Guest blog post: “Don’t lower your rates! There are better ways of getting noticed”, by Véronica Coquard 13

This Translator T.O. guest blogger post is by member Véronica Coquard. Véronica and colleague Cornelia Buttmann-Scholl have released a new bilingual translation-related blog, Vers d’autres horizons… (you’ll find the link in the blogroll on the right as well). The following post about rates, responding to job calls and looking at both sides of the service provider – client equation is reproduced here courtesy of Véronica and Cornelia, and can be seen on Vers d’autres horizons… in both English and French:

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(This article began as a post to a colleague on ProZ.com, who wrote:

I am a very experienced translator. In December, due to the loss of a major client, I decided to go Pro in this website. I apply to jobs every single day. At first, I cut my tariff in 25%, now it’s less than half, and yet, nothing.

…Anyone out there is getting jobs through this website that are [sic] fairly paid? Or are you a member for different reason, for the sense of community, etc?

I appreciate the time and effort of mods and Proz people, but I am mostly interested in knowing other members’ experiences!”

…And, thanks to a little encouragement from Jared at ProZ.com, it grew from there.)

As a translator, I have replied to countless jobs, on ProZ.com and elsewhere (well, I suppose I could count them, as I keep a file of them. But I digress). Statistically I only get a positive reply maybe one out of forty times. But recently, I had an experience “on the other side” that will influence my choices in the future.

You see, recently, I was offered a big job by a direct client, who probably sent the tender notice out to a few agencies as well as to me, as I had called on them recently proposing that they compare my services to their current agency. I am not an agency, but a freelancer; but since I was entering into competition with at least one agency, I would have to find two other reliable translators to adapt the text into German and Dutch while I translated it into English. So, putting myself in the position of a project manager, I posted the offer on ProZ.com. By looking at recruitment from the PM’s standpoint, not only did I get a slew of replies; I also learned some valuable lessons that I will be putting to use the next time I reply to a job offer.

First of all, I wasn’t looking for the lowest rates; the most important thing for me was to find someone I could count on doing the job properly and on time. (I, too, have had people insist that I lower my rates, but they can insist all they like; I’m the boss of me.) All of the translators who replied to my offer were within the price range that I had cited, and many were below. I did not reply to the lower bidders, but then I did not really take the price range into consideration. In my offer I had asked my potential partners to align with my middle-of-the-range prices, and the crushing majority did just that (by the way, when I say middle-of-the-range, I am talking about rates that allow one to live an ordinary life in a developed country). However, the list of replies was long, so I had to narrow down the choices. Here is what I did.

ProZ.com offers its job posters the option of gathering replies through an on-line application form. I opted for this choice, and was glad I did. Instead of having to sort through my e-mails for replies, the applications were sorted for me. As their messages came pouring in, those who had followed the instructions were to be found through the link to my offer, neatly stacked up in chronological order and in the category of the language they were offering. Those who had not followed the instructions, who had simply contacted me by e-mail, were not on the list. It would have taken an extra effort on my part to include them, printing out various messages to compare them with those on my handy list. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t make that effort. Now, obviously, not all job posters use this system; as freelancers we are often asked to reply by e-mail or through the on-line forms of various agencies. The key here is to reply using the method requested by the client, which might simply save you from not being included on the list of people considered for the job.

When I followed the link to see the replies, I noticed that the page began with a succinct list of the applicants and their most basic information, such as their avatar and a link to their profile, along with the subject line of their message. Below that, there is a longer version of the list, including the text of their messages and their attachments in the same order. This explains why, when you are writing your message subject to apply for a job on ProZ.com, there is a little note alongside the form to help remind you to write something memorable. I hadn’t realized until that day that the subject line is also the heading of each applicant’s place on the shorter list. What you decide to write in that space really can help you stand out. (I’m the first to admit having produced such boring headings like “FR >EN translations”. I should have realized, and expressed in no uncertain terms, that I’m much more interesting than that!) To begin studying the some fifty applications that I received, I printed out the short (subject-line) list, ticking off people as I went along. So it is important to make your subject line specific and eye-catching, summing up in a few words why you are better than the competition, for this job (I’ll get back to that in a moment).

I had posted the offer in French. Now it may sound rash, but I began by throwing out any replies that were not in French. The lesson is: always reply in the language that the job is posted in. At least half of my applicants replied to me in English, but I wanted to get an idea of their level of French by reading their replies. In my case, I didn’t particularly care to know their level of English, as that’s my part of the job; and I trust that they are good in their respective native languages. Also, I had so many worthy replies in French that I didn’t bother going out of my way to request a French version of the application even from the English-speaking people who sounded quite competent.

After eliminating those who were speaking to me in languages other than French, I narrowed it down to those who had sent a well-written reply, and I must say that a few of them had me balking. You needn’t translate into a language other than your native, but if you are offering language services, you should at least be able to write a decent note in your source language. It’s also worth taking a bit of extra time to polish your message and subject line, running them through spellcheck and proofreading them (and if you’re really bad in your source language, may I somewhat cheekily suggest that you go looking for a job elsewhere). Note that the order of the replies did not really influence me in my choice; this is why I talk about taking a moment to verify your words. After all, the message you send out is the first (and might be the last) sample of your writing that the contractor will have to judge you by. Anyone who sent me a sloppy message (with typos or weirdly cobbled phrasing) was out. Again, I was spoiled for choice, and didn’t have to settle for slackness.

A few of the applicants piqued my interest because in their few short, well-turned sentences, I could detect that they had style. As writers, we must be aware of the powerful choices that we make when using words, although we mustn’t allow ourselves to become overwhelmed with the possibilities. My suggestion would be to tend toward subtle originality. The key word here is subtle: as much as it is important to stand out, don’t go so far as to make yourself ridiculous or even too casual. The “I’m-a-riot-to-work-with” approach might get you attention, but it doesn’t go far in reassuring your client that you are reliable. Likewise, in French we have a formal and informal form of address, and I didn’t much appreciate being addressed in the informal way; it just didn’t seem businesslike. The same goes for those who used smileys; for me, smileys are reserved for friendly exchanges, and not when you are looking to impress. You shouldn’t need them to express your politeness; courtesy and respect for your client should shine through in every aspect of your text.

After these qualities, personalization proved to be a big factor in my decision-making. I was just naturally attracted to the people who had personalized their note. Those who had taken the time to look at my name (and spell it correctly) got points in my book. These were generally the people who understood what I was asking for, and who adapted their message in kind, instead of just copy-pasting a generic “cover letter” blurb (and again, I’ve done this plenty of times).

The smart ones listed any past experience specifically relevant to the job. Again, my priority was to find someone dependable, and it’s just safer to go with someone who has had similar types of experience. I can already hear some of you wondering where you can possibly begin when you’re new to the craft. In a word, the answer is: use your imagination (and read up on ProZ.com forums where there are dozens of ideas for plumping up your experience, such as pro bono work). You must have some kind of professional experience, even if it was prior to translation, and you can expand on that – without exaggerating your qualifications – to make it clear to your potential client that the subject interests you in some way. Be specific.

Likewise, a great many people who replied to me cited experience that had nothing to do with the job I was offering. I did not penalize them for this purposely, but it did leave me feeling a bit chilly toward them. I suppose I got the impression that not only they didn’t have any relevant experience, but that their experience was limited in general, which may or may not be the case. Anyway, the subject of the job you are applying for is the only kind of experience that the client is looking for, so talk about your experiences in that matter, and let the rest of your impressive feats be fascinating surprises for the client perusing your CV.

Most of my better applicants thought to attach a CV, although I hadn’t mentioned it, and, although I didn’t really plan it in advance, I printed out the CVs of my ever-narrowing selection of translators to make my final choice. I didn’t look at the CVs too carefully, but again, I made sure that there was something there that reflected the specialization I was looking for. It might be taking it too far to suggest that you should personalize your CV to every job offer, but it might be worth it to create several CVs, keeping the main points the same while providing more detailed information on the various main specialty fields that you develop for each corresponding CV. This will allow you to choose the CV that is the most appropriate for each job you reply to. The language of your CV, of course, should be the same as for your message.

In the experience that I am recounting, the CVs made for a handy one-page printout upon which I could make notes as I perused profiles and websites (yes, one page is enough to get an idea of your professional history; any more means your client will have to rummage through his or her drawer looking for a stapler, possibly discovering that he or she is out of staples, and putting him or her in a foul mood). By the way, I have also helped recruit team members in my past life as a tourist board director, and the one-page CV seems a universally good idea. Often, when scanning documents to be sent to other decision-makers, HR people will only bother to scan the first page anyway. So shrink it down, folks.

Many of my applicants – and this was especially penalizing for those who didn’t think to include a CV – forgot to sign their messages with their contact information. Occasionally I found myself having to click several times to get that information. So put your contact information all over the place, so that the impatient person looking for it will find it and won’t skip over you to the next person who thought to include theirs.
To contact the translators that I chose, I called them. Now, it’s not very kind of me, but I admit that I hung up when I got an answering machine. In spite of my ruthless eliminating, I still had a lot of competent translators on my list, and I didn’t want to leave a message with one, only to call another and perhaps give the second one a false hope, only to have the first one call me back… You get the picture. Impatience strikes again. I’m not proud of it, but I’m telling you this because I’m sure that the same thing happens to agencies and other clients.

The way it turned out, I had to call several people for the Dutch translation, and I came to the bottom of my narrowed-down pile of CVs; I therefore backtracked and printed out the contact pages of websites advertised on various offers, which proved almost as handy as a CV. It doesn’t hurt to have a website. Again, make sure that your contact information is visible on every page.

So after this experience, as I return to the land of those selling their services, I am sure that from now on I will reply differently to jobs. It’s been an awakening, because when I’m on our side of the line, I am not a lazy, hard-hearted person. However, as soon as I found myself in the position of power, I was struck with a case of the I-can’t-be-bothereds. Your client is probably a good person, but he or she might also come down with that syndrome when reading applications. So make it easy for that person to care about you.

Follow my mantra: I will only reply to offers where I have some kind of relative experience, I will personalize my reply and cite that experience, I will include my contact information and a CV to make it easier for the client to reach me. And I will keep trying, every day that I don’t have work to do!

You see, now, there’s no need to lower your rates!

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Thanks to Véronica for this contribution! Looking forward to more insightful posts from Vers d’autres horizons…

Has anyone had similar experiences? Does the way you reply to jobs differ from what you would expect if you were seeking translators?

 

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13 comments

  1. To be honest, I have already been following all of those tips, bar the one page CV – mine is a neat 2 pages, but the first page contains a detailed summary of my translation experience in related areas, the second goes on to detail qualifications and relevant IT skills (I translate IT and technology texts, so this is relevant to establishing my ability to do the job).

    The heading is very important, I believe. I always highlight my KudoZ leadership position, answer acceptance ratio and points… As well as my WWA entries.

    If the poster is asking via ProZ.com, I think it is important to take advantage of the facilities of ProZ.com and stand out by highlighting the above aspects.

    When assessing translator quality, personally, I always look at the KudoZ answers to points ratio. If they have less points than questions answered, that is a huge no-no. I do not want a stab-in-the-dark translator. I am proud that my acceptance ratio is consistently above 65% – it shows that when I speak, I know what I am talking about. I am not shouting incessantly in the hope I randomly hit the target (word or phrase).

    That is the other point I would like to raise – I only ever apply for jobs in one of my primary specialisms.

    I am pretty good at medical translations and interested in health and medicine – I also have quite some experience in translating drugs trials, lab procedures, etc. – however, I am not and will never be a qualified nurse, or read medical journals out of interest.

    I am, however, a complete geek. I love computers – from building and fixing them, to coding websites, to reading journals, to playing games, to talking about them with friends and peers. A lot. I am also due to start a Masters in Human Aspects of Information Technology later this year. Ah yes, and relevant experience and many KudoZ points in this category.

    Similarly, I am young and entrepreneurial – I have a well-read blog, am active on twitter, and a well-developed website. Of course, I also have relevant experience and KudoZ points in business, finance and commercial law.

    So, when I apply for jobs on ProZ – do I apply for medical translations? No – I do not waste my time. A client that selects me over a more appropriate translator is not one I want. If that is their attitude to translator recruitment – choosing anything BUT the individual with the most relevant experience, then what is their attitude to other aspects of our cooperation? Late payers, underpayers, rush jobs without compensation, quibble regarding rates after they have been agreed, false claims of poor quality (luckily, nothing that has ever happened to me, but I have heard it can happen)… that is what I would expect of such project managers.

    So, I apply exclusively for IT, technology, business and finance-related translation jobs, when I have some spare additional capacity, that is. I quote a pretty fair price for the high-quality translations I produce, however, not the bottom rates and above the maximum quoted budget quoted on many jobs.

    My acceptance rate is probably around 80-95% on the jobs I apply for. Of those, ALL have come back to offer me further work – and thus reducing my need to apply for further jobs directly through ProZ.com in future.

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  2. Hi Rose, thanks for posting! The point of specializing (focusing on one or a few areas and marketing yourself in them) is a good one, and it works. Many clients will opt for the specialist when they can. And for your areas of specialization to be subjects you are passionate about is important (maybe “necessary” is the right word?).

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  3. Thank you very much for your insight. It is certainly very useful. Many of us wonder why we seldom land a job posted in Proz.

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  4. Thanks Véronica for sharing your experience from the “other side” of the pond. From my former HR point of view I can relate with the need to simplify your search by sticking with those who follow directions. My thoughts are that if this person can’t follow simple instructions to apply, how do I know they will focus on meeting my needs?

    Now I find myself with the shoe on the other foot. Since becoming self-employed I’ve used many of the principles you described as well as the things I learned during my professional years when bidding for jobs. Unfortunately it’s very challenging, specially given all the competition out there. Although I’ve been translating for a few years, which I love to do, being self-employed adds new challenges which can at times leave me wondering if ou are in translating or in marketing.

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  5. Excellent article – nothing new or shocking in there, but it serves to remind us that we have to keep our edge among so much competition.

    Thanks Véronica.

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  6. Very instructive article. I agree with virtually everything written in it especially the casual attitude(The “Hi Steve” replies I get annoy me intensely).

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  7. “It might be taking it too far to suggest that you should personalize your CV to every job offer, but it might be worth it to create several CVs, keeping the main points the same while providing more detailed information on the various main specialty fields that you develop for each corresponding CV. This will allow you to choose the CV that is the most appropriate for each job you reply to. The language of your CV, of course, should be the same as for your message”

    i would like to emphasis on above mention lines as i myself represent translation agency and face lots of problem regarding the same 90% of translators send there one standard resume to all jobs which i feel totally wrong. Most of the time i have to asked them to mention the details if they have done similar projects or not. Moreover before choosing any translator I love to chat with them through any of chat id(Skype or Gtalk) so that i become confident enough that i am giving work to a experts.

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  8. Thanks to everyone for their feedback!
    Indeed, nothing in my article is very surprising, but it was quite a novel experience for me to be on the other side of matters. I am the first to admit that before this experience, I had made some of the same mistakes that I talk about, especially in the standard cover letter that I tended to copy-paste. But every experience is an opportunity to learn and improve ourselves.
    Since I had this experience, I’ve managed to noticeably improve my response ratio. I have even carried out a few communication experiences to back up my statements. One job offer I replied to, shortly after writing the article, was written in a very edgy British slang, and I replied in kind. I couldn’t believe it – I got instant results, and the PM even confided in me that he was tired of people’s standardized descriptions of their work as “reliable”, “consistent”, etc. This “mirroring” technique is really worth a try!
    In any case, stay tuned to our blog for up-and-coming articles on software/web localization and more, delivered in French and English. …And thanks for reading!

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  9. Thanks for the tips. Although I can say that normally I do most of the things you said, which is good, I think. I have only replied in a different language from the one on the post a couple of times that there was a job offer written in German for English into several languages. I can understand German, but as I haven’t practice it for a long time, and also the job wasn’t to transalte from German but from English, I did write in English.

    I will keep this for my future applications. Thanks again for sharing your experience🙂

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  10. Thank you, Verónica! (y Jared). You were very generous sharing your experience. Great recommendation. I followed it this week and I believe it helped me getting a new job with a new agency. Keep p the good work!

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