
Member
English to French
I don't give any Apr 1, 2008

The other unintrusive measures you stated also work perfectly well to assess a translator's qualities.

They are many agencies that don't require such credentials and my major agency customers never asked me for anything like that.

However, I have also come across forms with masks that require you to type an e-mail address of a referee, without which you online application cannot complete. An address such as Idont.provide@nyreferenc.es will let you submit the form AND make your point. I actually secured once a customer with such a fake address. We're grown-ups and there should be room for discussion.

Here is the main reason why I don't give away references: my customers' peace is important and I try to have the smallest possible footprint on their time. Therefore 1) I don't ask them if they don't mind having their email address sent to their competitors, and 2) I don't risk a competitor disturbing them by asking if I am good to work with.

Besides I don't understand the logic behind the "reference" business: the referee is supposed to give good feedback to some competitor who is then likely to "steal" time from the translator??? To me it is the soft version of handing over the truncheon to be beaten with (if it makes sense).

Happy April's Fool,
Philippe



[Edited at 2008-04-01 19:05]


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Niels Stephan  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 04:50
Member (2009)
English to German
Worked fine for me so far Apr 1, 2008

I have a very happy PM, who told me more than once, that she'd be willing to speak up for me, so I gave out her names several times. She still has to be called back until today.

To me it seems, people want you to say a name of a reference, but that obviously is enough for them, they never seem to call.

This is of course strictly my experience, they other points mentioned here hold true as well and I only give those references out, if I have a good feeling about a potential new client. Similarly to the often mentioned "test payments" maybe we should ask them for their references for how they treat translators


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 01:50
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Quite often, it's a client-snatching scam Apr 1, 2008

Once I tried giving three loyal direct clients of mine as references to three agencies whose online application forms would not upload unless they were given. In a matter of minutes, these three clients automatically received e-mail messages to the tune of "Whatever this jerk [my name] does for you, we can do it better, faster, and cheaper! And afterwards they were frequently spammed with job-peddling messages from these agencies.

So now I have a solid reason to give for not revealing my clients' contact information. On top of that, most NDAs forbid me to do so.

I'm hoping for the day when relentlessly demanding references from translators will intuitively level that translation agency's ethics with one that, for instance, required $ 10 from anyone who wanted to use their online application form, under the rationale that after all, if you were to snail-mail us your CV, you'd spend about that much in envelope and postage; so why not give it to us?




[Edited at 2008-04-01 21:25]


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 04:50
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
In reality... Apr 1, 2008

Thomas Michell wrote:
However, when freelancers are trying to establish or expand their client base, they will generally enter into contact with dozens, if not hundreds, of agencies. What if every agency demanded a reference? Your poor referee, who is quite possibly an existing and until now satisfied client who you want to keep happy, is bombarded with requests from rival companies looking to occupy your time.


1. Only provide references if asked.
2. In my opinion (though I'm guessing) an agency will only contact your references when they have a job for you. Agencies don't have time to go around contacting hundreds up on hundreds of references of all the freelancers that apply at them.

Some agencies even ping off automated reference requests to referee email addresses entered on online registration forms.


If the request-for-reference is done via e-mail, then I don't see how it could be a problem, especially if the reference is an agency whose employees deal with spam every day


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Madeleine MacRae Klintebo  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:50
Swedish to English
+ ...
Yes it is,but... Apr 1, 2008

... it's also reasonable (and wise) for you do decline to give references.

Thomas Michell wrote:
Is it reasonable for agencies to ask for references from freelancers?


I never give references, full stop. This issue relates both to the possibility of existing clients being spammed/otherwise bothered and potential "client poaching". Generally, I (with the client's agreement) direct potential clients to websites I've previously translated/localised .

Madeleine


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Sabine Winter  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 21:50
Member (2007)
English to German
+ ...
So how do you politely refuse ... Apr 2, 2008

... to give any references? I was asked by an agency to provide 3 references after I had submitted their online profile form upon being contacted by them (where I had intentionally left the three reference fields blank). Andy, Philippe, Madeleine - Any suggestions? I just don't think we should have to especially considering that most agencies ask for a sample translation anyway.

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Claudia Digel  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 04:50
English to German
+ ...
Agree with José Apr 2, 2008

Once I tried giving three loyal direct clients of mine as references to three agencies whose online application forms would not upload unless they were given. In a matter of minutes, these three clients automatically received e-mail messages to the tune of "Whatever this jerk [my name] does for you, we can do it better, faster, and cheaper! And afterwards they were frequently spammed with job-peddling messages from these agencies.


I'm starting to think that this is the actual reason for agencies asking for references.

The other day I was contacted by someone from an agency that I have been working for for about a year. The person told me that my profile in their database wasn't complete and would I mind providing the names of a couple of references so that they can complete the profile.

When I originally filled in their forms I clearly stated that I never give references for a couple of reasons that have been mentioned by other people in this thread. I have now worked for them for one year, and I have done quite a lot of work for them for an important client. I have been told several times that they and their client are very happy with my work. - So, why on earth would they need references now? To me the only logical reason seems to be that they hope I will give them names of direct clients which they can then approach in the way José describes.

I just don't think it's professional to forward names of other clients. I provide sample translations and I'm ready to do short test translations if necessary but I never give references.

Best regards,
Claudia


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xxxNMR
France
Local time: 04:50
French to Dutch
+ ...
Sometimes PM's have nothing to do Apr 4, 2008

and their bosses ask them to clean up their paperwork, and afterwards their drawers, and also to help the accounting department to get money from slow payers, and when this is done to organize the heap of incoming cv's. Or to do some advertising: calling people, networking, finding interesting prospects, whatever. I hear my old boss saying: "You aren't going to be paid for doing nothing, are you?".

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tom_michell  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:50
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Seemingly little to be gained from providing references in first instance Apr 4, 2008

No, NMR, I am not under the illusion that PMs have nothing better to do than check references. Likewise, translators have better things to do than filling in unnecessarily lengthy application forms and apologising to clients for spurious automated reference requests. Both parties do things that irritate each other and it is through discussion that these issues can hopefully be overcome.

My original post was borne out of a feeling of uneasiness about freely giving out references and I think the conclusion from this discussion has to be that there is little to be gained from it.

It seems that most reference contact details entered on registration forms are either ignored - in which case, what is the point of taking the time to fill them in? - or abused via automated e-mails and client poaching, NMR's post being a particularly revealing insight into the work flows of agencies (organise incoming CVs and then start making sales calls to drum up new business).

If an agency genuinely has a project it wants to give you but still needs reassurance, it can always ask you for a reference then.


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 01:50
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Actually there's nothing to be gained from giving out references Apr 4, 2008

Thomas Michell wrote:
Both parties do things that irritate each other and it is through discussion that these issues can hopefully be overcome.


Nope. From my experience, those agencies that will e-stomp on their feet until you give them references will not compromise on these. They'll say that if they hire one single translator without them they'll lose their ISO-whatever certification, and/or the Pope will personally excommunicate them, or whatever they are able to come up with. They'll say that they are stacked up with jobs in your language pair, while the truth is that the work tide there is as low as it gets, and unless they can pull a fast one, there will be plenty of months left at the end of the money.

My original post was borne out of a feeling of uneasiness about freely giving out references and I think the conclusion from this discussion has to be that there is little to be gained from it.


What is there to gain on the translator's side? I don't see at thing. There might be something to lose, actually, the goodwill of the references who will be spammed with job-peddling e-mails.

It seems that most reference contact details entered on registration forms are either ignored...


I carried out a survey a few years ago, and most of the agencies that demanded references would not let the applicant upload the whole form unless the reference fields had something that resembled an e-mail address.

If an agency genuinely has a project it wants to give you but still needs reassurance, it can always ask you for a reference then.


What reassurance? You ask for references upon hiring house servants, just to make sure they won't misappropriate some valuables now and then. You do it for in-house employees, to prevent fraud, embezzlement, and other misbehaviors. But who cares about service providers thousands of miles away? If they smoke stinkin' cigarettes, drink lotsa cheap booze, munch some disgustingly gooey grub that enables them to burp 'n fart all day, as long as their work is all right, nobody will ever notice.

If they want reassurance, why not send the first few paragraphs to see how the translation comes out? No... too many agencies play'em close to their chest. They say the translation is 'technical', 'legal', 'general', the number of words, and the deadline. In too many cases the translator sees it only after having settled on the rate and accepted the job.

On the other hand, as the aforementioned translating slob is invisible, so are his friends. It would be easy to fabricate 3 virtual identities, give them e-mail addresses, and provide the most laudatory references on one's self from there.

It's all a matter of mutual trust. References won't help.


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