Getting started without any academic degree
Thread poster: Katze_bro

Katze_bro  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 16:55
Member (Apr 2017)
English to Russian
+ ...
Oct 4, 2016

I started doing professional translations back in 2011, even before I finished my compulsory education. I mostly operated on a small scale, finding clients via personal relationships or regional sites. I viewed those paid translations as a pleasant bonus to my self-conducted education (I did not go to university because back then I wanted to attend a certain elite technical college in Moscow, but my scores were not high enough to grant me a place in the dorm that year, and I couldn't afford to rent a room, so I've given up and thought that I should earn some money first and train myself to get higher scores next time.) and did not bother trying to expand until this year, when I finally realized that without it you can't earn a living as a translator. By this summer, I've considered my language skills as exceptional, and my clients even remarked that "you do better than any other translator I've worked with" (and this particular client was commenting on a pretty unfamiliar field for me), boosting my ego. So I thought of making those small, occasional jobs into a stable source of income, since translations are undoubtedly my real calling and I can potentially earn much more than with any unskilled jobs one can find in my area.

There is, however, a major problem. I have almost no idea how to make myself presentable to clients (other than being polite and sounding professional), and I'm aware that my lack of a formal higher education is not exactly presenting me in the best light, however much I brag in a CV. So, I'm looking for some advice on how to present myself as a qualified translator (with my current 5 years' worth of freelancing experience and lack of a widely-known name) before completing tests (or having a chance to) or using lots of sample translations, both of which are no problem for me.

1. Would winning in a serious (judging by competition) translation contest (or several) show that I'm definitely an able translator? Would getting a 2nd or a 3rd place count? How would you verify the results?
2. With or without the above, is C1 CAE certificate enough of a proof, or do you have to take CPE?
3. Is there a prejudice (among Western clients) towards Russian mail service-based e-mail addresses? Would a gmail address be better for communication, even though it's a lot less safer? Or is there a prejudice towards informal addresses, like a "random word with numbers" (I always sign with my real name, though)?
4. How much time at average it takes for a translation agency (I'm talking globally here) to respond to your CV and/or test results (again, if you lack a famous name and it's hard to verify your identity)?
5. Is having a photo an absolute must or can you do without it?

Or are the only options either to keep trying, sending my CV to as much agencies and clients as possible (the goal, I shall remind you, is to earn a stable income), or to give up translations (maybe temporarily, before I can afford getting a higher education without a dorm) and accept a job with $500—$1000 monthly salary requiring no education or special skills? I don't have a lot of money currently, and I have to seriously consider even spending them on a membership here (it would cost exactly a month of food and Internet expenses for me, and I have a year's worth left).

Thank you in advance.


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DJHartmann  Identity Verified
Australia
Member (2014)
Thai to English
+ ...

MODERATOR
Short answer Oct 5, 2016

Our quotes are only as good as those given by our competitors. If 50 people quote for a job and you're one of those, the client will certainly have a way to screen potential partners. One of the first steps has to be looking at credentials. Sadly, with only a high-school diploma you won't have much chance competing with other vendors.

Disregarding your proposed options, the only strategy I suggest would be studying either part-time or full-time while trying to maintain your current translation clients and while trying to attract more.

I did my Masters while translating full time and while it was very demanding on my time, it gave me a realistic experience of how busy I can get while still being able to manage things. Secondly, I had justification to double my rates (successfully) after finishing the Masters.


There may be old-schoolers who have managed to succeed without a degree, but I'd argue those days are over. This is especially true if your language pair has a lot of competition.

Best of luck,

DJH


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 15:55
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
@Sergey Oct 5, 2016

Katze_bro wrote:
1. Would winning in a serious (judging by competition) translation contest (or several) show that I'm definitely an able translator?


Nope. This would tell your fellow-contestants that you're good, but not clients.

2. With or without the above, is C1 CAE certificate enough of a proof, or do you have to take CPE?


I had to Google for these acronyms. If your client doesn't know what these certifications are, he won't be impressed by them.

3. Is there a prejudice (among Western clients) towards Russian mail service-based e-mail addresses? Would a gmail address be better for communication, even though it's a lot less safer? Or is there a prejudice towards informal addresses, like a "random word with numbers" (I always sign with my real name, though)?


I think the prejudice would be to anything that sounds un-businesslike. "rambler.ru" sounds like it's non-business related. And "yourname1577" is a no-no. On the other hand, both my own e-mail address and web site address are "very poorly chosen", and now I have to stick to it because I'd lose brand recognition if I change.

4. How much time at average it takes for a translation agency (I'm talking globally here) to respond to your CV and/or test results (again, if you lack a famous name and it's hard to verify your identity)?


If they requested it, they should respond to your CV within 3 days and to a test result within 2 weeks. If you send a CV unsolicited, you can wait years.

5. Is having a photo an absolute must or can you do without it?


A beard is not a bad thing in all cultures. Particularly if you look neat and tidy.

Think carefully about your branding in which you label yourself as "self-taught".


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philgoddard
United States
Member (2009)
German to English
+ ...
I disagree Oct 5, 2016

DJHartmann wrote:
Sadly, with only a high-school diploma you won't have much chance competing with other vendors.


The great thing about this job is that qualifications are largely irrelevant. Play down your lack of them, tell people what you translate and put lots of samples on your website and ProZ profile.

You also appear to be almost perfectly bilingual, though your English sentences are way too long This is a big advantage, and you should exploit it.

Good luck!


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The Misha
Local time: 09:55
Russian to English
+ ...
Nothing of what the other two gentlemen said stacks up in my experience Oct 5, 2016

Except for the beard issue, but that's just another indication that there is no such thing as "the translation industry," but rather countless geographically, culturally, thematically and linguistically diverse markets that have little if anything to do with each other (think corner grocery rather than Yeliseyevskiy Gastronom on Gorky Street if you can still relate to such things). What works on some does not necessarily work on others.

Personally, I did go to college, and then to grad school, but that had nothing to do with my work as a translator, and anyway, no one ever asked me about any of those "credentials". What everyone wanted to know was whether I could do the job - which brings me to the specific reason why I even bother writing this: judging by what you wrote here, your English seems to be surprisingly good for a nonnative who is not living in an English-speaking country. I'll speculate that you probably have, or went to school somewhere as a younger (I am assuming you are still young enough) person, but that's your business. I have no idea how good or bad your Russian is, but as someone who routinely gets to clean up horrendous messes left by mucho decorated Russian natives translating into English, I'd (cautiously) venture to say you might have a marketable into English skill in you home country market the way you are.

You have a much bigger problem though than a mere lack of academic credentials. The real money in this business is in subject matter specialization. What do you know? Technical? Legal? Medical? What? Unfortunately, it's a common misconception that you can graduate from some university somewhere and straight into a successful freelance career. You can't. So ask yourself what it is you are interested in, and go for a degree in that, in whatever way that may be convenient or practicable for you - part time, correspondence, whatever. Then go and work in that industry for a while, and if you are still interested, come back and become a freelance translator after you've had some experience and acquired specific professional expertise that may be marketed. Naturally, there is no law anywhere saying you cannot support yourself doing translation work on the side while you are at it. At least where I live, there isn't. Oh, and if nothing else, don't bother studying "translation". That's the most ludicrous (albeit apparently very popular) way of squandering your time and resources.

Also, as a matter of immediate practical advice, lose the "bro" part from your moniker. Maybe it's me, but I wouldn't want to do business - any kind of business - with a "bro". "Katzes" are OK.

Either way, good luck to you.


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 14:55
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Beards Oct 5, 2016

Samuel Murray wrote:

A beard is not a bad thing in all cultures.


Jesus had a beard and he is widely believed to have been a good person.

To be a successful translator you need to demonstrate that you are good at it by actually doing translations. You can have all the paper language qualifications and translation degrees in the world (and there are people on this site who take great delight in adding strings of letters after their name) but what your client is looking for is an excellent job, error-free, to a high professional standard and delivered on time at a reasonable price.


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MK2010  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:55
Member (Jun 2017)
French to English
+ ...
Experience and skill Oct 5, 2016

are more important than degrees. I agree with the notion of downplaying the "self-taught" part and focusing on your many skills, years of experience, and satisfied customers.

I think that out of all the clients I've ever worked for, only one actually asked me to scan a copy of my university diploma and send it to them.

I do think, though, that getting certified from a well-known translation association could only be an asset.


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Mirko Mainardi  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 15:55
Member
English to Italian
+ ...
Professional Associations Oct 5, 2016

philgoddard wrote:

The great thing about this job is that qualifications are largely irrelevant. Play down your lack of them, tell people what you translate and put lots of samples on your website and ProZ profile.


In the end, even many professional (translators) associations acknowledge this in their eligibility requirements, in that the lack of a degree is "compensated" for by work experience.

As for whether that's good or bad, I guess that would be up for debate...


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Katze_bro  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 16:55
Member (Apr 2017)
English to Russian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks to you all for your valuable answers. Oct 5, 2016

I'll wait a bit and look at the replies that may still come before making important decisions.

DJHartmann wrote:
Disregarding your proposed options, the only strategy I suggest would be studying either part-time or full-time while trying to maintain your current translation clients and while trying to attract more.

That would actually be impossible with the amount of money I have currently. To get enough money in reasonable time (and by legal means), I need to earn at least $1k monthly. For that I have to either use my best skills to translate for a western market, go to a very demanding job in IT and deceive clients, or to undertake an even more demanding job of a security guard. Although I also have the option to grind my programming skills for freelance programming; that might work too, but I have no idea how much time it would require for me to get really good.

Samuel Murray wrote:
Nope. This would tell your fellow-contestants that you're good, but not clients.

Well, it won't hurt, though. I view these contests as means of getting some recognition or even getting to translate a good book for a publishing company. After all, my dream isn't to translate medical manuals and recipes; I want to see more good books or games with translations that I poured my heart into.

I had to Google for these acronyms. If your client doesn't know what these certifications are, he won't be impressed by them.

And IELTS tests? Are they widely known in USA or Europe?

I think the prejudice would be to anything that sounds un-businesslike. "rambler.ru" sounds like it's non-business related. And "yourname1577" is a no-no. On the other hand, both my own e-mail address and web site address are "very poorly chosen", and now I have to stick to it because I'd lose brand recognition if I change.

True; it's not good that I have to share this e-mail with my brother, too. Even though there is a complete trust between us and he doesn't do any online business, it may get confusing after some time. I probably should consider getting a google account and forget about names showing my love for cats.

If they requested it, they should respond to your CV within 3 days and to a test result within 2 weeks. If you send a CV unsolicited, you can wait years.

Oh, so a week is not a big deal at all if you just apply for a vacant freelance position with a completed test. Thanks, I was starting to get a bit impatient.

A beard is not a bad thing in all cultures. Particularly if you look neat and tidy.

Oh, no-no, it's not a question of my beard, I'm just in doubt whether it would be a good investment.
About my looks... well, I've tried to make something at least remotely resembling:
http://pimptheface.com/face/41e915-Lolman?share=true

Think carefully about your branding in which you label yourself as "self-taught".

You're probably right; but isn't honesty a virtue? Well, maybe I can change it into something like "I believe practice and skills are what's important", and that would be no less true.


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matt robinson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 15:55
Member (2010)
Spanish to English
CAE or CPE Oct 6, 2016

Either of these could demonstrate that you have the skills to translate source English, but you will probably not be able to produce sufficient quality for target English. I would focus on English to Russian, and forget Russian to English. As for proving your abilities through your qualifications, in most cases you will land a first job because the project manager is under pressure. The job will probably be small, and you will be judged on the quality of your work, not your CV. The client will then offer you work regardless of your qualifications, and all you have to do is make sure you do not go beyond your comfort zone.

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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 14:55
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
A few related things Oct 10, 2016

I think the following are all related:
1. Sharing an email address with your brother is an absolute non-starter. It doesn't matter whether you trust him or not. You absolutely cannot expect your clients to allow you to share their data, or even information about them, with a third party. You'll be signing NDAs that will forbid it. Client confidentiality is paramount in our profession.
2. Your love of cats is purely a part of your personal life. Believe me, your clients aren't interested in your cats.
3. Likewise, your clients aren't interested in your beard. They appreciate a photo of a neat & tidy, respectably dressed supplier as that gives them added confidence (in a rather subjective way, but we're all human).
4. You aren't applying for a vacant freelance position. You're either approaching an agency with a view to being added to their database, or you're contacting a potential direct client to offer your business services, or you're responding to an actual perceived need of either type of client.

The link is that you need to understand that a freelance translator is a professional business person, and forget all these non-professional things.


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Jeff Henson  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 15:55
Member (2015)
French to English
Getting started without any academic degree Oct 14, 2016

Hi Sergey,
If you are unable to undertake further studies for the time being, would you have the possibility of becoming a member of a Professional translators' association such at ATA, or possibly some Russian equivalent ? Granted, this is not the same as being "certified" by these organizations, but it would at least show that you are serious enough about the profession to adhere.

I have to agree with some of the colleagues who encouraged you to specialize and continue your education if at all possible. If you truly feel hindered by your lack of academic credentials, then I encourage you to find some free or inexpensive online courses that would be a nice addition to your CV.

For example, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) offers many online courses in the field of Intellectual Property. Some of the first, basic courses are free, but still allow you to earn a certificate of course completion. Most of the courses (especially the advanced courses) you must pay for. However, the tuition fees are much lower for people in "Developing countries and countries in transition*" (including Russia) than for people in "Developed countries*" (*Please note that these are their terms, not mine).

For example, for most courses, a "Professional" in the US or Europe would have to pay $320, whereas someone in Russia would only pay $60. (Rates are listed here : http://www.wipo.int/academy/en/courses/distance_learning/fees.html).

Courses are available in 7 different languages, including English & Russian. I'll include a link to their course listings where you can see the different courses and their start dates : https://welc.wipo.int/acc/index.jsf

At any rate, even if IP is not something you are interested in, I think the principle is the same for any field. You should be able to find some affordable on-line courses in the field of your choosing which will allow you to gain some credentials and expertise as well as some academic certificates and/or diplomas you can use to enrich you profile or CV.

Best of luck to you !
Jeff


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 15:55
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
My two cents Oct 15, 2016

I have worked successfully as a full-time (quite literally) professional translator for more than twenty years without a degree. In fact, I decided to take a degree three years ago and should be finishing my classes by December this year. After a dissertation to be handed in next June, I should achieve my degree after all this time. I definitely recommend you to take a degree in translation at your earliest opportunity. It will deeply transform the way you see your profession and yourself.

Now, just very quick answers to the questions:

Sergey Lev wrote:
1. Would winning in a serious (judging by competition) translation contest (or several) show that I'm definitely an able translator? Would getting a 2nd or a 3rd place count? How would you verify the results?

Personally I do not value translation contests much, but translation certifications. If you are good, you should definitely try to achieve certification by some body that is recognised internationally, like the ATA certification or IOL's Diploma in Translation.

Sergey Lev wrote:
2. With or without the above, is C1 CAE certificate enough of a proof, or do you have to take CPE?

I would definitely go for a CPE...

Sergey Lev wrote:
3. Is there a prejudice (among Western clients) towards Russian mail service-based e-mail addresses? Would a gmail address be better for communication, even though it's a lot less safer? Or is there a prejudice towards informal addresses, like a "random word with numbers" (I always sign with my real name, though)?

Personally I do not like nicknames or Gmail addresses. Buy a domain with your name, and email from there. This is the only approach I would consider professional.

Sergey Lev wrote:
4. How much time at average it takes for a translation agency (I'm talking globally here) to respond to your CV and/or test results (again, if you lack a famous name and it's hard to verify your identity)?

Spontaneous CVs to agencies usually produces no result. Agencies are swamped. Your best bet is to make yourself visible by means of participating a lot in translation fora, twitting, facebooking, etc. Translation credentials would be a solid plus too.

As for test results, agencies can take many weeks to give you their assessment, and a good assessment does not necessarily mean that they will hire you. Furthermore, agencies contacted by you who require a translation test only do so to fulfil their own procedures, even if they have no work at all in your language pair.

Sergey Lev wrote:
5. Is having a photo an absolute must or can you do without it?

A photo always helps. If you fear that you would look too young for a professional translator, try to make a more serious photo with tie, suit, etc.

Sergey Lev wrote:
Or are the only options either to keep trying, sending my CV to as much agencies and clients as possible (the goal, I shall remind you, is to earn a stable income), or to give up translations (maybe temporarily, before I can afford getting a higher education without a dorm) and accept a job with $500—$1000 monthly salary requiring no education or special skills?

If I were in your situation, I would definitely take the job you have access to at the moment, to be able to save for your higher education in translation, while you also take in any translation job you can land.

You need the money to further your education and to pay the examination fees/travel for the main certifications. If you are good, any customer trying your services is bound to repeat, but remember that getting regular work usually takes two years ramp-up time, even for translators with a BA or a MA. If you persevere and do the very best of each translation, you will make it!


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Katze_bro  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 16:55
Member (Apr 2017)
English to Russian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Summary Oct 26, 2016

Okay, three weeks have passed, so it's probably about time to make a resume of the decisions I've made.
This is my plan based on the comments and the experience I've got since.
1. I'll stick with Katze_bro as my site name for everyone but outsourcers, since it's the best possible way for me.

2. As for shared e-mail address, we've both been using it for years, so it's no easy decision. So I showed my brother the link and asked what should we do. Well, he does not mind giving it up (almost three years have passed since he last used it for correspondence), but I mustn't forget that "the only free cheese is in the mouse trap". So we've made a bet. He won't be using it for three months. If I achieve some success (defined by income or an actual recognition) before the end of January, I can keep the box all to myself. If not, well, too bad, I lose any right to use it ever after and one of my ten gold coins (currently worth $400 each... hmm, seems like the rate's tied to USD for some reason, as they had the same price in dollars way back when I bought them) as a punishment for being stupid and overrating myself.

3. To achieve recognition (as a literary translator), I'm participating in all contests I can legitimately participate in. Already participating in three and missed the fourth (funnily enough, I learned of its existence on the last day, just before the deadline). In a week or two, I'll know the results of the first one (the most rewarding, but I'm afraid I'll not win it, since I did not take it seriously due to seeming simplicity of the text and low number of participants — which has grown to 307 at the last day), and the third one will end in January. Confidence about the last two is still with me, but I literally don't know who am I relative to my competition. These con-tests will be the ultimate "sink or swim" for me, because I bet my self-confidence on them.

4. To get a stable income, I'm actively searching for clients. So far (i. e. over the course of the last 30 days) I had almost no success negotiating. 130 RUB per 1800 characters without spaces was funny enough (and the agency said they had a hundred of translators willing to work for that), but shortly after that 20 UAH (78 cents currently) took the lead. That's for a "high quality translation" with possible fines for a sloppy job — which is something only they would decide. Naturally, I always suggest my own price (keep in mind that Russian market prices are much lower than in the West due to having less risks and more options in a business relationship), and only one deal came out of it. There are several other possible clients who've gone silent at some step, so I have no idea about them.

5. I'm not going to step into the Western market (or work for the best Russian TAs that pay generously but require the same credentials and/or references) until I build up a solid background AND recognition that would be enough to compete here for a nice price. Also, I'd need my own web page (and a photo, of course) with maybe a special e-mail address solely for having a more serious image. When in Rome, do as Romans do, and it seems like your culture is much stricter than ours. Maybe I won't even need to go to this market at all. Only the future will tell. Even though a foreign agency already contacted me (just like Matt Robinson said, a rush job with the project manager under high pressure), I don't know if anything would come out of it, since we've yet to make a deal, and it's kinda dubious because they contacted me first despite me being nobody, and likely didn't care to read my CV thoroughly.

6. If I fail to get a stable income in three months, I'll simply have to give up translations (maybe not for my entire life, but for the remainder of my youth, that I'm sure of), since I won't be having a lot of money by that time and it would prove that my skills are not worth a freshwater fish from the family Cyprinidae, despite my delusions. It's also impossible for me to combine translations and any other occupation I can get. To earn enough, I'll probably have to relocate to Moscow, but that depends on how much I'll have left. I might get lucky and find a nice but boring job in a nearby town, the kind I'm currently taking easy and almost non-time-consuming training for. There are some vacancies in my town, too, but no careers, as well as no acceptable ones (well, not until I'd be literally starving) for me. I suppose the lack of local jobs is familiar to anyone living in a really small town at any country.

7. If I succeed, then, well, good for me. Some formalities, and, yay, I'm a real business owner now. I'm able to use wire transfer for any kind of currency and my taxes as a sole proprietor are actually lower than with my current unstable income. At least I think I'm lucky and skilled enough to have a chance to pull it off in three months.

So, the following three months will be one hell of a ride for me, a crash course in real business, and a challenge that a man would always take. (Maybe that sounds too pompous, but oh well.) Thank you for sharing your wisdom, again, and I'm determined to become a living proof that confidence (maybe "nerve" fits better here), dedication, and talent are worth more than a formal education.

[Edited at 2016-10-26 13:01 GMT]


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