Key Components of Successful Translator Recruitment
By Alaina Brantner, MATI Member
A fundamental tenet of language services is that an organization’s translation product will only be as good as the translator who provides the target content. To provide culturally and technically appropriate translations, translators must have a wide range of knowledge and capabilities, reflected in the standards issued by such organizations as the ASTM and the European Committee for Standardization. As indicated in the “Standard Guide for Quality Assurance in Translation” of the ASTM, “Proficiency in two languages is important but does not necessarily guarantee translation competence” (6).
Source and target language, translation, subject matter and text types are among the competencies necessary to carry out translation, according to the ASTM, and firms can use such indicators as certifications and degrees, experience, references and sample translations to determine if a candidate has the required competencies (6-7). In European Standard prEN 15038, the European Committee for Standardization adds research, cultural and technical (translation technology) competencies to those listed by the ASTM. These competencies are obtained through “formal higher education in translation[,]… a university degree or equivalent plus a minimum of two years of documented experience in translating, or… at least five years of documented professional experience in translating” (European Committee for Standardization 6-7). ISO 17100 certification is based on the language of prEN 15038. Notably, firms maintaining this certification must have documented processes for the verification and maintenance of records of professional competence (Ballou). Further requirements include processes for recording ongoing updates to linguist and staff competencies, highlighting the importance of continuing education in language services (International Organization for Standardization 3.1.8).
Whether or not firms intend to pursue certification such as ISO’s, vendor managers can benefit from an awareness of the standards and certification requirements established by large standardization and certifying bodies. This information can be a great knowledge base for initiating recruitment efforts and designing vendor recruitment processes.
Translator Directories: An Essential Recruitment Tool
When recruiting translators in new language pairs or specializations, vendor managers have a variety of online directories at their disposal to identify candidates. Being aware of the characteristics, functionality and size of directories not only speeds up recruitment, but also aids in the design of language- or specialization-specific recruitment processes. This awareness also helps vendor managers put steps in place to mitigate the risks associated with carrying out recruitment primarily online, among them identifying the best talent available amongst hundreds and thousands of search results (in which all sorts of big claims are made about capabilities) and weeding out any translator scammers. (Joseph Wojowski’s article, “On ‘Lying Through Their Teeth: Identifying Translation Scams’,” offers great insights on translator scammers and precautions one can take to avoid them.)
As a vendor manager, I prefer to start my own recruitment activities at the ATA Directory for several reasons—the overall focus of which is to set my recruitment efforts up for the greatest chance of success. First, for recruiters, membership to a professional association such as the ATA demonstrates translators’ understanding of the business investments necessary to operate as professionals within the language services industry, and presumably, their commitment to the field. Second, membership also represents a greater potential for participating in legitimate ongoing professional development, through webinars, articles in The Chronicle, or the ATA’s annual conference. Members of professional associations are also more likely to have strong networks of other members of professional associations to whom they can turn with language-, process- or technology-related questions—and who they can recommend to vendor managers!
Other well-known translator directories include Proz.com and Translator’s Café (TC). These directories are good resources for languages of lesser diffusion, in particular; however, when recruiting through these directories, vendor managers should be aware that the free profiles available on these sites are more likely to attract translator scammers, and new translators who are more likely to misrepresent their translation and subject-matter qualifications. That is not to say that professionals cannot be found on directories such as Proz and TC, only that added efforts are recommended to verify that individuals’ actual training, background, tools, etc. correspond to any claims they have made in their directory profiles—advice that holds true no matter the directory through which one recruits. (Recruiters can also limit their searches on Proz to display only vendors who have had their credentials verified by Proz, a worthwhile parameter to put in place.)
While the ATA, Proz and TC directories are perhaps the best known, regional professional associations are excellent resources for recruitment efforts as well. For example, visiting the member directories of ATA chapters and affiliates (including MATI’s) is a great solution for recruiting US-based linguists for any projects with location or citizenship requirements. Vendor managers can also carry out simple internet searches to identify professional associations and their directories for specific target countries, such as the SFÖ for Swedish translators, ABRATES for Brazilian Portuguese linguists, and the ATIO for Canadian French. Beyond these online resources, there’s no substitute for meeting new candidates in person at local and national translation events and conferences. For vendor managers and all other translation professionals, it pays to get involved.
Basic Criteria for Identifying Suitable Vendors
An often-quoted statistic within the language services industry is that recruiters decide whether to pursue a candidate after spending just one minute scanning that candidate’s résumé, CV or profile. This is absolutely the case, and the speed with which this decision-making is carried out is based on the reality of recruitment. To illustrate, my own vendor management experience includes recruitment of talent in over fifty languages. To carry out that recruitment, I contacted 1,000 candidates in 2016 alone, and of these 1,000 initial contacts, approximately 40% of candidates responded to my request. Of the approximately 40% of candidates that responded, around 20% met the criteria established by my firm for experience, education, translation technology, payment capabilities, etc. That is to say, for every one translator who met the organizational requirements to be passed on to linguistic testing, 12.5 translators were contacted. That’s not to mention the countless profiles, résumés and CVs that were first screened to even establish a list of candidates to contact. Therefore, no matter the directory being used to identify candidates, vendor managers should have a well-defined list of basic criteria that will allow them to quickly determine (within one minute) if a translator’s profile meets their organizational needs.
Basic criteria are determined based on an organization’s specific circumstances; however, in general, providers of language services look for a minimum amount of translation experience, a minimum amount of experience in the subject matter, education and continuing education in translation and the subject matter, and translation technology. Minimum requirements are determined based on the verticals in which an organization works, and on its workflows, capabilities and clients’ needs. For example, the complexity of content intended for use at medical instrumentation trade shows means that recruiters will work based off much more stringent requirements to ensure that the translated material is both technically and culturally (marketing) appropriate. On the other hand, for human resources content with a limited audience and a strong translation memory and editor, recruitment parameters are more flexible.
Regardless of the specifics, vendor managers carefully develop organizations’ basic criteria for new partner translators. They carefully analyze the needs of their businesses to—once again—set up their recruitment efforts for the greatest chance of success. Carefully-determined criteria allow recruiters to quickly determine if a translator profile is a good fit. Being aware of red flags to avoid—such as potential candidates who list too many specializations or language pairs or who work into non-native languages—helps vendor managers ensure that their recruitment efforts establish relationships with qualified professionals whose experience and capabilities align with organizational needs.
Making Initial Contact
Initiating contact with candidates whose profiles seem to meet organizational requirements is another component of recruitment that requires a deliberate process. During initial contact, recruiters request the documentation that will allow them to verify that a translator’s background indeed aligns with organizational needs. Carrying out this verification is incredibly important in that it protects translation firms from working with individuals who do not have the necessary qualifications and training. This process also serves to elevate the field of translation as a whole, since requiring candidates to provide evidence of their qualifications (such as diplomas and certifications) is a check that allows vendor managers to avoid translator scammers and inexperienced translators who have misrepresented their capabilities. Bear in mind that checking documents like diplomas and certifications requires an understanding of degree equivalencies and the resources necessary to verify any target language documents submitted.
On the other hand, this initial request for documentation must also be carried out in a way that recognizes the administrative time investments being made by all participants. Any initial contact should therefore clearly define a firm’s basic requirements and the documents for submittal. Further, any forms the translator is required to fill out and submit should be designed in a way so as to capture all of the information the firm requires to establish a working relationship (i.e. experience, education, contact details, billing details, translation technology, etc.) in a single pass. Having a clear set of requirements eliminates the back and forth that results when these parameters are not defined, thereby promoting efficiency. It also allows both vendor managers and translators to determine as quickly as possible if a potential working relationship is a good fit, allowing all parties to focus limited resources to areas of greatest impact.
Aside from giving vendor managers the chance to verify credentials and collect necessary information, the initial contact and request for documentation is also an incredibly valuable opportunity to test candidates in a variety of other areas. For example, an initial contact email with a clearly defined list of required documents for submittal gives vendor managers an immediate opportunity to determine a candidate’s ability to follow directions. Any CVs or résumés submitted also serve as indicators of translators’ formatting capabilities and of their ability to organize and present information based on their audience’s needs (i.e. information should be presented based on the understanding that recruiters will spend no more than one minute scanning those documents). When a vendor manager requests samples and translators refuse based on non-disclosure agreements they have signed with other firms, the vendor manager can take this as an indication that any content translated for her or his organization will be handled with the same care. For any samples that are provided, vendor managers can also check that no client-identifying information is included in either the content or the file properties. Overall, the process for requesting documentation is therefore designed to allow vendor managers to carry out as much due diligence as possible at that stage. Like all the stages of vendor recruitment, having intentional processes in place allows vendor managers to ensure that their recruitment efforts will yield the greatest results, so that only the best talent available is passed on to any subsequent linguistic testing phases.
A Comprehensive Process
The design and implementation of successful recruitment processes requires substantial investments of time and resources, as evidenced by the descriptions of the stages outlined above—and this article does not even address the organizational parameters necessary for tracking recruitment efforts or the linguistic testing phase that follows recruitment. Still, since recruitment processes are designed to establish mutually beneficial relationships with professional candidates, organizations must approach recruitment with an understanding of what their investments will yield. For instance, communication between vendor managers and translators during recruitment sets the tone for the entire working relationship between a translator and a firm. A well-designed and efficient process not only accomplishes the explicit objectives of collecting information and verifying credentials, but also indicates a firm’s quality expectations to candidates, and the kind of approach they can expect when working with that organization. A well-designed process therefore aids in attracting the best talent available.
More importantly, front-end investments in recruitment processes allow firms to prevent the translation mishaps that result when working with untrained providers, which reflect poorly on an organization’s services and reputation and are exponentially more costly to repair on the back end than good preventative processes. A well thought out recruitment process contributes to providing firms and their clients and target users with the implicit peace of mind that comes with a consistent translation product. That product is the result of working with quality providers.
Vendor recruitment must therefore be counted among the most critical of processes for translation firms. After all, organizations can work with the most up-to-date technology and design the most intricate of production processes, yet even with the best supporting components in place, the translation product will only ever be as good as the translator who provides the target content.
ASTM International, F 2575-06, “Standard Guide for Quality Assurance in Translation,” June 2006.
European Committee for Standardization, prEN 15038, “Translation services – Service requirements,” 2004.
International Organization for Standardization, ISO 17100, “Translation services – Requirements for translation services,” 2015.
Ballou, Gregory. “ISO 17100 Certification: Who, What, Why, and How?” ATA 57th Annual Conference, American Translators Association, 03 November 2016, Hyatt Regency, San Francisco, CA. Conference Presentation.
Alaina Brantner is a translation consultant specializing in project, vendor, and translation memory management. A Spanish> English translator, she has an MA in language, literature and translation from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. She served as a director of the Midwest Association of Translators and Interpreters (an ATA chapter) from 2012 to 2016. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.