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Off topic: Translation agencies on high horses
Thread poster: 564354352 (X)

564354352 (X)  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 12:17
Danish to English
+ ...
May 8, 2013

Why is it that translation agencies do so often seem to think that they are doing translators a favour by allowing us to sign up with them? I just don't get it. Some of them should come off their high horses, in my humble opinion, and accept that we, as professional, independent translators and business owners are not here to bow down to agencies' requirements, we are simply here offering our services, business to business.

I just had this amusing little exchange with an agency today: They asked interested translators to submit their CVs as the agency was looking to expand its pool of freelancers. Well, for starters, I don't send out CVs any more, as I am not looking for a job, I am my own boss. CVs are for job seekers. However, I am happy to introduce myself by means of a professional introduction that covers all the details an agency needs from me to assess whether or not I am a professional and qualified translator.

However, today, as I have seen several times before, the prompt answer was along these lines: Thank you for your application [!!], we need you to complete our application form, including details of how many words you have translated within each subject and for which clients.

I explained politely that I do not have any records of the amount of words that I have translated over the last 13 years, 11 of which I spent as a full-time employee, not as an independent translator. Besides, I am legally bound to observe complete professional secrecy, so even if I wanted to, I couldn't submit this information. Furthermore, all the information they wanted me to enter into a 5-page form was already included more concisely in my introduction, so if they needed to, they could simply transfer the information.

The polite response from the agency was that they receive so many applications that they do not have the time to note each translator's details in their own forms.

Well, what can I say? I don't have the time, or maybe rather, I can't be bothered to do other people's administrative work for them.

And, I know that some of you will tell me that if I want to attract new clients, I will have to bend a little here and there, but sometimes it just irks me to think that agencies presume we are so desperate for work that we will comply with their silly requests.

Any professional agency will be able to handle the applications they receive, in whichever format they receive them. Why don't they look at the individual presentations instead of trying to push everybody into an anonymous format? I don't get it... what a waste of time for all parties...

To top it off, after I made it clear that I was not prepared to do this extra bit of administrative work, the polite agency dude closed by wishing me good luck with my career! I just laughed and wrote back and wished him good luck with his career, too!!


 

Fiona Grace Peterson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 12:17
Member
Italian to English
Inversely proportional May 8, 2013

From what I have read of colleagues' experiences, the number of hoops the agency expects you to jump through to register with them is normally inversely proportional to the amount of work you will receive from them.icon_wink.gif

 

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 12:17
English to Polish
+ ...
Well... May 8, 2013

Well, there's a good chance that we're at different stages of our respective careers, so my experience may've been applicable to you some years ago rather than now. I still view my CV as my primary marketing tool, even though it's no longer directly available on my website. The way I see it, agencies make their decisions basing primary on the CV, which means they need a good, legible and concise one that makes a good impression that sticks. I'm happy to give it to them, while I'm less happy to do the footwork required to put it in some forms that might be necessary for automatic parsing into a database or might just be the good old familiar form on their own stationery, in which case I really am not amused by the possibility.

This particular angle actually touches on the broad problem of translators being viewed as a subset of office assistants. This is not to equate assistants with entry level personnel, but translator is a different job from assistant, and indeed some of the office footwork requested may sometimes be quite entry level. My Terms of Service currently exclude entry level footwork associated with the technical and graphical aspects of actual files, while referring my services to the content alone. Not that a great number of agencies would normally work under a translator's own ToS but anyway.

Another aspect you mentioned was the language. Yes, when they accost you via e-mail after having scooped you on LinkedIn, the use of the phrase 'your application' is rather preposterous. I've had the opportunity to give a leading agency in my local market some grief over that. I also told them that if they have the time to browse social media profiles, they have the time to handle all of the stage of their recruitment properly, and time was a poor justification of a refusal to show an evaluated sample that supposedly didn't meet their expectations. That's not a high horse. That's more like riding a cow and expecting it to be looked upon as a worthy steed.

Finally (or almost), the statistics. As my colleague, a Danish translator, by the way, would say, I'm a translator, not a page counter. Page counts are even requested by the same Eurocracy that's responsible for all the competition hype that includes confidentiality hype as its subset. I actually wrote something to this effect on one of their application forms. Also, your clients' names are not only their information, in which case it's not that sensitive, but also your own confidential information that's actually quite sensitive. Compare this with the expectation that you essentially submit totally to the agency in its own non-compete clause.

Actually, there is one more thing. Having looked at a number of standard translator contracts from agencies, well, not a tonne of them but still a few, I've discovered a worrying trend favouring some less than gentleman and scholar to gentleman and scholar language, not like it's okay to be rude to physical workers. I have objected and requested changes, but in some cases I've been somewhat afraid to co-operate with someone displaying that kind of attitude. I remember an agency that was duly concerned and happy to investigate the matter, but I also remember one that simply went silent on the subject (and we still have no contract signed, which is okay by me because it makes my own lovely ToS apply regardless whether they've paid attention to this detail).

Well, good luck, and you're certainly a direct client type rather than an agency type yourself. Wish you luck with that. I'd like to get some more direct clients or sensible agencies myself (other than the few agreeable agencies I do work with). For the record, direct clients can some be a pain in a way you won't normally experience from an agency.


 

neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 12:17
Spanish to English
+ ...
Timewasters May 8, 2013

I wholeheartedly agree with everything Gitte and Fiona have said so far. In my experience, their level of ineptitude is usually exponentially proportional to how snooty, patronising and demanding they are.
Another thing that irks me is when I see companies soliciting translators for pie-in-the sky work they haven't yet actually got, usually in several different languages. Casting their nets wide in the hope of bagging a few minnows.
Then there are the ads with the weasel words "Trados Only" lurking sheepishly at the end. My reaction upon seeing them is is to wonder why this insistence, eventually coming to the conclusion that it is simply so that they can feed off the translators efforts parasitically, squirrelling away the fruits of our labours (TMs, glossaries, etc) with a view to someday eventually being able to do without us entirely. Well, it turns out some of us are lucky enough to be able to do without them and as far as I'm concerned, it's their loss.

[Edited at 2013-05-09 07:26 GMT]


 

Tina Vonhof
Canada
Local time: 04:17
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Similar exchange May 8, 2013

I just had a similar exchange with an agency that, in addition to my CV, profile etc., wants 3 references from previous clients. It is their "policy," they say but it is my policy not to violate client confidentiality and privacy. If they don't want to work with me without those references, so be it.

 

John Fossey  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 04:17
Member (2008)
French to English
Agency's clients? May 8, 2013

Tina Vonhof wrote:

I just had a similar exchange with an agency that, in addition to my CV, profile etc., wants 3 references from previous clients. It is their "policy," they say but it is my policy not to violate client confidentiality and privacy. If they don't want to work with me without those references, so be it.


I always wonder with the sort of request what their reaction would be if we said it was our "policy" for them to give us 3 references of their clients.


 

wotswot  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 12:17
Member (2011)
French to English
Here here, couldn't agree more May 8, 2013

I hope some agencies read this thread!

One thing I've been noticing here in France with a few of my loyal and long-standing agencies is that their customers are increasingly looking for cheap, quick turnaround jobs and turning down my agencies' quotes in favour of quotes from India and China. I'd be interested to know whether this is also the case in your countries (Denmark, Spain?)

As for the "Trados only' proviso, a lot of my agencies are still using Trados 2007 (which I never had) and ask me for the "unclean" version (which I assume is the old bilingual format, although I suspect that was only possible for Word and Excel). I keep on telling them that my CAT tool doesn't generate that format, it only outputs XLF (if XLF is the input format), or the original format (for any source format) plus a TMX if they want the project TM and have taken the trouble to provide a TM/glossary as reference material.

Some of them are finally upgrading to SDL Trados Studio 2011 and are beginning to realize that preparing a project is actually quite a time-consuming task, especially if the client imposes a glossary (often a 2-column Excel worksheet or Word table), which they really should include in the .sdlppx package as a termbase along with any relevant TMs. If they don't, I refuse the job, because the whole point of project packages is that you've got everything (TM and terminology) in the same integrated interface. I don't particularly like Studio, but I purchased it anyway for one agency who promised me 200k words in April, May and June, provided the job was done in Studio, with a huge client-imposed technical glossary. The job still hasn't materialized, so it's either "pie-in-the sky work they haven't yet actually got" (as neilmac says) or they're having problems integrating the client's glossary into an SDL package (a condition I made for accepting the job, given that I agreed to purchase Studio!).

We should be careful not to bite the hands that feed us, particularly those us of us who translate into English, given the competition. To them, we are simply criteria in a database (often a badly designed database to boot). But like you all, I draw the line at having to fill in countless online forms and in effect do their admin for them! Like Gitte, I have spent a considerable amount of time preparing a concise "résumé", which I always send to prospective agencies, so if they can't be a***d to read it, I certainly can't be a***d to tick their boxes and fill in their often poorly-labelled fields!

Rant over (for nowicon_smile.gif


 

Nicole Schnell  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:17
English to German
+ ...
My pet peeve: Assuming that every translator is a kitchen table business May 8, 2013

I recently received a form by a prospective agency customer. As for contact information they asked for:

Home phone
Cell phone
Social Security Number

Not a single field was available for:

Business phone (or any other daytime phone number, for that matter)
Toll-free phone number
Fax number
Federal Tax ID

My home phone number is private and unlisted. It is also on the national Do-Not-Call list for telemarketers. My cell phone number is also nobody's business as I do not conduct business while grocery shopping, driving a car or in restaurants. My Social Security Number is known by my bank, my insurance company, my doctor, etc. and nobody else.

The assumption that translators are hobbyists is arrogant beyond belief. I tossed the form into the trash and never replied. This attitude is not suitable for future collaboration.


 

Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 13:17
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
I use my proz-profile May 8, 2013

If someone is interested they can look up my profile and download my cv there. Serious agencies just send the file, ask for a quote and either agree or look elsewhere.

 

Nicole Schnell  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:17
English to German
+ ...
Not really, Heinrich. That would be quite shallow, isn't it? May 9, 2013

Heinrich Pesch wrote:

If someone is interested they can look up my profile and download my cv there. Serious agencies just send the file, ask for a quote and either agree or look elsewhere.


My greatest (not a typo, I mean it) agency clients have interviewed me on the phone. Without exception they called me out of the blue and we talked for a minimum of half an hour, fun and giggles included. Those companies built my career in translating.

I do not trust companies who consider me to be a vending machine, so the idea "Here is the file. You send translation, I send money" doesn't really fly.


 

stehletheo
Local time: 12:17
German to English
+ ...
Supply and demand May 9, 2013

The sad truth is that everything in a true free-market economic world revolves around supply and demand, and the supply (of translators) obviously exceeds the demand (by agencies / clients), so the latter can afford to pick and choose, determine the remuneration, be arrogant, etc.

The fact that the profession isn't regulated and translators don't have to conform to minimum qualifications / standards, exacerbates this state of affairs. Unless there is a smaller pool of more capable service providers in relation to the number of clients, the situation will not improve.

Expertise is the combination of (appropriate?) educational qualifications and experience. Expertise should be "accredited" through registering service providers by way of actual translation tests in the languages they are working in. No work should be accepted by clients from translators without tangible evidence of their capabilities, which would rule out fly by nights, poorly qualified translators and chancers, and which should also contribute to alleviating the situation.


 

564354352 (X)  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 12:17
Danish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
The even sadder truth May 9, 2013

... is that it seems that translation agencies are more interested in complying with their in-house established administrative standards than they are in ascertaining whether a professional translator will actually be able to provide the services he/she is offering. No amount of filling out forms will provide the agency with this essential information.

I don't think regulation of the industry will solve the problem, it is a question of attitude: the agencies think they are the bosses and that the translators are the minions. Quite simple. And this is the base of a lot of bad working relationships with agencies. The truth of the matter is that we as translators are the experts providing quality work for end clients, whereas the agencies may well be experts at administration, but basically, what they do is shuffle jobs between translators and end clients, work which in many cases can be carried out by people with basic office skills. It is in a sense, not all that different from actors using agents to get jobs in Hollywood films. The agency is 'just' an intermediary, and they should stop thinking of translators as some kind of second-rate workers who need to 'fit in' with the agencies' office systems.

We are individuals, not 'regulated' items that come off production lines and fit into specific moulds...


 

stehletheo
Local time: 12:17
German to English
+ ...
Money... May 9, 2013

Dear Gitte, money talks loudest in these dynamics. The rest is wishful thinking.

 

564354352 (X)  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 12:17
Danish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
A matter of self-respect May 9, 2013

Stehletheo: I respectfully disagree. It is a matter of deciding how you want to present yourself and how you want to be treated, or rather how you want to do business.

 

Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:17
French to English
+ ...
Form-filling campaigns generally a waste of time May 9, 2013

Fiona Peterson wrote:
From what I have read of colleagues' experiences, the number of hoops the agency expects you to jump through to register with them is normally inversely proportional to the amount of work you will receive from them.icon_wink.gif


Agree with this completely. In general, agencies that actual have some work to pass on to you will contact you with an actual job proposal and won't be wasting too much energy on form-filling and other administrative faffing because they're busy actually dealing with the translation work.

I would generally just ask such an agency to get back to you when they have an actual assignment to allocate to you.


 
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