Sorting through resumes is a necessary evil. It's a simple fact that translation companies can't operate without translators. If we're the butter, they're the bread, and we simply couldn't do business without them. From this standpoint, you'd think independent translators had it made--that they're the ones who call the shots instead of us. But that's not how it works. The basic principle of supply and demand rules that out. While there are hundreds of them, from my standpoint, there's only one of us--one company, one HR inbox, one database they can go into. And, with the recent growth in sites such as ProZ, Translators' Café, and GoTranslators.com, I have countless contractors to choose from. So who makes the cut?
I'd like to say it's the best qualified. And hopefully, it is. But in the end, it all comes down to one thing: Who is the most professional?
Of the dozens of resumes I receive on a daily basis, it's shocking how few don't include one of two important pieces of information: the languages the applicant speaks and the applicant's last name. Granted, "languages spoken" isn't a required field on many American job applications, but you're not applying for a job at the local movie theater; you're applying for a job with a translation company. The languages you speak are vital. Not only that, but it's important to differentiate which languages are which. Do you work into this language or out of it? Is this your native language, your heritage language, or a foreign language you've learned? If it's a foreign language, how did you learn it? How long did you study it? Have you ever lived in a country where it's spoken? Including pertinent information like this is a matter of professionalism. If you are a professional, you must show me why. Giving me your basic linguistic qualifications is step one.
In translating, as all professionals know, there's more that matters than the language. Cultural knowledge is important as well. The way people interact with one another, common forms of address, what constitutes politeness and manners--these are things you need to know as a professional translator, not just so you can preserve the register and tone of a document, but so you can land a job as well. If you address your cover letter "Dear Terena," I'm probably not going to hire you. I am an American Southerner. And here in the South, we still say "Ms So-and-So." Not to be a pain, but until you know me, it's "Dear Ms Bell" with a semi-colon on the end, as American punctuation rules insist. I realize this may be something people from other parts of the world don't know. I also realize that where many of my applicants live (including other parts of the US), it has grown quite common to address complete strangers on a first-name basis. But, as my momma always said, better to be overly polite than not polite enough. If I'm a first-name basis kind of gal, "Ms Bell" isn't going to insult me. But if I'm a respecter of formality, "Terena" will. It's kind of like the informal you usage rule in French--if you're not sure you should tutoyer someone, don't. And, if you're translating American English, familiarization with American business etiquette is simply part of the game.
I said before that many applicants who contact me fail to include their last names. In American business culture, business letters are signed with both the first and the last name until you know the person well enough. Voice mail messages should be handled in the same way. Last week, a man left me this message: "Hey, this is TJ. I'm calling to get more info about contracting with you." I spent ten minutes racking my brain trying to figure out who "TJ" was. When I finally decided I didn't know anybody named TJ, I also decided not to call TJ back.
This may seem like a bit of an elitist approach to hiring and I hope I'm not coming across as too stern. But from my viewpoint, when I contract you, my butt is on the line. I don't speak a lick of Russian. I can't even sound out the words. So when I contract you to translate into Russian (or Chinese, or Japanese, or something else I can't even read), I'm putting complete trust in you. I'm placing my confidence in someone I only know minimally. I'm laying my company's reputation in your hands. I'd like to know I can trust you with the details, that I can trust you to be thorough and complete in your work, that you're a detail oriented individual and that you won't do me wrong. I'd like to know you're qualified and I'd like to know you're professional.
It's my bet that this yields the best applicants, that this helps me weed out the good from the bad, the chaff from the wheat. I receive dozens of applications a day, but at the end of the day, the people who receive jobs are the ones who applications rose above the pack, the ones who, to me, seemed the most professional. Because in my opinion, and in the opinion of my clients, professionalism is a natural result of qualification. People who are qualified are professional about it, and people who are professional are more likely to be qualified. The two go hand in hand and it's every translator's responsibility, as he grows one, to grow the other.
By Terena Bell | Published 03/14/2006