Ethics: PMs moonlighting as translators
Thread poster: mer-83 (X)

mer-83 (X)
Italian to English
Feb 8, 2008


I have a question about the ethical issues that might surround a Project Manager freelancing as a translator on the side.

I am a recent college graduate in a foreign language, now considering career options. I have done a few freelance translation projects (working with agencies, mostly on the recommendation of friends already established in the biz), but I have not yet developed that business to the point where it would generate sufficient income to be a full-time job.

I've also been looking for full-time employment opportunities, and one prospect that looks promising is a position as a project manager with a translation agency in the US. I have been talking and interviewing with the recruiter who is working to fill the position, and it looks likely that I will be going in for an interview with the agency soon.

My question is, if I got the job as a PM, managing projects from English into other languages, would it be an ethical problem for me to continue to seek out and accept translation projects on a freelance basis -- separately, outside of work time, using no resources provided by the agency I worked for as a PM?

Obviously I am talking about seeking out work from other translation agencies, most of them probably located in the country where my source language is spoken. It would be perfectly logical for the company not to allow me to work on projects I was managing, or other projects managed by the company. But is it an ethical problem for an employee of one translation agency to freelance for other agencies?

I ask at this early stage because if I could not continue to develop my freelance translation business while working as a PM, with the eventual goal of translating full-time myself, I might consider other positions, even in another industry. I like the portability of translating, and would eventually like to translate full-time, using that portable income to move to the country where my source language is spoken.

Please let me know your thoughts on this matter.

Thank you,

- M


Russell Jones  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 01:26
Italian to English
No ethical problem Feb 8, 2008

Hi Mer

I see no ethical problem. The key issue is what conditions your potential employer may set in any contract of employment.
There are of course ethical practices to be observed:
Never take on a job that will impact adversely on your full time employment or that you cannot do justice because of it.
Never work directly for one of your employer's clients and especially never attempt to divert work from your employer to yourself as freelancer.
Any information obtained from your customer agencies and their clients must always be treated as confidential and in particular must never be used to give your employer any competitive advantage.
I am a (non operational) Director of a small agency but mainly a freelancer and these are the rules I follow.


Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:26
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
It could theoretically be problematic for the agency Feb 8, 2008

Obviously if you were working for other agencies, you would at least indirectly be in competition with the one where you were working full-time. The question is whether you would have to mention it to them at all. I am sure that you would not by any means be the first person to do that.

However, if you have recently graduated, it would be useful to work in a different type of office first of all - preferably a large one. You would learn about the world of business there, and be able to make observations on their administrative systems, invoicing procedures, software and technical issues, and a host of other things. and all this would be very valuable preparation for that relatively substantial part of a freelancer translator's job which involves business, administration, invoicing, handling technical issues, etc. You would also get to know some more people, and, in our line of business, it is useful to build up as many contacts as possible. An employer now may be a client later.

I personally worked for quite a number of years in a large office of a different kind, and can only say that the experience was extremely useful. Among other things, you will also learn the terminology associated with that line of business, and that will then most likely become your speciality field of translation later.



Taylor Kirk  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 19:26
Portuguese to English
+ ...
I worked for an agency... Feb 8, 2008 a PM and they had an explicit policy that I could only translate for them and no other agency. Problem was they never threw anything my way and actual translation was my dream, so as soon as I had enough savings I went out on my own (the best decision I ever made). If you really want to be a translator I would try to step up your self-marketing a bit. If your source language is Italian I would contact every agency in Italy, do as many 'test' translations as requested (a lot of translators don't like this but it's what you have to do to start out), and send out lots of resumes. Another thing you can do to boost your references is to find a non-profit that needs translations and do them for free. Of course eventually you won't need those on your resume anymore but when first starting out anything helps.


mer-83 (X)
Italian to English
Thank you all... Feb 9, 2008

... for your replies so far. They have been very informative. I look forward to more if anyone else has anything to add. You're all so kind in your adviceicon_smile.gif.

I have a friend who works for the agency in question (but not as a PM) and she told me she does not know about any policy prohibiting this, and she did not have to sign anything saying she would not do it. But it may be different for PMs, as she is in more of a support role. She also did not indicate to them any interest in translating when she took the job, although she is fluent in a major European language.

The question is, in an interview, do I bring this up? I suppose the ethical thing would be to be up-front about my intentions. If an offer is made, I'll take a look at any paperwork they might put in front of me, and if it's prohibited, OK; at least I know and can make a decision based upon that. If it's allowed, even better; I may not even have to bring it up. If it's not explicit, then I guess I will have to ask them outright.

Thank you again, I welcome any further replies.

On a related subject, and led into by Astrid:

I am also engaged in a dialogue regarding my candidacy for a job with an Italian-oriented non-profit in Washington.

What do you think: with the ultimate goal being translation, would it be more beneficial to work as a PM first, or work in the non-profit sector (in an entry-level administrative job) within a potentially well-connected lobbying organization? Which skills would be more transferrable?

Astrid, I understand your point, I'd just be curious to see if anyone else had any opinions on this specific situation. Any input is appreciated...

I guess my taking a full-time job now is not only a question of economics, I kind of want to have a "traditional" job for a while and see how I like that, while continuing to do some translation when I have time. Then, having done both, I'll be able to make a more informed decision as to what I want to do further down the line.

And yes, my source language is, and my degree is in, Italian. I suppose I didn't have to be so cryptic, since I did provide that when I registered, and it shows up under my name. Just me being overly paranoidicon_smile.gif

Thanks one more time,

- M


Vito Smolej
Local time: 02:26
Member (2004)
English to Slovenian
+ ...
It depends on the contract Feb 9, 2008

I ask at this early stage because if I could not continue to develop my freelance translation business while working as a PM, with the eventual goal of translating full-time myself

Note that - as already said - you will very probably have to sign an explicit waiver stating you will not (...or else...) enter any private business relationship with your contacts as PM (... and possibly for as long as X years after leaving the company, see termination clauses).




Jenni Jelse  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:26
Member (2007)
English to Swedish
+ ...
Be open about it Feb 9, 2008

I worked part-time as a PM while translating on the side for about 18 months. I did some translations for the agency I was working for, but most were for other companies. In fact, all the PMs at the agency were translators as well. We were even allowed to do our own translations (for other agencies) at work if there was nothing else to do! Our boss was perhaps a bit too understanding.icon_smile.gif

Good luck!


Riccardo Schiaffino  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 18:26
Member (2003)
English to Italian
+ ...
Big ethical conflict Feb 9, 2008

I think there would be a big ethical conflict: you would, in effect, be working for your employer's competition.

Think about that: you work for agency A as a PM and moonlight as a freelancer for agency B.

For example: Agency A and B both bid for a translation project, and agency B wins - at which point they assign part of the work to you.

Or: Agency B bids for a translation project, and assigns part of the work to you. However, the customer prefers not to assign to the same agency the review part of the project, so they go to agency A (your employer), and you find yourself trying to assign for editing work you did for a different agency as a translator.

Or even: Your get a freelancer assignment from agency B, and you accept it with a clear conscience, since you know that agency A is not interested in that customer (customer Y). You keep happily working away at new assignments for agency B for the same customer, then one day your boss at agency A asks you to prepare a bid to win business from a new customer, and you discover that this is the same customer Y whose texts you have been translating for agency B...

I can easily think of many other scenarios in which you could find yourself in similar ethical quandaries.

As others have said: be open about it: state your desire to work as a translator, and ask that part of your duties in the agency be as translator, not as a PM. Or ask for permission to take on freelance work - if your employer agrees, than it is OK.

However, taking on freelance work without your employer's permission would be unethical because of the possible conflict of interest involved.

[Edited at 2008-02-09 17:20]

[Edited at 2008-02-10 06:40]


Vito Smolej
Local time: 02:26
Member (2004)
English to Slovenian
+ ...
Big ethical confict revisited Feb 9, 2008

In a nut shell, it's the age-old question of "at-arms-dealing": how long - or short - are our arms supposed to be?

Would you hire somebody ... well, I think this is superfluous.


Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:26
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
No ethical issues, but potentially legal ones Feb 10, 2008

xxxmer-83 wrote:
My question is, if I got the job as a PM, managing projects from English into other languages, would it be an ethical problem for me to continue to seek out and accept translation projects on a freelance basis -- separately, outside of work time, using no resources provided by the agency I worked for as a PM?

No ethical problems here... but talk to a lawyer once you're given the contract to sign, because it may be possible that the employer may try to force you not to do that because they regard it as a material conflict of interest.

What is important, however, is that you don't spend the employer's resources on your own moonlighting job... unless he specifically permits it. For example, you can't just spend time at the office doing private work (or private negotiations, including phone calls and e-mail messages), because those hours contractually belongs to your employer. Do not fool yourself into saying that these phone calls or e-mails are "personal" and therefore permitted during office hours.


Caroline Moreno  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 17:26
Chinese to English
+ ...
On the other hand... Feb 11, 2008

...if you take the non-profit job, you shouldn't have this ethical conflict and could have a job that is more personally rewarding. I would check into it though and make sure the employer would have opportunities for you to regularly use your language skills doing translation and/or interpretation.

I second Riccardo's and Samuel's comments about the possible conflicts of interest and not abusing your employer's time and resources.

Best of luck to you!


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Ethics: PMs moonlighting as translators

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