22 Jan 2019

What agencies want

Written by Clare Suttie

How can you make yourself stand out to an agency? Short of turning up at their office with chocolate cake, there are other options you can try, says Clare Suttie.

Starting from the very beginning…

Don’t send a mass email to hundreds of agencies. You know you hate it when you get those mass messages from agencies? Many of us feel the same way! Especially if your covering letter tells us how you’ve always wanted to work with Another Company, and is copied to 50 others.

Try a slower, more considered approach. Research one company at a time – do they cover your language, your subjects? What are their rates of pay? Look on reputable websites for feedback from people who have worked for them. Phone them for a quick chat and cover your questions, briefly and politely. You’ll soon gauge their interest, and you may get a friendly contact. Some freelancers I meet are reluctant to pick up the phone – so many of the agency staff I have met are lovely, and they won’t mind a quick chat. Avoid 5pm on a Friday though! You would think it would go without saying that your CV and any standard text you are sending should be perfect. I’m afraid it does need saying. Perfect.

Make the effort

Most agencies ask you to fill in an application form. It may be a long form. You may think the form is pointless, and inwardly groan. Let’s face it, no one likes filling in forms unless it’s to receive your winning cheque from the National Lottery. But the information you put in will make your name pop up during a search. So fill in the form fully. Drop someone a line and ask them if they can have a quick look to make sure everything is OK at their end, with nothing missing.

We all know that anyone can set themselves up as a translator or interpreter, so please, don’t be cross if you are asked for referees, or to do a test piece. Translation agencies can get a bad press – so surely it’s a good thing that they are carrying out some quality control? A counter argument is that you may have a raft of suitable qualifications, but in these modern times, it’s not hard to forge certificates.

If you hear nothing, follow it up politely. Hopefully you’ll receive a message that you’ve been approved for work – hurrah! Find out how they’re likely to contact you. Save their number in your phone so you know it’s them calling. Follow them on Twitter and comment on anything interesting. Look at their blogs. If you’re starting out and keen to gain clients, give up your weekends and holidays! If you are French, don’t take holiday in August! Months go by.

Not a sniff? Communicate. Send them an update of what you’ve been doing. Let them know about impressive projects, or that you’re back at your desk after some time off. Do not email every day. Phone up occasionally to say hello – not just when you are desperate for work. Let them know about CPD you’ve done, networks you’ve joined. The idea is that they will remember your name and eventually they will put you forward for work! You may also strike up a rapport with staff – in our office we’re mums and dads, graduates and linguists, from all different places. We like it when the phone rings. 

Keep in touch

Don’t forget to update the agency if you change any contact details. We regularly try to call people on our own database only to discover they’ve moved, changed email address… Looking after our own database is a huge job and we also find records that are incomplete, where a translator hasn’t ticked what subject areas they handle, or an interpreter hasn’t ticked what types of interpreting they offer. This means if we do a search for a translator in your subject – you won’t come up.

And so on. Stay visible. Stay friendly. And don’t give up! Do consider a tour of the companies you want to work with! I remember a visit we had from a Spanish translator who lives in Bilbao. She made an appointment to see us, came along with her latest CV and we sat and talked about working together. Since then we have worked with this lady and I hope a lasting relationship will follow. She was visiting various other agencies she either already worked with, or wanted to. And she was carrying chocolate.

At Atlas we hold regular supplier open days, which are open to all. By now you won’t be surprised to hear that there was a Bake Off with cake aplenty. We also make an effort to get out and meet people at ITI groups, Language Show Live, and university talks. If you see us, please say hello! Who knows where it may lead? The loveliest and most memorable approach I’ve seen? At Christmas we received a card filled with homemade flags from ‘the marketing department’ – the translator’s children!

About Clare

Clare Suttie has been running Atlas Translations since 1991 and loves her work as much today as she did right back then in the last century, before email, websites and Ant & Dec were invented. She takes pleasure in offering a personal and high quality service to each and every client, and tracking suitable people down to work on the most unusual language requests. Follow Atlas on Twitter @ atlastranslate.

This article was first published in the ITI Careers Bulletin.