Presenter Ingrid Holm

How do you start your career as a freelance translator? A two-day conference helps grads get a leg up in the translation industry. BY INGRID HOLM

This past September 26th and 28th, I gave a two-day conference entitled What You Didn’t Learn as a Translation Student to a group of upper level translation students in the Translation specialization of the Applied Linguistics program at the Catholic University of Ecuador in Quito. The talk gave attendees an introduction to how to start their careers as freelance translators, and provided an overview of the various aspects that go into starting their business. The information was divided into three subject areas: Marketing, Networking, and Specialization.

The idea for the conference came about through my own experience trying to find translation work after graduating from the same program. I soon came to realize that my experience was not unique. As they say, translation is a relatively new career; and, most translation programs at universities focus on the linguistic and theoretical aspects of translation, (ideally) turning out completely bilingual students prepared to translate a variety of different texts.

A first step
What many graduates lack—especially those in countries with little access to translators associations and events—is a grasp of how the translation industry works and how to start getting paid for the translations they are supposedly qualified to do. Until recently, relatively few people set out to have careers in translation; many people came into the field as a second career after having spent years in another position, their knowledge of a second language qualifying them to begin translating.

This is changing. More students are entering university with the end goal of becoming a translator or interpreter. Associations such as the ATA and FIT, as well as individual translators, are working hard to maintain and improve the
 credibility of the profession. If we want this to happen, students graduating from translation programs need to already be competent professionals, ready to serve and educate others.

This conference was meant as a first step toward this goal. Translation and 
interpretation students should also be taught the skills necessary to market themselves as qualified professionals in the industry; established translators should welcome and promote this as a sign of progress in the industry.

What did attendees learn?
During the marketing portion of the conference, students learned about such basics as creating tailored resumes and cover letters for promoting themselves to translation agencies, online translation portals, and direct clients; how to create an online presence, including website creation and domain management; and heard ideas about topics varying from naming your business to preparing an elevator speech. The overall idea was to be impeccable and consistent in self-promotional materials.

The networking section began with a general introduction to the concept of networking and its importance. Students were given tips—taken from personal experience, networking gurus, and successful translators alike—on how to expand their circle, how to overcome shyness, and how to reap the most benefit from connections. Undergraduates learned the value of interpersonal connections in creating a successful and sustainable business.

Finally, the conference addressed the matter of specialization, while detailing the heightened importance of specialization
 for translators with a common language pair such as English – Spanish. The group discussed possible specializations and heard advice on how to choose and develop a field to go into, taking into consideration the specific context of Ecuador as well as the endless possibilities worldwide. The presentation included a discussion of options for in-depth field studies and continuing education alternatives, as well as tips to present oneself as a credible professional, even though a recent graduate. The main point conveyed to the group was the importance of continuing to learn and to educate yourself.

To add to the information presented in the conference, I asked members of the NCTA and the ATA to respond to the following questions that would provide advice for up and coming translators:

» What do you specialize in, and how did you choose that specialization?

» Do you work most directly with clients or with translation agencies?

» What strategy has been most effective for you in finding more work?

» What is the best advice you could give to a beginning translator?

» What is the one thing a beginning translator should NOT do?

Attendees received a packet with the answers and a list of online and print resources related to topics from the presentation to help build their businesses. IH