This article has been at the back of my mind for ages and at the bottom of the articles priority list, but after receiving the same email from the same translator eight times since 9:00 this morning (it’s 1 p.m. now, just to give you an idea) and though I know it will not stop those translators who have been spamming us for months (yes, spamming), I feel it needs to be written – some may find it basic and I apologize in advance to them, but it seems it’s not that basic for many.
So here we go. Of course it is perfectly normal for translators to send their CVs to agencies, to get known, to say “Hey guys, I exist” in an industry where gaining visibility is anything but easy. We receive about two to three spontaneous applications per day, and sometimes a true gem may be found among them, someone who becomes one of “our” translators. By no means do we want to stop receiving applications, quite the contrary. So, just to be clear, I am not questioning the “why” of applications here; we are on your side. But what matters is the “how” – and here, take our word for it, is where many translators get it wrong.
When agencies don’t answer, most translators think it is because we are drowning in applications every day. I’m talking here about spontaneous applications. For most of the smaller, specialized agencies, like us, three unsolicited applications on average per day is not exactly ‘drowning’ and we at GxP do actually take the time to read every single one of them. However, when the application is clearly sent via a mass-mailing system and the contents do not match our needs at all, why should we reply? It feels like being spammed with something we don’t need.
So here’s tip 1: don’t send out mass-mailings to agencies. You’re just spamming them when doing so – at least that’s how it may feel for them.
Logically, the second tip is to personalize the email as much as you can. I always reply to applications starting with “Dear [title plus last name or first name]“, even if the translator applying does not match our needs at all. After all, it’s only normal to reply to someone who took the time to research the company, who we are, our names, etc. Starting an email with things like ” Dear Sirs”, “Dear Mrs or Miss” etc. is, um, off-putting. If you can’t find the name of the person who is going to receive your email, then be creative, something like “Dear [Agency name] Team” for example – something nice, warm and attention-getting. Personally, I’m much more likely to read until the end of an email starting with “Dear GxP Team” rather than one starting with “Dear Sir or Madam”.
So, tip 2: personalize the email as much as you can, which means doing a minimum of research about the agency.
Which brings me to the third point: also research what the agency does. If an agency clearly states on their website, ProZ profile, etc., that they are doing only medical translations and you are specialized in architecture and household appliances, applying is probably a waste of your time – and theirs. Even worse, it shows you did not research the agency at all and if they ever coincidentally get a job from an end-client that fits your areas (you never know, a medical devices company might need a different text translated), they might not contact you because you will be remembered as a “spammer”. So, take the extra few minutes to research what exactly the agency does.
Of course a medical translation agency does not only need medical translators. Sometimes, their own clients need a contract translated, user manuals, etc. Use your best judgment; if there’s a link, even small, between your area of expertise and theirs, it may be worth a shot to apply. If you do, be sure to phrase it this way, for example: “I see you work in the medical field – I myself am a legal translator, but if your clients ever need agreements/contracts translated, feel free to contact me…” etc.
Tip 3: research the working fields and areas the agency works in and trust your common sense : if your fields have nothing to do with theirs, applying may be a waste of time. Ask yourself whether your expertise may still be useful to them (e.g., medical instruments manufacturing companies still need contracts, user manuals, marketing brochures, annual financial reports, etc. to be translated). If this is the case, say so in the application email to show you have done your homework, that you are aware your fields are not entirely compatible but that they might need you sooner or later.
Next is the content of the actual email. Don’t recite your CV; remember, you’re enclosing it. Keep the email short and to the point, you want to make the PM curious enough about you to want to open your CV attachment. So, if you’re applying to a legal translation company and you’re a former lawyer, then that info is the only thing you need to put in the email. Ditto if you weren’t a lawyer in a former life, but already have some large or highly specialized projects behind you – put the most mouth-watering ones in the body of the email. In short, what makes you different from another translator? The same goes for your language pairs – where you learned English is irrelevant (“I spent 2 years as an au pair in London when I was 18″), but your working pairs should be right there – personally, it’s very annoying having to search everywhere in the email and the CV to find a translator’s language pairs. They are the first elements that differentiate you from other translators, so highlight them.
So, tip 4: Keep the email short and simple, but to the point. The basic, yet important facts about you as a translator should be right there: language pairs, specialties and experience in these fields. No need for a long list of past projects in the email; this is what your CV is for. Just include the most “mouthwatering” experience you have. Remember, what you want is to capture the attention of the PM reading your email, so that they want to learn more about you and open your CV. The first few seconds after they open your email are the most important: this is when they decide if they want to know more.
Last but not least: don’t spam. If an agency doesn’t reply, it’s pointless to send the same copy-paste email over and over and over again (even more so if they have actually replied at one point). Pointless and extremely annoying. And copy-pasting the entire email you sent and putting it in a LinkedIn invitation is even more annoying. If you want to connect on LinkedIn or other sites with the PM you already contacted, don’t copy-paste the email you already sent to that person. Keep the invitation text simple, it’s an opportunity for you to remind them that you exist: “Hi, I contacted you a while ago about my translation services. I’d like to connect with you here as well and look forward to having you in my professional network”. You’re trying to get the person to be interested in your services, so don’t do it online using an approach you wouldn’t use if you had met that person in the flesh at a translation conference.
Tip 5: Keep a clean and up-to-date list of your prospects in which you enter whom you have contacted and when, whether they replied, and what the reply was. Send a follow-up email every six months for example, in the event you don’t receive a reply, but make sure it’s a different email (“I was wondering if you had received my email from last January in which I offered my translation services”). Don’t resend the exact same text you have already sent – and the same goes for social network invitations.
On the topic of translators’ CVs, I can only recommend these two very useful resources from my friend Marta Stelmaszak from Wantwords (she’s the expert for translators’ CVs!):
CVs and Cover Letters that Work (Webinar replay)
Download her e-book: How to write a translator’s CV