Things to do and not to do when trying to get translation work from a company

Every day I arrive in the office and start off like most people — checking through my emails. After going through my personal inbox, I proceed to check our general email box for the sales team.

This email in-box is generally chocked full of junk and mass emails from individuals selling products and services. More than any other type of mass produced email however are those that come from fellow translation vendors. This is to be expected but the emails and conversations I have with individual translators are sometimes a bit puzzling.

As a goodwill gesture, after seven years in the industry and multiple companies covering a range of specialties, I wanted to write a “how to” guide for getting your foot in the door with a translation agency for translators.

This list will not be complete and will only add to some of the lists I’ve read from professional translators advising those new to the industry. It can be tough to figure out some of the ins-and-outs in the beginning, so I hope some of this advice is useful.

Now remember, this list is from the perspective of an Account/Vendor/Project Manager whose only goal is to find the best person at the right price and the right moment for our clients. While reading this you should try to think of the stress of a Project or Account manager responsible for sending work to a client with our reputation and business on the line.

First let’s address how to get in touch:

1) Mass emails to general in-boxes are ineffective.

2) If the agency has a website there is usually a page for translators to send an inquiry. Read this page and follow it. This seems like an obvious point but we have hundreds of translators contacting us daily who don’t follow this method. The individuals who take the time to know what type of work we do and can follow the instructions on our website are the ones that will stand apart from the crowd. Not only that, it shows an ability to follow instructions and search for information, which are both key aspects of being a good translator.

3) If you must send a mass email which includes the Vendor Manager for a particular company (not a general info box or sales info box) please hide the rest of the companies on the list. Sure, we all know that freelancers work with more than one company but it’s generally not very professional to send mass emails to companies that are in competition with each other.

4) In this mass email you should say more than a few words. Believe it or not I have seen emails that go like this, “My resume.” That’s it. No, I’m not kidding! Other emails have stated, “Translator available for work.” End of story. On the flip side, you shouldn’t write a whole life story or tell a religious one, or apply for a position in our L.A. office when we don’t have one. Believe it or not, I see this every day. The email should be to the right individual, first of all, and second, it should include a friendly hello and a statement about why you’re writing and sending your CV. Always remember, the sales guy, the PM who isn’t looking, and anyone else will most likely delete the email. Unfortunately it would just take too much time for most people who have a lot of other things they have to get done.

5) Calling is a terrible way to try to get your foot in the door, unless you have been contacted by a vendor manager or a project manager who is looking to place a job and you have their direct number. It’s 2013 and unfortunately this is true for most industries and jobs. People are very busy. We have clients for whom we’re trying to complete projects, or at least you hope that we do because then it would mean you’re trying to get in touch with a successful translation company. You really want to read the website and send your credentials by email. I know that doesn’t sound very promising as it feels you are sending your resume out into the ether and will never get any work, but this is simply how it goes. I’ve been in that boat too and I truly sympathize but the truth is, we wouldn’t be able to hire you unless we have a project that requires your language and when you call it’s likely that we don’t have one at that moment and your name will be forgotten. Email is a better way to make sure your contact has been recorded, your details saved.

Now let’s address the resume itself:

6) The actual file name should include your name. Most resumes get dropped into a folder on someone’s computer and it’s best to have your name as the filename for easy identification.

7) It should be updated regularly and tailored for any company for which you want to work. I know this is tedious, but especially for interpretation this is extremely important. Being on this side of the business my advice would be to have one per industry – marketing, legal, financial and medical, etc. These should be updated constantly. Once you complete an interpreting job, add that. So the next time you are contacted and your CV is requested, you can be the first one in the door for the position with the right credentials. Not only will it help you get hired, it helps us land the project with the client. You can also be sure we would contact you again because of the ease of working with you. Always remember, we are looking for the right person and our clients are depending on us to find you. The more organized and up-to-date your resume, the better it is for everyone!

8) The next item to address is the organization of your resume. I see a wide variety of ways that people organize relevant information. It might help to keep in mind what an agency is looking for and what the clients need to see. This information should always be at the top and should go in this general order so that people can quickly look through the stack:

Name and contact details. Services and languages – with native language identified.
Degrees and qualifications and years completed.
Specialties and history of relevant projects as it relates to each industry and years completed.
That’s about it!

9) What shouldn’t go in the previous projects list? Information shouldn’t contain the names of other translation agencies but direct clients are fine. The history of projects doesn’t need extreme detail, just specialism and a brief description such as, “Patent translation, electronic engineering, 5,000 words.” The word count is up to you.

10) Hobbies, goals and personal information aren’t needed. For in-house jobs where you will be working with people they may want a better idea of your personality, but our clients just want your experience and specialty.

11) Information or job history that is not related to the translation industry can be left out. Different resumes for different industries are best, especially as a freelancer. We’re not concerned with gaps in your resume as they are normal for freelancers.

12) I will now round out this list with the biggest, most crucial item not to have in your correspondence (mass or personal email) or resume: spelling errors!! This is crucial for any industry of any type, but in the translations industry it’s extremely vital. When I get an email from a potential vendor offering their translation services and the English is full of grammatical errors and spelling mistakes my willingness to work with them disappears. Our business is language; our clients need to know they can trust us with crucial documents. We all need to know that the final deliverables will be perfect and resumes and emails with mistakes project a bad image.

The final note really could sum a lot of this advice. We go through great pains to find the right people. I know that even if you followed all this advice and managed to make contact with the right people, it’s difficult to get project managers to send you work sometimes. The main reason is that our entire industry is based on trust. Our clients trust us to deliver and we have to work with people that we trust. Building trusting relationships with project managers and agencies in the business takes time, personal branding and sometimes your best bet are word of mouth recommendations.

I was a project manager for over 6 years in this industry and I now work in sales and marketing. What I can tell you is that I’m giving this advice because I am in the same exact situation that you are in. I am trying to get new clients to work with me and trust us. Think of your freelance career as if you are starting your own company. Manage your image, your brand, try to network with other freelancers and get their personal recommendations or the names of relevant people such as vendor managers.

I hope you found this information useful. I wish you the best of luck, and we look forward to working with you!!