Translators on… Initial and Volunteer Experience


Translators on… brings together a collection of industry professionals, each sharing their experience and advice on certain topics of their career, offering a wider, more authoritative range of opinions than a single source. Want to know more about the series? Watch the launch video.

In most professions, you need experience before you can get a job but need a job to get experience. The translation industry is no different, yet the vicious circle can be broken.

When I set out to build a career in translation, I credit two sources of experience that got me my first in-house job: first, academic experience, i.e. translations I had done as part of my university degree, and second, volunteer experience, specifically working with the Welsh National Opera to translate some 19th century German poems.

Some more seasoned translators built a much sturdier foundation for their careers, whether intentionally or incidentally. Whichever pathway you take, there is always a way to harness the skills, experience and expertise that you acquired from your pre-translation days and use it to your advantage.


It is not just the specialist knowledge gained in another career that can be applied to translation. The different approaches and ways of thinking may allow you to understand aspects of translation in a manner that others would not.


I have found working as an in-house translator to be an excellent start to a career in the profession. Learning how the industry works on a day-to-day basis is something you won’t learn at university. And it seems some of our contributors concur.


Landing an in-house job is a battle in itself, though, as employers will still want to see some experience on your CV. The way to solve this problem, in my opinion, is through volunteer experience. This does not mean working for translation companies for free – I don’t need to mention the ethics involved – but typically for smaller cultural or not-for-profit organisations, which I find to be a win-win situation: they need a translator to further their noble cause and you need experience. But where do you find these kinds of opportunities?


 ‘Keep your eyes peeled, talk to people and use your initiative’, I tell translation students. Very vague advice indeed, but what more can you say? There is no exhaustive list of volunteer translation opportunities so it really is a matter of doing the legwork and making things happen for yourself. Plus, that’s how I built my own career.

Many opportunities may only crop up for you personally, by being in the right place at the right time. That was the case for my poem translations and for another volunteer translation I did for my landlady’s community arts organisation when I lived in France.

Remember once you’re an established freelancer that the volunteering needn’t stop there.


The next Translators on… will move away from harnessing experience and qualifications and on to building client relationships.