This year, I worked on a recruitment project. My assignment was to find, assess and onboard a team of freelance translators for a new project going into multiple languages. This mission turned out to be quite an enlightening experience! Most notably, I saw the entire recruitment adventure from the other side: the good, the bad and the ugly. This article contains a few tips and best practices gleaned along the way. While the advice it contains stems from selecting translators, many tips can be applied to the freelance community at large.


Be easy to find and easy to reach. I probably skipped over 50 potential candidates just because I could not find their email address. That’s right, 50 people missed out on an opportunity just for being hard to contact.

What you put “above the fold” of your resume matters. For a newspaper, “above the fold” refers to the upper half of the front page. For a resume, it refers to the first half of the first page – the first morsels of information about you that the reader will see. So what information should go above the fold?

  • Your name, phone number, email address and URL, even if the URL is your LinkedIn profile.
  • Your language combinations, including locales. English > Chinese is not enough. English > Simplified Chinese or French > Portuguese for Brazil is useful information.
  • Your specializations or vertical.
  • One interesting/fun fact about you (no more than 10-15 words). One of my candidates wrote in his resume that he was a certified yoga teacher. This caught my attention because I practice yoga. I mentioned it to him, which lead us to talk about yoga on top of discussing translation. That got me to remember him.

What information has no business being above the fold?

  • Your references. They go at the bottom.
  • Your hobbies, unless one of them can be turned into a brief interesting/fun fact (see above).
  • Your previous career, unless it is directly relevant to your specializations: lawyer-linguist, medical professional turned medical translator, wine-maker specializing in oenology translation.
  • Your education.

Resumes are not read in their entirety. I probably viewed over 200 resumes for this mission. Had I read every single word of every single resume, I would have gotten nowhere. Recruiters scan resumes, glancing at the sections that will answer their questions: What are you good at? Are you a good fit for the team/project at hand? Are you a pleasure to work with? You have less than 15 seconds to capture their attention – make it count. Another pet peeve: lots of blank space.

Resume or brochure? I noticed that I had no preference, as long as the essential information was there. In this case, I was looking for marketing translators, so candidates who showed through their resume/brochure that they took their own marketing seriously made a better impression than those who sent a Microsoft Word document typed in Calibri 11.

What you say on the phone matters. One candidate insisted on answering every single one of my questions with canned statements about her education and notoriety in her field. The conversation went something like this:

  • Q: Could you please tell me about your experience in marketing translation targeted at young, hip and trendy audiences?
  • A: I have Bachelor’s degree from XXX College, a double Master’s degree from YYY University, a PHD from ZZZ, and I have 22 years of experience translating and interpreting for international organizations.

This answer is frustrating because it does not answer the question. A good candidate must be able to listen attentively – asking for it to be repeated or rephrased if needed – and provide a meaningful answer.

If you hate speaking on the phone, say so. If you are invited to a phone interview, it is better to accept and impress the recruiter with your pleasant demeanor and vast subject-matter expertise. However, if you know phone calls are not your strong suit and you prefer to discuss new projects over email, be upfront about this. Nobody wants to be stuck in a phone conversation where awkwardness prevents the exchange of information. During interview processes for full-time positions, phone conversations are pretty much mandatory, but the rules are (sometimes) flexible for freelancers.


Don’t whine. It sounds obvious, and yet… Several people actually complained to me about something related to the project (tools, requirements, test results, etc.). Whining and complaining will put your name straight on the “hard to work with” list, for the current project and for future opportunities. If you don’t like something, say so, but be polite about it.

And don’t shoot the messenger. Recruiters spend hours looking for the right candidates. They want their recruits to succeed; their own success is measured upon that of the teams they create. Reacting defensively (or aggressively!) will achieve little more than project an unprofessional image.

Don’t rush your contact person. Sounds obvious, right? One candidate was so upset at my response time (1 business day) that she wrote me every two hours, totaling four messages in a single afternoon, to express her discontent. Recruiters are not project managers. Phone calls and research take up a lot of their time, and lots of people are competing for their attention.


Having too many specializations. Please don’t claim you are an expert in legal translation, medical translation, dance, deep space exploration, marketing, technical documents, submarines, fashion, ceramics, non-profits, micro-finance, veterinary science, nanotechnologies, oenology, oil and gas, 1970s computer technologies and religion. A discerning recruiter will not believe you. There are different approaches to specialization (this is one and this is a different one). Each translator needs to find their comfort zone, balancing variety and credibility.

Refusing to send information about yourself. One candidate did not want to send me a CV, a brochure or a website URL. He expected to be hired on the spot (he wasn’t).

Violating NDAs signed with other clients. If you start a sentence with “Well, I’m not supposed to tell you this, but…” you are telling the recruiter that you could very well spill your new client’s secrets too.

Messy tax forms. US clients are required to collect W9 forms (other forms may be required in other countries). Have mercy on the person in charge of data entry and use Adobe Acrobat Pro (or another application) to fill this form and sign it electronically. Nothing says “unprofessional” like sloppy handwriting and crossed out words on a tax form. The information you provide on your W9 will also end up in your client’s payment system; you want it to be captured properly.

Taking too long to respond. The recruiter will move on.

Add your tips and tricks for success in the comments below!