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Tests for agencies - how many words are considered enough?
Thread poster: Ines Iglesias

Ines Iglesias
Argentina
Local time: 08:56
English to Spanish
May 13, 2005

Some days ago, I received an offer from an agency. After sending them my CV, I received a test (I had to choose 1 of 3 articles and translate the whole article!)
Each article was about 900 words and I decided not to do it. Maybe I was wrong but I thought that it was too much. I don't think translating a whole article for free is a good idea.
How many words are considered enough to accept a test? I would like to know your opinions.
Good luck to everyone!
Inés

[Subject edited by staff or moderator 2005-05-13 18:11]


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Kevin Fulton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:56
German to English
300 words maximum May 13, 2005

A test translation shouldn't take more than an hour of your time; thus a test shouldn't be more than 200-300 words.

The fact that you were given a choice of texts seems to be an indication that the test was legitimate, but 3 times as long as it should be.

A sensible test translation should pose certain typical stylistic problems in the target language or test the translator's knowledge of a subject. It's not an endurance test!
Kevin


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Andy Lemminger  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 05:56
Member (2002)
English to German
0 words May 13, 2005

If an agency is looking at your resume, your education, the way you write your cover letter and your former clients this is an abundance of information. They should be able to make their decision based on this information.

Have you ever asked a doctor for a test treatment? I don't think so. You also haven't asked about his resume, education, a cover letter and his patients so I think we are doing enough already.

Why should we also agree on working for free then? I know, many do but also many don't. It's a free world and you can make your own decisions.

If an agency needs a test in my opinion they should assign a short paid job.


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ItalianLinguist
Italy
Local time: 13:56
Member
English to Italian
+ ...
I agree!!!!!!!!!! May 13, 2005

Yestarday I received a 1000 words test (3 documents) and did just one explaining to the agency that I am not taking such long assignements for nothing.We all know that a test is not a job warranty but just, maybe, a chance for being stored in a database ..till when the suitable project arrives!
Have a nice week-end
Ciao


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Andy Lemminger  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 05:56
Member (2002)
English to German
Waste of time May 13, 2005

Those tests are really a terrible waste of time.

When I was still doing them it often happened that the agency contacted me afterwards and said they liked my test but can only pay half my rate and if I could agree. Of course I told them to get lost but the point is that they didn't even look at my information before they asked me for this test.

I know that many agencies just ask all applicants to do a test and after they received them they start sorting out by looking at other qualifications like experience, degree, rates etc. Last check is the test, i.e. they might not even look at the test you did for free.

And then, even if they do, they might not get the job at all or your test was great but a colleague is cheaper, or...

So my experience is: Better spend your time on paid jobs or contacting companies that don't ask for such unpaid tests.


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Ines Iglesias
Argentina
Local time: 08:56
English to Spanish
TOPIC STARTER
You are right May 13, 2005

I think you're right. Most of the professionals are not tested. Their education, CV and experience are enough and they're tested while working (and are paid for it).
Unfortunately it's not the case in translation. We have to "sit for exams" every single day. It's not fair but it's our reality.
Inés


Andy Lemminger wrote:

If an agency is looking at your resume, your education, the way you write your cover letter and your former clients this is an abundance of information. They should be able to make their decision based on this information.

Have you ever asked a doctor for a test treatment? I don't think so. You also haven't asked about his resume, education, a cover letter and his patients so I think we are doing enough already.

Why should we also agree on working for free then? I know, many do but also many don't. It's a free world and you can make your own decisions.

If an agency needs a test in my opinion they should assign a short paid job.



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Egmont
Spain
Local time: 13:56
Afrikaans to Spanish
+ ...
translation tests -> picaresque May 13, 2005

Andy Lemminger wrote:

Those tests are really a terrible waste of time.

When I was still doing them it often happened that the agency contacted me afterwards and said they liked my test but can only pay half my rate and if I could agree. Of course I told them to get lost but the point is that they didn't even look at my information before they asked me for this test.

I know that many agencies just ask all applicants to do a test and after they received them they start sorting out by looking at other qualifications like experience, degree, rates etc. Last check is the test, i.e. they might not even look at the test you did for free.

And then, even if they do, they might not get the job at all or your test was great but a colleague is cheaper, or...

So my experience is: Better spend your time on paid jobs or contacting companies that don't ask for such unpaid tests.
...is my experience since 1971...


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Riccardo Schiaffino  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:56
Member (2003)
English to Italian
+ ...
Depends May 13, 2005

When I worked in the translation department of J.D. Edwards we used translation tests to screen translators both for in-house positions (as staff translators or for internships) and for free lance assignments.

The tests we sent out were reasonably short (about 300 to 350 words), but we did not consider it unreasonable for a translator to invest some of her own time to show to best advantage her own skills.

We found that translation tests were actually quite useful in screening candidates (although we never relied on the test only: we also examined the educational and work background of the candidates, their references, interviewed the most promising candidates on the phone, then invited to Denver the best of them for furhter interviews and testing).

It was not so much that the very best tests stood out, as that the worst candidates tended to screen themselves out: by making clear errors of interpretation, by not following instructions, or, in one very memorable case, by sending back a translation test that had been translated using Babelfish (I kid you not: we received this translated test that was so bad we started to wonder aloud whether Babelfish could possibly do a worse job of it - just for the fun of it we run the translation test through babelfish... and it came out exaclty the same as the test translation we had received).


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Charlie Bavington  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:56
French to English
sprat to catch a mackerel May 13, 2005

The general consensus from previous posts on this subject that 200-300 words is not unreasonable. And I would tend to agree with that. Translating longer texts, especially ones that are clearly complete articles, smacks of exploitation and the possibility that the agency will just say "ta very much" and you'll never hear from them again.

Andy's comments are fine and dandy as long as you *have* previous clients to use as references or whatever. But as the JD Edwards experience shows, there are obviously people out there who claim to be able to do things that they can't. So I see nothing wrong with an agency asking for a short test just to make sure that you can understand the language and write properly in the target language (to return to Andy's argument, what is to stop someone getting someone else to write their covering letter and CV? My French CV was proof-read and corrected by a native, I don't do ->French but if I was less scrupulous.... should an agency accept that as proof of a skill I don't possess? I think not).


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Andy Lemminger  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 05:56
Member (2002)
English to German
Reality May 14, 2005

Inesig wrote:
It's not fair but it's our reality.


It's not necessarily our reality. I am doing pretty well without them and many other translators also refuse to work on free tests. It is better contacting some other prospective clients than doing these test.

And the more colleagues start being confident enough to deny a free lunch the better it is for the profession and our professional image.


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Andy Lemminger  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 05:56
Member (2002)
English to German
False Credentials May 14, 2005

Charlie Bavington wrote:
Andy's comments are fine and dandy as long as you *have* previous clients to use as references or whatever. But as the JD Edwards experience shows, there are obviously people out there who claim to be able to do things that they can't. So I see nothing wrong with an agency asking for a short test just to make sure that you can understand the language and write properly in the target language
(to return to Andy's argument, what is to stop someone getting someone else to write their covering letter and CV? My French CV was proof-read and corrected by a native, I don't do ->French but if I was less scrupulous.... should an agency accept that as proof of a skill I don't possess? I think not).


I didn't mean to sound like dandy Andy But honestly: Perhaps it is fine to do some of them when you just start to get your foot into some doors but later on I really see no reason.

Sure, translators can lie and unfortunately many actually do by claiming to have a specialization they don't have any clue about. You just have to pull up some KudoZ questions asked by so-called professionals in their area of specialization.

Nevertheless this is the most stupid thing to do. It might result in a single job and also in a nice law suit and even higher damages.

And it might happen in other professions as well. All of us heard stories about chiropractics who didn't have a proper education at all. Still nobody asks them for credentials because they are confident enough to send you away if you did.

I am assuming though that people aren't so foolish to tell lies in their CV like claiming to be native French if they are not or having a degree they don't have because that would immediately make them liable.

Take a look at some online CVs though where the basics are true. In almost every case you can tell if somebody really is a specialist in medicine and engineering and English and French (and often all at the same time).


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Andy Lemminger  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 05:56
Member (2002)
English to German
For sure very useful for companies and agencies May 14, 2005

Riccardo Schiaffino wrote:
We found that translation tests were actually quite useful in screening candidates


Hi Riccardo,

I am not doubting that at all. Such free tests are for sure very useful for companies or agencies. Assuming that the best candidates actually agree providing them. Have you thought about the issue that you might have missed the best ones because they have better things to do than spending their time working for free and therefore haven't even bothered to apply?

Sure, it would also be very useful for all of us if we could ask our doctor for a free test-treatment. Just to be sure who is the best. We could shop around and visit all docs in town to see which of them gives us the best advice. Then we pay this one and eventually see him again and the others don't get a cent.

All I am saying is: These free tests are not at all useful for us translators and therefore we should refuse doing them for free just like every other respected profession does not work for free.

Andy


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Charlie Bavington  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:56
French to English
Test exist because they can May 14, 2005

Andy Lemminger wrote:


All I am saying is: These free tests are not at all useful for us translators and therefore we should refuse doing them for free just like every other respected profession does not work for free.



I genuinely see your point about respected professions and working for free. One point perhaps not to be overlooked however, is that perhaps as a profession ours is one that lends itself easily to testing. Other professions don't. And from a consumers' (in our case being the agencies) point of view being able to test something gives a level of reassurance (exploitative tests notwithstanding). But the fact is that you can't ask a doctor to do a finger transplant before you trust them with your open heart surgery, you can't ask an architect to do you a shed before they do the opera house, you can't ask a lawyer to defend you for an parking offence before they take on your divorce case, but as a translator you can be asked to do a few paragraphs before you do the multi-million dollar contract.


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Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 17:26
Member (2006)
English to Hindi
+ ...
Tests are not reliable - "smart" translators can easily get around them May 14, 2005

There are ways of getting around these tests. The kudoz network is one of them. Here is an example:

Job Posting:
http://www.proz.com/job/77906

Kudoz question:
http://www.proz.com/kudoz/1030475

I wonder about the ethicallity of it though.

[Edited at 2005-05-14 16:11]


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Kevin Fulton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:56
German to English
Translators are not licensed professionals May 14, 2005

In the US and in many other countries, there are specific qualifications that one must meet in order to be a physician, lawyer, airplane pilot, etc. In the US, there is even certification for plumbers and auto mechanics (although certification isn't absolutely required in order to clean pipes and do a tune-up). In the case of physicans and lawyers, practicing without a license can result in a hefty fine and a jail sentence.

I'm not claiming that medical school, residency and board certification are a guarantee of medical competence. But if you go to a doctor, you can be reasonably certain that he/she has had the requisite training to perform an examination or procedure.

Incompetent doctors eventually get sued; the fear of malpractice, at least in the US, is enough to ensure that a physican will exert reasonable care. Who ever heard of a translator being sued for a million dollars? If it happens at all, it's once in a blue moon.

In the US, at least, anyone with a dictionary and a PC can offer translation services (and, believe it or not, I even know people who do translations on typewriters!). CVs are eaily inflated. I could, for example, claim that I performed translations for General Motors, since my neighbor, a GM engineer, once asked me to translate a few brochures for some equipment he had seen on a trip to Germany. Who is going to call General Motors to try to verify my claim?

(as an aside, my CV contains the current year's projects as well as the major jobs of the previous year. Potential clients can determine at a glance my how up-to-date my familiarity is with various subject matter)

A short, sensibly constructed translation test can be a useful screening tool. It's a time-saving alternative to verifying references. Ideally a test would include not only text to be translated, but would ask the translator to identify potential reference materials (dictionaries, standard reference works, online glossaries, etc) which would be appropriate for use with the text in question. This latter requirement might even eliminate some of the more clueless wannabe translators.


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