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Criteria for selecting freelancers for translation agency projects

In this article, we will consider the reasons why freelance translators who have passed the initial tests at translation agencies do not always receive a large volume of work. Also, we will provide recommendations on building long-term relationships with clients.

So, you have passed a qualification test and received a letter of congratulations from a translation agency about starting cooperation with you. Sometimes these e-mails contain instructions that need to be studied before you can start working. Does this mean the translation agency will start sending you work immediately? Alas, it doesn’t always happen. Some translators receive their first orders the next day, while others wait for weeks or even months. Some translators don’t receive any orders at all. Why are some of them lucky while others are not? It is not a matter of luck but rather of objective reasoning.

Always remember that you are probably not the only freelance translator who has passed the selection process, and translation agencies often rank their recruits according to a certain rating. Naturally, managers will prioritize those who have a higher rating and are next on their list. Let’s consider the criteria below.

As we have seen from experiences of reviewing translation tests, those that fully comply with the required standards are very rare. Even applicants who have passed the initial screening frequently make mistakes in the test. This means that there are both excellent and decent translations among the tests. The former are gladly sent an e-mail about passing the test, while the latter are sent an e-mail with the translation agency thinking “maybe something will come of it” and with the understanding that such translators will have to be trained and monitored very closely. Of course, managers prefer to spend less time on training new personnel.

Translation agencies in general are inclined to send translations from a specific client, or on a certain subject, to the same translators, preferring not to look for new people every time and then worrying about the uncertainty this brings. That’s why, when considering candidates for translating a project, a manager asks the following questions: “Will the translator be able to fulfill the tasks for me on a continued basis?” “Will they manage to cope with the volume of work that I can offer?” and “Can I count on them in the long term?”

Given the above, preference is given to translators who devote more time to freelancing, and who are willing to work up to eight hours a day. Candidates who have less time are considered next, as it’s usually better to assign a single task to one translator, rather than divide it among several people and then bring together their translations.

It is also very common for these tasks to be accompanied by additional instructions and supporting materials, which have to be studied before starting work on the actual translation. The less time per day you are willing or able to work, the longer the task will take to complete, as you will be spending time studying the instructions.

As a result, if a freelancer can’t allocate at least four hours a day for cooperation with a translation agency, the prospect of a long-term collaboration with them becomes rather vague, as there may not be enough small tasks for him or her.

The days when a professional translator needed a simple word processor for work are long gone. There are now a lot of professional tools and applications that assist a translator in their work and also help speed it up. It is a must for translators to be advanced PC users to learn them as fast as possible.

There are practically no translations within the leading translation agencies that are fulfilled without using these tools. Therefore, your willingness to master them is a prerequisite for collaboration. Very often, cooperation with a translator does not occur because they cannot or do not want to learn how to use the new software applications, while translators who are already proficient in those applications are a real find for a manager. For new freelance translators to understand which tools we are talking about, let’s provide a short list below:

Trados Studio 2011/2014/2021, Passolo, Idiom, LEAF Editor, Translation Workspace, Xbench, LTB, Across, SDLX, Wordfast, MemoQ, Phrase, Smartcat

If these names mean absolutely nothing to you, be ready to learn how to work using these applications.

It is very important for freelancers to always be available during work hours. When a manager wants to assign a project to a freelancer, they need to find out as fast as possible whether the translator will accept the project. A manager does not have time to wait several hours, so if a response is not forthcoming, then most probably the project will go to another translator.

Very often a client will add comments about a project, or ask to change something urgently. In such situations, the manager also needs to contact the freelancer straightaway.

Given the above, a manager might be uncomfortable working with a translator who does not answer the phone, or if it takes them ages to reply via e-mail.

Sometimes translators run into issues preventing them from fulfilling their work, for instance, technical problems, or some personal matters. If this is the case, they are obliged to inform their manager immediately so that he or she knows about the issue and can do something about it. Otherwise, the professional relationship between the translator and the manager can irreparably break down. Below is an example of this situation:

— Hello, Ivan. Have you finished the translation?

— No, I’ve only managed to translate half of it.

— What do you mean? The deadline ended four hours ago. Why haven’t you finished the translation yet?

— I had a toothache, so I went to see the dentist.

— Why didn’t you notify me about going to the dentist?

— To tell you the truth, I just didn’t think about it…

After such a conversation, the translator was blacklisted and never contacted again. We understand that there are different situations in life when work becomes a second priority. However, it is very seldom that problems are such that they cannot be informed about. Bad news will be better for a manager than happy ignorance, after which panic starts!

Workloads are often quite unstable in the translation industry. There are hardly any translation agencies that can provide an accurate forecast of their workload for more than a month, as their clients first have to complete all their current orders for the month before notifying the agency about any new ones. All their forecasts are based on current volumes, trends, and statistics at most. Consequently, a translation agency’s workload can change at any time. There are cases when in the morning, managers do their best to try and find work for their full-time employees, while in the evening they already don’t have enough freelancers to share among them, as several large projects have come in.

Under such circumstances, freelancers frequently act as a protective buffer against increasing volumes of work and are mobilized at peak periods. When it is not so busy, translation agencies provide work for their full-time translators first, while freelancers may not receive any orders until the workload peaks again.

If the number of orders increases so much that most of the freelancers are occupied all the time, the translation agency hires additional translators on a full-time basis. As a result, freelancers get less work again.

However, the most trusted and proven freelancers very seldom have quiet periods. The better a translator does their job, the less seasonal fluctuations affect them.

Managers are the people who assign work to translators. Each manager forms a team of translators that they use to work with. If this team can cope with the current volume of work, it is extremely difficult for a new person to become part of it. Nevertheless, when some trusted translators become unavailable, a manager has to search among the recruits. If a new translator shows good results, they will become trusted and start getting orders more often.

It happens that a translator passes an agency’s initial tests, but does not receive work for a long time. In this situation, it’s better to remind them about yourself via e-mail. At least it will show that you are interested. After receiving your e-mail, managers will know that you are still interested in cooperation. Of course, this will not guarantee orders but will increase their probability. In the experience of this article’s author, there were cases when cooperation with translators started only after they sent a reminder about themselves.

If you received your first task or project from a translation agency, remember that your prospects of further cooperation depend on how well you translate.

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