Tech companies from all corners of the world pour millions of dollars into artificial intelligence, trying to come up with a solution which will replace human translators. Such an invention will certainly be a breakthrough, but so far all the attempts have failed big time.

Computer can learn the patterns of translation, and understand the words, but it will never have the human touch, the 1% that distinguishes an excellent translation from an average one. It’s a difference one cannot see with the eye, but feels when reading the text. At least that’s my experience…

Interviewing for a job of a translator, you will face questions about your working experience, specialization, motivation, price, and education. We will have a look at them right now, one by one, trying to find some good answers.

 

Tell us about your experience with French/German/Spanish/Arabic/other language.

Direct experience is better than anything else. Explain clearly how long you’ve been living in the part of the world where they speak the language you will translate to (or from). Try to be precise, describing how many months or years you spent there, and how you worked with the language on a daily basis.

You can also mention any language certificates you got and exams you passed, though they may ask about it in a separate question.

What’s more, I suggest you to prepare a simple portfolio of your former translations, with short samples and explanation of each project. For example translating a poem, 1,500 words from Arabic to English, or a corporate website and blog, 25,000 words, from English to Arabic.

One way or another, they should get an impression that you’ve been working actively with the language, and are no beginner in the field. Of course if the language you should translate into is your native language, no further experience is needed…

 

Why do you want to work for our translation agency?

You should do some research, and in an ideal case praise them for something. It is easy to fund reviews online nowadays. Check what their customers write (hopefully they have some good words for the agency), and then relate to the points in your answer. Maybe they praise a quick turnaround time, excellent customer service, great pricing, or simply the quality of work. Your choice was easy because you want to work for the best, and they are the best, at least in your view.

Of course, this answer won’t make sense if you apply with a small agency, or with some corporation hiring one translator only. Nevertheless, they should feel that they are your first choice. Maybe you like their corporate values, or something on their job ad really caught your attention, or they specialize in translations you’d like to work on. Try to find something that resonates with your values or your expectations. They should not get an impression that you do not care at all, and applied with ten other agencies at the same time.

Why employment and not freelancing? You would earn more working on your own.

First of all, it’s not certain you’d earn more freelancing. And you can refer to it in your answer. The days when you registered with websites like Freelancer.com or Upwork.com and got your first gig within days are long gone… With tens of thousands of freelancers registered on each big platform, it is super hard to enter the marketplace as a newbie, and compete with freelancers who have dozens or reviews and recommendations on the platform.

You can also say that while you enjoy translating a lot, you do not enjoy the other aspects of working as a freelancer. Keeping books, building your brand, marketing, competing for projects, etc–it’s just not your cup of coffee, not something you excel in or enjoy. Hence you prefer to be employed at an established translation agency, and focus only on the activity you excel in–language translation.

 

Do you specialize in any area of translation?

It’s a common misconception to think that specialization is an advantage in this field. Mark my words: If you aren’t 100% sure that the agency has clients that meet your areas of specialization, it’s better not mentioning it at all.

Say that you’ve worked with different topics, documents, and formats of text. You have a decent knowledge of a variety of subjects, which allows you to produce a quality translation in a variety of fields. That being said, you may need a helping hand of a specialist while working on a specific text. But in 90% of cases you will manage to produce an excellent translation on your own.

If you decide to go for it, and name a few areas of specialization, you can always add that you enjoy working on all kinds of  translation, and certainly aren’t limited with your specialization.

 

Do you have any certificates (have you passed any exams) that demonstrate your language skills?

This one is quite obvious. If you have any certificates, I suggest you to make copies and bring them to the interview with you. Just to give your words some credibility.

If you do not have anything, you can always say that you are currently enrolled in the exam or doing a course, and will get your certification soon. Or that you plan to enroll in one in the coming weeks.

Of course if you took a different path in your journey as a translator, and learned while working, you can simply declare that your work (show them your portfolio again) demonstrates your expertise, and you never felt a need to get a certificate, or to pay for some expensive exam, just because it is a fancy thing to do…

 

In your opinion, what role does communication with a client plays in this job?

You should give it the highest importance. An average client cannot distinguish an A translation from the B one, especially when they do not really understand the source text, or the translation of it–and that is the case in 95% of all orders.

What they can distinguish, however, is an excellent customer service from an average one, or even a poor one. In this case, the customer service is mostly about communication they have with the translator. Ensure the hiring managers that you understand the importance of an excellent service, and will try to respond promptly to all questions of the customers.

What’s more, you will ask follow-up questions, and discuss with them any uncertainties in the source text, showing them that you really care to deliver an excellent and accurate translation at the end of the cooperation.

 

How many words can you translate per hour?

This depends a lot on the type of translation and the source text. But you should give them some examples. For example a simple text (from a blog, email communication, company website), maybe you can do up to 400 words per hour.

If the text is more scientific or literary, or the real core is in-between the lines, if you know what I mean (subtle thoughts and emotions expressed in the text), the speed can drop to 100 words per hour. Anyway, ensure them that you do not expect to be paid per hour, but per word, and that quality matters for you more than anything else. You won’t rush a translation just to reach a certain number of words in an hour…

 

Other questions you may get in your translator job interview

  • What are your salary expectations?
  • Do you work with any other translation agencies at the moment, or do you freelance? How busy are you with your present translation work?
  • What do you consider the best, and the worst translation you’ve ever made?
  • In your opinion, what distinguishes an excellent translation from an average one?
  • Imagine that you work hard on a translation but customer complains about the quality of your final work. How will you react?
  • After everything we said in this interview, do you want to add something, or do you have any questions?

 

Conclusion, next steps

Interview for a job of a translator belongs to interviews with average difficulty. It is quite easy to predict the questions, and you can prepare your answers in advance.

However, experience plays a pivotal role in the hiring process, and it can be difficult to get hired when you are just starting out.

I suggest you to prepare a portfolio of your best works (or your only works), even if we talk just about some translations you did for friends, or as a part of your education. Anything is better than nothing in this case.

A decent portfolio, and good answers to their questions, will typically suffice to land you the job. I wish you good luck!

Matthew

May also interest you:

  • How to overcome interview nerves – Four effective yet simple strategies on overcoming interview nerves.
  • Zoom interview tips – Interviewing online, with the help of Zoom interface (which replaced Skype as the no. 1 solution for online interviews)? Learn how to avoid common mistakes and ace your interview.
  • Interpreter interview questions – Some of them may overlap with interview questions for translators, and you should check them out.
Matthew Chulaw
Latest posts by Matthew Chulaw (see all)