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Getting established without formal qualifications
Thread poster: InShift Trans
InShift Trans  Identity Verified
Taiwan
Local time: 20:26
Member (2012)
English to German
Mar 20, 2012

Hi ProZ members,

I come to you with a few questions. I have been working as a part-time and more recently, full-time translator for over 4 years now. I work with a big UK-based agency, am very positively established on one of the general freelancing sites (Elance) and have translated for some very big names (through the agency) who have been happy with my work too.

Now that I am trying to make this work as a full-time business, and since only one agency cannot provide for enough work for that, I am attempting to branch out to other agencies. However, I find recently that my lack of formal qualifications makes this very difficult. Unfortunately I dropped out from (a very prestigious) university back in 2009 after one year due to some family and financial reasons. Since then I have not gone back to university and just focused on work.

It seems to me that a lot if not all agencies require formal credentials on a tertiary education level, no matter how much actual experience or good references from respectable clients and project managers you actually have. I applied to several other agencies last week but have not heard back from even one of them. So I suspect this is the issue. I plan to take the DipTrans in January next year but wonder how can I maximize my potential even without qualifications until then.

In particular, I also wonder whether I should actually mention my stint at the university or not on my CV, since I did not actually graduate? In which light would it be seen?

Does anyone have any other advice regarding expanding your business under these circumstances? I would very much appreciate it.

Timo


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Annett Hieber  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 14:26
English to German
Hello Timo, Mar 20, 2012

I don't believe that qualifications alone bring the big business, at least not in my experience. Perhaps you could polish your profile here on ProZ a bit and participate more in this site, so you get a better ranking, add some translation samples or things like that. Have a look at the ranking and other profiles yourself to get some comparison.

On the other hand, I would recommend doing some further education in your language(s), if possible, such as the DipTrans for example. There are also other qualifications you can acquire part-time or via correspondence course.

Another recommendation is to permanently work on your specializations (not too many).

And, last, I can say from my own experience that it does take some (considerable) time to get noticed in the business as well as here on ProZ. But it pays in the long run!

Good luck for your career!

Annett

P.S.: You will find lots of very good recommendations in the forum posts here!


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David Hayes  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 14:26
Member (2009)
French to English
Experience Mar 20, 2012

I find that agencies value experience more than formal qualifications. They will set you their own test if they think your CV looks worth bothering with. But how do you get experience if everyone is looking for experienced translators? One idea could be to do some volunteer translating, which at least gives you things to put on your CV even if it leaves your bank account empty. That being said, the DipTrans is well worth having and is especially understood and appreciated by UK agencies. Having a pile of degrees will not in itself bring work flooding in. It's a combination of factors that gets you established as a freelancer.

[Edited at 2012-03-20 16:46 GMT]

[Edited at 2012-03-20 17:47 GMT]


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 13:26
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Push the things you do have Mar 20, 2012

twkarp wrote:
It seems to me that a lot if not all agencies require formal credentials on a tertiary education level


It certainly isn't a requirement of all agencies, but it is becoming more and more important to be able to say you have a degree. I don't have one and have never regretted it in the past, but if I weren't already 56 I might think about getting one now. However, when I have quoted for jobs that required a degree, explaining my experience, that has always been accepted. The response has often been along the lines of "we wanted to exclude people who don't know anything about anything".

In particular, I also wonder whether I should actually mention my stint at the university or not on my CV, since I did not actually graduate? In which light would it be seen?

I must say I was surprised to see from your CV that you claim to have a Bachelor degree - not just the first year. Personally, I don't think one year counts for much. If it had been a 4-year course and you dropped out after 3, that would be different, IMO.

Does anyone have any other advice regarding expanding your business under these circumstances? I would very much appreciate it.


The DipTrans is certainly a good thing to go for. You will need to prepare for it and one good way to do that is to follow a course of study which will provide you with a basic translation qualification even if you don't immediately succeed in the DipTrans. The outfit I trained with do one by correspondence and I'm sure there are others.

2 pieces of advice: (1) Be very positive about what you do have and (2) don't say anything about not having a degree unless specifically asked. I'm sure that will be good enough for most of the best agencies i.e. the ones who see as human beings with skills and abilities that don't necessarily come out of a classroom.

Sheila


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InShift Trans  Identity Verified
Taiwan
Local time: 20:26
Member (2012)
English to German
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks for your suggestions Mar 20, 2012

Thanks everyone for their thoughtful comments so far. I will definitely be taking on the DipTrans next year. On a similar note, does anyone have thoughts on the Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE)?

Sheila Wilson wrote:

twkarp wrote:
It seems to me that a lot if not all agencies require formal credentials on a tertiary education level


It certainly isn't a requirement of all agencies, but it is becoming more and more important to be able to say you have a degree. I don't have one and have never regretted it in the past, but if I weren't already 56 I might think about getting one now. However, when I have quoted for jobs that required a degree, explaining my experience, that has always been accepted. The response has often been along the lines of "we wanted to exclude people who don't know anything about anything".

In particular, I also wonder whether I should actually mention my stint at the university or not on my CV, since I did not actually graduate? In which light would it be seen?

I must say I was surprised to see from your CV that you claim to have a Bachelor degree - not just the first year. Personally, I don't think one year counts for much. If it had been a 4-year course and you dropped out after 3, that would be different, IMO.

Does anyone have any other advice regarding expanding your business under these circumstances? I would very much appreciate it.


The DipTrans is certainly a good thing to go for. You will need to prepare for it and one good way to do that is to follow a course of study which will provide you with a basic translation qualification even if you don't immediately succeed in the DipTrans. The outfit I trained with do one by correspondence and I'm sure there are others.

2 pieces of advice: (1) Be very positive about what you do have and (2) don't say anything about not having a degree unless specifically asked. I'm sure that will be good enough for most of the best agencies i.e. the ones who see as human beings with skills and abilities that don't necessarily come out of a classroom.

Sheila


Hi Sheila, in my CV it says 'ongoing' so I don't really claim that (I am actually technically still deferring my studies but I consider myself "dropped out" for all intents and purposes - perhaps I should update my uploaded CV..) - but I simply am not sure how to word it. I was wondering if it makes sense to comment my university year with "ended studies after one year to focus on work" or something similar but I am not sure if it would do more harm than good. In any case my line of thinking is that a prospective employer would consider admission into a good university more valuable than no mention of a tertiary education at all, even if the studies were not completed. Or am I wrong there?

On a similar note, does it make sense to list past experience / projects on my CV in the way that I have done on my CV?



[Edited at 2012-03-20 18:03 GMT]

[Edited at 2012-03-20 18:03 GMT]


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David Hayes  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 14:26
Member (2009)
French to English
BA Mar 20, 2012

In all fairness to the asker, his CV does not state that he already has a BA. It simply claims that he is in the process of acquiring one (2009 to present). This is perfectly acceptable practice (degrees these days can be picked up again from various stepping off points, as long as it's within about six or seven years of starting one's course). The CV does suggest a strong intention to complete this BA, which would no doubt be a good idea. A degree in journalism would be useful to a translator, assuming its primary purpose is not a career option for the asker.

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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 13:26
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Apologies Mar 20, 2012

David Hayes wrote:

In all fairness to the asker, his CV does not state that he already has a BA. It simply claims that he is in the process of acquiring one (2009 to present). This is perfectly acceptable practice (degrees these days can be picked up again from various stepping off points, as long as it's within about six or seven years of starting one's course). The CV does suggest a strong intention to complete this BA, which would no doubt be a good idea. A degree in journalism would be useful to a translator, assuming its primary purpose is not a career option for the asker.


You are quite right, David. My apologies, Timo. However, I think that if the studies have lapsed after just one year and are not likely to be resumed then it's probably best to forget about them. Bringing them up as a plus if specifically asked would be better.

Sheila


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 13:26
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
CV Mar 20, 2012

twkarp wrote:
does it make sense to list past experience / projects on my CV in the way that I have done on my CV?


Your CV seems to me to be reasonable, which means it's way, way better than a lot.

Except: it doesn't actually say what you do! If I have an Urdu to German translation, you can handle it, right?

Regarding clients, I do wonder what representatives of the companies concerned would make of seeing their names in your CV. Have they given their permission for you to tell the world you worked on their translations? Do they even know that you worked on their translations? It's something that is often discussed on this forum and there are arguments for and against. At least be aware of the issue.

Personally, I believe that putting subject areas and document types as high as possible on the CV is the way to go. Clients always ask "have you done any [sector] translations?", never "have you done translations for XXX company?".

Sheila


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InShift Trans  Identity Verified
Taiwan
Local time: 20:26
Member (2012)
English to German
TOPIC STARTER
CV Mar 21, 2012

Hello Sheila,

Thanks for your comments again. About the first issue, you are right! I have corrected this in the current version of my CV that I am working on.

Regarding the second issue, I understand it might be a problem, but I simply do not know how else to set myself apart other than mentioning a few "big" names I have directly or indirectly worked with (concerning if they "know" - my direct clients do, of course with agency work it is difficult to work this out, and if people say it is really a big "Don't" to mention agency clients, I shall stop doing so). With only 4 years of experience to show and no professional qualifications, just having a vague mention of fields I have worked in simply does not seem sufficient to me, although I may be wrong.

Basically, I am trying to convince people that despite my lack of qualifications I DO have professional experience. I feel like I need this to convey in the same moment that a potential agency looks at my CV and also sees that I lack formal qualifications.

I will look at a few CVs of other translators here on ProZ and hopefully find some guidelines for myself.


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 14:26
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
My two cents Mar 21, 2012

twkarp wrote:
Now that I am trying to make this work as a full-time business, and since only one agency cannot provide for enough work for that, I am attempting to branch out to other agencies.

I would say that you certainly like it risky if you have been working for one single customer for four years. If the company goes bankrupt, so do you. So first priority for you should be to look for more customers and avoid having all eggs in the same basket as they say.

Do your best to reach a situation in which none of your customers means more than 25% of your income. This way, if one goes wrong or simply cannot pay your rates, you have enough work to support yourself until you can replace the lost customer.

twkarp wrote:
It seems to me that a lot if not all agencies require formal credentials on a tertiary education level, no matter how much actual experience or good references from respectable clients and project managers you actually have. I applied to several other agencies last week but have not heard back from even one of them. So I suspect this is the issue.

Not really. The issue is that so many apply that agencies are not interested in applications in general. They hardly get to read applications. However, they constantly research the market for good translators. I bet a better move for you would be to invest some time in making a full profile in this website (an alias will not do and people distrust freelancers who "hide" behind an alias), with examples of the kind of work you do, examples of feedback from the companies your work went to, etc. etc.

It is also worth to have your own website made by a professional web designer. Please avoid those loathsome websites with catalogue photos depicting happy teams around a table. Make something simple that you like and that explains who you are. Give facts about your career, not hype, and keep it concise. Agencies do not have the time to skim through paragraphs and paragraphs of blah-blah and want to know who you are and what you can do.

twkarp wrote:
I plan to take the DipTrans in January next year but wonder how can I maximize my potential even without qualifications until then.

Good idea. The DipTrans will give you a standardised proof of your abilities. It is a difficult exam though, and let me suggest that you prepare as thoroughly as possible for it. I had been working as a reasonably successful translator for 15 years and had to take one of the papers twice. Do not trust your abilities and work to improve them before the exam. Ideally, hire a translator who has the DipTrans in your language pair to propose sample texts and grade them for you. This way you will be able to pinpoint your potential weaknesses.

twkarp wrote:
In particular, I also wonder whether I should actually mention my stint at the university or not on my CV, since I did not actually graduate? In which light would it be seen?

Yes, do include it! My CV contains my year at University and states the truth: I lack the time to continue studying because of my current workload as a translator.

Good luck!


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 14:26
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Indeed Mar 21, 2012

Sheila Wilson wrote:
The DipTrans is certainly a good thing to go for. You will need to prepare for it and one good way to do that is to follow a course of study which will provide you with a basic translation qualification even if you don't immediately succeed in the DipTrans. The outfit I trained with do one by correspondence and I'm sure there are others.

Great suggestion. There are several Universities who have distance learning courses for the DipTrans and who also issue a certificate for that. Even if you do not pass the DipTrans, you have the certificate to proof that you are working on it.


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 14:26
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Well-known certificate, but not a certificate in translation Mar 21, 2012

twkarp wrote:
Thanks everyone for their thoughtful comments so far. I will definitely be taking on the DipTrans next year. On a similar note, does anyone have thoughts on the Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE)?

I think this is a good certificate and it should be relatively easy for you to pass. However, please notice that it is not a translation qualification, but a qualification in English. While it helps you prove that you are proficient in English, an agency would not think that a CPE allows you to translate into English.

I got the CPE when Churchill was still walking around in shorts, but only translate into English in case of very urgent, simple texts.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 14:26
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Just guessing Mar 21, 2012

twkarp wrote:
However, I find recently that my lack of formal qualifications makes this very difficult. ... I applied to several other agencies last week but have not heard back from even one of them. So I suspect this is the issue.


Your suspicion is likely wrong. I'm guessing the reason these agencies did not respond has nothing to do with your lack of qualifications but is simply the result of the fact that busy PMs are unable to respond to each solicitation individually.

How many of these agencies have actually *told you* that you were rejected because of your lack of formal qualifications?

Remember, when contacting agencies, the response rate is typically very low, even if you are the agency's ideal candidate. If 10% of agencies write back, you can consider that a good response. The fact that the other 90% do not reply does not mean that you have been found inadequate, but simply that they do not have the time or do not have a policy of responding to solicitations.

By the way: only you know that the University of Hong Kong is "prestigious". How many years of your bachelors degree have you completed? Your CV implies that you are still a student (at that university). Rather state on your CV that you have completed e.g. two years of jounalism training at the university... or if that is too close to a lie for you, be honest and state that you have completed e.g. two of the three (or four?) years of your degree.

Say, do most Germans get an abitur, or is it actually something worth mentioning in a CV?


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KM Prince
Local time: 14:26
German to English
over-professionalization Mar 21, 2012

I'd like to offer a general comment on this issue, which is this:
As an advocate for the able and experienced amateur, my feeling is that credentialing and certification are just further examples of the larger tendency toward over-professionalization and -specialization in contemporary worklife. In my view, this is an unfortunate development. While it's obvious that everyone must acquire a general level of competency in order to work in any field and though certain jobs will clearly require additional degrees of expertise or technical skill, it seems to me that things have gotten out of hand when employers and outsourcers limit their choice of candidates to those with degrees, certifications and other types of formalized qualification when the task to be completed does not call for such. Many employers are too willing to assume that titles and certifications guarantee quality, in large part because it's easier than making the effort to investigate a candidate's proven experience and abilities. It's one thing to insist on a "sheepskin" when seeking out medical care, but it's another when it's a matter of the innate talents and acquired creativity involved in manipulating language.


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InShift Trans  Identity Verified
Taiwan
Local time: 20:26
Member (2012)
English to German
TOPIC STARTER
Agencies Mar 21, 2012

Thank you Tomás and Samuel for your thoughtful comments. I'll just try to respond to a few things:

Tomás Cano Binder, CT wrote:
Do your best to reach a situation in which none of your customers means more than 25% of your income. This way, if one goes wrong or simply cannot pay your rates, you have enough work to support yourself until you can replace the lost customer.


Agreed! Besides that agency I actually have a few regular direct clients, so it's not that bad, but it's still far too many eggs in one basket like you say, hence I am trying to change this now.

Not really. The issue is that so many apply that agencies are not interested in applications in general. They hardly get to read applications. However, they constantly research the market for good translators. I bet a better move for you would be to invest some time in making a full profile in this website (an alias will not do and people distrust freelancers who "hide" behind an alias), with examples of the kind of work you do, examples of feedback from the companies your work went to, etc. etc.


Thanks for this suggestion, which I will definitely listen to. I will work on my ProZ profile this coming weekend and also get a website set up. But I am interested to hear a bit more on how I can become more known on ProZ. I understand the Kudos system and will try to contribute to that. But for example, a lot of the recent job listings, again, seem to be from people or companies who require degrees -

Please, reply only if you are native in target language, fluent in source language and if you have a Masters Degree in translation, or a university degree + working experience in source language + excellent skills in target language.


This is similar to what I read on a lot of agency websites as well. In this particular posting there are already 18 quotes submitted by people who, I assume, fulfill these requirements. How do I stand a chance without even having a Bachelor!? This is the kind of thing that made me wonder how I could get anything going on ProZ without formal qualifications.

BTW my name isn't actually an "alias", just my last name with my first and middle ones abbreviated. I assume this can be changed somewhere in the account settings here on ProZ? I shall look for it.

Samuel Murray wrote:
Your suspicion is likely wrong. I'm guessing the reason these agencies did not respond has nothing to do with your lack of qualifications but is simply the result of the fact that busy PMs are unable to respond to each solicitation individually.

How many of these agencies have actually *told you* that you were rejected because of your lack of formal qualifications?

Remember, when contacting agencies, the response rate is typically very low, even if you are the agency's ideal candidate. If 10% of agencies write back, you can consider that a good response. The fact that the other 90% do not reply does not mean that you have been found inadequate, but simply that they do not have the time or do not have a policy of responding to solicitations.


That is an enlightening way of thinking and makes me feel a bit better about it. Yes, none of the agencies have actually gotten back to me in writing yet, so that is quite correct. On the other hand, my applications were not unsolicited either and submitted through the application forms those companies have on their websites, which do explicitly encourage applications and lead me to believe that they would indeed be looking for more translators (though of course this is a newbie speaking as far as this aspect of the business goes)

I have done these applications for maybe 5 or 6 agencies so far. I wonder if I should actually go ahead and "carpet bomb" 30-40 agencies with my resume and an application? Would this be a good idea, if the response rate is deemed so low like you say? The only thing that makes me hesitate is that I wonder if I am prematurely ruining potential future opportunities by applying before actually having gotten a qualification yet.

By the way: only you know that the University of Hong Kong is "prestigious". How many years of your bachelors degree have you completed? Your CV implies that you are still a student (at that university). Rather state on your CV that you have completed e.g. two years of jounalism training at the university... or if that is too close to a lie for you, be honest and state that you have completed e.g. two of the three (or four?) years of your degree.


I have completed one year of three and technically the truth is that I am deferring my studies still, but I am not really intending to go back (except if it turns out that I have a really hard time getting work without a Bachelor...I guess I am giving myself one more year to figure that out).

Say, do most Germans get an abitur, or is it actually something worth mentioning in a CV?


It is the highest achievable secondary education qualification in Germany (comparable to IB or A-Levels), so it is common. I wouldn't really mention it but if I remove it, all I have in my "Education" section is "unfinished university degree"...

[Edited at 2012-03-21 10:45 GMT]


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