Depending on your language combination, area of specialism, and where you are based, it may not be easy to find junior translator positions. Compared to other professions, finding graduate roles, junior titles, or internships in translation can feel like looking for a needle in a haystack.
The key is to seek out ways to gain experience and learning opportunities, no matter how big or small. Here are just a few ways to give yourself a leg up when starting out as a translator or interpreter and position yourself for success.
Any experience is good experience; no project is too small. Small projects are the perfect way to become familiar with the translation/interpreting process, gather terminology, and expand your understanding of your specialism. Small projects may lead to bigger ones in the future. Getting your name out there and getting your foot in the door of LSPs or direct clients is essential. And why not offer your translation services to cultural associations, bilingual schools, or blog owners. You could go from translating just a few words or a couple of lines to having a bonafide regular client.
While there is a lot of talk about translators’ and interpreters’ rates being too low, there is no harm in volunteering with local or international organizations every now and then, particularly when you are still finding your feet. This could be for non-profit organizations, schools, hospitals, public health clinics, refugee and immigration centers, or environmental and conservation projects.
Pro bono projects tend to have longer deadlines so this is a great way to practice your skills, and particularly if you want some experience with a source language you are less confident with. It can also allow you to gather specialist knowledge and terminology in a less demanding environment. Remember, although it is voluntary, your work must be performed with the same professionalism and you should always aim for the highest standards.
Practice your written skills as a translator or oral communication skills as an interpreter with other work, such as copywriting, editing, proofreading, or transcribing.
Look out for jobs that offer you the potential to use your language skills or perhaps involve some translation/interpreting work even if this is no’t the main job role, e.g., as a secretary, assistant, or project manager, or in recruitment or sales. Simply working in a multilingual environment can open doors and allow you to practice your languages on a daily basis.
Working abroad may mean there is more demand for your skills — since you are a native speaker of a foreign language. Living in a country where your B or C language is spoken and you can immerse yourself in those cultures will also undoubtedly help you as a translator, interpreter, and mediator since culture is inherently linked to language.
Connecting with professionals in the industry — joining professional associations, attending in-person or remote events, or connecting with others on social media — will expose you to more employment and learning opportunities. You may be surprised at who you will stumble across, whether that be a business owner looking for a translator for ad-hoc work, or colleagues who can recommend you or pass on work if they do not have the time, language combination, or skill set required.
Professional associations often have their own job boards and directories of translators/interpreters which you could be added to so you can be found more easily. Some also offer mentorship schemes which would pair you up with a longstanding translator/interpreter who may be able to give you pointers as a newcomer.
Social media has other powers too. Use it to show what kind of work you are looking for, the services you provide, your language combinations, specialisms, and interests. Show that you are open to pro bono work and small projects; LinkedIn even has a specific function for this.
Adding a dash of experience to your professional qualifications, association memberships, and rich network of industry contacts will soon have you bursting with pride at your professional achievements. When you are just starting out, avidly look for and explore any and every learning opportunity.