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Ask for guarantees when doing a translation test?
Thread poster: juanpablosans

juanpablosans  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 22:58
Member (2011)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Feb 14, 2016

Hello colleagues,

I hope you are OK. I know the topic of the translation tests might be not uncommon here, but I wonder if you could help me in this case. As I am SICK of taking free translation tests leading you nowhere but to the Land of Wasted Time and Frustration, I have started asking translation agencies money for them. As you might imagine, they don't want to pay for them, arguing this is part of their recruitment process.

So, my second option will be to ask them guarantees:

1) I will have the right to appeal any dubious decision correctors and reviewers may have (which are many, as you never know who is actually correcting you).

2) I will have the right to have an actual part of the work and not just be left in a database who knows where.

3) I will have the right to be fairly compensated if no work is assigned to me within the next six months.

Of course, few agencies have really accepted this, but I think it is just fair: I spend a valuable time doing a free test, investing time, money and resources on it, so it is just normal I will try to assure my investment. I think agencies want to play the clever game and want you to take all the expenses of THEIR OWN recruitment process, with no commitment whatsoever.

What do you think? What is your policy with translation tests?

Cheers


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Annie Sapucaia  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 17:58
Member (2011)
French to English
+ ...
I agree, but... Feb 14, 2016

I agree that's it's really frustrating to take free translation tests, but I don't think asking them for guarantees will work. I think the most important thing is to make sure that you don't accept a text longer than 200-300 words. I think it's fair that they want to test our abilities (I certainly prefer it to agencies asking us for recommendations from other clients, which creates a host of other problems), but it has to be a text small enough so that it doesn't take too much of our time. Also, I won't do a free translation test when they impose a deadline on it; if they're not going to pay for it, then they'll have to wait until my paying jobs are completed.

Even if an agency said, "take this test and for sure we will give you work", I wouldn't believe them. Words are cheap.

I think it is fair, however, to ask, before taking the test, "do you get much demand in my language pair"? I personally wouldn't try to extract guarantees from them, because I wouldn't want them to think that I am "desperate" for their work.

I do agree though, that it's frustrating and at times it makes you want to bang your head against the wall!


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Anton Konashenok  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 23:58
English to Russian
+ ...
Not really... Feb 14, 2016

As to whether tests should be paid or unpaid, the customary practice is that tests up to ~300 words are free, and anything bigger is to be paid for. Some good agencies may offer to pay even for small tests if these are real translations from their job stream rather than standard test specimens.

(1) is certainly a reasonable requirement, although I would reformulate it: for every test, you are entitled to reviewer's report with all corrections properly substantiated. You can certainly dispute dubious corrections, but you really have to project a lot of authority for your opinion to count. On the other hand, ask yourself: do you really want to work with an agency whose editors and proofreaders make unreasonable changes to your text?

For (2) and (3) - sorry, no. You are an independent contractor, not an on-call employee.


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juanpablosans  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 22:58
Member (2011)
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
I agree with you but... Feb 14, 2016

I understand they need to assess your quality, and stuff. The problem is that you are investing YOUR time to take their test. I mean, even if it is 20 words, it is still a time you didn't use for other things such as spending time with your kids/wife/girlfriend, watching TV, reading a book, studying, going to the gym/park, etc. etc., and it is a time you did not charge for at all. That's my point!

What about sending them samples saying: "Look, I don't have time for your test. I came here to talk about business, not about freebies. Assess this sample, and if you like it, let's talk about freebies, if not, please don't make me waste my time". What do you think about that?


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Annie Sapucaia  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 17:58
Member (2011)
French to English
+ ...
Well... Feb 14, 2016

juanpablosans wrote:

What about sending them samples saying: "Look, I don't have time for your test. I came here to talk about business, not about freebies. Assess this sample, and if you like it, let's talk about freebies, if not, please don't make me waste my time". What do you think about that?


You can certainly try that, though I wouldn't word it that way!


I just think that, especially with larger agencies, if this is the way they operate (bureaucracy being what it is), then they won't budge, even if they are quite good agencies.

And you're right that it's not really fair, but I think for 200-300 words, it's worth the risk. I'd make sure to thoroughly research the agency before doing their test though - if they have lousy ratings, it wouldn't be worth it.


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xxxDorothyX
France
Local time: 23:58
Too much Feb 14, 2016

juanpablosans wrote:

1) I will have the right to appeal any dubious decision correctors and reviewers may have (which are many, as you never know who is actually correcting you).

2) I will have the right to have an actual part of the work and not just be left in a database who knows where.

3) I will have the right to be fairly compensated if no work is assigned to me within the next six months.



Either you do the test they send to you either you don't. Don't waste more time. They are free to ask you, you are free to say no, but it isn't up to you to set conditions!!

As far as I am concerned, sometimes I do a test if the agency is a promising one (good reputation), and because I don't like and don't want to give references. So my diploma, the membership of the translation association and the test must be sufficient to estimate my capacities. And I certainly don't want to be classified as a complicated translator.

And I also do tests for existing clients, because sometimes a new end client has to estimate if my style suits his needs. This happens from time to time.


[Edited at 2016-02-14 16:04 GMT]


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juanpablosans  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 22:58
Member (2011)
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Wording Feb 14, 2016

Yeah, of course I wouldn't word it like that, but it is just the idea

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Yasutomo Kanazawa  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:58
English to Japanese
+ ...
Only one option for me Feb 14, 2016

juanpablosans wrote:

Hello colleagues,

I hope you are OK. I know the topic of the translation tests might be not uncommon here, but I wonder if you could help me in this case. As I am SICK of taking free translation tests leading you nowhere but to the Land of Wasted Time and Frustration, I have started asking translation agencies money for them. As you might imagine, they don't want to pay for them, arguing this is part of their recruitment process.

So, my second option will be to ask them guarantees:

1) I will have the right to appeal any dubious decision correctors and reviewers may have (which are many, as you never know who is actually correcting you).

2) I will have the right to have an actual part of the work and not just be left in a database who knows where.

3) I will have the right to be fairly compensated if no work is assigned to me within the next six months.

Of course, few agencies have really accepted this, but I think it is just fair: I spend a valuable time doing a free test, investing time, money and resources on it, so it is just normal I will try to assure my investment. I think agencies want to play the clever game and want you to take all the expenses of THEIR OWN recruitment process, with no commitment whatsoever.

What do you think? What is your policy with translation tests?

Cheers


When a potential client or agency asks me to take a sample test, I first ask them if I will be compensated for that. If they say no, then tough luck.

I'm so surprised that up to 300 words are acceptable for a free test. Like you say translating 20 words or 200 words takes my precious time to complete.

On my Proz profile, I clearly state that I don't take any free test translations, but it seems that some people do not read my T&C, or maybe ask me anyway, since asking is free. And my answer would still be no due to the same reason as you wrote above.


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juanpablosans  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 22:58
Member (2011)
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
I will only take tests for direct clients Feb 14, 2016

I think that's the solution. Agencies always want to lower your rate, while demanding the best quality ever and ensuring the best resources with the resources' time and effort, not theirs. So, from now on, if they want a sample of work, I can send them a portfolio I have ready. If they don't like it, then I cannot do business with people who don't appreciate other's time.

My only exception would be with direct clients or with an in-house position.


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Mirko Mainardi  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 23:58
Member
English to Italian
+ ...
Ratings Feb 14, 2016

Annie Sapucaia wrote:

I just think that, especially with larger agencies, if this is the way they operate (bureaucracy being what it is), then they won't budge, even if they are quite good agencies.


Indeed. And besides, they probably don't have any reason to make exceptions for translators they don't even know...


And you're right that it's not really fair, but I think for 200-300 words, it's worth the risk. I'd make sure to thoroughly research the agency before doing their test though - if they have lousy ratings, it wouldn't be worth it.


But unfortunately there are lots of agencies with good BB ratings but still offering peanuts (thing which you usually discover only after wasting hours on end with tests, emails, NDAs, etc.).


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Woodstock  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 23:58
German to English
+ ...
Just make sure Feb 14, 2016

juanpablosans wrote:

... I can send them a portfolio I have ready...


you are not sending them confidential client information or anything that can reveal who your clients are. This is for your own protection as well as your clients'. The business is so cut-throat that I wouldn't be surprised if they even tried to poach your clients while they are at it if they can find them online ...

Am I cynical? Yes! Always prepare for the worst, and you won't be disappointed. Being wary may have cost me a job or two, but has probably also saved me from being scammed or catching a virus, so far. ::knock wood::


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Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:58
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
Four rules for translation tests Feb 14, 2016

juanpablosans wrote:
What do you think? What is your policy with translation tests?

Your approach won't work. I think unpaid tests are normal and I don't mind doing them. I understand that other people do not accept unpaid tests; everybody's free to make their own choices. Here's how I approach it having done a lot of this over the past two years.

1) Be very selective about potential partner agencies
This is first because it's most important. As in any industry, roughly 20% of the companies will be good, 60% will be okay and 20% will be awful. (Actually I think the ratio of bad actors is higher in the translation agency business, maybe 40%, because the barriers to entry are so low.)

Use the Blue Board on ProZ as a first filter. Look at the comments. Look at the location of the people responding. If the ratings are good but the translators are mostly from developing countries, what does that say about the rates the agency pays? If there are any bad ratings, be immediately wary.

After ProZ, check paymentpractices.net for more details. Check translation scam sites (google for details). Use credit checks if you have access to such a service. And if the tone of their emails doesn't "feel" right, decline to do business and move on.

In aggregate, the experience of those commenting on ProZ suggests that from the perspective of freelance contractors agency size is inversely correlated to economically productive interactions.

Or, more prosaically, avoid huge agencies. (Google "top 100 language service providers" and stay away from the top 10-20 on that list.) The primary concern of companies at this level is to reward management and shareholders, not to cultivate long-term relationships with good, reliable freelancers.

Because they see you as an interchangeable cog in the machine they don't care whether you come away from the transaction feeling unhappy and slightly soiled. It is entirely rational for them to put pressure on you to accept work on terms that are against your best interests - and they will.

2) Insist on negotiating your rate first
I had one agency who wanted THREE unpaid tests in closely related fields (finance, economics, investments). I opened the subject of price and it turned out that although they were a professional looking outfit they would not pay more than 60% of my minimum anyway. I politely withdrew my offer to work with them.

The agency may argue that it can't agree a rate until it has evaluated your work. Counter this by arguing that you believe you are a top-notch freelancer; that you assume that your test will demonstrate this, and that is what you base your rate on.

Point out that if you were to fail the test or get a low score the agency would presumably not want to work with you anyway. If the agency claims that is too risky for them, point out that they aren't paying anything and that you are effectively donating time to them. Or simply move on.

3) Keep it short
As others have said, 300 words is enough for an unpaid test.

4) Don't be "difficult"
This is more of a general point governing all dealings with clients, not only tests, based on a couple of decades of experience working in large companies and seeing who they hire and who they fire.

I believe that just as clued-in freelancers are on the lookout for "problem" agencies who may not pay well or not pay at all, well-managed agencies are on the lookout for "difficult" freelancers. That is, they're watching for freelancers who may be excessively demanding, have an inflated opinion of their ability, be unreliable, complain a lot and so on.

I would bet that, just as good freelancers don't want to work with dubious agencies, the good agencies don't want to deal with such translators at any price. Life is too short.

If you (figuratively) march into their office waving a set of demands like the ones you listed in your post you're going to give off all the wrong signals. Be polite and professional in your communications and especially be careful with the tone of your emails.

Don't give in to the urge to make snarky comments like "zOMG how can I not say yes to that?! My hourly rate would be almost as good as what I'd get working alongside the teenagers at my local fast food joint! Opportunities like this are exactly why I spent years living abroad and studying for my masters in translation!!"

We've all been tempted, but responses like that don't help anyone, least of all you. Remember that you are talking to a project manager who is simply trying to get through the day, like you. Just as importantly, six months down the line she just might move to a different agency that you'd love to work with - and she will remember senders of rude, sarcastic or dismissive emails.

[EDIT I have belatedly realised that because I use "you" above the reader might get the impression that I am accusing the original poster juanpablosans of making snide comments; I'm not, I'm speaking in general terms.]

All you have to do is politely refuse to give ground on the important points.

Regards
Dan


[Edited at 2016-02-14 22:54 GMT]


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juanpablosans  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 22:58
Member (2011)
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
I am not being sarcastic Feb 14, 2016

Seriously, I am just asking how I could do to avoid situations in which I agencies asked you a free sample, and they don't respond anymore after receiving your test. I think that, at least by saying that, you are showing them your time is valuable and that you don't want to be doing free samples every time and you can agree on certain conditions if they want your time for free.

The other option I have found is to send them samples from previous projects and tell them: this is something I delivered this year! Please use it as a reference.

Cheers


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Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:58
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
No easy answers, but a systematic approach helps Feb 14, 2016

juanpablosans wrote:
I think that, at least by saying that, you are showing them your time is valuable and that you don't want to be doing free samples every time and you can agree on certain conditions if they want your time for free.

I can understand that point of view. Remember that although you may have done a dozen unpaid tests already that month, but for the agency it's not "every time" but the first time they will have dealt with you.

Personally, I look at a test as a small investment and a signal that you are prepared to make an effort to kick-start the relationship. I'm aware that it doesn't guarantee work - not all investments generate positive returns - but if the agency is a genuine one, there is a chance that it will work out eventually. EDIT Also I refuse to ask existing clients to references to agencies, so I feel I should compromise with regard to tests.

At least twice I have had agencies get in touch six months after initially asking me to register or after I registered with them. In both cases I ended up doing some chunky projects for them.

Of course, if the agency contacts you, just ask them if there is a concrete project behind their approach. Decline to get involved if they don't have anything they need doing right away, unless of course they have a great reputation or a positive vibe.

In the end, I believe that what matters is that you develop a consistent system for approaching agencies and taking tests efficiently. Eventually, if your CV is good enough, the work will come.

Regards
Dan



[Edited at 2016-02-14 19:42 GMT]


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philgoddard
United States
German to English
+ ...
Simple solution Feb 14, 2016

I say I'm happy to do unpaid samples, but only if they have a specific job in mind. This works very well most of the time.

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