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Agencies: Tough application process equals little work?
Thread poster: Ms.Straus

Ms.Straus  Identity Verified
Slovenia
Local time: 10:17
Member (2007)
English to Slovenian
+ ...
Oct 28, 2007

I'm pretty sure this issue has come up several times but I can't recall ever reading an explanation for this particular phenomenon. Or even a theory why this happens.

Ok, most of you know what I’m on about (see subject line) and the few of you who don’t – well, lucky you.

Just in case: I’m talking about the well-travelled belief that those agencies that make you jump through hoops just to join their ranks of associated freelance translators are not very likely to actually give any work. But it’s not just a belief, is it? Judging from what I’ve seen and what others tell me it seems more like a rule (with a few welcome exceptions).

Has anybody ever given this some thought? What’s the logic behind this? What do agencies gain by wasting time collecting motivation letters, CVs, test translations, questionnaires and whatnot if they don’t actually use you for their projects? I’m talking about those cases where you actually pass some sort of test and they tell you you’re one of them now. Is it possible their databases regularly burn down or something? Do they go out of business and forget to say goodbye?

Could it be that only young agencies have complicated application procedures because they lack experience in dealing with translators and are not sure how to assess their quality? The premise here is that these young companies are more likely to disappear from the market and that’s the reason you never hear from them again.

What do you think??


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 05:17
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Several good points here Oct 28, 2007

Eva,

I agree with most - if not all - of what you've said.

A blunt way of putting it is that while some agencies are forever getting ready to do it right, others are right in being always ready to get the job done.

If you were the client, which type would you prefer?


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sokolniki  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:17
English to Russian
+ ...
Could not resist Oct 28, 2007

I have already commented on the subject and completely agree with Eva: the more paperwork required, the less chances are to get any work.

To add insult (in this case literally) to injury, some agencies would send your test translation for "quality assessment" to some mysterious "assessor" and send it back graded D (?!) with highlighted "mistakes" but no corrections or explanations.

What the ... is that and who the ... is the "assessor"? Isn't this person another freelancer providing proofreading and editing services who has to prove his/her necessity?


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Charlie Bavington  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:17
French to English
One positive, one negative Oct 28, 2007

I too have noticed this phenomenon.

My negative theory is that agencies, particularly small agencies, who have time to concern themselves with all this kind of piffle quite clearly do not have THAT many projects to manage. And they probably have a regular squad of translators for the few jobs they do get. Statistically, then, the chances of us being offered work are low.

My postive theory is that it is part of a thorough vetting process, where you are ultimately placed in a limited number of specialised categories ready for work. Again, though, there are probably people above you in the 'queue' in those fields. So unless there is a sudden glut in that field, again, you are unlikely to be contacted often.

But, these are just theories. It could be that, in fact, we're not all as good as we think we are and the agencies apply standards we just don't meet


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biankonera  Identity Verified
Latvia
Local time: 11:17
Italian to Latvian
+ ...
mystery of translator's life Oct 28, 2007

Actually someone should once do a research regarding this phenomenon. Seriously.:) Ive got some realy entertaining "assessments" regarding my test translations as a result of which Ive adopted a no test translation policy since Ive no time and no desire to do them. And there is a lot of truth and almost no sense that the more the agency makes you try to become one of the so called lucky ones the less chance you have of getting work from them.

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Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 10:17
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
Becoming or starting a translation agency Oct 28, 2007

This is my theory, especially after having realised just how small many agencies are:

Try to imagine you are on the verge of becoming or starting a translation agency. The reason would probably be that you had made yourself popular with carefully-done translations, and therefore eventually regularly been offered too much work.

Now, imagine that caused you to think that you should start an agency.

However, perhaps you were popular as a freelancer in one language pair, or at the most two.

An agency, you think, should handle a few languages. Therefore you envisage an agency that will include the language pair of at least your second foreign language, maybe the third one, too. So you consider adding language pairs to your service, however you would not want - in an emergency - to do any translations that arrive in these language pairs yourself, as it would be slightly awkward and you would need so much time for it that you would only earn 1/5 of your normal amount per hour.

Now, suppose you therefore hit upon the idea of creating for yourself an assured little database of translators who are in principle willing to work for you, if certain language pairs come up. What will you do next?

Well, you will advertise "potential jobs" or whatever. Then applications for these potential jobs will start to arrive, however you will not know how to sort out the sheep from any possible goats. Therefore, you will apply a procedure. Among other things, you will ask each interested translator to do a little test, and - since at the moment you don't have much money (perhaps you spent the few coppers that you had to spare on setting up a web site with the name of your agency) - they will have to do it for free, because you cannot afford to pay them all...

However, in certain language pairs, you can't even judge the quality of the translations, so you will need someone to do that for you. Only problem is, it will have to be someone who does the job cheap or free... perhaps a friend or relative will do nicely.

You don't, of course, have any jobs to offer any of the applicants at the moment, but maybe, just maybe, one day you will have - if the agency idea ever gets off the ground properly.....

After all, finding end customers is really difficult! You have to go out and meet people in order to find them, and that costs money, as well as loads of time away from your computer. Only problem is, you have to keep on translating....

One last consideration: these translators who have applied to you all charge average rates, but, even if your agency does get off the ground, you won't be able to pay average rates for a long time yet, so you need to scout around and find a few of those that undersell themselves and work for peanuts....

The reason you can't pay average rates is that you have been a freelance translator up to now, and even your few (perhaps two) end clients have only really being paying you marginally above what the agencies pay you....

And this is how, in my opinion, it might go, if you toy with the idea of starting an agency. If this theory is correct, it could explain a lot.

Astrid


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Tim Drayton  Identity Verified
Cyprus
Local time: 11:17
Turkish to English
+ ...
Same experience Oct 29, 2007

My experience matches that of the colleagues who have posted above.
If I look at the agencies that send me regular work these are all ones that initially contacted me with a concrete offer of work and required very little in the way of form filling and usually didn't even ask me send back a CV/resume. On the other hand, agencies that have contacted me not with a concrete offer of work, but rather have sent me a form to fill in and have asked me to send back various tests and documents somehow very rarely come back with an actual job offer. I remember one agency asked me to fill out a very long and involved form on which I had to write mini essays explaining how I went about things like terminology research. Guess what - I have never heard from them again! Don't get me wrong, I don't object to filling out basic forms and I understand the reason for getting propsective translators to do a test. But in my experience it is agencies that don't ask you to run through all these hoops that actually supply regular streams of work. Strange but true.
Also, I never seem to hear from those agencies that have online forms on their websites for potential translators to fill in.


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Ivana Kahle  Identity Verified
Croatia
Local time: 10:17
Member (2007)
German to Croatian
+ ...
Starting an agency Oct 29, 2007

Astrid Elke Johnson wrote:

This is my theory, especially after having realised just how small many agencies are:

Try to imagine you are on the verge of becoming or starting a translation agency. The reason would probably be that you had made yourself popular with carefully-done translations, and therefore eventually regularly been offered too much work.

...

And this is how, in my opinion, it might go, if you toy with the idea of starting an agency. If this theory is correct, it could explain a lot.

Astrid


Dear Astrid,
thank you so much for sharing the experience with the ones toying with the idea of starting an agency. As you can imagine, I'm one of them, and the information you gave are soooooo valuable! You could be a how-to-start-an-agency consultant. Imagine the potential of that kind of job!


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craigs
Local time: 04:17
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Maybe in some cases Oct 29, 2007

It could be a way to discourage applicants because they have a pretty full group. Much like the building contractor that is called to submit a bid on a project but over-prices his bid deliberately because he doesn't want the job.

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Tim Drayton  Identity Verified
Cyprus
Local time: 11:17
Turkish to English
+ ...
Related phenomenon. Oct 29, 2007

I also notice that whenever an agency tells you that they are expecting more work from the same source (presumably so that you will charge a lower rate in the expectation of a regular stream of work), you never get another assignment from them.
I somehow think this is connected to the same "law".


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David Turner  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:17
French to English
+ ...
Trados hoop Oct 29, 2007

In addition to the above points about getting translators to jump through administrative hoops, any agency touting "Trados required" or "SDL/Trados 2007 certification required" are also ones that do not know much about translation and are likely to be short-lived.

BR,
David Turner


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Ms.Straus  Identity Verified
Slovenia
Local time: 10:17
Member (2007)
English to Slovenian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
We obviously do have some theories on this phenomenon Oct 29, 2007

It all makes much more sense now! Thank you.

José said:
"A blunt way of putting it is that while some agencies are forever getting ready to do it right, others are right in being always ready to get the job done."


- There's probably a lot of truth to that. I guess people who decide to open a TA often look for a way to avoid making the same mistakes as other providers and they try hard to find the best translators. Then maybe they realise clients often don't need quality and instead appreciate speed and low prices. The agency managers then change their strategy and start working with the cheapest vendors they can find and of course forget about the high-quality professionals they attracted in the beginning. I wonder how long they stay on the market. Somebody should probably do a research on that

Sokolniki said:
"What the ... is that and who the ... is the "assessor"? Isn't this person another freelancer providing proofreading and editing services who has to prove his/her necessity?"


- I hope not, for the sake of clients!! Although this seems a very likely scenario when I think it through.

Charlie said:
"My positive theory is that it is part of a thorough vetting process, where you are ultimately placed in a limited number of specialised categories ready for work."


- So I guess I should hope the ones before me are old and frail and will retire in the foreseeable future No, really, I know this can be the case; I often manage translation projects and it's absolutely true that managers are more inclined to assign a job to the translator who's been working for them for some time that to a newcomer. In my experience, several conditions have to be met before you as a PM decide to give the job to a new translator: the job has to be relatively easy and completely match the new translator's expertise, the deadline must not be too tight, the freelancer must pick up the phone immediately when contacted (or call back asap), and the time passed since the first application shouldn't be too long. Tough. Oh, and it helps if the freelancer keeps reminding the PM to give them some work.

Bramasole said:
"Ive got some realy entertaining "assessments" regarding my test translations as a result of which Ive adopted a no test translation policy since Ive no time and no desire to do them."


- I still have no objections to (SHORT!) test translations; I believe they are a very good way to assert your überness However, if I start getting unsubstantiated bad reviews by unqualified revisors, I'll probably change my strategy.

Dear
Astrid Elke
, the scenario you described sounds very likely!! Yes, I can imagine the distress of a freelancer-turned-agency when they realise their former rates are too low to accommodate the rates of their subcontractors and are therefore forced to find new clients (who'll pay higher rates) or new underlings (who'll work for peanuts). However I do believe the best agencies were started by experienced freelancers.

Tim wrote:
"I remember one agency asked me to fill out a very long and involved form on which I had to write mini essays explaining how I went about things like terminology research. Guess what - I have never heard from them again!"


- I've had the same experience! Maybe it was the same agency Or somebody writing their diploma on various approcahes to translation

Tim also wrote:
"Also, I never seem to hear from those agencies that have online forms on their websites for potential translators to fill in."


- Well, not in my experience. A company I often work for actually recruits a lot of their regular translators through its online form. It helps speed things up if the applicants are a bit pushy though And the time that elapses between the arrival of a new application and the the first assignment the freelancer gets can vary from a few days to a year.

Ivana wrote:
"Dear Astrid,
thank you so much for sharing the experience with the ones toying with the idea of starting an agency. As you can imagine, I'm one of them, and the information you gave are soooooo valuable! You could be a how-to-start-an-agency consultant. Imagine the potential of that kind of job!"


- Ivana, I agree with you on all points. And good luck with your new agency!!

Craigs wrote:
"Much like the building contractor that is called to submit a bid on a project but over-prices his bid deliberately because he doesn't want the job."


- Sounds likely. The agency doesn't need new freelancers but they don't want to turn them down in case they might need them someday.

David wrote:
"In addition to the above points about getting translators to jump through administrative hoops, any agency touting "Trados required" or "SDL/Trados 2007 certification required" are also ones that do not know much about translation and are likely to be short-lived."


- Partly true. We must not forget clients often demand their provider uses CAT (although they're often misinformed about their purpose and usefulness) and serious agencies are likely to be inclined towards recruiting translators with CAT just to avoid potential problems with their clients.

Thanks for your contributions, my fellow prozians! I learned a lot from what you wrote and I believe I understand the issue much better now.













[Edited at 2007-10-29 15:20]

[Edited at 2007-10-29 15:39]


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David Turner  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:17
French to English
+ ...
Misinformed, yes Oct 29, 2007

Eva Straus wrote:
- Partly true. We must not forget clients often demand their provider uses CAT (although they're often misinformed about their purpose and usefulness) and serious agencies are likely to be inclined towards recruiting translators with CAT just to avoid potential problems with their clients.


CAT does not equal Trado$. There are plenty of other translation memory type tools. I wish I had a euro for every time I've said that.
A reputable/knowledgeable agency would ask translators which CAT tool(s) they use (if any).
Relatively few end customers use or have even heard of CAT tools by the way.

BR,
David


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Ms.Straus  Identity Verified
Slovenia
Local time: 10:17
Member (2007)
English to Slovenian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Agencies and CAT Oct 29, 2007

David Turner wrote:
CAT does not equal Trado$. There are plenty of other translation memory type tools. I wish I had a euro for every time I've said that.
A reputable/knowledgeable agency would ask translators which CAT tool(s) they use (if any).
Relatively few end customers use or have even heard of CAT tools by the way.


You're right, I should've been more specific. To clarify mu point: I'm under the impression most agencies are OK with almost any TM as long as the translator knows how to use it. When I hear Trados wanted I assume they simply mean some not too exotic CAT. And I have no problem with agencies requiring CAT literacy.

Some end clients are experts on CATs while some are wondering how come bulldozers are that popular with translators.
In my experience big end clients with ongoing translation projects (export, import, software) always use TMs and CAT tools. So any agency working for them will likely expect CAT proficiency from their freelancers.


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Gina Ferlisi
Italy
Local time: 10:17
Member (2008)
Italian to English
+ ...
Ghost agencies Oct 30, 2007

Tim Drayton wrote:

My experience matches that of the colleagues who have posted above.
If I look at the agencies that send me regular work these are all ones that initially contacted me with a concrete offer of work and required very little in the way of form filling and usually didn't even ask me send back a CV/resume. On the other hand, agencies that have contacted me not with a concrete offer of work, but rather have sent me a form to fill in and have asked me to send back various tests and documents somehow very rarely come back with an actual job offer. I remember one agency asked me to fill out a very long and involved form on which I had to write mini essays explaining how I went about things like terminology research. Guess what - I have never heard from them again! Don't get me wrong, I don't object to filling out basic forms and I understand the reason for getting propsective translators to do a test. But in my experience it is agencies that don't ask you to run through all these hoops that actually supply regular streams of work. Strange but true.
Also, I never seem to hear from those agencies that have online forms on their websites for potential translators to fill in.


I agree with you , the same thing happens to me here in Italy i have seen that the big Italian agencies -well know ones with 40 PM sent me a reply to my CV and without signing forms or NDA or test, they have sent me work quickly and i am still working with them after one year, other agencies (about 30 agencies) send long forms and never reply or long test of two pages which i never do..i always ask for not more than 300 word test, a Cinese agency sent me a test which i did years ago for a well know CD player (user guide) which this company has pubblicated ..therefore i thought i past the test,i was really sure ..seeing that for the well know company it was correct...instead..she wrote back that the test was acceptable but not prefect only because a cinese proofreader found one error ..it's incredibile. I think the professional agencies are the ones who let you start working without filling many forms .


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