Job and freelance project hunting 101

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How to pitch for workWhat NOT to do!

I hadn’t planned on writing a blog post today, I’m putting the final touches on a workshop for next week.

But this exchange with a translator looking for work was the proverbial drop that made the proverbial bucket overflow.



CV overdose

On average, I receive over a dozen emails and CVs a week from translators offering their services.

Most of them go straight to the round file. A massive, undifferentiated and unpersonalized campaign does not get quality responses. Ones filled with spelling or grammatical errors get pitched too. And so on.

A few I respond to. To offer some advice to someone who shows promise and did their homework (i.e. they researched what I do and how they could fit in). Or to suggest they stop shooting themselves in the foot with absurdly low rates. One guy, a few months ago, nearly made me cry: he had a phenomenally solid expertise in engineering, yet concluded his email by announcing his rates were $0.10/word, negotiable. I told him to yank them up, to show his mojo, he never responded. Very sad.

Today’s exchange

There’s no big secret to job and freelance project hunting 101, right? If you are applying for a job, at least you say why XYZ company interests you and what you could do for it, right? RIGHT?

Apparently, common sense is not universal.

Here’s today’s exchange:

Email sent through my website contact form:

I would like to email you my CV, but what’s your email?
Best regards,

My response:

Contact forms help protect against spam and nasty things getting onto my server. I’ve found folks who really want to find my email address usually manage to do so in a few minutes on the Web 🙂
What specific aspect of the Quill’s work interests you?

Translator’s response:

I am looking for a position as a Freelance Translator, Proofreader and Project Coordinator.
Best regards,

My response:

If I may offer a small piece of advice….When the organization to which you want to send your CV (and presumably get hired by, or get work from) asks “what interests you specifically”…it’s wise to a) look at what they do and speak to that and b) show how your skills could add value and respond to their needs. First impressions, relevance and all that jazz.. “Looking for a position” I’m afraid won’t get you terribly far… in any industry.
Wishing you all the best,
Patricia Lane

Translator’s response:

First my job works well this way, but criticisms have to be constructive.
Do you have better advice???
Best regards,

I give up

Gave the person an open invitation to present themselves and grab my attention. I’d already, by taking time out to respond, accepted a dialog. That answer is just deplorable and unprofessional because it wasted my time.

Take away

Many freelancers and small businesses are open to expanding their network of colleagues and potential team members. Seize that chance with professionalism. Research what that person does before contacting them. See where the synergies may be. Show what value you can offer. And above all, respect their time and consider their responses.

Thanks for letting me vent, folks.

How do you deal with these things? How do you respond to unrequested requests of this type? What makes you answer, if you do?


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Comments: 5

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  • I feel your pain.
    When it’s a “Dear Sir or Madam” (or worse, “Dear Sir”), and I a) have the time and b) can be bothered, I fire back an email saying they should AT LEAST have the courtesy to look up my name. One applicant wrote back saying she wasn’t sure who in the company to write to, as she didn’t want to bother me directly. Fair enough.
    If people have gone to some bother with their application, then I try to reply. If they haven’t bothered, then why should they expect me to?
    PS I hope you’re feeling better after letting off steam!

    • Yeah, love those that start with “Dear Sir”… Those go straight in the bin, no detours! I’m starting to regret not having kept a selection of the oddest, rudest, most off the wall or unprofessional applications. They’d make a great booklet (if Mox would illustrate it!). What got me with this one is that the person is a member of a well-known professional organization – not some wannabee who wants to earn pocket change. I’d expected the second email to have been sharp and to the point (especially given my reminder!). Spare time is not something we have in abundance and its frustrating to waste it. And yes, thanks, Marian, letting off steam helped! It can be a healthy thing to do and it’s always good to get a reality check from/share experiences with colleagues!

  • Tu as toute ma compassion, Patricia…

    Je réponds parfois aux “jeunes débutants” basés en France qui indiquent qu’ils traduisent tout et n’importe quoi pour 0,03 euro le mot, quand leur envoi me paraît un peu sympathique (i.e. pas de fautes d’orthographe, une motivation un peu maladroite, etc.), me disant qu’ils n’ont peut-être aucune idée de comment se positionner sur le marché, si j’en crois ce que j’entends sur certaines formations à la traduction qui lâchent leurs jeunes diplômés dans la nature sans la moindre information sur les réalités du terrain. Parfois, ils re-répondent, parfois pas.

    Récemment, j’ai eu un mail d’une sportive française de haut niveau qui exerce dans un sport pas très reconnu et qui gagne donc sa vie en faisant des traductions dans le domaine du sport. Elle est diplômée en traduction, soit. Elle expliquait dans son mail en anglais bourré de fautes et de gallicismes (mais gallicismes énormes niveau collège, du genre “actually” pour “actuellement”) qu’elle maîtrisait parfaitement l’anglais parce qu’elle évoluait dans un milieu sportif où l’anglais était la langue commune à tous. Les bras m’en sont tombés. Je lui ai conseillé diplomatiquement (et franchement gentiment) de s’en tenir à la traduction vers le français. Pas de réponse, dommage…

    Et puis sinon, quand c’est vraiment drôle, j’en fais des billets pour ma rubrique “change de métier” ! 😉

  • I don’t condone the attitude that this translator had but, as a freelancer who has written a boatload of responseless e-mails these past months, I can relate to some frustration and even some hopelessness and some puzzling and whatnot on the would-be-marketer’s end. However, I never forget that professionalism is vital for my business. Their last reply is a definite no-no in my book.

    In seven months, I have only sent something like 90 e-mails, after scouring – literally – the websites looking for any kind of information that would help me both know some about the recipient and customize my e-mail. I’ve even paraphrased some of what they wrote, e.g. “if you are a rising star and would like to work with us…” To no avail. Or so it seems. The replies have been… not numerous. At all. But I had followed the 1/3/30/90 method by John Shaklee (see blogpost at ) and now I hope that my “or so it seems” will turn soon into “or so it seemed”.

    As much as we can’t expect each and every e-mail to be met with avuncular benevolence and to be read with attention, we can’t expect “candidates” to be always correct. In our own interest, we should be, which is what I’m striving for, but we aren’t. And after some time of throwing hope-full (note the intentional spelling) bottles at random at sea, we sit on the shore, arms wrapped around our legs and chins on our knees, lusting for some warmth in this cold world, straining our eyes looking for any masts on the horizon. Any sign of life would do the trick, anything, but… blah blah blah. I could go on with this literary streak but we all have enough imagination to invent an end to it.

    Really, as your counterpart, I am just as puzzled about y’all as you, Patricia, are about my fellow freelance translators marketing themselves by e-mail. Sure, my English isn’t perfect but I know it (I also lament it but that’s a whole different story) so I read and re-read each e-mail as if my life depended on it, taking care not to use a word or phrase I am not sure is correct. My French is flawless – or so I like to think. I research the company/agency. I respect the way they say they want to be contacted. My CV is an external file for download from my website. The e-mail I send is rather short and it is both structured and formated. I say who I am, how working with me would benefit the recipient and how they can find more information about me. No images. Explicit subject. And of course, it’s always an e-mail with personal touches. I have recently mentioned in a few messages what books/courses I’ve studied/taken to learn some translations skills. I’m pretty sure I’m at the end of my wits. If not, it won’t be long before I am.

    The only thing I no longer put in my e-mails is price because I don’t want to compete on price. I don’t want to engage in the current race to the bottom and I want to earn a living from this professional occupation.

    Now I’ve come to the point where I question the contents of my e-mails, my writing style and just about everything I do to market myself online – my local endeavors are another matter. I’m constantly second-guessing myself and it’s no fun to realize that I’m doing it. I wish someone would blog about what to write in a marketing e-mail instead of what not do write or do.

    You wrote “What makes you answer, if you do?”. I can’t answer this question as I don’t receive such e-mails but I still don’t know what makes you answer! Or is doing one’s homework all it takes for you?

    Sorry for the super-long comment. I seem to be unable to write short comments. Working on that!

    • Hello Amenel, welcome to the blog and thank you for your long and thoughtful comment. You write compellingly.

      Where to begin in responding to you? Perhaps by your question: What makes me respond to an (unsolicited) email from a translator looking for work?
      1. Address me by my name! The preponderant majority of emails (bulk or individual) I get start with “Dear Sir” or “To whom it may concern”. If the sender didn’t bother to take two minutes to know who he/she is writing to, why should I spend energy responding?
      2. Realize I’m not an agency; most emails write to me as if I were.
      3. As an independent professional, I may need help now and then on a project. The person who takes the time to read about what I do and how I work, and who has skills or experience that I may need, might then resonate with me. Without a specific offer, there cannot be a useful response.
      4. Emails that present a Chinese menu of language pairs and areas of expertise are not credible or professional. They do not get a response.
      5. I have responded to emails where the person had strong skills and an interesting background, but weakened their positioning markedly by quoting absurdly low rates. Problem is those folks never answer back. So you feel you’ve wasted time and energy responding to what was probably a mass email with no follow-up procedures in place. Not professional. Not courteous.
      6. I have responded to some that show promise, making some suggestions as to how to market themselves and where to beef up their skills. Those folks often reply, and thankful for the insights.

      As to you, I took a look at your Web site, which has a lot of good info and is pleasant to navigate. We can deduce, but are never *told* you translate EN>FR. I think you need to make that obvious! You’ve got targeted areas of expertise – PhD in hand and years of experience to boot (you don’t say how long you’ve been a translator though). Is emailing the only tactic you are using in your marketing strategy? Do you have a clear marketing strategy? A niche within your area of expertise? Do you get out there and meet prospects that fit the bill? Many questions to ponder…Personally, if I only relied on emails, I’d have closed up shop a long time ago 🙂 Get out there, research your targets, know what stops them from sleeping at night, show how you can solve that, go press some flesh and follow up, get involved in professional organizations, invest in your CPD and so on. And if you care to write a guest post here on a topic we’d agree on, you are welcome to.