About four months ago, I received a translation proposal through LinkedIn ProFinder with the following request:
Beverly, would you consider translating a 225-word document to evaluate your skills in translating church related terminology?
I felt uneasy about this petition.
In the past, I had heard horror stories about potential clients asking translators to translate a sample document for evaluation with the intention to have the work done for free.
I had plenty of reasons to deny this request.
But, as much as I wanted to say, “No–I won’t translate a 225-word document to get the gig,” I couldn’t.
I couldn’t bring myself to think that someone would make a request of this nature with such intention in mind.
I felt uneasy, but I really wanted to trust this potential client.
What if he were to become a long-term direct client?
What if this was my chance to gain experience in a new field of specialization?
What if he referred me to other potential clients in the same niche?
I was afraid to miss out on potential opportunities.
So, I agreed.
“Sure. I would be happy to do that for you,” I replied.
But honestly, I wasn’t happy about it.
I finished the translation, sent it, and his response email went like this:
Thank you, Beverly. We’re in the process of reviewing all the samples. I’ll get back to you in the next couple of weeks.
Robert (name has been changed)
I waited two weeks and still no word from him.
I sent a second follow-up email, to which he replied:
Hello, Beverly. Thank you for reaching out. I’ve been sick for the past week and I’m still not through with the review process. I should have a decision early next month.
I wanted to believe his health situation to be true, that it wasn’t a scheme to simply get a free translation.
But my gut feeling was telling me otherwise.
I waited until mid-January and still no response.
I decided to send a third and last email, keeping my hopes up, and this is what I got:
Hello, Beverly. I’m still reviewing the large number of translation samples we’ve received. I should have a decision in the next two weeks.
It’s been 3 months since that last email, and I still haven’t heard from the guy.
To this day, I still don’t understand how some people–like Robert–say they’ll do something and not follow through with it.
Keeping my word and protecting my reputation in my professional and personal life are truly no-brainers.
But it’s obvious that for some people these aren’t a priority.
It would’ve been nice if Robert had sent me an email to let me know I wasn’t selected for the job.
If that’s what truly happened, that is.
I believe he never intended to hire me.
And if Robert happens to email me in the future (yeah right!) with a Spanish translation request, I’ll kindly say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
Because I have a hard time working with people as unprofessional as Robert.
So, what do I learn from all this?
I still trust people and believe the “Roberts” out in the world are more the exception than the rule.
But next time, I’ll need to handle this kind of request a bit differently.
If a buyer is looking for translation services, I assume this individual does not speak the target language.
And even if a translation buyer can get by in the target language, I assume his language skills are not advanced enough to determine the suitability of a translator for a translation job.
If he did, why pay for a translator, right?
So this is what I’ll say when a potential client asks me to translate something to “evaluate my translation abilities for the job at hand,”
“Thank you for inviting me to translate the attached document to evaluate my Spanish translation skills. I understand how important it is to find the best match for the type of translation that you need. However, doing so will take up extra time I’ve already set apart to work on my current translations. I invite you to visit my website, spctranslations.com, to view samples of my work. I’m also available to answer any questions you may have about my previous work and translation experience. Looking forward to working with you in the future.”
My fellow translators, what are your thoughts about this issue? How would you have handled this scenario had it happened to you?
About the author:
Beverly Zayas Hayes is an English to Spanish professional translator specializing in translation & website localization in the following areas: social sciences, education, healthcare, marketing, advertising & business. A mother of five, Beverly is the founder/owner of Spanish Connect Translations, a boutique translation provider based in Rexburg, Idaho. She graduated from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah with a Bachelor’s degree in Clinical Laboratory Science, and on December 2015 she completed her Master’s degree in Spanish Linguistics from New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Being a stay-at-home mom for most of her life, Beverly has now taken upon herself a new goal–to contribute to the world in a different way by jumping on the entrepreneurship bandwagon. She has the education, the cultural background, and the writing skills that are necessary to succeed in this competitive field and provide a quality product that will stand out among the rest. You may visit her website at spctranslations.com, or contact her via Twitter: MySpanConnect and email: email@example.com.
Sorry to hear this potential contract of yours has fallen through.
I, for my part, usually do tests, but only: 1) when I have time, and I never agree on the proposed deadline- if it’s a con, they’ll need the translation right now (“I’d be happy to do it after finishing my current project. I can deliver within next week/by [date]”); 2) if the client has a good rep (if they have no reputation at all, I will just send them my samples); and 3) if the volume is 250 words or less, naturally.
Why I don’t just send samples to everyone? Because I worked at a translation agency and know that when you have dozens of potential translators to be checked out it takes much less time and effort to review translations of the same text that you know well than that of dozens unfamiliar texts.
I also never expect a quick answer or any answer at all, actually – agencies prefer not to contact those whose work has been considered unsatisfactory. Too often translators get offended and start useless time-wasting discussions. Nobody wants that.
One agency sent me a congrats letter (“your test has been approved without a single mistake, we’d love to work with you”) 4 months (!) after receiving the test.
All in all, I think every one of us needs to decide for themself. I personally think 200 words is no big deal if I have a free afternoon, but I know that it’s not the same for everyone! Translation samples are a pretty good alternative if you don’t feel comfortable doing tests or think they are a waste of time.
Thanks, Elena, for your comment. Great food for thought. I never had this happen before and was quite frustrated by the whole situation. But you’re right, translating 225 words is not a big deal if I have the time to do it.
However, I still feel this example goes to show how we always have to pay attention to “that gut feeling.” Thanks again!
Your frustration is understandable! And of course the “gut feeling” is always worthy to listen to, ’cause it’s not paranoia, it’s your brain telling you that there’s something fishy about a person or a situation.