Working in-house vs. working freelance – pros and cons

When working as a translator, you have a few job options available to you. The main ones are: working in-house at a translation agency, freelancing, and working in-house for one particular company. So far in my career I have done the latter two. There are pros and cons to both, some of which I discuss below.

Pay

One of the major advantages of working in-house for a company is that you know exactly what you will be paid at the end of the month, and this payment will be on time. By contrast, the disadvantage for freelance translators is that this sum will vary, as will the payment terms: some clients are happy to pay immediately, but many ask for a 30- or 60-day payment period after receipt of invoice. There is also no guarantee as a freelancer that your client will pay on schedule. As an in-house employee, you will receive benefits including holiday pay, sick pay, and a pension. When working freelance, it is recommended that translators put money aside for these benefits, plus their tax bill!

Hours

In theory, freelance translators can be flexible in picking their hours to suit them – they don’t have to stick to a Monday to Friday 9-to-5 routine (although I try to!). An in-house employee will have set hours. They may have a certain amount of flexibility, e.g. being able to start their working day at any time between 8am and 10:30am, but will still be expected to work a certain amount of hours in a day or week. Having said this, in-house staff are not necessarily expected to work weekends, whereas a freelance translator having a slow week may decide that the project that landed in their inbox at 4pm on Friday, due at 9am on Monday, is perfect to top up their income for that particular month.

Projects

As a freelance translator, you are your own boss. This means that if you’re offered a translation project, you have the option of turning it down. If you work in-house, you have less choice in the matter. This may result in the freelance translator working on a greater variety of texts in their specialism, which, in my opinion, makes work a bit more fun. When it comes to finding a specialism, the in-house employee will become specialised in what the company that he or she works for does. A freelance translator will be able to carefully select and refine their specialism depending on their educational and training background as well as the projects that they choose to accept.

Those are three of the many issues that a translator will face when deciding on their career path. Are you reading and have something to add? Feel free to leave your comments below!

This month in the translation and language-learning world…

…The Japanese government decided to fund the translation of Japanese books into English

Ian Henderson wrote about machine translation and how it can’t work for business use

…The Guardian published an article on learning a language for work

Former Afghan translators were offered homes in Wales according to the BBC

…Jean Findlay from the Guardian wrote about CK Scott Moncrieff’s translation of Proust’s A la Recherche du Temps Perdu

 

This month in the translation and language-learning world…

The Guardian profiled three interpreters who have worked for famous faces.

Eleanor Muffitt explained why she’s had a go at learning so many languages.

Ian Henderson explained why you need more than just translation when launching your brand on a different market.

The BBC found 20 people who had lost their native language.

The National Law Journal wrote about the translator who revealed information Toyota would rather have kept under wraps.

Tips on getting into the translation profession

The translation industry is a notoriously tough industry to get into when you first start out. If you plump for working with agencies, many ask that translators have at least 5 years’ experience before they can be added to the agency’s books. If you decide to target direct clients then you have to stand out from everybody else in the industry, including those with decades of experience. Here are some tips to consider just before launching your career and when you’re first starting out:

1) Get a degree… and use it Whether in the languages that you want to translate from, or in a subject that could ultimately become your specialism, a degree is a major advantage to translators. Having a degree in a field other than languages and translation can also work in your favour as that field could become your specialism in translation.

2) Get translator training Be it a master’s degree in translation from a university or another qualification such as the IoL’s DipTrans, some form of training in the principles and practices of translation is absolutely vital in this industry.

3) Get as much experience as you can There are several ways to gain experience in the translation industry. You could take on a translation internship (many translation agencies are on the lookout for interns for 3-12 month placements) or you could volunteer as a translator with a not-for-profit website or company requiring translation (I volunteered with Watching America a few years ago. There are a number of options out there, and the more experience you have, the better.)

4) Exposure There are many sites out there aimed at online networking, and there are a few that are specific to the translation industry. Sites like LinkedIn are more general, whereas ProZ.com and TranslatorsCafe.com are specific to the translation and interpreting industry. It’s good to have profiles and be active on these sites (e.g. posting in the forums, asking terminology questions), as potential clients often use these sites to find new freelancers.

5) Specialise While you may accept whatever job lands in your inbox when starting out as a translator, it’s best to quickly suss out what you like and what you’re good at, then focus on gaining work in that field. That way you can focus your efforts on knowing your potential source material inside out, rather than being just relatively good in many subject areas.

6) Further training Once you’ve got a foot on the ladder, make sure you keep up-to-date with professional training. There are always ways in which you can improve as a professional – after all, we all have weaknesses. Webinars are an excellent tool for improving skills. My two favourite sites for this are ProZ.com and The Alexandria Project. They both offer insightful webinars on a wide range of translation-based topics.

Are you a translator? Feel free to add your tips for getting into the translation profession in the comments section below!