It’s not that I’m choosy – but I am particular”.
This was what a Japanese woman who was looking for a prospective husband in San Francisco told me once, more than 30 years ago. Incidentally, she did not find the man she was looking for and returned to Japan, although she would have preferred to stay in America. A few years later I heard that she got a really good, well-paying executive job with a Japanese company in Tokyo, partly thanks to her fluency in English.
She is probably better off without an American husband. I certainly hope so.
It’s not that I am choosy when it comes to who I pick to help me with my translations, but I am definitely very particular. I believe the same principle that applies to husbands and wives also applies also to translators and their work.
Despite the fact that I am bombarded by dozens of resumes on a daily basis, I know from much experience that it is very difficult to find a suitable translator for my small (but potent) patent translation operation.
Although I could sometimes use help from other translators, 99.99% of the resumes that I receive I instantly eliminate, usually without even looking at them, after a brief glance at the accompanying email.
Here are some of the elimination criteria that I personally use for this purpose, in addition to obvious criteria such as how well the translator can write even a simple introductory email in the English language.
- The translator has a free email address (at yahoo.com, hotmail.com, or even gmail.com)
I have a few free email addresses myself that I use for various purposes, but for communication with clients, including prospective ones, I use my own, custom-made, distinctive and paid email address.
A serious real estate agent would never drive a piece-of-junk car because clients who see it would probably think that this particular real estate genius does not sell a whole lot of houses and thus cannot afford a better car.
A translator who uses a free, throw-away email is in my opinion no better than a real estate agent who has no choice but to drive an old, scratched, dented and rusty car.
- The translator has a free page on a blind auction site such as Proz or Translators Cafe, but never bothered to create her own website.
I know this translator is trained to charge very low rates, and I am not particularly interested in taking advantage of people like that.
It’s one thing to have a page on one of these sites if the same translator also has a well functioning, informative and good looking website that took some time and effort to put together, generally with some professional help along the way.
But to be listed only on Proz or other free “portals” for translators, where translators are forced to bid against each other until the cheapest guy gets a job means to me that the translator is either a total beginner, or not very smart, and I am not interested in beginners or people who are, how does one say this in English … not exactly the brightest bulb in the chandelier.
- The translator emphasizes the fact that he uses CATs, and Trados in particular, as a sign of professionalism.
Some people use CATs, and some don’t. Since plumbers generally don’t advertise the tools that they use for their important and highly specialized work to prove that they are highly skilled professionals. I am astonished that so many translators would think that mentioning Trados might make them appear more professional.
In fact, the exact opposite happens because it is well known that many shady translation agencies use CATs, usually Trados, to eliminate “full matches” and “fuzzy matches” from the word count for which the translator can expect to be paid full rate.
Translators who announce to the world that their tool of choice is Trados are clearly announcing to translation agencies that they will be amenable to this kind of extortion and cheating that amounts to wage theft, quite common now in the modern form of the “translation industry”, and that they don’t mind being treated in this way.
To me this means that they are desperate for work, and I am not interested in people who are desperate for work.
- The translator claims to be able to translate just about anything, but in fact does not really have a specialty.
Beggars can’t be choosers, and since beginners are pretty much in the same position as beggars, it is understandable that they may not have a specialty yet.
But when people who have been translating for many years advertise themselves as being able to translate anything in any field, from the “hospitality industry” to patents, to me this means that this person is fated to remain a beginner forever.
The specialty “hospitality industry” makes me particularly suspicious about a translator’s qualifications, perhaps because I worked in the “hospitality industry” myself for several years before it dawned on me that I was wasting my life in a superficial industry and that I would be working for peanuts forever unless I started doing something else.
I know I am being unfair to the hospitality industry. On the other hand, since I don’t remember a lot of patents about the hospitality industry (not a single one), it’s not really a very helpful field for my line of work, which is translating patents from Japanese, Chinese, Korean, German, French and other languages into English.
The translator takes forever to return my email on the rare occasion when I do respond.
Some people who look promising to me on the computer screen, at least when it comes to patent translation, don’t respond to my email for days, or never.
Maybe they have their own rejection criteria and somehow I inadvertently disqualified myself by responding to their email. But if that is the case, why did they bother to contact me in the first place?
I can’t figure out why this happens relatively frequently, especially given that I respond to unsolicited emails (which is, by the way, a definition of junk email), extremely infrequently.
- The translator has already advertised a low rate in the introductory email.
The reasons why I distrust people like this are similar to how I view advertising Trados, having a free email and not having a professional-looking website. In fact, would-be translators who have these characteristics never have a professionally looking website because they do all the (in my opinion) stupid things I am mentioning here, either because they are beginners, which is forgivable, or because they are not very smart, which is unfortunately not curable.
On the other hand, peeps who are willing to work for low rates probably have no choice but to work for peanuts, so it makes sense to advertise their willingness to do so from the get-go, as the saying goes.
They may not have much choice and I am not judging them. I’m just saying I don’t want to work with them.
- Being a member of a “professional organization of translators” does not count for anything in my book.
I am sorry if I offend some of my esteemed colleagues by saying this, but I know what I am talking about because I myself am and have been a member of the American Translators Association (ATA) for almost 20 years.
The only condition to become a member of this organization is to pay a membership fee, which at this point is 190 US dollars. You don’t even have to know a foreign language, and many members, usually people who run or work at translation agencies, are 100% monolingual.
So how could it possibly mean anything?
I understand things are not much better in other countries when it comes to “professional” organizations of translators either.
The ATA has some kind of accreditation, but all you have to do to become accredited is to translate a few sample texts from one language to another in one session that may take up to three hours, I think.
You do have to know a foreign language to be able to pass a test like that, but that’s all. You don’t have to have a college degree, in languages or in chemistry, or mechanical engineering, or anything useful for patent translators, which would take many years and a lot of intelligence, drive and perseverance to accomplish.
So I’m afraid I can’t really take this particular test very seriously either. In the absence of a college degree, it is better than nothing, but to me it is only an aspirational characteristic of a beginner.
But if you have a degree in languages or sciences, or both, plus years of experience as a patent translator, please send me your resume – I promise I will take a look at it, and I might even respond.
And if I do respond, I hope you will have the courtesy of not letting me wait for your next email forever because I get really angry with people who do that to me!