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During hard times, would you accept a job that doesn't pay much with a tight deadline?
Thread poster: Jennifer Traini

Jennifer Traini  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 09:14
Italian to English
+ ...
Jul 25, 2015

Hello there, here's my conundrum. I'm finishing my MA in Translation and to help my parents, two years ago I started working for an agency. The rates were really low and they are sometimes really unprofessional (for example, they send me projects in a language I don't speak and then say they're sorry) but I needed the money so I didn't mind. A few months ago, I found another agency that is much more professional and, more importantly to me, gives decent deadlines. I decided to keep working for both since I'm having a hard time financially. As you can tell, I work as a translator when I can because I also have to study for my exams and work as a baby-sitter as well. Yesterday, the unprofessional agency came to me, asking if I was available for a project of 15,000 words from Swedish to English. Given the pair and subject (financial), in my opinion, the rate was really low (0.03 per word), but I couldn't say no to 450$. While I was trying to get a decent deadline (they proposed 3 days for completing the work), the manager asked if I could do just 5500 words in 24 hours.
To me, it was a tight deadline and eventually, I refused but I felt really bad about losing the money.
What would you do?


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Angela Rimmer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:14
Member (2014)
German to English
+ ...
Good call Jul 25, 2015

Regardless of the topic or language combination, that rate is too low, PERIOD.

You were right to refuse the job. Your time should be worth more than that. Why kill yourself to translate a crazy amount of words in a short amount of time for such a small amount of money? Even if you don't end up being offered other work to replace that awful job request, you are still winning in terms of your health and happiness, and ultimately your time would be better spent marketing yourself to other translation clients who will definitely pay more, especially for that language combination, which generally is one of the more "expensive" combinations anyway.

At that rate your time would be better spent working more hours as a babysitter! The babysitting money probably works out to be higher pay-per-hour.

[Edited at 2015-07-25 19:03 GMT]


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Duran Davis  Identity Verified
Bahamas
Spanish to English
Stuck between a rock and a hard place. Jul 25, 2015

You made the absolute right decision because that very tight deadline and horrendous rate is absolutely unacceptable! Let them find someone else to work under those cramping conditions. It's better to sacrifice money over a potentially rushed or poor quality of work. I don't think it's a good practice for your career or your health in the long run, especially at that insulting rate.

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Elizabeth Tamblin  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:14
Member (2012)
French to English
It's all about ethics Jul 25, 2015

Yes, you could accept a job just for the money, but if you know you can't deliver a good translation, you would be contravening the ethical code of any professional translator. So don't feel bad about refusing!

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Bernhard Sulzer  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:14
English to German
+ ...
Ethics Jul 25, 2015

Elizabeth Tamblin wrote:

Yes, you could accept a job just for the money, but if you know you can't deliver a good translation, you would be contravening the ethical code of any professional translator. So don't feel bad about refusing!


Also, part of my ethical code is not to give in to agencies that want you to work for unbelievably low and unacceptable rates, no matter what. Even if you are given enough time for let's say a 5500 word project, that's no reason to do it for EUR 0.03/word. Make that up to EUR .07/word in my language pair. And I don't mean to imply it's okay to work for EUR 0.08/word either. Not for crazy deadlines, not for complex translations, calling for intense research (e.g. ensuring using correct terms used by the end client on websites and in brochures, completely new texts with extremely recent technological developments, marketing texts, business texts that are directed to advance companies' business, legal texts, requirement of CAT tools and much more). Professional rates are much higher, on average at least EUR 0.15/word in my pair. And that would be an average number based on direct clients (usually much higher) and agencies.

In general, the lower the rate, the shorter the deadlines, the longer the wait to get paid. And you never know when such agencies reach the point where they run into serious quality problems with clients, having to have projects redone and run out of money, stop paying when they were supposed to pay you or completely stop paying.

And the more translators give in to working for clearly unprofessional rates but still try to provide excellent services, the more difficult it becomes for other translators to keep up professional rate standards. As far as I am concerned, I know what it means to go through tough times, but with the right attitude, education, motivation and tenacity, there are other ways to make a living. Hopefully most professionals will realize how important it is to stand their ground and not give in to bottom feeders. Then it will simply be amateurs who will provide poor quality and all that bottom-feeding nonsense will eventually falter.

But there is already a lot going wrong in our profession, sadly.

To answer Jennifer's question:
During hard times, would you accept a job that doesn't pay much with a tight deadline?

Never!

[Edited at 2015-07-25 20:59 GMT]


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 08:14
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Wake-up call? Jul 25, 2015

I see you recently registered here at ProZ. com. Maybe this is your wake-up call. It could mean the difference between you giving up and flipping burgers for a career, or sorting yourself out and becoming a professional translator.

I'm sorry if that sounds over-dramatic, but really things haven't got off to a good start. You're clearly grabbing at every straw that comes along, but how much harm are you doing to your self-respect and your professional reputation?

Some truths about the job:
- you can earn more, and risk a lot less, doing a part-time cleaning job than grabbing at every job agencies post;
- it takes time and an entrepreneurial marketing mindset for any freelancer to build a solid client base, and it rarely happens in less than several months;
- clients looking for a freelance translator have thousands to choose from nowadays;
- translators therefore have to excel if they want to be taken seriously;
- translating into a foreign language has to have real justification as there are bound to be better native writers (subject expertise and rare pairs are justifications, but they don't seem applicable here);
- jobs with ridiculously low rates and/or crazy deadlines are being pushed on you because no professional in their right mind would even glance at them.

Can I suggest you get a part-time job bringing in a wage for the moment? When you're ready to set yourself up as a translator, I imagine you'll have a nice niche possible as a Swedish to Italian translator, with English and French to Italian filling your day when necessary.

Once again, I'm sorry if I'm coming over as harsh. But it seems that you're on a slippery slope at the moment.


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Jennifer Traini  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 09:14
Italian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
I get your point but... Jul 25, 2015

Sheila Wilson wrote:

I see you recently registered here at ProZ. com. Maybe this is your wake-up call. It could mean the difference between you giving up and flipping burgers for a career, or sorting yourself out and becoming a professional translator.

I'm sorry if that sounds over-dramatic, but really things haven't got off to a good start. You're clearly grabbing at every straw that comes along, but how much harm are you doing to your self-respect and your professional reputation?

Some truths about the job:
- you can earn more, and risk a lot less, doing a part-time cleaning job than grabbing at every job agencies post;
- it takes time and an entrepreneurial marketing mindset for any freelancer to build a solid client base, and it rarely happens in less than several months;
- clients looking for a freelance translator have thousands to choose from nowadays;
- translators therefore have to excel if they want to be taken seriously;
- translating into a foreign language has to have real justification as there are bound to be better native writers (subject expertise and rare pairs are justifications, but they don't seem applicable here);
- jobs with ridiculously low rates and/or crazy deadlines are being pushed on you because no professional in their right mind would even glance at them.

Can I suggest you get a part-time job bringing in a wage for the moment? When you're ready to set yourself up as a translator, I imagine you'll have a nice niche possible as a Swedish to Italian translator, with English and French to Italian filling your day when necessary.

Once again, I'm sorry if I'm coming over as harsh. But it seems that you're on a slippery slope at the moment.


Hello Sheila,
First of all, thanks for answering. I would like to point out that I feel like you're not treating me as your peer. I don't know how you began your career as translator and I don't know anything about your financial situation; that's why I would never assume things about you and your life. Of course, this is a hard path and I knew it from the beginning but I don't think you have the right to criticize me so hard just because I worked for an agency that pays low rates. I began working for this agency when I began my MA and back then, I considered myself an amateur. As an amateur, I didn't expect to be paid much (after all, it wouldn't be fair to people who have much more experience and expertise) and that's why I accepted. I figured that it was better to get a job that helped me improve my skills in what I wanted to do than any other part-time job. Also, I don't think I'm doing much harm to my professional reputation: I don't want to be paid 0.03 per word forever but one has to start somewhere. I'm just working my way up and back then, this seemed like a good opportunity to use what I learnt.

I'm not naive and I know that a translator has to provide an excellent job, and I always do my best but, from what you say, it seems like you're assuming that I'm a sloppy translator. I guess you think that because you're assuming English isn't my mother tongue. On this matter, I'd like to point out that my mother is from New Bedford and I lived in Massachusetts until I was 15.

I don't think I am a sloppy translator but it appears to me that with this answer you only wanted to vent your disappointment about people like me who accepts jobs for a lower rate than yours. I worked hard and I improved my skills and I know my work is worth more that 0.03 per word, but knowing that my parents and I made a lot of efforts to get me a decent education, it is hard to refuse what looks like a great amount of money to us. Ethics is important but sometimes it is hard to follow it if you're struggling financially. I honestly hope that you never faced such a difficult decision. For me, it was tough to say no to 450$, even if it was for the best, even if it means that I finally know I'm worth more than that.

You seem like an experienced translator, one who could help young translators like me make a wise decision: you shouldn't apologize for being harsh but, please, don't assume the person in front of you is completely clueless.


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Jennifer Traini  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 09:14
Italian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you! Jul 25, 2015

Angela Rimmer wrote:

Regardless of the topic or language combination, that rate is too low, PERIOD.

You were right to refuse the job. Your time should be worth more than that. Why kill yourself to translate a crazy amount of words in a short amount of time for such a small amount of money? Even if you don't end up being offered other work to replace that awful job request, you are still winning in terms of your health and happiness, and ultimately your time would be better spent marketing yourself to other translation clients who will definitely pay more, especially for that language combination, which generally is one of the more "expensive" combinations anyway.

At that rate your time would be better spent working more hours as a babysitter! The babysitting money probably works out to be higher pay-per-hour.

[Edited at 2015-07-25 19:03 GMT]


Hello Angela,
I totally agree with you but when I accepted this job, I thought it was the only way to get started in this industry before getting my MA. At least in Italy, Swedish isn't a well known language and in class, we don't get to translate as much as we do in other languages (I know this for a fact, because I'm minoring in French). This job seemed back then the only one where I could actually do what I wanted to do.

Anyway, thanks for the answer! It was tough to decide and I really needed to know I made the right decision.


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Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:14
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
Change Jul 25, 2015

Jennifer Traini wrote:
you shouldn't apologize for being harsh but, please, don't assume the person in front of you is completely clueless.

I don't think she is assuming that, but viewed from the perspective of a successful professional translator it would not be unfair to say that you are clueless.

You may not like all the advice or the comments you are reading, but the self-admitted fact is that your approach to translation has been unsuccessful. As Sheila says, an established translator would not even look at the kind of jobs you have been accepting.

You must change your life, at least as regards translation. It seems that you're smart enough to recognise this and motivated enough to do something about it and that is why you're here. That seems to me to be a good start. Don't sabotage that promising beginning by taking offence at well-intentioned advice.

I think Sheila's suggestion of getting a part-time job is a good one. You will probably make as much from a decent part-time job as from your existing translation efforts. Take an honest look at the time you spend on translation and work out your hourly wage: I'd bet you will find it is frighteningly low.

Use the part-time job to support yourself and to allow yourself to ease into translation gradually in a way that allows you to build confidence and competence. You're setting yourself up to fail with your current approach by putting yourself under too much pressure too soon.

Or, forget translation for money until you have graduated and have the time to hurl yourself into it with more brio. Then you'll be able to tackle the marketing and the networking that will allow you to survive and ultimately prosper.

Regards
Dan


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Bernhard Sulzer  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:14
English to German
+ ...
Don't waste your time Jul 25, 2015

Jennifer Traini wrote:

Hello Angela,
I totally agree with you but when I accepted this job, I thought it was the only way to get started in this industry before getting my MA. At least in Italy, Swedish isn't a well known language and in class, we don't get to translate as much as we do in other languages (I know this for a fact, because I'm minoring in French). This job seemed back then the only one where I could actually do what I wanted to do.

Anyway, thanks for the answer! It was tough to decide and I really needed to know I made the right decision.


Jennifer, you don't want to work for peanuts. There's a myriad of people out there working for crappy rates and they're never going to go anywhere else. It doesn't matter if your're a student or a seasoned translator. I am sure you provide accurate translations and that's what your clients expect. Only the good clients are worth working for. From the start. Anything else is a waste of your time and talent.


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 08:14
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
It's nothing personal Jul 25, 2015

I can understand you're upset, Jennifer. But I wasn't talking personally about you and me but about how anyone with aspirations of becoming a professional translator ought to be approaching that goal.

On a personal note, I can only go on your post, your ProZ.com profile and the CV uploaded here. Your CV says zilch about your American upbringing; and your profile says you translate into Swedish and French as well as Italian and English.

I do know how hard it can be. I'm comfortable now at age 60, but I had to start work alongside my education at age 15 and I have a 27-year-old son who's only now getting on his feet. I just genuinely wonder whether you wouldn't be better getting a part-time job for a while to make ends meet.


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Jennifer Traini  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 09:14
Italian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
I see your point but I'm not an established translator! Jul 25, 2015

Dan Lucas wrote:

As Sheila says, an established translator would not even look at the kind of jobs you have been accepting.

You must change your life, at least as regards translation. It seems that you're smart enough to recognise this and motivated enough to do something about it and that is why you're here. That seems to me to be a good start. Don't sabotage that promising beginning by taking offence at well-intentioned advice.

I think Sheila's suggestion of getting a part-time job is a good one. You will probably make as much from a decent part-time job as from your existing translation efforts. Take an honest look at the time you spend on translation and work out your hourly wage: I'd bet you will find it is frighteningly low.

Use the part-time job to support yourself and to allow yourself to ease into translation gradually in a way that allows you to build confidence and competence. You're setting yourself up to fail with your current approach by putting yourself under too much pressure too soon.

Or, forget translation for money until you have graduated and have the time to hurl yourself into it with more brio. Then you'll be able to tackle the marketing and the networking that will allow you to survive and ultimately prosper.

Regards
Dan


But that's the point, I'm not an established translator! I don't think I have the expertise and experience yet and most importantly, I still have to finish my MA so between babysitting (which pays the bills) and my attempt to venture in the translation industry, I don't have time for a part-time job. As I said in an other reply, I accepted only because in class we rarely translate from Swedish and this is what I want to do, so it seemed fair back then to accept a job at such a low rate.

I do know that by accepting, I kind of made the industry worse because these people know that there are still some persons who would accept their rates but I simply saw it as an opportunity to do something I don't get to do in class. When I accepted at the beginning it wasn't for the money (as you said the hourly wage is frighteningly low and they always offered me really small projects so I honestly never asked myself about the fairness of the rate), I just wanted to translate from Swedish. I know the language, I want to become a translator and that seemed the perfect chance. When they offered me a big - at least to me - project, I questioned myself and eventually I turned them down but it was hard anyway.


Thanks for the answer!
Best,
Jennifer


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Jennifer Traini  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 09:14
Italian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Maybe you're right but... Jul 25, 2015

Sheila Wilson wrote:

I do know how hard it can be. I'm comfortable now at age 60, but I had to start work alongside my education at age 15 and I have a 27-year-old son who's only now getting on his feet. I just genuinely wonder whether you wouldn't be better getting a part-time job for a while to make ends meet.


Of course, it would be easier to get a part-time job just for now but:
- it is really hard to find a part-time job that agrees with my schedule (I still have classes) and that's why I work as baby-sitter;
- as I said before, I really feel like I'm missing something in my education: one has to learn how to translate efficiently and accurately and I don't think I'm learning that from my Swedish professors so I figured that a job like that would be a perfect chance to actually translate from that language. And it is really frustrating because I paid a tuition to learn how to translate, not only to improve the language. Since I didn't want to spend any other money, I figured that practice would be the best way to learn how to translate.

I am well aware this agency is really unprofessional but you know, sometimes it's really hard to turn down an offer just because you need the money. I guess, in your opinion, I should have never accepted a job from them in the first place and maybe you're right but then, how one can learn how to translate? I knew I was starting from scratch and I considered myself an amateur so I didn't mind the low rate. Then, I got to know other clients, my skills improved and - at least in my opinion - the quality of my translations improved as well. Of course, when they asked me about the project, I immediately saw that it was incredibly underpaid but to me that is still a lot of money so I was uncertain.

As for my CV and proz page, I know they're poorly written and rarely updated. I'm trying to understand how to write everything clearly but I really don't have the time. So maybe you're right and this is a wake-up call and I have to choose if venture into this or just take a break. I know it takes time to become an established translator and to find a niche, so I guess the more appropriate question right now would be "Do I have the time to put all my efforts into this?" and honestly, I don't know the answer.

Anyway, thanks for replying.

Best,
Jennifer


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Lincoln Hui  Identity Verified
Hong Kong
Local time: 16:14
Member
Chinese to English
+ ...
Strange arguments Jul 26, 2015

As for my CV and proz page, I know they're poorly written and rarely updated. I'm trying to understand how to write everything clearly but I really don't have the time.

This really won't do. You're complaining that you aren't an established translator, then essentially go on to say that you haven't bothered to make the effort to be one. Of course you aren't an established translator, because you simply don't care.

You say you are translating in a language pair that you have little experience in. If you are not confident about the language pair, have you considered the potential for harm from a subpar translation? And if you feel that you are sufficiently competent, why are you worried about experience?

You are not the first person to start out as an amateur nor will you be the last. The moment you chose to market yourself as a professional, you have every obligation to hold your work to professional standards. Can you imagine an agency telling the client that, hey, we hired an amateur to do this, so go easy on the quality?

We all have different circumstances and I probably had and still have less economic pressure than most. But to say "I need the money" and then say "I can't be bothered with my CV and profile" amounts to shooting yourself in the foot. Expertise and experience are less important than how you present them. CVs are one part truth and nine parts embellishments of the truth.


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564354352  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 09:14
Danish to English
+ ...
If times got very hard, yes... Jul 26, 2015

A lot of us depend on the money we make from translations to survive, and although I agree with all the comments on acting professionally, sticking to our guns and knowing our own worth, I have to admit that if I fell on really, REALLY hard times, I might opt to do something completely against my principles and accept a job at a low rate. Not sure I would go as low as 0.03 cents, though (hope it will never come to that). If it meant, for instance, the difference between paying my bills one month and having to close down my business and go on the dole. But it would have to be that extreme.

However, what I would never do would to be to agree to do a job within an unrealistic deadline, because I know that I would be very hard pushed to do a professional job within such parameters. And I will not put my integrity at risk, even for money to pay the bills.


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