Cover Letter - traditional or short and sweet?
Thread poster: Brechen MacRae

Brechen MacRae  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:46
Member (2013)
French to English
Jan 21, 2014

There comes a time for freelancers (especially the newcomers like myself) where it's never a bad idea to cold-email the resume to agencies in search for new potential clients. This can be done dozens to hundreds of times, so I really want to make sure that I'm not missing anything each time I hit 'send'.

I know what a traditional cover letter should be, but I'm wondering if this format necessarily works for freelancers.

Do you keep it traditional letter-style, or is it more of a short and sweet email-style, with only the basic details and courtesies?

Related to my previous question, does the text in the email suffice? or should we be attaching a word or pdf cover letter to our email?

Any information as to what works best for you would be really helpful.




Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:46
Member (2007)
+ ...
Do clients really want your language skills at the bottom of P2? Jan 21, 2014

By traditional CV I suppose you mean the standard reverse-chronological listing of all your job experience, your education, skills, interests.... Well, that standard produces a less-than-perfect result for 75% of job-seekers nowadays. It has certainly never been the best format for the "CV" of a freelancer. We shouldn't really be calling our document a CV at all, but that's what our clients like.icon_wink.gif

You certainly don't want to give them your life history. You want to give them what's relevant, and only what's relevant, and you want to give them the most relevant first. That's going to look different for every freelance translator.

Likewise, the cover letter isn't a cover letter - it's an introduction to your services, hopefully leading to a business collaboration. And short is the only way to go, whatever we write.

A freelancer's biggest mistake, quite often, is to have an employee's mindset. We should be approaching other businesses as partners, not underlings. I know agencies would like it otherwise, but we're free not to work with the worst of them.

I wrote a Wiki article on this here: Hopefully either I or someone else will get round to giving it a bit more flesh at some point, but at least the skeleton is there to help you avoid the worst pitfalls.



Niina Lahokoski  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:46
Member (2008)
English to Finnish
+ ...
Short and simple Jan 21, 2014

What Sheila said.

Also, I think it is best to send your CV to only those agencies that mention on their website that they welcome applications.

I like to keep mine pretty short, just mentioning why I'm offering my services, and then continuing to the main information, like language pairs, specialities and experience. As to prices, I usually use a PDF file that specifies my rates and terms, although I might mention a price example in the message itself. I don't see any need to attach the cover letter as a file, normal text in the email body should be fine with the CV attached.

I don't outsource work, but I still get some applications / offers of cooperation via my website. The worst one so far went something like this:
"Hi, i'm interested in collaborating with you. Best regards. X".
No surname (except in the email address), no CV attached, nothing. When I looked up the person's name out of curiosity, it turned out the person has (or claims to have) 10 years of experience!
I wonder if I've been mistaken, and their strategy is in fact the key to success...

[Edited at 2014-01-21 14:12 GMT]

[Edited at 2014-01-21 14:14 GMT]


ATIL KAYHAN  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:46
Member (2007)
Turkish to English
+ ...
It really depends. Jan 21, 2014

Some people like to read cover letters. Some people hate them. Your best bet would probably be to avoid the extremes (too short or too long). Prepare a medium-sized (?) cover letter that emphasizes your strengths. Two or three (or four short) paragraphs will probably be sufficient. Never exceed half a page or so.


Tiffany Hardy  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:46
Spanish to English
What would you want to read if you received dozens of emails each day? Jan 21, 2014

If you want your "cover letter" to be effective, you need to think of some way to make your message memorable to a project manager that receives many CVs per day from freelancers. It should also be very professional and communicate all of the information an agency would deem relevant.

I would strongly recommend picking up a book on cover letters to get some ideas. Wendy Enelow and Louise Kursmark have a great book on cover letters (Cover Letter Magic), and there are many examples in their book that are great for freelancers as well as job seekers. Experiment with different styles and see which ones get more replies, you don't have to just send out one. Maybe be brave and do something unconventional in one and in another keep it more traditional.

Do your best to personalize your message as much as possible. Do a little background search on each agency. Did the agency recently land a contract with an important organization? Mention it in the first paragraph and how your work could help them. Mention how their work lines up with your own (based on specializations or other factors). This will certainly make you stand out from the crowd, although it does take a bit more work.

DO highlight your most relevant qualifications in the body of the email. Don't make someone read four paragraphs to find out critical information such as your language pairs, your native language and how you became bilingual, your areas of specialization, your CAT tools, etc. Be very straightforward with this.

DO pay careful attention to what the agencies request on their websites. Some agencies are very specific about what they would like you to include in the email and sometimes even specifying what the exact subject of the email should be. Pay attention and do what they want! If they say you must send rate information, your email will likely be discarded if you choose not to.

As the others have mentioned, brevity is of the utmost importance. And not only brevity of the overall letter - shorter sentences can be very powerful, as can short paragraphs. Know that however interesting it is for you to read your own cover letter, someone else has much, MUCH less patience for all the fluff. So keep it to the point and add a little fluff ONLY if it will somehow make your message more memorable.

Best of luck!


Riccardo Schiaffino  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 22:46
Member (2003)
English to Italian
+ ...
Cover letter errors Jan 21, 2014

If you are a translator and are sending out your message to your prospects, hoping to get more work or new customers, please note that sending out a message without specifying to whom it is addressed ensures that your message is treated as spam.

Here are some tips you might find useful to increase your chances of success:

1) Research your prospects: find out who they are, and (especially) to whom your message should be addressed. If most of your prospects are translation companies, find out if contacting them by e-mail is the way they prefer to be contacted by new translators: many translation companies would prefer you to fill out a form on their website. If that is their preferred way to collect information from freelancers, usually contacting them by e-mail instead is a waste of time.
2) Research your prospects (2): find out what kind of translations they do, and what they need specifically. This will help you craft a more targeted (and more successful message): for a translation company it is much more interesting to receive a message that says “I’m an English into Italian translator with a degree in mechanical engineering and over ten years’ experience translating maintenance manuals for naval turbines” than a generic “I translate from English French, German and Portuguese into Italian”.
3) The Subject of your e-mail message should be brief and to the point, e.g. “English > Italian translator with 10 years of experience, specialized in mechanical engineering”
4) Your e-mail message should be brief and written very carefully (if it is written in a language that is not your native one, I recommend you have a native speaker edit it), and its purpose should be to entice your prospect in opening your résumé
5) Don’t say that you translate from your native language into a foreign one. Doing so ensure you will be treated as an amateur.
6) If you are one of those rare people who are native speakers of more than one language (true bilingual), do say so, but be prepared to indicate how exactly you came to be a true bilingual (“I travelled and studied in X country” won’t do, but “My mother is English, my father Italian, each only speaks to me in their native language, and, while living in Italy, I studied from first grade through high school in an international school where most classes were taught in English” might)
7) Your résumé should be brief (no more than one page if you don’t have very extensive experience, no more than two in all other instances), flawlessly written (again, if it is not in your native language, consider having it edited by a native speaker), and contain all the necessary information, but no irrelevant details.
8) Your résumé should be localized for your target market. For instance a résumé for a French prospect should include your photo, but a résumé for an American company should not.
9) Indicate your name and language pair in the very first line of your résumé (i.e., its heading): e.g., “Mario Rossi, English into Italian translator”
10) Don’t include your rates in your e-mail message or in your résumé (talking about rates comes at a later stage)
11) Your résumé should not include your references (providing them, if asked, comes at a later stage)
12) It’s OK to include in your résumé information about other kind of work if you have very little experience, but, as soon as you do gain some translation experience, remove the extraneous information.
13) All the information in your cover message and in your résumé should be verifiable
14) Information you should include in your résumé: your working language pairs, contact information, translation experience, other related work experience, education, expertise with specific software programs (e.g., CAT tools or DTP programs: don’t include in the list of programs you know how to use Word or Excel – everybody is assumed to know how to handle them), and platform (PC or Mac)
15) Information you should not include in your résumé: personal information such as your age, marital status, etc. (normally: see item 8 above – if a résumé for your target market usually does include such information, use your best judgment about whether to include those information or not). Also not to be included (usually): information about your hobbies and personal interests. An exception to this is if your hobbies contribute to your specialization. So “I have been a passionate skier since I was a toddler, and have translated technical manuals for Rossignol” is OK, while “I like reading and classical music” is not.
16) Remember: it’s you who decides what your rates are, not the translation companies (conversely, translation companies are free to accept your rates, reject them, or try to get you to lower them).

Hope the above can be useful for you.


Brechen MacRae  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:46
Member (2013)
French to English
Thanks! Jan 22, 2014

I owe thanks to everyone who responded. I couldn't have hoped for more relevant and helpful replies. Thank you.


Jo Macdonald  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:46
Member (2005)
Italian to English
+ ...
Treat each potential client as an individual Jan 22, 2014

Brechen MacRae wrote:

never a bad idea to cold-email the resume to agencies in search for new potential clients. This can be done dozens to hundreds of times


Hi Brechen,
That sounds like spamming to me.

When I started out I'd phone a potential client to have a quick chat, introducing myself and asking if I could send my CV by e-mail.
Treat each potential client as an individual, so rather than "I'm going to spam 50 agencies today" "I'm going to phone Phil at Trans Agency today and introduce myself to see if we can start working together."

This also gives you an idea of who you'll be working with, whether they're friendly and professional, or not.

[Edited at 2014-01-22 09:56 GMT]


Brechen MacRae  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:46
Member (2013)
French to English
Agencies actively seeking linguists Jan 22, 2014

Thanks Jo, I agree with a lot of what you said. This kind of communication should be made as personal as possible. I probably should have mentioned that I only cold-email agencies who advertise that they are open to receiving resumes from freelancers. In that case, I can hardly see how it is spamming.

[Edited at 2014-01-22 10:43 GMT]

[Edited at 2014-01-22 10:43 GMT]


Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:46
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Different target audience Jan 22, 2014

Brechen MacRae wrote:
I know what a traditional cover letter should be, but I'm wondering if this format necessarily works for freelancers. ... Do you keep it traditional letter-style, or is it more of a short and sweet email-style, with only the basic details and courtesies?

A traditional covering letter is meant to be read by a person who has the expectation of receiving a covering letter, e.g. a personnel officer / human resources agent. Your e-mail will be read by people whose primary task is not recruitment. Keep that in mind.


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Cover Letter - traditional or short and sweet?

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