From gown to booth: turning your degree into a job pt.2

Hurdle n°2: becoming a paid interpreter

You have secured your degree in conference interpreting, you know what a professional booth look like and you can work an interpreting console. Now, understandably, you would quite like to start getting paid for your conference interpreting skills.
But if having a suitable qualification is key, it won’t necessarily be enough to get you into a booth.
You’re going to need an opportunity – but how can you convince agencies to give a “rookie” a chance?
Well, I don’t have a fail-proof solution, but I do have a little acronym for you (you can’t work as an interpreter and in academia without learning to love acronyms): SNAP.

1.    You’ll have to be Strategic. In what way ? Well, first of all, geographically. Be where your skills will be needed the most. For instance, there hardly ever is an English booth in the UK on the private market; most conferences are held in English and clients aren’t prepared to pay for an English booth (interpreting into English is done as a retour). So the UK is great for someone with English as a B language (or with English A and a strong B language) – and similarly, English native speakers could be more sought after outwith the UK.

2.    Do some Networking. Join a professional body, like ITI or the IoL. Even better: join as a student, there are special memberships for trainee translators and interpreters. They hold events, at which you can meet more experienced professionals and potential employers. Make a good impression, let your experience be known (even if it is unpaid work) and they may remember you when the need arises. Be active on professional networks like Linkedin or ProZ. Stay in touch with your fellow students, and stay in touch with lecturers– all these people can help you understand the industry better, and can recommend you. And agencies will want good recommendations before that take a gamble on a newbie.

3.    Be Available. There are quite a few professional interpreters out there already, and agencies tend to be often call the same interpreters, for a number of understandable reasons. However, sometimes, several conferences are happening at the same time and suddenly, many interpreters are needed at the same time – this is when you may get a chance to have your break. But you have to be contactable, reactive and available (think “smart-phone”). Do a decent job, and the agency will remember that you were answered their call quickly and made arrangements to be available, even at short notice.

4.    Be Professional. Now that may seem like stating the obvious, but it’s crucial. You’re going to have to be convincing to make people forget that you are a “rookie”. So dress the part, be punctual, prepare like you’ve never prepared before (yes, more than for your exams), and act the part. You’re likely to be paired up with a more experienced colleague – be friendly and ask them how they like to share the work. Observe them at work, and learn from them. Make sure you do a good job, keep your nerves and focus – if you prove to be competent, they may say a word in your favour to the agency, or may even pass your details on for future jobs.

And once you have become the experienced interpreter in the booth, don’t forget how tough it can be at the start, and be mindful of the little newbies !

Fanny Chouc