7 tips to help launch your translation career

Career Advice
07 May 2021 | Career Advice | Guest Author

So, you’ve decided to make a career as a translator. You’ve got the language skills you need, finding a job can’t be that tough, right? Unfortunately, many people discover at this point that there’s a lot more to translation than simply speaking two languages, and it’s not always clear how you can make yourself more employable. I’ve been through the same thing myself, and come up with some handy tips to help you develop your translation career.

1.Take language exams

The most important part of any job application is the proof that you’ve got the necessary skills for the job. Whilst experienced translators can point to their previous employment and work history to show their skills, newcomers to the career aren’t so lucky. Some beginners might have translation and language degrees from university which serve a similar purpose, but what about those that don’t have them?

That’s where language exams come in. For those of us without experience or a degree, exams are the best way to prove your mastery of a language. Translation work normally requires you to pass one of the top two levels of the exams, depending on the contents of the job.

The exams are affordable and are held several times a year in various cities around the world, depending on the examination board. There is also the added benefit that these exams are a great way to patch up any weaknesses you have in your language skills.

2. Consider specializing

Much like in many other industries, translators often choose to specialize in a certain niche. This allows them to focus on a particular type of translation material, which gives them the opportunity to improve the overall quality of their work. There are some great benefits to focusing on a single specialization as a beginner.

The most obvious benefit is that there is less competition for work. As specialized translation work requires more specific skillsets and knowledge, there will be fewer people ready to apply for these jobs.

Another perk is that specialized translation work generally pays better. As you begin to master your knowledge of a specialization, you’ll find more opportunities to work with clients and companies who are willing to pay extra for the added quality you offer.

When choosing a specialization, it’s important to consider what skills you already have. For instance, if you have a degree in business or a corporate background, you likely already understand much of the terminology used in the industry which can give you the edge you need.  

Common areas to specialize in are legal, medical, business, technology, and literary translation. Each of these have many sub-specializations too, so do some digging to find the right specialization for you.

3. Learn translation software

Translation software, sometimes referred to as CAT tools (Computer-aided translation tools), is software designed to help make translation quicker and more accurate. Some are free, whilst others cost many thousands of dollars. They are commonly used by translators, especially at large translation agencies. Many jobs list translation software experience as a requirement, so learning about them is definitely beneficial.

These tools can help improve your translation in a number of ways. They can correct spelling and grammar, ensure that terms are translated consistently, and help analyze where text has been incorrectly translated. They won’t translate the document perfectly for you, but they make the process a lot more efficient. 

Different translation software will come with different features and tools, which make them all slightly different to use. I recommend that you try a few options and see what works best for you. Even if a client prefers that you use a different software, your experience from one tool will still benefit you when using another.    

4. Look into becoming an accredited translator

Accredited translators are translators that have backing from official organizations who recognize them as certified translators. This gives clients a level of reassurance that work will be translated to a professional standard. Becoming accredited is considerably harder than just taking a language exam, but can be hugely beneficial in aiding a translation-based career.  

You can acquire accreditation in a number of ways. You can take exams to earn a Diploma in Translation, get an MA in Translation Studies, join a translation association, or become a government-approved translator. These vary in difficulty and costs, but all will give your employability a significant boost.

5. Search for jobs through all possible means

When searching for jobs, it’s important that you consider all the options available to you. For in-house translation jobs, standard job-hunting websites are normally your go to places to search. But what about the large freelance market?

Freelance translation work is normally posted on one of two types of websites. The first are general-purpose freelance websites such as Upwork, which feature freelance work from a variety of industries. The second type of website are online translation agencies such as Gengo, who allow you to take individual jobs for them provided you follow their style guide.

Even if you’re set on finding an in-house translation job, I still recommend checking out what’s available in the freelance market too. You can often find small jobs that make great opportunities to both practice your skills and make some money whilst you’re looking for that in-house job. 

6. Apply!

The most important advice I can give you is to apply for any job that you think seems good – Waiting around for the perfect job won’t help you. Even if you’re set on landing a specific type of job, there’s no harm in applying for some small, freelance jobs in the meantime.

Rejection stings, but it’s a totally normal part of the job-hunting process, especially in a competitive industry like translation. Ask for feedback on why you weren’t chosen, and then move on to the next application. Keep focusing on improving yourself and you’ll be sure to land a job before long.  

In summary

Starting a career as a translator isn’t easy. Even if you’re fully capable of translating like a professional, getting clients to believe in you isn’t always easy. Nevertheless, there are plenty of ways that you can always be improving your employability.

Provided you keep on applying for jobs and keep on developing your skills, you’ll be able to achieve your goal. Once you start to gain experience, your journey will get easier. Stick with it, and your translation career will take off before you know it. Best of luck. 


Jake Hallows is a freelance Japanese translator who also writes about Japanese language and culture at vocab.chat. He grew up in England before moving to Hokkaido, Japan to spend time working as an assistant language teacher. He likes to keep up with all kinds of Japanese culture and plans to specialize in video-game localization in the future.


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