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Starter: accepting an in-house job outside of your "specializations" and native language
Thread poster: Nele Van den Broeck

Nele Van den Broeck  Identity Verified
Belgium
Local time: 23:00
French to Dutch
+ ...
Jun 17, 2015

Dear all,

I am stuck with a dilemma again!

Let me first tell you that I will be starting as a freelance translator after working hours at the beginning of next month.
Last year I graduated as a Master in Translation French > Dutch, Spanish > Dutch, English > Dutch (although we were taught to translate the other way around as well), and my native language is Dutch.

At the moment I am working as a secretary in a legal firm and they don't give me enough work and the work they give me is way to easy (mostly printing, scanning, ... but also booking meetings, travel booking, invoicing).
I am working for the Financial Law Department, and I already had to translate a couple of texts in that field as well (translating from French into Dutch, from Dutch into French and then... from English into French (which doesn't even include my native language). They were texts about shares, shareholders, pledgors,... (en français, la terminologie que j'ai utilisée consistait par exemple de concessions de vente, nantissements, ...). I was not familiar with this field at all (I especially translated medical texts, science, economy, history, politics and tourism before, and am not really that into law) and some of my translations were apparently excellent, others were not good (our lawyers proofread them).

Yesterday our HRdepartment offered me a different function in our company, as a fulltime translator, which eventually is what I am looking for anyway (although not in legal translation). It would be in Employment Law (again: Law isn't my specialization) and I would sometimes have to translate English > Dutch, but probably more often Dutch > French and English > French.
I would be the only real translator there, but I think that our lawyers would still proofread it.
I do think that Employment Law is a bit easier, more concrete than Financial Law (correct me if I am wrong).

The positive side:
- I will probably have to learn a lot, since this topic is almost new to me (I already translated company rules once, and I have proofread our (my firm's) new company rules, both in Dutch and French)

The downside:
- I will be the only translator: maybe too much responsibility for a starter? (although I guess/hope that some of our native lawyers will still proofread it)
- I will not only be translating into my native language
- I am not yet really familiar with the field (although as an in-house, that might be positive for me as well, since that gives me learning opportunities... but I don't want to disappoint people either)

What would you do if you were me?


[Edited at 2015-06-17 09:10 GMT]


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:00
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Don't Jun 17, 2015

Nele Van den Broeck wrote:

What would you do if you were me?



I wouldn't take it. You'll make big mistakes and get fired.


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Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:00
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
Consequences could be horrible Jun 17, 2015

Nele Van den Broeck wrote:
Yesterday our HRdepartment offered me a different function in our company, as a fulltime translator

In theory, a tremendous potential learning experience.

In reality, given that you know very little about law and given that these will presumably be important documents, a disaster waiting to happen.

There may be a way round it - e.g. a written guarantee that all your translations will be proof-read by a lawyer, formal training in law and legal language etc. - but it still looks messy to me.

My advice would be to refuse as gracefully as you can, emphasising the high degree of potential damage to the company so that they realise that you're not just being modest or timid.

I also find it worrying that the HR department is so blithely offering you a post that is well outside your experience and, by implication, that HR puts so little value on the translation function. What are they thinking?

Regards
Dan


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Nele Van den Broeck  Identity Verified
Belgium
Local time: 23:00
French to Dutch
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
If circumstances would have been different... Jun 17, 2015

If I would end up being translator n° 5 in a group of translators with more experience, and if I would only be translating into my native language, I probably would have taken the job offer, even if it's not my specialization, because I would be sure that one of the more experienced translators would proofread, and that with a lot of studying at home I would improve as well...
And then it would be only one variable that could go wrong.

In this case, I'm not even entirely sure that they would proofread my translations, and it would not only be outside of my specializations, but outside of my usual target language as well...

If they would offer me the same texts being a freelancer, even with one variable that I would declare "off limits" I would not do it. In-house, I'm still doubting a bit, especially since my job within the company now is rather boring.
But I would still prefer to have a boring job, instead of having no job at all (ok, I would have my freelance translations, but in the beginning I seriously doubt that it would be enough to survive without serious damage to my savings, which I might still need later on...)

[Edited at 2015-06-17 16:06 GMT]


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Nele Van den Broeck  Identity Verified
Belgium
Local time: 23:00
French to Dutch
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Maybe an idea... Jun 17, 2015

I don't want to appear "not interested" either, because maybe that doesn't give my employer (in our contracts: Employer) a positive impression about me. But at the same time, I don't want to disappoint.

My mother suggested something that I could still suggest to our HR Department:
Give me a 1month trial (provided that my translations would be proofread by our lawyers): during this trial I would continue doing my normal work (which isn't a lot anyway, I just have to be there in case they need me) and already try to do some of the Employment Law translations. After a month, there's an evaluation: if both parties think it is going in the positive direction, I will make the change. If I or my Employer think it will not work out in the long term, I will just continue doing my normal work.

What do you think about this idea?


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Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 02:30
Member (2006)
English to Hindi
+ ...
Go for it, but with caution Jun 18, 2015

Your mother has provided you with the best advice.

Go for it, but with caution. It is only rarely that we get such a plum offer served to us in a golden platter. It can be a great learning experience for you.

At the same time, also explain your position to your employer that you are not a professional lawyer, that you are translating into a non-native language, and make it clear that what you translate will have to be rechecked by a competent lawyer. A written agreement to this effect would be best.

Alongside it, start brushing up your legal knowledge, and even acquire professional legal qualification if that is feasible.

As far as responsibility is concerned, since you are a part of a legal set up, it the legal set up that will take the whack if something goes wrong, not you, although you will get blamed for it, but you won't be legally responsible. This is different from the case of a freelancer who would be personally liable for the fall out. This in my view is an important difference, which makes it easier for you to take this unique offer.

Good luck.

[Edited at 2015-06-18 01:38 GMT]


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Andrea Halbritter  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 23:00
French to German
+ ...
I agree with Tom in London Jun 18, 2015

I would not do it.

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Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:00
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
Get it all in writing Jun 18, 2015

Nele Van den Broeck wrote:
Give me a 1month trial (provided that my translations would be proofread by our lawyers)...
What do you think about this idea?

You would be taking on more responsibility so the company should in theory pay you more, but that is unlikely to happen. However, you should get them to acknowledge a change in your terms of work.

If you're serious about this then I would send HR a letter (not verbal or email), saying that you would accept the job provided that the company (a) provides a written guarantee that a qualified lawyer or member of the corporate legal department will proof-check each translation (b) accepts that your monetary liability is limited to the estimated market cost of the translation.

Include a draft of such a document in your letter so they can see exactly what you mean - just draw up a straightforward 2-paragraph contract on a piece of A4. You've seen lots of contracts in your department, right? Maybe one of your colleagues can help draft it.

My reasoning is that if there is a complaint or a problem, management looks for scapegoats. You are the obvious person to blame if something goes wrong. You could easily lose your job - maybe not such a big deal - but in theory you could also become the target of legal action.

On the other hand, if you are indemnified against loss then the risk is largely nullified and it could be a valuable learning opportunity. This isn't the sort of thing I would recommend for a translator with a couple of decades of experience behind them, but I assume you're still getting established in your career.

Dan


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Sandra& Kenneth  Identity Verified
Israel
Local time: 00:00
Member (2009)
French to English
+ ...
Go for it! Unless you prefer to do menial secretarial work instead... Jun 18, 2015

Balasubramaniam L. wrote:

Go for it, but with caution. It is only rarely that we get such a plum offer served to us in a golden platter . It can be a great learning experience for you.



Look at it as a unique opportunity. The lawyers know very well what you can do, the HR knows very well what you can do, you will have the lawyers proofread your stuff...

You are not quite alone. I have no doubt that any of the lawyers could occasionally clarify terms or explain stuff, and there are tons of online resources.

You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

Anyway, you can't really become a professional translator without doing legal and business stuff. Lots of it.

This is a golden opportunity. Take it.

Best of luck!

Sandra


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DZiW
Ukraine
English to Russian
+ ...
Once, Jun 18, 2015

when I was rather young to accept a challenge and finish someone else's previous translation using her TM and glossary, it took me just a couple of hours to learn the ropes and get the idea, which helped me complete the task quite successfully (for a newbie), and a couple of months later it did become my second area of expertize.

On the other hand, I'm not that daredavil to accept a job in a language I don't know well enough...


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Neptunia
Local time: 23:00
Italian to English
take the job! Jun 19, 2015

Since you did at least one translation that wasn't that good, think about why, and if that would happen all the time. Once a few specific terms were corrected, was it ok, and you learned from the experience? Or was it a hopeless mess because you didn't even understand the point of original? Assuming the former, I think it sounds like a great opportunity. You will get more feedback and corrections from people who really know the material than a normal freelance translator would which will accelerate the learning process. How could you be liable for beginner's mistakes? - - Unless you have fraudulently misrepresented yourself! I am sure they know that you do not have extensive experience and they are probably happy to pay you accordingly. If they wanted a lawyer to do this work, I have a feeling they know where to find one.
Carpe diem!


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 22:00
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Your mother is wise, IMO Jun 19, 2015

Nele Van den Broeck wrote:
My mother suggested something that I could still suggest to our HR Department:
Give me a 1month trial (provided that my translations would be proofread by our lawyers): during this trial I would continue doing my normal work (which isn't a lot anyway, I just have to be there in case they need me) and already try to do some of the Employment Law translations. After a month, there's an evaluation: if both parties think it is going in the positive direction, I will make the change. If I or my Employer think it will not work out in the long term, I will just continue doing my normal work.

Why not? You'll have a more interesting day, even if they don't pay more - which is unlikely.

In fact, the expectations companies have of an in-house translator are often a little lower. Obviously, there should be no major errors in your work but employers don't normally expect the level of excellence they would (and have a right to) expect from a freelancer. This is because they've invested in ONE person to do ALL their work, seeing that they're being paid to be present all day. Therefore, in-house translators tend to work in both directions in their major pair(s), maybe out of source languages that they would never offer as a freelancer, and in all subject areas that the company has need of, not just in the company's own field of operation but also translations for the HR, legal, accounts, marketing... departments. On the other hand, if they opt for the freelance route then they would normally choose a different specialist for many pairs and subject areas.

You would have the experts in the subject area, the creators of the texts, on hand to explain the exact meaning of difficult terms in the source language. They might even know the term in the target. Don't overlook that valuable aid that's rarely available to freelancers. And if the translations are factually accurate but don't read entirely as a native speaker would write them, well they should maybe pay for a freelance proofreader. Just make it clear to them that you can't guarantee a perfect, native-level job on every translation they care to give you.

However, I really don't think that when you're starting this job (even if just for a month's trial) is a good time to be setting yourself up as a freelancer in your spare time. You'll find you get very tired, and the last thing you'll want to do in the evenings is more translating. To be honest, I think that freelancing when you have a full-time job is likely to bring disappointment anyway. What percentage of good jobs from good clients would you have to turn down because of inability to meet the deadline or respond to communications in a timely manner? I suspect it would be a good 75%. Let them down often enough and they won't come back if/when you give up the day job. Of course, I'm all for keeping on a part-time salaried job for six months to a year, particularly one that has little intellectual input needed from you. That gives you a financial cushion while you build your client base. But not a full-time, intellectually demanding one.


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Nele Van den Broeck  Identity Verified
Belgium
Local time: 23:00
French to Dutch
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Not a great timing indeed Jun 19, 2015

I do agree with you that the timing could not have been worse Sheila.
I already made sure that I would not be starting my freelance job at the beginning of a new day-time job, but right after I signed everything to start in July, HR came up with this...
There is no way to return right now (there still is, but that would mean I would lose money, because I will have to pay for social security for the period July-September, even if I don't work as a freelancer, just because I signed the papers and declared that I would start in July.

What I really want in my professional life:
I want to become a freelance translator full time, but cannot do this right now.
I am the only breadwinner at home, and have to pay for my mother's medical costs,...
I do need to have a reasonable income, and at the moment cannot even afford to be working part-time. I do have a LOT of spare time though. At the moment I spend 5 hours a day at home doing not really anything, and during weekend I could work at least 8 hours a day. I am prepared to "sacrifice" almost all of my spare time, because for me, provided that I don't translate texts which I declared "off limits" for me, translating is something that gives me a really satisfying feeling, something that gives me energy.
So, I would definitely be spend 30 hours a week on my "second job".
After a while, after gaining more clients and more financial stability, I would change to a part-time day-job, and I would like to be a full-time freelancer when I'm 35-40 years old.

My plan was to have a day-job that would be less intellectually demanding, but then I got this offer.
Apparently HR did not yet drop my name at the department, so I might end up being refused as well.

About the things I like and dislike to translate:
I'm very interested in politics, history, tourism & culture and a couple of subbranches in medicine. I especially like to translate into those fields, and (which is true for most people I guess) the translations I make in those fields are my best translations.
I also translate for Handicap International and for a local charity which supports Latin-American countries (and especially Cuba) in their struggle for better living conditions. I really enjoy being able to help people that way.
The field that are not really "my cup of tea": specialized technical texts (mostly ITrelated) and... legal translation...


In short:
The timing could not have been worse.

Advantages of accepting the job:
- I would definitely learn more about Employment Law.
- It would be more intellectually demanding/interesting than what I am doing now. (although this can be a disadvantage as well).
- I get this offered in a golden platter, and I don't really like to refuse "good" offers like that...

Disadvantages of accepting the job:
- It's way out my specializations (at university I have translated a lease agreement, an authentication, a birth certificate, an application for a construction licence, an application for a divorce, all from Spanish to Dutch, as a student I have once translated my Employer's company rules and at my present job I have proofread our company rules in my native language and in French, but still, I don't have nearly enough experience to be translating legal documents on a full-time basis I think).
- I would not have more experienced colleagues either, and our lawyers already have too much work to proofread it.
- I would not only be translating into my native language, even worse, I would be translating as well from English into French, which would not even include my native language.
- And yes, it might be too intellectually demanding combined with my freelancing...


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Claudia Weber  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 23:00
Member (2010)
English to German
+ ...
TAKE THE CHANCE, if you are interested in becoming a legal translator specialist Jun 20, 2015

I am sure that if you are listening to your gut feeling, you know already your answer.

Anyway, if I were in your position and I would be looking for a job as inhouse translator, I would accept it, but only if I would be interested in law. So if you feel okay to switch your specialisation to law, it is the best opportunity you can get! The company knows you already, so they apparently trust you. Go for it, and turn yourself into an excellent legal translator. You even have the specialists (lawyers) around you. You can ask them all the time about terms you are not sure about. What position could be better?

You could even end up as a head of a little translator team, if you later suggest to hire another translator for the languages that are not within your translation scope.

I am currently on a freelance basis in a 6-months project in house position as a document quality manager and I can assure you that there are a lot of bad translators out there. So even if you did one bad translation, so what? You are willing to learn and to not make these mistakes again. You got it proofread by the lawyers. That's the best you can do to deliver high quality translations. And you will feel more confident day after day in in some months/years you won't do these mistakes anymore. That's the normal way of life and business life. Get better through experience.

Do they pay well enough that you have a good feeling with this company? Do you feel you are the right person for this job? GO FOR IT!


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Christina Baier  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 23:00
Member (2014)
French to German
+ ...
Perhaps good for your future freelance-business? Jun 20, 2015

Hi Nele!

If you can do it under "safe" conditions (no unlimited economic responsibility if you make a mistake, possibility to get it proofread...), you should do it IMHO.

You are young, one, two or three years is not that much, you'll still have many years as a freelancer. It could even help your future freelance-business:

There are many people out there offering translations in the fields of tourism, culture, history... without beeing language professionals, at very low prices. To make a living only translating in these fields can be difficult, at least in the beginning. Law pays better. Having legal translations as a financial backup can help you sleep better.

Offering legal translations will make you seem more "serious" and "professional" as a translator (Try and tell some people at a party that you are doing translations in the field of tourism, they will smile at you, thinking "poor women, couldn't she get a real job?").

Take every chance to develop as a translator, but only do it if you don't hate translating legal texts of course...

Good luck!


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