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30 Questions and Answers by Clara Canon
Updated November 30th, 2019 | Clara is a career coaching expert and has supported individuals landing positions in education, nonprofit, corporate, and beyond.
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Question 1 of 30

What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of a career in translation?

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1.

What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of a career in translation?

Your response to this question could take any number of spins. You might reference the lifestyle associated with being an independent contractor, drastically different clients and needs from one project to the next, or adapting to unfamiliar terms and content. Whichever is true for you, be sure to frame your response using positive language. You want to ensure that your answers are solution- and growth-oriented, particularly when referencing challenging content.

Clara's Answer

"The most challenging aspect of a career in translation for me is actually the same thing that draws me in and keeps me in the field: texts with unfamiliar content and terminology. Of course, it is difficult to dive into a complex text that I don't understand, and it certainly takes me more time and effort to translate. That said, I value the learning I gain from such texts. It makes me a better translator and a more knowledgeable person in general, so I embrace the challenge."

2.

How familiar are you with regional variations on each language you speak?

Fluency in a language doesn't guarantee your ability to translate any text in that language, particularly when working with unfamiliar dialects and terminology. The interviewer is interested in how wide your reach might be. This question might also indicate that they need such a skillset on their team. Be prepared to be tested on this following your interview, so don't use this as an opportunity to over-fluff your abilities.

Clara's Answer

"The majority of my education, experience, and exposure is in French from France. That said, I am very familiar with several variations of French in Africa, including Morocco, Algeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Senegal. I am less familiar with Canadian French, though I am actively working on improving my understanding of it."

3.

What does your dream career as a translator look like?

Responding to this question will likely vary based on where you are in your career. If you are fresh on the scene, think about what steps you're taking now to get to where you want to be, then identify what that ultimate goal is. If you are seasoned in translation, then think of the trajectory you've had thus far, how close you are to that goal, and what might've changed for you along the way. Taking your interviewers on the journey with you, whether at the start facing ahead or looking back on all you've accomplished, will draw them in and better contextualize why your dream is your dream. Consider asking yourself what texts you hope to be translating, what clients you want to work with, what languages you'll be translating, and even where you will physically station yourself (i.e. working from home versus an office).

Clara's Answer

"Thus far, my career as a translator has primarily focused on building my client-base and gaining valuable experience contracting at various agencies. I believe that each step I've taken has been critical in my ability to be a successful translator and in getting me closer to my ultimate goal. I would say that my dream career includes being mobile, dividing my time between countries and continents. I would have my own client-base that keeps me busy and accept contract work as needed. I'd be translating between at least two language pairs as well. It's a lot to work towards, but that's the dream!"

4.

Where do you hope to see yourself in 5-10 years?

This is a common interview question, so it's always good to have a thoughtful response ready in your back pocket. The interviewers are interested in how much thought you've put into your career trajectory. They might also be interested in what professional development they could support you with to get to your goals or determine that they will not be a good fit to help get you there. If you are unsure of your future, then frame your response in a way that shows you are maximizing the present to better inform your next steps.

Clara's Answer

"I hope to see myself well-established in the translation community with a strong repeat client base, and I would love to have published research to present at a conference. I believe in setting myself up to maximize the present in order to achieve this future while learning and growing alongside professionals in the field. I value that our missions and interests align, particularly given your emphasis on employee professional development and research. I would be honored to contribute to the overall vision of the organization while striving toward my own professional goals."

5.

Have you ever encountered an ethical or moral dilemma on a translation project? How did you handle it?

You might receive a translation project that does not align with your personal beliefs or philosophy. As a professional, you have to decide how you choose to navigate such circumstances in order to balance respecting the client with maintaining the integrity of your practice. If you are applying to work for an agency, then be sure to do research on the company prior to your interview to better inform your response to this question. They might not associate with any political, religious, or other affiliation and therefore accept translations from all sources. If they do have an affiliation, then ensure that your response to this question doesn't conflict with the mission and values of the agency and their affiliations - if they do, then you might want to consider applying to a different company!

Clara's Answer

"I have had one instance in which I received a request from a client to translate a document that contradicted my values to the extent that I felt I could not accept the offer. I determined that I would not be able to fulfill the scope of the project given the content and my own inherent biases towards the subject, so I knew that I wasn't the best translator for the client's needs. I didn't find it professionally appropriate to accept the project knowing that I wouldn't be able to fully achieve their vision and simultaneously put myself completely against my values and brand. Upon coming to this conclusion, I informed the client that I did not have the capacity to appropriately translate the text to the desired outcome and referred them to colleagues that would be better able to fulfill the full scope of the project."

6.

What draws you to our company, and what makes you a valuable asset?

Prior to any interview, you always want to do extensive research on the company or institution. The more knowledge you have, the better you will be able to weave your skills and experience into their framework and ask directly relevant questions. Look into what makes this company unique, what their key values are, who their general client base is, current news about the company, and so on. Use this research to inform how you respond to this question. The interviewers are looking for someone who very intentionally wants to be at their company over just any other translation agency, so show what you know and how you will contribute to the overall vision.

Clara's Answer

"I am very drawn to this company for a number of reasons: the impressive range of clients, the global reach, and the well-established reputation in the translation community. I admire the company for being a strong, reliable force with an emphasis on supporting employees through various policies and professional development. I believe I would be a valuable asset to the company given my experience working with a similar client base and my strong management background. I can navigate large caseloads and maintain a customer-centered approach, which I know to be strongly valued for this positi. I am very quick to learn and value collaborating with others, so I believe that I could seamlessly join your team and get right to work."

7.

Why is cultural fluency as important as language fluency when it comes to translating a text?

It is a common misconception that fluency in two languages is enough to appropriately translate a text. In reality, if you are not aware of culturally and regionally-specific nuances that go alongside the languages themselves, then you aren't fully prepared to produce a quality translation. The interviewer is looking for a candidate to make a direct correlation between the two (language and culture), and identify the importance of having fluency in both.

Clara's Answer

"There are so many iterations to a language depending on location, generation, socio-economic and socio-political position, and more. It is critical for translators to be mindful of these nuances in each language in order to appropriately get meaning across. Any speaker of more than one language knows that there is often more than one way to translate a particular word or phrase or concept, and some words and phrases simply don't exist in other languages. So, we have to be as intentional about maintaining cultural fluency as we are about language fluency."

8.

Do you hold any translation certifications?

Some translation projects require certifications - or notarization from a certified translator - in order to be legally viable texts, so it is important to be aware of what certifications there are and what you have. Some graduate programs in translation automatically award a translation certification upon graduating, so look into your own program to determine what certifications you might've earned or still qualify for. If you don't currently hold any certifications, then go into your interview knowing what is involved in earning them and be prepared to share a willingness to work towards one.

Clara's Answer

"I became a member of the American Translators Association upon graduating from my Master's program in Translation Studies. I completed the official certification exam and earned their certificate shortly after. I am interested in pursuing more internationally-recognized certificates as well. I am always open to new certifications that might open doors to different opportunities."

9.

How are your writing skills?

The interviewer is interested in how experienced you are as a writer beyond translation exclusively. Some translations, particularly in literature, require an elevated and refined skill set in writing. Review the job description in detail for any indication that the position requires a specific writing style or skill level, and be prepared to reference specific examples of your work that support what they want to see.

Clara's Answer

"I have extensive writing experience in several capacities, primarily academic writing, articles, and blog posts. I am most familiar with MLA, Chicago, and APA styles. I'm a bit of a perfectionist and have particularly keen attention to detail, so my editing skills are equally strong."

10.

What types of text do you most enjoy translating?

Translation is a broad profession and encompasses any number of text types - literature, articles, scientific studies, patents, subtitles for movies, and much more! The interviewer is looking for what texts will likely give you the most energy and excitement, and they might be exploring whether or not your interests align with the texts they often receive. When providing a response, be sure to choose a text type that you have some experience in - you want to put forth something you enjoy that balances your strengths in the field.

Clara's Answer

"I have experience translating quite a range of texts, from patents to fiction literature, and I enjoy working withmany texts. That said, I most enjoy translating news and journal articles. I love the fast pace of the translations as well as the challenge of balancing and navigating the content and cross-cultural nuances. It keeps me informed about my audiences, and it leverages my strengths in efficiency, keen observation, and attention to detail."

11.

What types of clients do you typically work with?

The interviewers are looking for your experience level working with certain clients. This question likely indicates that the open position will need to work with a specific client type. When preparing a response to this question, outline each of the client types you've worked with and rank them by frequency. Review the posted job description for clues as to what client type this position will work with and compare that to your list. If you have little experience or haven't worked directly with that client type, then research transferrable correlations between your 'frequent client list' with the target client type of the position and include the correlation in your response.

Clara's Answer

"Most of my clients are small business owners looking to translate websites, blog posts, or advertisements. I have been working with a variety of businesses for over 5 years and have many repeat clients. I also work with schools and nonprofits to translate materials for local immigrant communities on an as-needed basis."

12.

What word or phrase have you learned as a result of a translation project that you now use in your daily life?

The interviewers are sprinkling in some fun with this question, so play with it! Consider how the word or phrase is unique - is it very regionally-specific? Is it a new slang term, or an old one? Avoid a word or phrase that is common enough for you to be expected to already know it.

Clara's Answer

"My favorite phrase that I now use regularly is 'revenons ? nos moutons,' or 'let's return to our sheep.' It is used as a way of getting back to the topic, so it's more like 'let's return to the topic at hand.' It's so applicable to so many circumstances, and I love that such a matter-of-fact intention references sheep."

13.

If a career in translation could take you anywhere, where would it be and why?

A language-oriented career can open a literal world of possibilities. As a translator, you could find yourself living in a country that speaks your non-native language, you might work for a government somewhere, or you could be entirely mobile as a freelance contract worker. Consider whether or not your 'where' informs your 'why' or if your 'why' informs your 'where.' For example, would you say that you want to immerse yourself in your non-native language, so you would move to France? Would you move to Haiti because you love the Carribean and could maintain your work in translation?

Clara's Answer

"I would love for my career to take me all over the world, particularly to any French-speaking country. It would be such an amazing experience to expose myself to the many francophone cultures and variations of the language, and I believe such an opportunity would make me a far better translator. Ideally, I would ultimately end up in Corsica. I love the blend of language, culture, and hospitality on the island as well as the proximity to so many French-speaking regions."

14.

What do you feel is the most important skill a translator should possess?

This question allows you the opportunity to provide a technical skill that pertains to the translation, itself, or a soft skill that references what it takes to get the translation done. For example, you might reference the ability to utilize various Computer Assisted Technology (CAT) tools to facilitate increased efficiency in your translations, or you might choose the ability to stay motivated and engaged in an independent work environment. A brief and straightforward response can be quite powerful so long as you clearly indicate why that skill is important.

Clara's Answer

"I think there are two particularly important skills a translator should possess: acknowledging that we don't know everything and keeping ourselves focused and motivated in a very independently-driven profession. I believe that we are better for our clients and better able to grow and improve our own skills when we admit to ourselves that there is always more learning to be done. It is also challenging to stay focused in a profession that demands motivating yourself to stay on task in such an autonomous work environment. These two skills cover different aspects of the profession and are equally important in the success of a translator over time."

15.

How do you handle a client that is unsatisfied with your translation or finds an error within the translated text?

It can be difficult to please everyone, particularly in a profession that specializes in interpreting and executing someone else's vision. Unsatisfied clients can be expected at one point or another, and mistakes happen. The interviewer is looking for how gracefully you handle the customer-facing aspect of this job. Allow your customer service skills to come through in this response, and consider drawing connection to a story of when you've navigated an unsatisfied client in the past.

Clara's Answer

"First, I always try to frame my thinking and perspective around the situation. The client is the reason I am able to work on this project, so it is my job to complete it to a standard that they expect. I am very receptive to feedback from my clients because I believe that it better informs my work in the future and makes me a better translator. If I find that a client is unsatisfied, then I apologize that the result isn't currently up to their expectation, ask how I might best be able to bring it up to their standards, and seek feedback on what I could do in the future to better fulfill their needs earlier on. If they find an error, then I fully own the error and apologize for it. I do not offer excuses or promises that I can't keep."

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30 Translator Interview Questions
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Interview Questions

  1. What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of a career in translation?
  2. How familiar are you with regional variations on each language you speak?
  3. What does your dream career as a translator look like?
  4. Where do you hope to see yourself in 5-10 years?
  5. Have you ever encountered an ethical or moral dilemma on a translation project? How did you handle it?
  6. What draws you to our company, and what makes you a valuable asset?
  7. Why is cultural fluency as important as language fluency when it comes to translating a text?
  8. Do you hold any translation certifications?
  9. How are your writing skills?
  10. What types of text do you most enjoy translating?
  11. What types of clients do you typically work with?
  12. What word or phrase have you learned as a result of a translation project that you now use in your daily life?
  13. If a career in translation could take you anywhere, where would it be and why?
  14. What do you feel is the most important skill a translator should possess?
  15. How do you handle a client that is unsatisfied with your translation or finds an error within the translated text?
  16. How do you balance the satisfaction and expectations of your client when they might not align with the reality of the project?
  17. Describe a difficult work environment you've been in and how you navigated it to continue to meet deadlines and get work done.
  18. What do you do to motivate yourself when you hit a brain block while translating?
  19. What are the top 5 things on your desk while you're translating?
  20. What language pairs do you typically translate? Do you speak any additional languages?
  21. What drew you to a career in translation?
  22. Being a translator requires being self-driven and motivated. How do you encourage yourself to get things done when you might lack motivation in the moment?
  23. What experience do you have with CAT tools? Which ones?
  24. What is one component of translation that you would like to improve upon the most?
  25. What have been the most crucial components of learning to become a translator?
  26. If you were to enter any other profession with your language skills, what would it be?
  27. Do you also serve as an interpreter? If so, what do you feel are the key differences in skills required for interpretation versus translation?
  28. What has been the most challenging text for you to translate and why?
  29. How many translation projects do you complete on average each month?
  30. How do you prepare yourself to better understand an unfamiliar Target Audience?
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