Cardinal sins for translator CVs

5 cardinal sins that will land your translator CV in the bin

Finding work as a freelance translator can be tough, especially when you are just getting started with your translation career. There are plenty of online resources to help you create a great translator CV (for example My Perfect CV Builder and Monster Career Advice), but a CV on its own won’t secure you any jobs – it’s what you do with it that counts. In this article, I want to share with you some of the ‘cardinal sins’ when it comes to applying for translation projects, particularly with translation agencies.

1) If the shoe fits… Applying for jobs you are not suitable for

As obvious as it sounds, it’s the number one rule: you should only ever apply for projects that match your language combination and your specialism. For example, if you are a Canadian French translator and see a job ad specifically asking for a French native speaker from France, then chances are you won’t be considered for the project, even though you may think you could handle the task. When we post job ads, we always specify the language variant needed for a project, as specified by our customers, and disregard any CVs that don’t match these requirements. The same goes for your area of specialism. If your online profile or CV doesn’t specifically mention any experience in the industry sector we are recruiting for, then your CV won’t make it to the next round. After all, we need to deliver on our own promise to the client to find the very best, most suitable candidates for their projects.

You’re much better off applying for fewer projects that match your expertise exactly and spending that extra time refining your CV and cover letter.

2) Because we’re worth it… Sending out blind copy emails

We receive around 20 to 30 CVs every day that all have three things in common:

  1. They are blind copy emails (BCC)
  2. They don’t relate to a project or job we have advertised
  3. They don’t start with a personal greeting

Whenever these types of CVs land in our inbox, we delete them straight away. Why? Firstly, receiving an impersonal email CV that’s been simultaneously sent to a hundred other agencies is about as exciting as being offered a second-hand chewing gum: it shows a lack of interest in our company.

The old sales adage “If you throw enough sh*t at the wall, some of it will stick” is not a motto you should aspire to. Focus on quality rather than quantity. (Tweet this quote)

Secondly, the email could be spam. Translator identity theft is a thing that we should all be aware and wary of. Here is a quick example: About a year ago we received a generic CV from one of our trusted freelance translators. This made me immediately suspicious: why would he send us a generic email with his CV when we are already working together? When I contacted him he told me he knew nothing about it; apparently someone had set up a very similar email address to his own and sent out his actual CV without his knowledge. And it wasn’t the first time this had happened to him.

To avoid having your CV deleted as soon as it is received, make sure that you send a direct email with a personal greeting and a non-generic introductory paragraph. Do your research beforehand and find out on the translation agency’s website how they go about recruiting translators and their preferred method of receiving CVs. If you can find out the name of a project manager, even better – anything that will give the agency a hint that your email is genuine.

3) What’s the point… Not referencing the project you applied for

We recently introduced unique project numbers for job ads in our company to make it easier for our project managers to sort the applications we receive. If the project you apply for has a job number, make sure to quote it not just in the email itself but right in the subject line. If there is no job number, then try to reference the project name or the portal where you saw the job advertised. This will make it easier for the translation company to filter out your application – and distinguish it from all the generic CVs they receive that day.

As for the email body, it’s ideal to reference the project name or job number and your particular experience in the first sentence of your email. Put yourself in the shoes of a project manager for a moment who has received a hundred odd applications for one single project: it’s quite a big task to go through them all to find just the right candidate. A short email (at most 2 to 3 sentences) which serves as cover letter and states the project name/number as well as your relevant experience shows the project manager a) that you are a relevant candidate, b) that you communicate clearly and c) that you really want the job.

4) Amend before you send… Not proofreading your own CV

CVs and cover letters containing spelling or grammar errors are a big no no. First impressions definitely count and when we spot grammar and spelling errors in CVs, it immediately puts a seed of doubt in our head. The effort you put in your CV is representative of your work as a translator, it reflects on your communication skills, your attention to detail and your passion for the project. After all, you are supposed to be the master of the written word, so if you can’t get it right on your CV that you’ve had plenty of time to prepare, how will you fare on a real project with a tight deadline?

Take the extra time and ask someone in your family or a peer translator to proofread your CV – better be safe than sorry.

5) Don’t put your foot in it… Using overused or inappropriate quotes

As a freelancer, your CV and cover letter are your primary sales tools when applying for projects. As such it’s a good idea to add a personal touch such as a catchy heading or a quote to make your CV stand out from the crowd. But you should think carefully about what kind of quotes you use to avoid sounding silly or causing offense. Take this quote (from famous Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko) for example which we saw on a CV we recently received:

“Translation is like a women: if she is beautiful, she isn’t faithful, if she’s faithful she isn’t beautiful.”

While it might sound poetic and alludes to a common paradigm in translation (if you translate literally, it won’t necessarily sound beautiful; if you translate beautifully, the translation may not accurately reflect the source text), it’s quite inappropriate for a CV. Think about it: it’s basically insinuating that beautiful women aren’t faithful, while faithful women are presumably ugly. I am sure the translator meant no harm – it’s a well-known quote by a famous poet after all – but to me this quote demonstrated a lack of awareness.

Not sure if a particular quote might have already been used in a thousand other CVs, or whether it might come across inappropriately? If in doubt, just leave it out.