How a Translation Agency Recruits

As the president of a language translation agency, I am the first to admit that there are a lot of bad apples in the translation industry. The Internet has given birth to flocks of amateurs posing as professionals and getting away with it… for a while at least.

Somewhere out there is a person sitting in front of his computer looking for work. Let’s call him Mr. F. He lives in a non-English speaking country, took English up until grade 5 and has a smattering of American slang thanks to Hollywood. He has a best friend who studied engineering in the US, and he asks him to whip up a resume in perfect English.

Now Mr. F is equipped to contact translation agencies claiming to be a pro translator specializing in, let’s say, mechanical engineering. Heck, he will just borrow a piece of his friend’s resume, no one will ever know! Initially, Mr. F will make a good first impression with a stellar resume. He will have a great cover letter and be very responsive. He may even charge a really low rate to make his offering more attractive. When he gets the job, he will use Google Translate, and then clean it up a bit. He will ignore the parts he doesn’t understand too well. Well, doesn’t everyone? He will deliver on time, showing once again that he is a true professional.

However, he will have delivered rubbish. There are no other ways to describe it, unfortunately. And the scary part is that this happens, and it results in clients receiving some very poor, almost nonsensical translation work.

What most translation agencies won’t tell you is that when we are looking for translators, we all do it in the same online marketplaces. Unless an agency has an in-house team specializing in a specific industry, they all recruit linguists in the same murky waters of online pools, where amateurs swarm and crowd out the few good professionals.

So, how is an agency to navigate these treacherous waters and honour their quality commitments? How does one find a language translator who is fluent in the source language, translates into their strongest language, and is truly knowledgeable in the subject field?

Other than the typical resources such as a resume, cover letter and references, there are ways a translation service can greatly increase the chances of selecting a professional translator. Here are some that APlus Translations has been using over the years.

Be wary of very low rates

Although price isn’t always indicative of quality in our business, if the rate that a translator offers is much below the going rate for their language combination, it can signal a lack of experience, desperation or a devious plan of getting some help from Google Translate!
When recruiting, quality should be at the forefront of an agency’s concern. Think long-term. Think about getting repeat business from a happy customer rather than making a quick buck.

Pick up the phone!

A telephone interview with a potential candidate is a most underused recruitment tool in our industry. The candidates that APlus call, often tell us that we are the only agency that’s ever called them for an interview. And yet, this is such an inexpensive and essential tool, especially in our business of language. When looking for the right translator, you want to hear their voice. You want to see how well they manage in the language they will be working in. And you want to take them through typical interview questions to gauge their responses.

With the online world, it is easy to forget this very basic human dimension of recruitment.

Test the translation agency candidate

Agencies need to test the candidate, but not on the job! Ideally, each candidate should be presented with a basic language test as well as a test related to the subject field. And to ensure the person isn’t Googling the answers, why not time the test or even conduct it via an instant messaging tool, like Skype?

Developing tests can be difficult, especially in the case of those designed to test a candidate’s industry knowledge. In the past, we have brought our clients on board to helps us develop the test. The resulting test should be designed so that a linguist who claims expertise in the subject area should be able to answer the questions quickly.

So, you’ve selected the translator… now what?

An agency’s job is not done once a new candidate has passed the recruitment process. It’s not until the first job is done, and proofread by an already established linguist, that the agency can safely count the linguist among its pro team.

So, if you are dealing with an translation agency, make sure they have a solid recruitment process. Look for the details in their process. Ultimately, an agency is selling you someone else’s work. That someone could be anywhere in the world. That doesn’t matter. What matters is whether that person is really qualified to work on your specific document.

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