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Getting started with translation agencies: 10 tips for preparing your resume as a contract translator

Note: This is a post written by our CEO Madalena Sánchez Zampaulo. ...

I recently spoke to a group of translators and interpreters from the Northern Ohio Translators Association (NOTA) and was pleased to hear such positive feedback about my tips for preparing one's resume and cover letter when applying for work with translation agencies. A few of the attendees suggested I make this a quarterly workshop, to which I thought, "Good idea!" and have prepared some tips for readers who are thinking of ways to make their resume more attractive to translation agencies. Please remember, these are tips that I am suggesting, as I have been on all sides of this professional triangle. I have worked in the past as a freelance translator, proofreader, interpreter and as a project manager for an agency, and now, as a translation agency owner. One of the things of which I'm most proud is the ability to understand all sides, because after all, I've been there. My experiences have helped me to decide what I will and will not tolerate, what I will and will not do for my contractors and what I find valuable in a professional working relationship between agency and translator. These tips are meant to be simply! So, pick and choose which you find helpful and try to put a few into practice on your resume!

Tip #1: Be relevant. One would think this a no-brainer, but I cannot tell you how many emails we receive daily that reflect very little about a sender's skills in translation. It’s not smart to send a resume to a translation agency that has your experience about work in another industry and nothing more. An effective resume should show experience with the language, translation and one's specializations.

Tip #2: NEVER provide false credentials. Do not tell someone you have certifications or training that you don’t have, even if you’re in the process of getting them. This will come back to bite you and will be the quickest way to burn bridges. Be honest about your knowledge, strengths, weakness, limits. If you’re not sure you can handle a job with 100% of your abilities, then turn it down. More work will come your way and you’ll be more respected for this.

Tip #3: Include your rates, language pair(s) on your resume! This also might seem common sense, but again, my project managers open emails all the time that are lacking one or both of these key points. Update your contact information and experience/training with the agency regularly. This helps them to also remember you’re there and that you’re available and dedicated to your profession. If you complete a certification or training of some kind, send proof of this with your message.

Tip #4: Research the agency before you send your resume One size does not fit all. You may not be a good fit for the agency and it may not be a good fit for you. And that’s ok. Your resume should reflect why you’re the perfect candidate to work with the company and it should be geared toward that agency. A good resume reflects that the applicant took the time to learn about the company before hitting "send".

Tip #5: Use proper grammar and punctuation in your email intro and on your resume, as well as all other correspondence. No matter what language is your native, you should have good grammar usage in both your native language and those in which you claim to work. Showing that you don’t does not reflect well on someone whose business should be about words and meaning.

Tip #6: Provide references (or least a “References upon request”) on your resume. It’s important for a company to know that others have found your work to be outstanding and that they can check with someone else about your promptness, reliability, etc. When a translator doesn't provide references, or does not want to provide them if we request them, that raises a red flag and we probably won't work with them.

Tip #7: If you use CAT tools, specify which ones. If not, and if you are open to using them, state this, as it might help. Some agencies use one CAT tool more than another, or they may use a variety of them. So, it’s good to know what tools you are comfortable using. Also, if you purchase a new CAT tool, this would be a good piece of information to send in a quick message to project managers with whom you work so they can update your information.

Tip #8: Be clear about your specializations and language pair(s). It doesn’t make sense to put down “everything” under your specializations. No one can specialize in all areas of translation and do a superb job with them all. If you know someone that can, please send me his/her resume! Also, if you do not feel completely confident with your language skills, it wouldn't be good to say that you can handle any kind of project. An example of this is a translator who recently wrote to me and said his primary language pair for interpreting was French <> English, but he could handle Spanish <> English projects if they were easy. This doesn’t even make sense for a professional to say. Why would my agency send something “easy” to someone who already claims to have limited skills? What does “easy” mean to this individual?

Tip #9: Submit your resume as requested (ONLY). If the company requests resumes as an attachment to an email or uploaded to its website, do it that way. There is no sense in going about it another way, as this shows that you are unable to follow instructions. This might mean you won't receive any work, as a project manager will prefer to work with someone who pays close attention to details in instructions.

Tip #10: Be open to doing a test translation, but beware. Some companies ask new contractors to do test translations prior to signing an agreement, but if they ask for quite a bit of text to be translated (I would say any more than 200-400 words), be careful. Sometimes this is a way of getting something for free. So, yes, be open to test translations, but be wary. A good way to check out a company prior to working with them is to open an account with Payment Practices and review the company's history of payment complaints (if any have been reported).

I hope you find these tips useful and are able to incorporate some of them into your resume. If you have more tips, please share!