How do I get my first paying gig?


This article was originally published by ATA’s The Savvy Newcomer, October, 2013.


Let’s start from the premise that you already have some training, you know the language and culture you will be working with, and now what you need is some exposure, some clients. Where do you go from here? The answer is multi-tiered and demands What now?determination.

These are my recommendations to anyone about becoming a freelancer:

1. Identify your limitations – I can carry on a conversation in Spanish, but I do not bill myself as a Spanish interpreter. I do not have the training or the breadth of vocabulary.

2. Identify your passions – As a freelancer, you have the ability to say no to jobs you do not like. Make sure to seek and be available for those jobs you do like.

3. List any work you may have done in the field, including internships – People view experience differently, and internships can afford you a variety of experiences; one of them might be a match.

4. Gather some letters of recommendation – Do not forget to ask for letters of recommendation or permission to refer prospective clients to your internship supervisor. That is a solid referral and you should use it.

5. Rework your résumé focusing on 1, 2 and 3 above – Your résumé should reflect what your customer is looking for. I have three résumés ready to provide to prospective clients. One focuses on translation, the other on interpreting and a generic one for good measure.

Trying to break into any market is hard. One cannot gain experience without a job and you cannot get a job without experience. But you can break the endless loop.

Exposure or introducing yourself

The first order of business is to get your name out there. An effective way to do so is by joining professional interpreting associations or following their blogs, Facebook and LinkedIn pages, for example. By participating in conversations – whether asking questions or contributing answers – you will get your colleagues to notice you.

Also, monitor the associations your clients belong to. If you are interested in working in the courts, for example, find out when the Bar Association in your city is having a social gathering. Make sure to have plenty of business cards on hand, sign up for the event and be in the mood to meet potential clients.

And have you googled yourself yet? This is the 21st century, and that’s one of the first things your potential clients will do. Your professional online profile is usually your first introduction to a potential client. So, make sure the information they can access online complements what you told them and invites them to give your services a try. It is time to streamline your online persona: review or create your online profile.

Making yourself known

Professional events – networking, conferences, symposiums, seminars – are great opportunities to meet colleagues and future clients. More importantly, your presence at these events tells them you are serious about your career, you are looking to improve your skills and you are dedicated to your profession. These are all positive attributes that will count in your favor next time they need an interpreter.

Now you get the picture. But, are you ready to sell yourself? I have a colleague who is a wallflower in network gatherings. That won’t do. Make sure you have your introduction speech ready. It should be concise, casual sounding, informative but not boring, and end with someone taking your business card.

Hope you are ready to go client hunting. The prospects are good!

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