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Why do some agencies want free tests?
Thread poster: John Fossey

John Fossey  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 21:28
Member (2008)
French to English
Apr 4

I have never understood the logic of agencies that require free tests by new translators.

They still have to pay someone to review the tests and it represents an out-of-pocket, unrecoverable expense, whether or not the translator is accepted.

They could, instead, give the new translator a small, paid job, pay a reviser to check it (and correct it if necessary), and recover their cost by billing the job to the end client (whether or not the new translator's work is acceptable). The net cost to the agency would be zero, and they might even make some profit from the test.


 

Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 03:28
German to Serbian
+ ...
You already provided answers in your post. Apr 4

John Fossey wrote:

I have never understood the logic of agencies that require free tests by new translators.

They still have to pay someone to review the tests and it represents an out-of-pocket, unrecoverable expense, whether or not the translator is accepted.

They could, instead, give the new translator a small, paid job, pay a reviser to check it (and correct it if necessary), and recover their cost by billing the job to the end client (whether or not the new translator's work is acceptable). The net cost to the agency would be zero, and they might even make some profit from the test.


You already provided answers.

Correctly observed, there is no financial logic behind it. And we all know agencies are driven with financial gains. So what's the catch here? Several possibilities:

1. They are using extremely cheap reviewers (this is highly likely)
2. It's actually a paid job disguised as free test. In this case you will find baits in the ad, such as "we are expecting 1 million words after this test" or "we are looking for quality, quote your normal price" or "quality is more important than price" so that they can get as many people to sign up. These baits will help them get many people interested so that they can get many little pieces done for free, and then combine them together into a full job done for free
3. Something else

[Edited at 2018-04-04 16:39 GMT]


 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:28
Member (2008)
Italian to English
They want to know if you can actually translate. Apr 4

John Fossey wrote:

I have never understood the logic of agencies that require free tests by new translators.


I presume they ask you to do a test because they want to know if you can, in fact, actually translate.

The most interesting test I've been given was full of traps that could easily have deceived an unskilled or inexperienced translator.

I passed. It was fun spotting the traps.

icon_smile.gif

[Edited at 2018-04-04 16:41 GMT]


 

Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 03:28
German to Serbian
+ ...
Some comments. Apr 4

Tom in London wrote:

John Fossey wrote:

I have never understood the logic of agencies that require free tests by new translators.


I presume they ask you to do a test because they want to know if you can, in fact, actually translate.

The most interesting test I've been given was full of traps that could easily have deceived an unskilled or inexperienced translator.

I passed.

icon_smile.gif

[Edited at 2018-04-04 16:41 GMT]


I have never received a paying project after passing a translation test for an agency, so I'm not sure what's the point in passing it? Passing a test and getting projects are two entirely different categories.

And secondly, how does that prove anything? The test may have been done by someone's neighbor (how can a client know who actually did the test?) but a 10k word job probably can't.


 

DZiW
Ukraine
English to Russian
+ ...
Anything Apr 4

It could be anything from fragmenting a real *paid* project into *free tests* to mere translator's skills assessment.

However, I believe that a portfolio (samples) followed by an interview is more fair, practical, and illustrative.
As once a non-translator HR replied: "Even if I don't understand some artist's work, but I can see it done, can talk to him and make sure it's his work and he already knows the ropes, then it's only about whether we agree to have our picture painted well for real aesthetes--or not."

[Edited at 2018-04-04 17:24 GMT]


 

Anton Konashenok  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 03:28
English to Russian
+ ...
It actually makes a lot of sense Apr 4

If the agency needs a translator for a difficult subject field, a properly designed test is actually the easiest possible way (for both the agency and the translator) to assess a candidate. Several sentences full of terms and expressions commonly misunderstood and mistranslated by non-specialists will only take a few minutes to translate and even less to assess, and will clearly tell whether the translator is really worth his salt.

 

Kay-Viktor Stegemann
Germany
Local time: 03:28
Member (2016)
English to German
Myth Apr 4

I think that the "paid job disguised as a free test" is a myth. I can see no business model behind that (come on, do you really think anyone puts together a paid translation from a collection of free samples like that? The resulting quality would be unforeseeable, to say the least. And the supply of willing test translators is not infinite. You might get away with this once, but you would kill your own reputation with clients and translators alike. It's simply not worth the effort.)

Several of my long-standing client relations started with me doing a test translation for them. Since I have no formal qualifications as a translator, this was actually an advantage. They gave me a chance. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not, but on the whole it was worth the effort.


 

Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 21:28
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Agree completely Apr 4

John Fossey wrote:

I have never understood the logic of agencies that require free tests by new translators.

They still have to pay someone to review the tests and it represents an out-of-pocket, unrecoverable expense, whether or not the translator is accepted.

They could, instead, give the new translator a small, paid job, pay a reviser to check it (and correct it if necessary), and recover their cost by billing the job to the end client (whether or not the new translator's work is acceptable). The net cost to the agency would be zero, and they might even make some profit from the test.


So let's see, I have 15 years of experience, several formal credentials, and significant Kudoz activity to attest to my abilities. Ah, but a prospective client wants me to complete a free test that might take between half and hour and two hours of my time.

Excuse me, but I find this insulting.

My experience with such tests is that they have for the most part not led to future paid work. Sometimes, I have been told that I have "not passed" with no feedback at all. Sometimes, the feedback provided has exposed the incompetence of the reviewer rather than any supposed deficiency on my part. Sometimes I have never been informed one way or the other. And, at still other times, I have been told that I have "passed" - and then was never subsequently offered paid work.

And -let's please remember - we are for the most part talking about scenarios where the rates being offered for those who successfully jump through the hoops are often fairly modest, and the payment terms (45, 60, 90 days) not particularly attractive.

This last point seems to me important, and is often overlooked. If we were talking about the possibility of regular work that pays well, it might be worth it to spend between 30 and 60 minutes taking an unpaid test. Instead, we are often talking about cheap one-offers and test-grading conducted by an arbitrary and incompetent grader. (And sometimes it is not even that good, but merely part of a process to "expand the database of available translators.")

I agree with John that if an agency wants to have a fair impression of the output of a translator, it needs to provide him or her a paid assignment.


[Edited at 2018-04-04 19:05 GMT]


 

Robert Rietvelt  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:28
Member (2006)
Spanish to Dutch
+ ...
To fill up their databases Apr 4

John Fossey wrote:

I have never understood the logic of agencies that require free tests by new translators.

They still have to pay someone to review the tests and it represents an out-of-pocket, unrecoverable expense, whether or not the translator is accepted.

They could, instead, give the new translator a small, paid job, pay a reviser to check it (and correct it if necessary), and recover their cost by billing the job to the end client (whether or not the new translator's work is acceptable). The net cost to the agency would be zero, and they might even make some profit from the test.


Just in case they need you in a obscure future.


 

SusieSmith
United Kingdom
Hours for a free test?! Apr 4

I am another translator who does not mind free tests at all, but I do have couple of conditions.

Firstly, the test must be short - certainly under 350 words. If well-designed, that is plenty to tell whether a translator is skilled in their field.

This would NOT take me long to do. Part of making translating a profitable business is being able to translate quickly, efficiently and with excellent results. I can usually translate 500 - 1000 words an hour, depending on how challenging the text is, so 300 words would not take long, even if I took extra care. In any case, all test translations I have ever done have been fairly standard, simple texts - not something requiring a lot of research or difficult word play.

Secondly, I would only consider doing a test for a reputable translation company with good ratings on the Blue Board.

I have done tests for all of the agencies I work for - I passed them years ago and they have sent work regularly ever since. So the tests really can be worthwhile.

I would much rather do that than send them references from my clients (who I do not want to have to bother).


 

Maxi Schwarz
Local time: 20:28
German to English
+ ...
Because that's what they've come up with and some people will do it? Apr 4

That's my guess. If such a test is to mean anything at all, then the person(s) creating the test as well as person(s) reviewing it have to know what they are doing. It also begs the question that a properly done translation will often have time invested in research, double checking things with the end client or other aspects, which a test simply won't reflect.

 

DZiW
Ukraine
English to Russian
+ ...
White-collar debunked Apr 5

Dear Kay-Viktor, a bit offtopic, yet what makes you think such abuses are but myths, and why exactly--who or what will forbid it? In my youth I did encounter such a ploy several times, when different "free tests" made up the whole chapter or text--by 'chance' and with all that it implied.

No conspiracy: even nowadays it's still not so uncommon in the ex-USSR ("CIS"), alas.

Furthermore, considering that (1) it's quite profitable and (2) assumes no responsibility, a decent translator/editor could seamlessly restyle Frankenstein-ish pieces to a worthy project, selecting the best variants and extracts for quick and easy money. Freetesting is still a viable fraud/biz, I must admit.


 

Lincoln Hui  Identity Verified
Hong Kong
Local time: 09:28
Member
Chinese to English
+ ...
Tests Apr 5

Because businesses want to reduce costs. Sometimes the test is reviewed in-house, so there is no additional cost. If they hire a freelancer to do it, it's still cheaper than paying for both translation and review.

If you want to be paid for the test, by all means insist on it if you think they value your services more than you value their business. As with rates and everything else, you do so at your own risk. For those who want to compare themselves to lawyers, many lawyers do, in fact, offer free preliminary consultation, knowing that it may or may not lead to an actual client.

Prospective clients have two options when they want me to take a test. They can choose not to pay, in which case the test is shoved way back on the priority table, to be completed when I feel like it, and sometimes forgotten entirely. They can also choose to pay, in which case I complete it in a timely manner, just like any other paid job.


 

Kay-Viktor Stegemann
Germany
Local time: 03:28
Member (2016)
English to German
It's simply unprofitable Apr 5

DZiW wrote:

Dear Kay-Viktor, a bit offtopic, yet what makes you think such abuses are but myths, and why exactly--who or what will forbid it? In my youth I did encounter such a ploy several times, when different "free tests" made up the whole chapter or text--by 'chance' and with all that it implied.

No conspiracy: even nowadays it's still not so uncommon in the ex-USSR ("CIS"), alas.

Furthermore, considering that (1) it's quite profitable and (2) assumes no responsibility, a decent translator/editor could seamlessly restyle Frankenstein-ish pieces to a worthy project, selecting the best variants and extracts for quick and easy money. Freetesting is still a viable fraud/biz, I must admit.


I cannot prove that this is a myth, of course. But it defies logic. The translation market might be very fragmented and intransparent, but not THAT intransparent. If you want to make a business out of translation, you need returning customers. And you will only get returning customers if you deliver quality consistently and continuously. You cannot achieve this kind of quality by piecing together clippings of free test translations, at least not without putting so much work into it yourself that you could as well do the translation yourself from scratch. You also need to count the work you put into finding your test translators, distributing and collecting the test translations and all that overhead. It simply is not profitable. And you would need an endless supply of new candidates too.

I can imagine that people have tried this scheme here or there, but I cannot imagine that anyone has any economic success with it. Whoever tries this is a total loser, not only ethically, but also economically.

On the other hand, I can imagine many translators having a feeling of being "cheated" when they give away free translations for testing purposes. And I believe the myth springs from this feeling. But I consider test translations a marketing effort, in order to sell my services as a translator. As with all marketing efforts, some or even most of them are wasted. But they are necessary anyway. When you do your due diligence on a client and decide that you would like to work for them, you try to show them that you are the right person. Test translations are one way to do that.


 

Georgie Scott  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 03:28
Member (2009)
French to English
+ ...
A couple of things Apr 5

Kay-Viktor Stegemann wrote:


I cannot prove that this is a myth, of course. But it defies logic.


Apparently it does happen, a project manager at a well-reputed agency I know says they sometimes do this for small jobs.

The reason there are so many dodgy practices in this industry is because end clients, by their very nature, often cannot measure the quality of the service they are receiving, which leaves lots of room for hoodwinking.

Are tests a waste of time? Not in my experience either, I've passed tests and never heard from agencies again, passed tests and then received lots of work, passed tests and then been paid for the test and then received lots of work, passed paid tests and then never received any further work, passed tests that I have seen other colleagues take too and occasionally been asked to take suspisicously long unpaid tests and refused.

On a number of occasions the agency has specified that the test is actually being reviewed by the potential client, which is a possible explanation of how this could be economically viable for them.

Outwith the scenario above, most of the tests I have taken have been reviewed in-house, so this cost is presumably accounted for in their overheads. When I was looking at setting up a company with a few colleagues, this part of the recruitment process did not represent much of a financial burden and came under the 'marketing costs' part of the business. As did offering either a discount on the first job for the client or sample translations of their content.

That said, I do find them a bit of a pain.


 
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