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How to ask for references?
Thread poster: Quattro
United States
Local time: 15:23
Mar 30, 2007

How do I ask my client to be my referee? Can/Should I ask them?

Some translation agencies ask for full contact details for referees. I can understand why, but how should I go about it?

Any advice, suggestions or comments are welcome and will be appreciated.

Thank you in advance!

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Hipyan Nopri  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:23
English to Indonesian
+ ...
Just Contact Your Agencies Mar 30, 2007

Hi Marie,

You may ask the agency you have worked with to be your reference for next potential clients. As far as I know, agencies do not mind being our references. However, you should not ask your direct clients (both individuals and organizations) to be your references for potential agencies.

Warm Regards


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United States
Local time: 15:23
Agencies as referees for other agencies Mar 30, 2007

Hi Hipyan,

Thank you very much for your reply. I would ask a couple of my regular clients (agencies) to be my referees for potential clients (other agencies), and I just don't want my existing clients to think that I am "unhappy" with them. On the other hand, I am a freelancer, so I suppose it's no secret and should not be a surprise that I have other clients. Perhaps I am overthinking this... (!)


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Peter Linton  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:23
Member (2002)
Swedish to English
+ ...
Should you ask for references Mar 30, 2007

Marie-Louise Halvorsen wrote:
How do I ask my client to be my referee? Can/Should I ask them?

I think your second question is much more important than the first. And in my (possibly controversial) opinion, you should if at all possible never ask for references.

Why do I take such an apparently outlandish view? It's because I believe your relationships with your customers, whether direct or agencies, should be strictly commercial, at arm's length. This does not mean that they cannot also be very friendly and co-operative, but I think it should never be tainted by asking them for favours, such as providing a reference.

I believe it damages the relationship. Not severely, and I'm sure there are agencies who don't mind, but once you have asked for a reference you are slightly beholden to the customer. No longer quite at arm's length.

You are quite right to be concerned that your customers might think you are unhappy with them. Another good reason for not asking for references.

Some translation agencies ask for full contact details for referees. I can understand why, but how should I go about it?


If asked to provide references orother confidential information, I explain that on principle I do not, but I am very willing to provide alternatives, such as test translations, disguised samples of mywork, a detailed CV. This works for me, and I can think of only one occasion when an agency refused to consider me because I refused to provide references.

I will admit one possible exception -- when applying to join a translator's' association. That suggests a commitment to the profession that an agency might welcome and therefore be happy to provide a reference for that purpose.

It will be interesting to see what other people think.

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Heike Behl, Ph.D.  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:23
Member (2003)
English to German
+ ...
Conflict of interests Mar 30, 2007

I usually don't give references. There have been two expections.
I once asked a client (agency) for a letter of reference for some government-related work, who was very happy to provide it.

For some other potential job (end client) I was asked to provide some references. I checked with two of my clients (agencies) whether I could give out their contact information, both were very happy to help.

However, one comment - uttered jokingly, but still - by one of them made me think: He said something along the lines that they love working with me and I shouldn't desert them completely.

It is definitely not in their best interest to give you a good reference. The higher they praise you, the more likely it is you get another job which might result in less or even no time/availability for their own jobs.

Of course they know that I work for other clients as well and of course they know that I'm not always available for them. But I definitely can see their point of view as well.

As a grad student, I was teaching part-time at a private school. One year, it was clear that there would be only one German class the following year. Not enough to survive on. Another private school was looking for a German teacher for one German class, so I applied. I never thought of switching schools, but to teach at both, one class each. Of course, I asked the headmaster of my current school for a letter of recommendation, which he very happily agreed to... The other school never even acknowledge having received my application (and how many qualified German-native applicants could they have had?), and I only knew the position had been filled when the woman they hired called me to ask for book recommendations!

I have, of course, no proof, but I am convinced that my letter of recommendation was not in my favor (if they ever sent it) and that they simply didn't want me to work for somebody else. Soon after that, they also gave me a contract for two classes, although it was clear there would only be one class. (This in a way was the proof for me that they wanted to prevent me from teaching anywhere else at all cost.) But I stopped looking for additional jobs, since 2 classes was just what I needed. Later in the summer, they tried to change that contract back to one class, big fight, talks with lawyers on both sides, they had of course to give in, but very ugly the whole thing.

Not that I am implying any of my clients would sink so low to do something like that, but a letter of recommendation is clearly against your clients' best interest and puts them in an awkward position.

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Claire Titchmarsh  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:23
Italian to English
+ ...
Make sure it's worth it before you ask Mar 30, 2007

It's an interesting point and I have to say that I absolutely hate asking for references, but sometimes will if I think the client who asked for them is likely to be a good one.

I have to disagree with Peter though. Relationships with customers should be arm's length but in regular employee relationships, references are absolutely normal when changing jobs - lack of a good reference can seriously hamper your chances of getting a good job. Freelance life isn't exactly the same but who can blame a potential client for wanting to know as much as possible about who they are dealing with? It is also true that translators who are not so well established will have more of a problem getting references and the agencies that tend to ask for them perhaps want to make sure that they are working with people who have enough experience.
Having said that I have found that the kind of agency that wants references often has lots of tedious admin and bureaucracy as well - and don't always send you regular work.

Every time I've asked for a reference my clients have always been very willing to do so. This just makes me happier to continue working for them in the future, so I think that far from damaging a relationship it actually has a positive effect. Just don't ask the same client twice.

A reference is also a good way of finding out what your current clients actually think of you - the last time I asked a client for a reference she was kind enough (tho' I hadn't asked her) to copy me in on it.
As for asking for favours - nothing wrong with that! What about all those times you've saved their bacon by doing urgent weekend jobs or those six little words in an e-mail that are too much trouble to invoice?!

"You are quite right to be concerned that your customers might think you are unhappy with them. Another good reason for not asking for references". - sorry Peter but totally disagree on that. If you are unhappy with the client, then don't work for them, and if the client is unhappy with you then they should be grown-up enough to tell you straight.

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United States
Local time: 15:23
Did not ask after all Apr 1, 2007

Hi all,

In the end, I did not ask any of my existing clients to be referees. I agree with Heike that I would be putting my clients on the spot, which is why I was hesitant in the first place.

I have a good, "professionally close" relationship with my clients, and the last thing I want is to create any awkwardness between us. Maybe they wouldn't mind being asked, but they are very good to me and I love working with them. I don't want to risk losing them in case they did mind.

Instead, I offered this particular client alternatives (as Peter suggested) saying something along the lines that "I view all interaction between myself and my clients as confidential, and please judge my capabilities based on my first assignment" (which is due tomorrow). Their response was very positive. They did not mention anything about wanting references, and I am very excited to see how things go.

Offering alternatives to a client to anything that you may not agree with is an execellent way of trying to make it a win-win situation for both parties. I think most things are negotiable when it comes down to it, and the important thing is to be positive and friendly. Getting new and more clients is key, but I would not want to accept terms I couldn't live with in the long run. Both parties should be happy with whatever they agree on.

Thank you everyone for your advice and comments! You have all been a great help.

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