Help with career ideas
March 11, 2014 10:51 AM   Subscribe

I'm a freelance translator who wants to transition into employment. How can I go about this, and what should/could I do next?

I like translation but am ready for a new challenge. I started freelancing aged 25, not because I didn't want to work for The Man or because I was desperate to work alone, but because it seemed the most viable way to get into translation. Ten years on, I have made a decent success of it and now make a good living, but I'm tired of the solitude and of the lack of progression. I think I want to work for an organisation. I don't want to seek employment as a translator, because jobs are scarce and poorly paid - neither do I want to manage translation projects. So I'll probably need to look at completely different fields.

My first concern is: how do I parlay my freelancing experience into a job? How to convince a potential employer that I'm not a maverick loner, having spent most of my adult life freelancing?

My second problem is narrowing down the kind of job I'd want to do. I imagine I'd need to start at a fairly low level. Facts about me:

- Good writer
- Fluent French, decent German
- Degree from top British university
- Have taught my current discipline at the highest level (my teaching and my main hobby involve quite a bit of teamwork)
- Numerate and with some scientific education
- Considerable interest in medicine & public health, though no formal training in these areas
- Quick on the uptake
- Business skills sufficient to succeed as a freelancer for 10 years
- In the UK and with limited scope to relocate

I'm sure there's more I could add but I can't think of anything.

I'm looking for suggestions for strategies to employ, as well as for actual jobs/organisations/career paths to consider. Resources for learning how to tell my story effectively and so that employers will want to give me a try? Resources for finding vacancies at the right level in my local area? Anything gratefully received.

Anonymous for plausible deniability.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (6 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I have several friends that translate at the UN here in NYC. They don't live lives of solitude at all. It seems like they spend all of their time gabbing with each other, really. One is transferring to a law-oriented translation service, and she's starting night law school for that.

Are you in London? I'd imagine that there's a similar career pathway for EU work.
posted by overhauser at 10:55 AM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was in a position similar to yours ten years ago. What ended up happening is I was hired by my favorite client! My career trajectory with them could probably give you some ideas:

- Technical writer, which quickly turned into Team Lead. It was on a multilingual project, so was pretty sweet. With your scientific background, and if you have experience in technical translations, this might be something you could look into.

- Functional software tester. My employer, a business unit of a French multinational IT consultancy, offered this to me when their tech writing projects dried up and the parent consulting company insisted we drop "documentation" and move towards "IT work". (Scare quotes because anyone who knows the importance of documentation knows it's essential to IT work, but that would be a tangent.) I was given training to become a tester: it involves a lot of analysis and writing, which are things we linguistic types tend to do very well. You write test strategies, requirements, the tests themselves, bug reports/defects, progress reports, exit criteria, and so on and so forth. I frankly love this.

- Test Analyst, see above. Generally you start out as a tester, which gives you a feel for the field. There are several options afterwards. I happen to have strong analytical and communications skills, so do quite well in this more crossover role.

There's also Business Analysis you could look into. It too deals with gathering information from stakeholders, analyzing it, and putting it into a form that can be comprehended by development/testing/whichever teams you're working with.

If you genuinely miss the people side of a job, I would highly recommend an analysis position. Especially if you also happen to be the introvert type. I know that sounds paradoxical. I am a serious introvert who loves talking to people: analysts get the best of both worlds. You have to know everyone and everything; sometimes the littlest detail dropped by someone will set off an important discovery for your work. Then you have to be enough of an introvert to sit down and write it all out.

How do you sell yourself? I sold myself by saying essentially what you did. "I love translation! But I'm tired of being home alone. I miss people and would like a career. I love working with you guys. Hire me!" They did. Of course, I had the benefit of them having already seen the quality of my work – but it was "only" translation originally. They noticed my analysis skills and interest in how things work. You could play that up as well.

Translation is a rich field in which you learn all sorts of things. Tailor your approach to the companies you reach out to: emphasize work experience that matches and complements their fields. And definitely emphasize language skills. I have a choice project right now because my job experience and language skills both have reached a level where I'm a rare bird, and that is pretty awesome. Never lose sight of it. Loving languages is a real boon.
posted by fraula at 11:08 AM on March 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

You do your CV, listing your Translation Business as your job. List all of your projects, and publications and successes. Highlight the really large clients, if any.

When asked why you're looking for work with a corporation, you can say, "I've loved working as a translator and I'm looking for my next challenge. This position sounded like a wonderful match for my skills and abilities and it will give me a chance to learn all about the Gazingus-Pin industry!"

Now, start looking for jobs for which you are qualified, and that sounds interesting.

It really is that easy. Your language skills alone qualify you for all kinds of interesting jobs! My first thought is Executive Assistant. I have a cousin who has a law degree, and he does this job. He's the CEO's right hand dude, and he does all kinds of neat projects on a daily basis.

Here's a cool sounding listing on LinkedIn and you're certainly qualified for the position. Usually EAs make a LOT of money, and the position is not always a glorified Administrative Assistant. Here's another that sounds promising.

Here's a consulting job, which can be great! (They train you!)

I like LinkedIn, the jobs tend to be real.

Good luck!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:27 PM on March 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

I was in a very similar position a couple of years ago (now pretty much reconciled to staying with translation for the moment). I’d advise against doing what I did, which is trying to move into the legal field (if that’s something you’d even consider). It’s flooded with recent graduates already, and unless you’re in London it’s likely to be very difficult to find a law firm that will care that you’ve got language skills. Similarly, the idea that a law qualification will help you get other jobs seems to be a bit of a myth, or at least very limited in effect.

The advice I was pretty consistently given was basically just to keep applying for any and all jobs that interest you, and bear in mind that the jobs market here isn’t great for anyone so it’s as much to do with luck and timing as anything else.

To your point about how to tell your story effectively, as Fraula says being fairly direct about the fact that you want to work with other people again and have a career with prospects for progression seems to be something that people readily understand (I applied successfully for a Project Manager job explaining myself like this, although the job turned out to be a bad idea for other reasons). Also, playing up your teaching and teamwork-heavy hobby will make it very clear that you're not the maverick loner type.

I'm sorry not to be more encouraging - for what it's worth, my experience is at least partly affected by the fact that I live in an economically depressed area a long way from London, yours may well be much better. Anyway, best of luck.
posted by Otto the Magnificent at 12:39 PM on March 11, 2014

I am sure you already know this, but the EU tend to only consider people who know languages outwith the major European languages.

I have a friend who knows Latvian, Czech, Polish, French, and English. She worked for the EU Commission for a while but decided to leave as her combination of languages is not that strong and there is so much competition to get the good jobs.

Another friend is working the Italian - English - German - Danish - Swedish - Russian angle and appears to be doing okay.

Sorry, I don't have other concrete ideas for how to shift gears - I just know that pursuing the EU translation stream isn't all that probable with the selection of languages at the OP's disposal.
posted by kariebookish at 12:49 PM on March 11, 2014

Seconding Ruthless Bunny, list the whole of your freelance translation gigs under a single business role, which you were self employed under. (ie Anonymous Translation Services, 2005-present, and under this describe the breadth of services and clients).

In terms of jobs, look around for public health campaigns that are doing outreach to communities, both locally and nationally - these companies frequently hire or have on staff translators for materials and also to engage the public. Workers unions, political campaigns, and anything under the auspice of "community organizing" also may be a match.

Similarly, anyone doing international public relations will need someone who can both translate AND compose press releases.
posted by Unsomnambulist at 1:31 AM on March 12, 2014

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