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Business cards and resumes, oh my! October 1, 2010

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Marketing ideas.

I just ordered my business cards for the upcoming ATA Conference and am putting the finishing touches on my resume so that I can send it to Kinko’s. My friend Susanne is redesigning my website (hopefully in time to launch for the conference), and we have come up with a cool branding idea that builds off the template for my blog. My website will feature the sun and summer colors (get it? summer? Sommer? yeah, we’re clever like that 🙂 ), while the blog will feature the moon (since I’m overworked). I ordered business cards that tie in with the new website and will be ordering cards for the blog as well. I have always paired my resumes with the color of my website. Our field isn’t as stuffy, so I have always printed my resumes on a light blue paper to make them stand out from the typical off-white and cream resumes. This year I will be printing them on a light yellow paper that matches my new business cards. Resumes can be placed on the table in the Job Exchange of the Exhibit Hall. I use a plastic stand with built-in slots for matching clear business card holders so that my resumes do not get covered up by other resumes or separated from my business cards. You can find them at Office Max, Staples and most office supply stores.

All this conference preparation has reminded me that many of you new translators and those of you who have never attended an ATA conference may not be familiar with how we in the industry write our resumes. A resume is a one to two-page summary of our relevant skills, experience, and education. It must be brief because the reader typically spends less than a minute reviewing its contents. You need to make sure your resume is concise, well written, and that the most important information that translation companies look for is immediately visible (such as your language pair(s) in bold or a larger font at the top under your name). You should also ensure that it does not contain anything that is irrelevant or unnecessary, such as the fact you worked at Borders (to use me as an example) or any other job that isn’t relevant to your chosen fields of specialization. If the jobs can prove your competence in a field (such as a stock broker, insurance agent or quality assurance rep at a company) then by all means include it.

The following suggestions are from “Resume Writing for Freelancers” by Beth Podrovitz and Jiri Stejskal, which was published in the February 2006 edition of the ATA Chronicle. I am not using the block quote tag, because it made the text look cluttered.

Here are some suggestions on how to make your resume stand out.

* Keep the document to one or two pages. Remember, this is a resume, not a CV. As such, it is important to summarize the most significant highlights of your professional skills that are relevant to the position you are applying for. A project or vendor manager’s time is limited. They spend only a few seconds looking at your resume to see if it is worthwhile to keep reading.

* Indicate your source and target languages. This information is important and having it clearly visible at the top makes it easier for project or vendor managers to find when they go looking for a specific language pair among the many resumes they have on file. If you translate more than one language, include it, but differentiate your strongest language pair from the others.

* Indicate your specialization. It is likely to be the second thing a project or vendor manager looks for on your resume. When looking for a particular area of expertise for a project, many translation companies use indexing and key word search tools to help them sift through the resumes on file. Having your specializations listed will help ensure that a word search leads to your resume. For example, if you are a German medical translator, make sure you list the words “German” and “medical.” If you are just starting out, you may not have substantial experience in a particular field, but it is still a good idea to indicate something you would like to specialize in and that you are actively pursuing.

* Submit your resume online, preferably in PDF format as an email attachment. A PDF file looks professional and can be viewed on different platforms without altering the fonts you use. It also indicates that you know how to create a PDF file, which many translation companies see as a valuable skill.

* List complete contact information. Make sure you include your mailing address, phone number, fax number, and an accurate email address that you check regularly.

* When saving your resume on the computer, use your last name for the filename. Don’t name your resume something generic like “U.S. resume” or “translator 1 .” This just makes good sense, especially when submitting your resume online, since translation companies will typically file an applicant’s material under their last name.

* Indicate your educational background in the proper place. If you graduated recently and do not have much work experience, make sure you emphasize your education. If you are an experienced translator or interpreter, you can move the education information to the end of your resume and emphasize your work experience instead.

* Provide relevant information only. For a freelance position, it is not necessary to show that there are no gaps in your employment history. You don’t need to write down that summer you spent pouring concrete or waiting tables, unless perhaps you were waiting tables at a cafe in Paris or Madrid.

* Indicate your experience with computer-aided translation (CAT) tools and whether you use such tools on a regular basis. Do you own and are you proficient in the use of a particular tool, such as TRADOS 7 Freelance? If the answer is yes, make sure it is reflected on your resume. Make sure you list specific CAT tools, since this is another area where translation companies use indexing and key word searches.

* Provide information on your desktop publishing (DTP) capabilities. Skills in using DTP applications such as InDesign or QuarkXpress are good to have, as they might set you apart from other translators.

* Proofread your resume thoroughly and have others proofread it. This is particularly important if your native language is not English. Of course, even native English speakers are not immune to typos and poorly worded English. Remember, you have designed your resume as a tool for selling your linguistic skills. If a resume is not flawless, your capabilities will appear questionable.

* Include relevant association memberships and credentials, such as ATA certification.

* Update your resume frequently. Sending out an updated resume is a good excuse to make additional contacts with translation companies. This will also help to keep your name fresh in the minds of prospective clients.

Things to Avoid

* Don’t use colors, photos, word art, and graphic images unless you have a good reason to do so (such as using your logo).

* Don’t state your date of birth, number of children, marital status, or other similar personal information. This is a common practice in other countries, but is not advisable for U.S. resumes.

* Don’t include an objective that is too broad. It is not necessary to state your objective at all if it is clear from your cover letter (which will typically take the form of an email message that you send with your resume attached) that you are a freelance translator or interpreter who wants to work with a translation company as an independent contractor. If you choose to include an objective, be sure to be concise. Do not make sweeping statements such as “To gain experience as a translator” or “To use my foreign language skills.”

* Don’t provide a list of your dictionaries. You can provide this information if requested, together with other resources you are using.

* Don’t describe your hardware and don’t list standard software applications such as MS Office. It is assumed that you already know how to use these programs, and the reader will wonder why they are listed. However, you might want to mention which platform(s) you are using, especially if you are a Mac user.

* Don’t leave the Track Changes feature on in Word. This may seem obvious, but the number of resumes submitted with tracked changes visible is surprisingly high. Though it is a good source of office ridicule, it is not a good way to present yourself to a potential client. Check your view settings and make sure you see what you want everyone else to see. This blooper can be easily avoided if you submit your resume in PDF format as suggested earlier.

* Don’t leave unused generic fields when using a template. Resume templates are fine to use, though they are fairly obvious to a reader who has seen hundreds of resumes. There is nothing wrong with using a template, provided it is appropriate for your purpose and is correctly customized to suit your needs.

* Don’t submit your resume in nonstandard applications, such as MS Publisher.

* Don’t include your rates. Of course, it is important that the project manager knows what you charge, but your resume is not a good place to provide such information. It is a good idea to submit a separate document containing your rate information, or to include such information in an accompanying message (or cover letter).

* Don’t use silly or unusual fonts. Use a common font like Arial, Helvetica, Times, or Times New Roman.

* Don’t use acronyms. Most of us know what ATA stands for, but standard resume writing suggests you spell out all proper names. If the name occurs more than once on your resume, it is fine to use an acronym for subsequent occurrences.

* Don’t write “references available upon request.” You can provide references in a separate document or in your cover letter.

* Don’t submit hard copies. While a paper resume can be printed on fancy paper and look impressive, it is the content, not the form, that is important to the project or vendor manager. More importantly, a digital resume is searchable and does not take up physical space.

* Last, but certainly not least, don’t make things up—be truthful and accurate.

Most translation companies receive resumes on a daily basis and have thousands on file. Because your resume is one of many, you need to make sure you use other marketing tools, in addition to providing a resume, to establish a relationship with a translation company. Examples include follow-up communication and networking at events attended by translation companies, such as a social function at a professional seminar hosted by ATA or another industry association.

Having a professional resume is an absolute must for a freelancer who wants to do business with a translation company. Investing time and effort in getting it right will lead to new business and a successful career.



1. Rachel McRoberts - October 1, 2010

Thanks for the tips, Jill! I have been revising my resume in preparation for the ATA conference (my first!), and these are good things to remember. I would never have thought to bring a stand for my resume/cards, but now I will!

(I’ll also be sure to look for your snazzy new cards. I received my new ones a couple weeks ago and love them! Having everything match is a very satisfying finishing touch.)

2. patenttranslator - October 2, 2010

I have 2 comments.

1. The section explaining how important it is to keep your resume information short and to the point had 1,389 words. So long, in fact, that I decided to skip it, the way people decide not to read a resume if it is too long.

2. Business cards are so 19th century, don’t you think, in the age Internet? If you have a short and sweet resume (and CV is just the European word for resume, regardless of what it means in Latin), what difference does it make on what kind of paper is your card or resume printed? 99.9% of time you will be just e-mailing it anyway.

The trick these days and probably for years to com is to have a business website that will be found by new clients.

I hope you will write about that one of these days.

Best regards,

Steve Vitek, who was last to ATA conference in 1998 (I do remember that it was fun though)and who has not given a business card to a potential customer in more than 10 years.

Jill (@bonnjill) - October 2, 2010

Hi Steve,

I carry business cards with me at all times. It may be very 19th century, but business people still use them all the time (at least here in Cleveland. Maybe we aren’t cutting edge enough). They come in very handy when meeting people who don’t have Bluetooth-enabled PDAs or smartphones that beam contact information. For example, I met a lawyer at a murder mystery event several years ago who was looking for a translator. I’m still working with him occasionally today. It’s important to keep all your options open.

As for having a business website, I have had one since 1995. Not to mention the fact that I have been preaching about having a business website since 2001 when I first presented “Web design made simple for language professionals” at the ATA conference in Phoenix. You can find the presentation at my LinkedIn profile. 🙂

Jill (@bonnjill) - October 2, 2010

As for the comment about my intro, that’s how I roll sometimes. My blog is both informative and personal. Sometimes I am brief, sometimes I am verbose, but I am always charming ;-). So if you insist on brevity in a blog you may want to find another blog to follow.

3. patenttranslator - October 3, 2010

“My blog is both informative and personal. Sometimes I am brief, sometimes I am verbose, but I am always charming.”

Yes, you are. And my blog posts are mostly longer than yours. I was just saying that I think that people who insist that a resume should brief and to the point probably should be able to express this thought with fewer words (practice what you preach.

4. Katherine Osgood - October 3, 2010

Great tips Jill! I’ll be linking to this from my own blog if you don’t mind! 🙂


5. Sarah Dillon - October 3, 2010

“I was just saying that I think that people who insist that a resume should brief and to the point probably should be able to express this thought with fewer words (practice what you preach.”

Wow, these comments from @patenttranslator really surprised me.

First of all, I didn’t read this post as meaning that you were insisting on anything, Jill. I understood that you were simply making the point that in your opinion, being brief is good practice specifically *when writing a resume* (and more specifically again, when it is for the ATA Conference).

But more importantly, I understood that this was a blog post, i.e. not a resume. So it seems a wild leap of logic to me to suggest that being verbose in a blog post means that you are not practising what you preach when it comes to writing your resume.

(Maybe you don’t, Jill – I don’t know because I haven’t seen your ATA resume. Maybe you have seen it, @patenttranslator, in which case I stand corrected 🙂 )

There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to writing either blog posts or resumes. Instead, it’s about applying a style that is fit for purpose.

Given this is your blog Jill, and you are generously sharing your experiences on your own time, I’d think you’ve more than earned the right to decide what style to apply when you blog – regardless of what you are writing about. (I wouldn’t demand that you blogged in verse if you wrote about translating poetry, for example. Although it might look impressive, I would probably wonder just how busy you really were with paid work ;))

To move away from style and focus on content:
I got a lot from this post, thank you. In fact, I’d planned to blog about my experiences with business cards in different countries later this month, so it’s given me good food for thought. And I may never get to an ATA Conference (although I hope to), but I’m glad to have benefitted from your experience as a regular ATA Conference attendee nonetheless.

Jill (@bonnjill) - October 3, 2010

Hi Sarah,

Thanks for the kind words. They are much appreciated. I hope to meet you someday at a conference (either in Europe or in the US). Until then we will just have to keep in touch virtually.


6. patenttranslator - October 4, 2010

(Maybe you don’t, Jill – I don’t know because I haven’t seen your ATA resume. Maybe you have seen it, @patenttranslator, in which case I stand corrected 🙂 )

All those women ganging up on me … I give up.

No, I have not seen her resume. I just read her blog, I don’t really care about her resume.

Seriously, I was just saying that shorter is often better. I read a lot of blogs daily and if an entry is too long, I often skip it except when I am really, really interested in what the blogger is saying because I simply don’t have the time … I also have to work most of the time.

I did not read it because I don’t think that I need to work on my resume, but I wonder how many people who are just getting started and who might benefit from this kind of advice will do the same thing that I did.

I send my resume maybe 2 or 3 times a year to a law firm or an agency. I think that most potential clients only spend a few seconds looking at my resume which is posted on my website, of course. A resume is important, but a good website that will be found by search engines and potential clients is much more important. They have to find you first, before they look at your resume. And many look only at the website and don’t look at the resume at all.

7. metaglossia - October 5, 2010

Sincerely, I find Jill’s post on this issue neither too long nor too short.

She has been able to make a point in a rather captivating manner. It is true that many usually argue that the shorter a post, the better it stands a chance for being read. But all those who say so fail to recognise that “short” and “long” are relative rather than absolute antonyms. And that from the readers standpoint, all depends on how the writer succeeds in catching and sustaining attention. Jill’s post has succeeded in doing just that. And all contributors, including those who seem to find the post long and in contradiction with what the author is preaching, have visibly read the post thoroughly.

A presumably short, one-page text may be more boring and difficult to decipher than a document of two or more pages. Thanks to you all

8. Sarah Dillon - October 19, 2010

Just picking up on a different aspect of this post: business cards.

The business card debate is an interesting one, and I’ve changed my approach a few times on this (and I’ve just published a post on this over on my blog).

But overall, I think that like so many things with freelance translation, the only rule is that there are no hard and fast rules. The humble business card serves many functions, concious and subconcious, to a broad range of people: current and prospective clients, colleagues, the wider business (and indeed general) community – not to mention how we view ourselves. So whether we need one, what details we should include, and how it should look and feel, etc. will depend on how we assess this range of factors as they apply to our specific circumstances. What works for Jill in Cleveland may well be different to what works for Sarah in Brisbane (or indeed Sarah anywhere else, for that matter). In other words, surely it doesn’t matter what approach you take, once it works for you?! I think that variety is the wonderful thing about being a freelance translator 😉

9. MM - October 20, 2010

Interesting topic, but I don’t see that Jill needs defending against patenttranslator. Why shouldn’t he give his views?
There is a definite need for busines cards in Germany, although I rarely encounter it for translation purposes.

10. Maria - March 28, 2012

How do you find clients? My website is not yet public and I would like to start sending out flyers that I created but I have no clue who to send them to…
Thanks in advance,

Jill (@bonnjill) - March 28, 2012

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