Advice on landing a first job
Thread poster: Peter Suchowacky

Peter Suchowacky  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 23:54
French to English
Dec 3, 2013

Hello, I am looking for advice on landing a first paying job. A little background, I have a BA in French and Philosophy, though not in translation. I enrolled in the French to English translation certification program through NYU: SCPS and finished it in 2012. I have been volunteering with NGOs for the past three years and have gotten fairly regular work once or twice a week from them until this past year when it dried up. They still send the the occasional document though, when they remember I exist.

I am now looking to pursue translation as a career. Before this I was doing things unrelated to translation, running a contract mail route in rural North Dakota and helping out on a family farm, so I didn't have much time to focus on finding paid work. My contract is over though, and finding a first paying job seems overwhelming. I have also been out of the academic and professional world for some time, which I feel is a drawback when clients look at my CV. I do have extensive volunteer experience and performed well in all my translation classes for the certification, so I am confidant in my ability to do the work if someone would give me the chance.

There are a few questions I have. First, I have read that it is generally not a good idea to send unsolicited CVs to translation companies because they will just delete or ignore them. I have also read the opposite, that many people found their first jobs after sending out CVs to translation companies. What is the accepted practice?

Second, how should I set my rates? There is a rate calculator here, but I feel as though my lack of paid experience should force me to set my rates lower. I have also signed up for elance and bid on a few jobs there, but the going rate is often .001 USD/wd or lower, which hardly makes it seem worth it. I honestly would work for next to nothing if I could get some more experience for my CV, or client feedback for this website. I don't want to sound desperate to clients though.

Third, how do I make myself stand out? My impression is that the French to English translation pair is one of the most competitive in the market. Would anyone care to look at my CV in my profile and give me some tips to improve it? Should I include how many words a day I can translate? It comes up a lot in job postings, but I honestly don't have enough experience to know what it would be, and I think it would depend on the type of document. Should I include information on past non-translation jobs? I know a lot of AG terminology from living in North Dakota and working on a farm, for example, and I've worked many odd jobs in my life. Should I include general interests/hobbies under specialties/keywords in my profile? Should I have a French version of my CV if I only translate into English?

Finally, how is the mentoring program here? Has anyone used it successfully and would like to share their experience? How would I get started using it, and what does it usually involve? Do they share or evaluate work, or do they just give you general advice relating to your career? Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for taking the time to read and respond.

~Peter


 

Jane Phillips  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 23:54
Member (2013)
French to English
One step further forward Dec 3, 2013

I decided to finally launch myself and started by setting up a basic website. I then spent a week sending my CV to every translation agency in France (with a decent Blue Board record) along with a covering letter. The CV was in French (and I had someone French proof read it along with the letter). Some agencies have a page on their web-sites where you can fill in an application form or send a message.

I set out my specialisations as being the areas I have worked in both in France and the UK and I was clear about being a beginner in translation after 35 years of doing other things. I do have a Master in translation because I had the impression it would be necessary to have any chance of getting out of the "no experience so no work" vicious circle. But at least you already have some experience.

I set my rates deliberately low, like you I was ready to work for free just to get the experience and have something to put on my CV, at 0,05 €/word. I see no reason for an agency to pay the same rates to a beginner and someone with 10 years experience. I didn't quote rates unless someone or the agency form asked me to.

That was three weeks ago. To date I have had 1 000 € of work of all sorts, translating, proof-reading and doing language validations for new brand names. I'm on the books of 4 agencies of whom two regularly send me work. I was/am amazed.

I spent a lot of time not doing anything because I couldn't see why anyone would give me work, so many translator's out there already who needs yet another French>English. Then I decided to try it and see - didn't cost me anything just time.

So give it a go - but prepare thoroughly and make sure your documents are perfect - you only get to make one first impression.


 

ATIL KAYHAN  Identity Verified
Turkey
Local time: 00:54
Member (2007)
Turkish to English
+ ...
Critique of CV/resume Dec 3, 2013

I just looked at your CV/resume. Here are my comments:

- Rather than saying "Translation of basic information ..." I would say "Translated basic information ...". They say it is best to use action verbs in CV/resume. The way you stated it is neutral. You want to be active.

- In "Computer proficiency including the following:" cross out "the following" because it is redundant. So, you would say "Computer proficiency including SDL Trados 2011, Microsoft Office, OpenOffice, OmegaT"

- I would change "Ability to translate financial/legal documents" to "Ability to translate financial and legal documents"

- A one page CV/resume is always the best. Do not exceed it.

Your GPA is pretty good. Keep up the good work. Best of luck.


 

Tim Friese  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 16:54
Member (2013)
Arabic to English
+ ...
I started off on the jobs board Dec 3, 2013

I mainly got started via the jobs board here which was very helpful in getting several regular clients. Like others, I started off charging a bit less and have moved my rates up with time.

Also look and see if any translation organizations cover your area. Join any and all. While it may seem like a lot of money to pay $100 to join an organization, that cost is recouped once you have one small job through them.

I offer interpreting services and thus have many clients contact me from the Chicago Area Translators & Interpreters Association. Obviously they need people locally to fill interpreting assignments.

It seems you are covered by the UMTIA - http://www.umtia.org/ ; there is also the ATA though you are one of a crowd there in French > English; lastly, the UTIA claims to cover the Dakotas - http://www.utia.webs.com/

Good luck!


 

Hamish Young  Identity Verified
New Zealand
Local time: 09:54
Member (2010)
Chinese to English
Work on increasing your standing in Proz. Dec 4, 2013

Hi Peter,

It might be a cliche, but I think one of the easiest and cheapest ways to get yourself noticed is to answer Kudos questions. To do this successfully, you need to have the questions emailed to you and get in before others do.

If your answers are good, not only will you get points and a higher ranking on Proz, but other translators will notice you and may recommend you to agencies. Your name will become known, and that never hurts.

I started getting a lot of work once I got into the top few pages of Proz searches. Agencies start to email you, and there is no need to compete on the jobs board, which is frustrating. Keep your rates low to start with, but not dirt cheap.

There are one or two other translation sites worth bothering about, but don't go near Elance and similar sites. Elance is a near-scam operation and in my opinion is viable only for people living in countries with a very low cost of living.


 

Peter Suchowacky  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 23:54
French to English
TOPIC STARTER
wonderful advice Dec 6, 2013

Thank you for the advice Jane. I just read somewhere that translation agencies in your source language often have a lot more work than those in your target language. I may have to try translating my CV into French. My written French is atrocious though. I can read books in French and translate into English, I just cannot write French professionally. I may have some contacts who can help me with that though. Also, thanks for the CV advice Atil. I will make changes straight away.

Tim, I did not even know that those translation associations existed. I browsed the members of one organization, and there are barely any French speakers, so that is a promising lead. $100 is not a lot to join in my opinion. I have money saved up from my previous job and could probably survive for a long time until work finally does come in. I'm willing to make the necessary investments to make this a viable career.

Hamish, I did not know that answering Kudos changed your ranking in the search results. I will have to see if I can answer any of them. I feel at the present, though, I would be more the one asking term questions rather than answering them. We will see though. I have stopped looking on Elance. There are too many applicants with much more experience than I have working for next to nothing. I don't know how they can do it. A bit of good news overall, I was contacted by an agency I replied to on the jobs board for general work. They sent me an application and I am in their system. I did set my rates low, so hopefully they will be contacting me soon with a job or two. Thank you all again.


 

Tiffany Hardy  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 23:54
Spanish to English
CV advice Dec 12, 2013

I'm a little late in the game here but I think the CV featured on your proz profile could use some improvement so that you stand out more to agencies.

First, I would consider a branding statement or tagline in your CV, underneath your name and contact details. Something as simple as French to English Translator would suffice.

Second, your CV could use a brief summary giving the basic information that an agency wants to know. Your NYU certification is of major relevance, is quite an achievement (I know how hard it is, I'm currently 4/6 courses in!), and should be mentioned here. Your degree in French is also of relevance here and could be mentioned. Also include software, and perhaps a couple of sentences that summarize you as a professional. Are you fully bilingual? Have you spent 5 years in a French speaking country? This would be the place to mention that. Try to stick to just 3-4 sentences.

Second, "Volunteer" screams out at me under work experience and I think it hurts your case and makes it look like volunteering is all you've done. Writing an effective CV is about making strategic inclusions and omissions to create perception (however not lie) to further your career objective. You are under no obligation to divulge whether the experience you have was paid or unpaid. The point is, it is experience. The same goes for any experience you gained in your NYU coursework. If I were you I would list your specializations, followed by the types of projects you have done (whether through coursework, volunteering, or otherwise). So for example:

SPECIALIZATIONS

- International Organizations & Development: UN documents, web content, country profiles on children's rights, donation requests, non-disclosure contracts...etc.

- Law: contracts, corporate legal documents....etc. (I would list more taking the types of things you worked on in your Legal coursework)


This way, you are communicating your specializations and telling the types of translations you do, without claiming any type of specific paid experience.

Regarding your skills section, I don't consider ability to translate legal and financial documents a skill that is comparable to being familiarized with a software program. You would do better to have a specializations section as I indicated above and include legal and financial there and then use a heading that is more relevant to the translation industry such as "CAT tools" rather than "Skills". Remember, most people only quickly scan a CV and if they spot "CAT tools" it will be a mental checkmark in their mind that you are a good pick.

As to whether or not to include past non-translation experience, it really depends on how relevant it is to your areas of specialization. In my case, I was an editor prior to working as a freelance translator so that was highly relevant and is a top selling point for me. Prior to that, I worked in B2B sales, which justifies why I'm qualified to offer Business/Commercial translations, so I included that experience. The question to ask yourself is, will it further my objective to include it? If so, your answer is yes. If not, no.

If you improve the effectiveness of your CV and write an attention-grabbing presentation letter to email along with it, you will get a very good response rate from agencies. I would start with the proz agency directories and keep an excel spreadsheet with each agency you've contacted that you will then update with rates negotiated, etc. Watch the job boards carefully and have everything ready to send a quick quote.

As to setting rates, I looked at the Proz average and decided that it sounded about right for me. Remember that you will be asked by agencies to lower your rate to what they claim is their standard. So start slightly higher than what you hope to get which will give you room to come down a bit and still be happy. If you have some savings to fall back on as you get started, this is all the more reason to send your CV to more agencies asking for higher rates than to send it out to fewer and accept their sub-standard offers.

On a more general note, I think you should stop thinking of yourself as being a newbie and start seeing yourself as a highly qualified and credentialed translator. You will not convince others you are if you do not believe it, and if you are able to convince them, it will be to your benefit when it comes time to negotiate rates.

Best of luck.







[Edited at 2013-12-13 05:21 GMT]


 

Peter Suchowacky  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 23:54
French to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks for the advice Dec 17, 2013

Hello Tiffany. Thank you so much for the advice! I made the changes to my CV that you suggested and you know, it actually makes a lot more sense to do it that way. It has a more professional feel to it now, and less the feel of a recent college graduate. I've never been one for writing a CV, and I kind of just copied and updated the one from a few years ago. I haven't had the opportunity to send it out much yet, we will see how it works. It may still need more work, but I am much more happy with the way it looks. I was actually offered a job the other day, but they needed 40K words in less than three days, split between translators. They were offering .04 cents a word, and the documents were scanned PDFs, not Trados friendly. I responded an hour after the initial request and was told I was too late. I am sort of glad looking back, probably the type of job I'd want to avoid. More volunteer requests are coming in now so I can keep busy until something real comes through. Thank you again for the detailed advice.

 

Little Woods  Identity Verified
Vietnam
Member
English to Vietnamese
I am interested in the same question and Thank you all for the advice Jan 18, 2014

Thank you all for the advice, especially Tiffany and Atyl. I realize I have some problems with my CV from your posts. I should apply some advice here to make my CV shorter but more specific. Even though I had some beginners luck, I can't seem to win over the attention of the agencies. I knew that in some fields I have more experiences than others and I often try to update and deepen my specilzations but I can't get enough projects. Do you think I should mention what I read recently in my CV to show it?

Some translators in my pair win by starving rates or outsourcing their tasks yet again to relatives who are not qualified, which made me sad when I think about my being serious in crafting CV and conducts. Thank you again for sharing your thoughts.

[Edited at 2014-01-18 08:25 GMT]


 
Post removed: This post was hidden by a moderator or staff member because it was not in line with site rule

Samuel Modesto  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 22:54
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Same boat here! Feb 10, 2014

Hi, guys, I'm also beginning now.
I've got a bachelor's degree, have been answering kudoz questions and I'm also working on my own website.
Any advice you guys can give by checking my profile out?
Thanks in advance.


 

ATIL KAYHAN  Identity Verified
Turkey
Local time: 00:54
Member (2007)
Turkish to English
+ ...
Samuel Feb 10, 2014

Your CV/resume looks a lot different. I wonder where you got the format. I would try to add a single line at the begining of the CV/resume saying something like "A translator with five years of experience in ..." Just one line. Also, jobs are listed in reverse chronological order on the CV/resume. Do not exceed one page. Yours is fine.

Try to add more keywords to your ProZ profile. You only have several. I am sure you can come up with more. Good luck.


 

Samuel Modesto  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 22:54
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Thanks!! Feb 10, 2014

I'm working on it! Any more suggestions are welcome!

And I got the design from a designer friend, he did a template and I edited it myself in photoshop since I'm also an amateur designer.
I'm currently working on a new version all by myself.

[Editada em 2014-02-10 20:38 GMT]


 

Little Woods  Identity Verified
Vietnam
Member
English to Vietnamese
Asking for advice about profile Feb 24, 2014

Dear colleagues,

Can I ask you to look at my CV and my Proz profile and give me some ideas on how to improve it? For my CV, I can send it to you through Proz if you agree.

I want agencies to notice my service but just can't succeed. The strange thing is I turn into the subcontractor for other translators. My works are well approved by them and they kept coming back but I never get pass the agencies interest. There were times when I and another translator both bid for the same job, he was offered the job but in the end I was the one who really completed the job without the agency knowing.

[Edited at 2014-02-24 02:36 GMT]

[Edited at 2014-02-24 03:58 GMT]


 


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