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Sample translation - Is this too long?
Thread poster: Nicole Martin

Nicole Martin
Local time: 20:38
German to English
Jan 22, 2007

I work as a full-time translator at a company, and my manager has interviewed a few candidates for another translation position. She has asked me to put together a sample translation for these candidates. I have a sample done, but I'm wondering if it would be considered too long or if it's a good size.

It's 365 words, but before you make a decision, let me give a little background information. There are two different types of materials to be translated: owner's manuals and repair manuals. As you can imagine, these have different types of text. Owner's manuals are less technical and more "conversational". Repair manuals are designed for professional technicians. They are technical and don't usually have a lot of introductions or explanations and they give concise instructions. Naturally, a translator has to be aware of the different writing styles and audiences and translate accordingly. So a sample needs to include both types of text.

I selected samples from each that represented a little bit of everything they have to offer: introductions, warnings, instructions. I think it's a good overview of what we cover here, and I would consider it to be fairly brief.

The problem is, I don't know if that's considered way too long for a sample. I think any sample given for this position has to be a little more in-depth than a sample given to freelancers quoting on a single project. We're not just checking to make sure they can handle a particular file on a specific subject, it's to see if they can handle a type of work. I really don't see anything else I feel I could remove from this sample. At the same time, I don't want these candidates to be faced with something huge that will take them an hour or more to complete. If I were given this, I could probably finish it in a few minutes, but I work with this stuff all day long and I'm more familiar and comfortable with it. I don't know how long it would take the "average" person to do a sample like that.

I would appreciate any feedback about this, I'm not used to giving out or translating samples.

Thanks!


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Catherine Bolton  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:38
Member (2002)
Italian to English
+ ...
Too long, unless... Jan 22, 2007

It's too long in MY book. After all, aren't you also looking at the candidate's CV too?
The only other solution is to pay each candidate for the sample translation.
FWIW
Catherine


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GoodWords  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 19:38
Spanish to English
+ ...
Selecting parts of the text Jan 22, 2007

Can you identify a subset of sentences or paragraphs that contain particularly tricky syntax, terms, false friends, etc., such that correct translation of these would identify translators with the skills you are looking for? You could send them the entire text (to provide the necessary context), but with these parts marked by highlighting, bold text or different coloured text, and ask for only the marked text to be translated.

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xxxMarc P  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:38
German to English
+ ...
Sample translation - Is this too long? Jan 22, 2007

Nicole Dequin wrote:

...my manager has interviewed a few candidates for another translation position. She has asked me to put together a sample translation for these candidates.


I am assuming from what you say that this is an in-house position, and that the candidates have already been shortlisted.

In that case, I don't think 365 words is long; in fact, I would make the test longer. Out of fairness to the candidates, it might be appropriate to tell them how many candidates are still left on the shortlist. If I were really interested in an in-house position and I knew that there were only five other candidates in the running, I'd be happy to spend a day doing a test piece.

At the same time, I'm presuming that your company has been fair with the applicants so far, e.g. paid their travelling expenses to the interview. If your company has not picked up such costs and is simply exploiting applicants' eagerness to get the job, the approach could backfire: the best candidates might give up, thinking you to be an unattractive employer.

The above on the assumption that you are seeking to fill a salaried position. So-called "tests" for self-employed translators are a different matter.

Marc


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Lawyer-Linguist  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 01:38
Dutch to English
+ ...
Agree Jan 22, 2007

MarcPrior wrote:

Nicole Dequin wrote:

...my manager has interviewed a few candidates for another translation position. She has asked me to put together a sample translation for these candidates.


I am assuming from what you say that this is an in-house position, and that the candidates have already been shortlisted.

In that case, I don't think 365 words is long; in fact, I would make the test longer. Out of fairness to the candidates, it might be appropriate to tell them how many candidates are still left on the shortlist. If I were really interested in an in-house position and I knew that there were only five other candidates in the running, I'd be happy to spend a day doing a test piece.

At the same time, I'm presuming that your company has been fair with the applicants so far, e.g. paid their travelling expenses to the interview. If your company has not picked up such costs and is simply exploiting applicants' eagerness to get the job, the approach could backfire: the best candidates might give up, thinking you to be an unattractive employer.

The above on the assumption that you are seeking to fill a salaried position. So-called "tests" for self-employed translators are a different matter.

Marc


On the same assumptions as stated above.

However @ poster: to expect candidates to finish in anything under an hour is a bit far-fetched.


[Edited at 2007-01-23 06:11]


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Nicole Martin
Local time: 20:38
German to English
TOPIC STARTER
Some clarification Jan 22, 2007

Yes, this is for an in-house position, not for a self-employed or freelance person. Interviews were conducted with several candidates already, this is the next step now that the number of candidates has been narrowed down. Travel expenses aren't really a consideration in this instance, candidates are local.

CVs are good only to a limited extent. I worked as a project manager at a translation company for a time, and I saw plenty of CVs and resumés where the person looked entirely qualified, even had good references, but did terribly on the sample translation. A sample is really necessary for something like this. If we hired a freelancer to do a project for us and they did poorly, we could decide to never use them again, end of story. But when you put someone on your staff only to find out they can't do the work well, it's not as easy to fix.


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Cristina Heraud-van Tol  Identity Verified
Peru
Local time: 19:38
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Too much Jan 22, 2007

I think that 200 words is more than enough. You can even notice whether a translator is skilled or not with one phrase. If it's too long, for sure the translators will take an hour to finsh the technical part.

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Claire Cox
United Kingdom
Local time: 01:38
French to English
+ ...
No, not too long Jan 22, 2007

Is the translation to be done at home or in-house? If it's in house and you are able to set a minimum amount of time - say an hour - it would also be interesting to see how much of the test piece the candidates had done after the set time. Not that it's a race, but you should be able to get a feel for style, accuracy etc based on what they've done, even if they haven't completed the whole thing.

When I was interviewed for an in-house post many moons ago, that's the way we did it and it seemed to work.

Claire


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xxxmediamatrix
Local time: 20:38
Spanish to English
+ ...
Long-term investment merits stringent testing Jan 22, 2007

Some years ago - in the mid 1980s - I set up a test session for short-listed candidates applying for a full-time position as in-house French/English translator/editor in my department.

Cost and time were no problem - we were in any case spending a lot of money on air-fares and hotel accommodation to bring the candidates to our offices, so it was irrelevant whether the test took 5 minutes or ... 5 hours. And as the organization was going to offer the successful candidate a full-time position with an above-average salary and very generous perks, we wanted to make sure we made the right choice.

I opted for three sample texts, each addressing a different aspect of our work:

- straightforward but quite complex technical translation (French to English);
- editing for publication a very complex technical text written by a native of English;
- editing for publication an 'easy' technical text written by someone using English as a foreign language (actually, a Slovenian with good vocabulary but only a vague notion of English grammar).

Each test was dimensioned so it 'should' take 30 minutes (as gauged by the time taken to process the same texts by existing staff): it was no good employing someone who could deliver good work but take five times longer than necessary. We then informed them of a set of priorities (one job had to be print-ready within 45 minutes from the start, the others were less urgent) and gave them exactly 90 minutes to complete everything. This tested their ability to work under (moderate) pressure and prioritize, as well as giving them a fair oppportunity to show their strengths ... and weaknesses.

It worked very well. The man I selected is still with the organization (which I quit several years ago ...), and is widely respected as one of the organization's most effective users of language in the international community.

The selection method had the added advantage that those who did not get the job, although disappointed, felt they had had a fair chance to give of their best. They understood why they had not been selected - and felt that just for once the selection procedure had been more than a mere lottery.

MediaMatrix


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RobinB  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 02:38
German to English
Perfectly OK Jan 22, 2007

Nicole,

365 words is perfectly OK for test translations sent to applicants for full-time salaried positions. In fact I'd agree with Marc that it's rather short. And I have to agree with you that CVs/résumées today are often pretty meaningless when it comes to translators.

If candidates are then selected for interview, one of the things we do is sit them down in front of a computer and get them to do a couple of shorter test translations, total about 300 words, against the clock. They're given the resources necessary to do the translations, and Internet access (though e-mailing is not allowed), and have a maximum of 90 minutes, including self-QA. With all the forms to fill out, translation tests (and discussion of the results) and interviews with various people, professional translator interviews will probably take three to four hours nowadays. Recruiting the wrong people is simply too expensive for employers.

HTH,
Robin


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nruddy  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 19:38
German to English
It's ok Jan 22, 2007

Hi Nicole,

I know the texts you mean and I think that with fair conditions as Robin outlined it's certainly not too long. It's not for freelance work and the candidates have to get an idea of what they might be doing day-in, day-out.

In fact, I'd add another element. I don't know for which language combinations you are recruiting, but in German to English it is not difficult to find parts of those repair manuals and also owner manuals that have been translated by German natives and sound rather dodgy. Not recognizing when the subjunctive is required is one particular pitfall. I would isolate a shortish section with a couple of such errors or poor English in it and tell the candidates to correct anything they feel necessary in X minutes. Being able to see such errors when you are translating 10% of 200 PDF pages in Trados is not easy but may be a useful skill to test.

Just my two cents,
Niamh


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Textklick  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:38
German to English
+ ...
Diverse - and more Jan 23, 2007

MarcPrior wrote:


...my manager has interviewed a few candidates for another translation position. She has asked me to put together a sample translation for these candidates.


I am assuming from what you say that this is an in-house position, and that the candidates have already been shortlisted.

In that case, I don't think 365 words is long; in fact, I would make the test longer. [/quote]

I agree. Past experience has certainly shown that this is not uncommon. I'd maybe make it a bit longer - and also one each for each of your types of material.

We're not talking about freelancer tests here.

Best
Chris


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Heike Behl, Ph.D.  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 17:38
Member (2003)
English to German
+ ...
Be as tough as possible Jan 23, 2007

Nicole Dequin wrote:

Yes, this is for an in-house position, not for a self-employed or freelance person. Interviews were conducted with several candidates already, this is the next step now that the number of candidates has been narrowed down.



If you're actually looking to hire somebody you should really put them to the test in all respects. Give them a really difficult test, but don't expect them to do it perfectly. You want to find out how they handle difficulties, what resources they'd use, if they ask questions when they don't know the answers or there are issues with the source text (and if they ask the right questions) or whether they just invent something, etc. I would even recommend to "seed" the source text with some problems such as a garbled sentence structure, maybe a missing word or one too many.


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Barbara Wiegel  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 02:38
English to German
+ ...
Not too long Jan 23, 2007

Let me add my 2 Euro cents from my own experience:

The translation test for an in-house translator position at the German Foreign office consists of 4 texts (about 400 words each). In my case I had to translate a text from (my native) German into my A language English, two texts from my A language English into German and one text from my B Language Russian into German. The texts were on different subjects - the DE-EN was an (extract from an) actual dinner speach from the Federal President, the EN-DE were about a UN topic and finances, the RU-DE was a newspaper article about a Nobel peace prize laureate (containing lots of geographical and people's names that were spelled in Cyrillic and needed to be transcribed "back"). So, a little bit of everything.
The candidates participating in the test (about 20) were short-listed in advance according to their CVs and were allowed to bring their own dictionaries and as many of them as they could carry and/or deemed necessary.
The test was to be conducted without the help of computers and electronic dictionaries or Internet research - so we sat there like students at school and hand-wrote on our pads. Any drafts or hand-written notes (vocabulary etc.) had to be handed in with the actual translations. There was no time limit - the test started at 9.00 a.m. and we were advised to preferably be finished by the end of the work day at around 5.00 p.m.
It took me about 5 hours to finish this test - I drafted all 4 translations and scribbled corrections into them and in the end I took the extra hour and a half to write all of it down again nicely without any corrections or words crossed out or something similar.


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