I’ve been chatting to some other freelancers recently about the subject of cover letters and CVs and, basically, it came down to a “Do you or don’t you” question. I think that for applications to agencies, it’s absolutely a “do” situation; you’ll need to give a short summary of your experience and attach your CV to the email. It’s a good way of showcasing your writing skills (on that subject, check out Joseph‘s great post) and is a means to an end of getting your CV on to their database. When it comes to direct clients, it’s more of a grey area. As a freelancer, I’ve never been asked to provide my CV to a direct client, and as a small agency, I have never been asked to provide CVs for the linguists I contract for the projects. However, some of my translator colleagues inform me that they have frequently been asked for their CV – I’m not sure yet if this is down to country, language pair, subject area or just plain (bad?) luck.
I think it’s useful at this point to have a few short bullet points for any newer translators out there. In brief, when it comes to CVs:
- Keep it short
- Keep it simple
- Keep it spellchecked
- Keep it in PDF
Keep it short
The first point, about keeping it short, is pretty important. I receive a lot of CVs each day, and, honestly, two pages is the absolute maximum I will read on a CV. It’s not because I can’t be bothered to read any further, it’s because the information that I need to read should not take longer than two pages to communicate. Your name, your contact details and your language pair(s) should be clearly visible at the top of the page. Then comes a short summary of your experience – listing every project you have ever worked on, for every agency or client, although extremely interesting, should not appear on your CV. Instead, provide your subject areas or fields of expertise along with some examples of relevant projects. Note I said “some“, not to be confused with that other, very different word: all.
Keep it simple
Keeping it simple is pretty closely related to keeping it short, but with a few subtle differences, relating to your expertise and experience. As I mentioned above, when you’re sending your CV you’re likely to be sending it to an agency. If it’s a specific translation assignment you’re applying for, it’s absolutely a good idea to lightly pepper your CV with references which showcase your knowledge in the subject area in question. For example, if your expertise lies in legal translation, it’s always useful to mention any CPD you’ve done, and in the section on your experience, using the correct terms for document types is always going to be looked upon favourably. Just to reiterate, this is not a license to list all the document types. Another common pitfall in the keeping it simple section is to detail every type of employment you’ve ever been gainfully engaged in. Ever. For example, when I was 16 I worked in a café in my hometown. One day, a couple from Valencia came in and I took their order in Spanish. This does not make it relevant language experience, regardless of the (tenuous) linguistic link. Suffice it to say, it doesn’t feature on my CV.
Keeping it simple for direct clients
As I said in the first paragraph, I’ve never been asked to provide my CV to direct clients. (This doesn’t mean I didn’t send one in the early days…!) It also doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, so I have a bit of advice. First of all, there’s a key point in the first sentence: asked to provide my CV. I think when it comes to direct clients, they’re unlikely to know what to do with an unsolicited translator’s CV. If you want to contact them regarding the potential for working (freelance) with them, (perhaps you’re a legal translator and would like to provide certified translations for a local solicitor) it’s best to send an email (or perhaps a letter, if we’re talking legal eagles) and outline what you’re able to offer them. In both instances, going into excruciating detail on your MA, your latest project or the inner workings of Trados is simply not appropriate. (If anyone does know the inner workings of Trados though, please call me).
Keep it spellchecked
I don’t really need to tell you to spellcheck your CV, do I? I guess I just did. Hey, I’m not judging. But your (now ex) potential client is. Don’t resist it – feel the F7 force.
Keep it in PDF
Everyone’s heard of scammers, and you’re probably aware of translator scammers too. They have a few different schemes. They can pull your CV off some marketplace sites and use it for their own benefit, or they can email you under the auspices of a (usually enormous) translation project that they’re just finalising with a client. The short version is that they need your CV to show the client what marvelous people they’ll be working with….you can guess the rest. They either steal your CV (as above) or they use your qualifications and experience to secure the contract and then contract other translators at lower rates. Pretty appalling, either way. So don’t have your CV available on the internet and when you do send it, PDF it. Simples.
Other CV savviness
There are lots of ways you can make your CV interesting and original – just because it’s short and simple doesn’t mean it has to be boring. It can still convey lots about you. If you’re even slightly creative you can figure out a way to highlight your skills and professionalism without forsaking your personality. Perhaps you could look at an infographic CV? Or think about interactive content. I know some translators who even use video content. With all of these options, it’s important to think about who you’re sending it to; some more…conservative industries won’t appreciate a rocking resumé, but if you work with the creative sector it’s much more likely to get a second look.
We’re launching a class over the summer – it’ll be a structured guide to writing CVs, cover letters and client correspondence, aimed at new translators and those who would like to revitalise their personal PR campaigns – you can email us for more details or keep up to date on the blog.
We Love Links
Here are a few resources on some of the things I’ve touched upon:
And another one from Ms. Stelmaszak on the alternatives to a CV.
Hopefully this post has been useful – I’d love to hear about your CVs (I won’t steal them, I promise!) Is yours a souped up CV or do the industries you work in require a more traditional approach? Let me know in the comments….