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How do translation agencies recruit freelancers?

If you didn’t already know, translation agencies typically base their business models on armies of freelance translators and proofreaders. The reason is simple. There just isn’t a consistent enough flow of work in any one language and specialist subject to justify employing translators full time.

So, with an estimated 650,000 professional translators across the globe, one quarter of whom are freelancers (Translators Association of China), how do agencies begin to recruit linguists? If you’re a freelancer, how do you make sure you stand out? And if you need to find a freelancer, what should you look out for?

Each time we put out a request for freelance translators to apply for a specific project, we get dozens and sometimes even hundreds of applications. So, we thought it would be helpful to outline what we look out for when recruiting freelancers, and how you can get more work.

Freelance translator recruitment


We want our translators and writers to give 100% to each project, which is why we tend to ignore half-hearted applications. That my sound harsh, but it doesn’t mean you have to spend hours putting together each individual covering letter. For most freelance translators, that’s just not feasible.

Instead, create one good quality application that you can customise for each agency or project. It should be clear, well written and not long-winded. It doesn’t have to be in perfect English (unless you claim to be a native English speaker) but it may be helpful to get a native speaker to check it for you if you’re not sure.

And remember to include the following basic information:

  • Native language
  • Services offered (translation, proofreading, copywriting etc.)
  • Number of years of relevant experience
  • Areas of expertise (not too many – see below)
  • Relevant qualifications and memberships
  • An idea of your rates
  • Contact details

Translation ability

If the overall quality of your application stands out, we’ll be in touch to request a few samples of your work or to carry out a short translation test (never more than 250 words). The reason for this is, although qualifications are helpful, the only way to really know how skilled you are, is to see the quality of your work for ourselves. So, what do we look for?

There are a number of qualities we look for in a good translation, with the first being fluidity. That is, the ability to write idiomatically in your native tongue. While many of the translations we review accurately reflect the meaning of the source text, 90% of them fall to read well in the target language. The key is to step away from the original text and to re-write it in your native tongue using natural, idiomatic language.

We do then look at the accuracy of the translation choices, as well as tone and register, however, fluidity is our number one priority because it tends to be our clients’ number one priority. They want their text to read as if it were originally written in the target language.

Specialist expertise

Having a specialist area of expertise is a surefire way to get more work. Expertise reassures clients that you know about the principles underpinning their business, and can communicate effectively using appropriate terminology and register.

It is important, however, that you limit your specialist subjects to areas where you have demonstrable training and experience, and don’t try to list too many. We can’t all be experts in everything.

To be brutally honest, we often have so many applications and CVs to read that we sometimes look for any reasons to discard some, just to make our job easier. With this in mind, when a freelance applicant lists twenty areas of expertise, it essentially suggests that they have none.

Fair rates

We believe in paying fair rates to our translators. And what is fair will depend on your language combination, experience and field of expertise. However, as an agency, we also have to be able to offer competitive prices to our clients, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to provide any work for any of our freelancers. Only you can decide what is fair for the level of service you provide, but it might be helpful to consider the following:

  • Low rates can indicate a lack of confidence
  • High rates are not necessarily indicative of high quality and may not be sustainable

A final word

Finally, because of the large number of applications that agencies generally receive for each job posting, they are not able to respond to every proposition. Don’t take this personally. If you have a strong profile and can communicate your offering clearly, they are likely to keep your details on file for future reference.

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