To Test Or Not To Test
Updated: Aug 24
Today my question is: do we need to be tested as translators?
Some translation companies will test your professional abilities to see if it’s a match. While I don’t oppose the idea altogether, I have to admit that I’m not the biggest fan either, especially when some companies try to take advantage of it.
Unless you’re a well-known translator, some companies prefer to be on the safe side and ask you to complete a translation to test your skills. I understand the risk that assigning work to some stranger entails. If the translation is not well done and on time, it could lead to the loss of a client.
As a Jewish person that believes in the obligation of tzedakah, I choose to do pro-bono work. For instance, I volunteer as a translator and proofreader in my spare time for humanitarian, development, and non-profit organizations through Translators Without Borders.
When a translation company specifically wants to test my expertise, I don’t mind translating one or two short fragments/samples for free either. I appreciate the chance, and I usually end up learning new things. Besides working in English, Catalan, and Spanish, I specialize in the financial, legal, and medical fields.
However, there have been times in which I’ve chosen to turn down companies when I’ve been asked to work for free to prove myself. Some companies will tell you things like: “We can’t pay you for your first job. But if you do it well, we’ll give you paid work in the future.” It gets even more ridiculous when they give you a deadline.
Not long ago, a renowned agency asked me to translate not one, but three documents in less than 48 hours! On top of that, I realized that one of the papers was about a medical conference that was going to take place in the near future. I gave them the following answer:
Dear Translation Company,
Not only is it unreasonable to ask me to translate sixteen pages for free, but it’s also insulting that you disguise work that hasn’t been assigned yet as a test. Tests should only be fragments of texts that have already been translated, and they should never total more than 200-300 words.
This is definitely not a match.
This same company that contacted me via email won’t accept a digital signature when signing an agreement. Requesting a hand-written signature in the digital era is a red flag for me. Why would you make a person print and scan a document when it can simply be filled out and signed with a program like Adobe Acrobat? It saves time – and paper!
In summary, while I don’t oppose the idea of being tested or doing pro-bono work, I won’t work for free for a for-profit company to prove myself. Would you ask a plumber to do his job for free the first time to prove himself? I bet you won’t. And if you try, I don’t think you’ll get away with it.
There’s a clear difference between translating a short sample text or a small exercise and being asked to translate a whole piece of work with a due date. Remember: some companies don’t deserve your talents because they just don’t value them. I learned that from Liz Ryan.
Companies can also choose different methods to verify our abilities and experience, aside from testing us, such as asking for references and searching the Internet for evidence. Is it a coincidence that my best clients are the ones that never tested me in the first place?
I have more than fourteen years of experience, and I’m ATA-certified. I hold the equivalent of an M.A. in Translation & Interpretation. You can find me on the following sites:
*I'm not a member of this professional association anymore.