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Translator Interview
Questions

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.
Question 1 of 30
What types of text do you most enjoy translating?
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How to Answer
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.
30 Translator Interview Questions
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  1. What types of text do you most enjoy translating?
  2. What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of a career in translation?
  3. What word or phrase have you learned as a result of a translation project that you now use in your daily life?
  4. How do you handle a client that is unsatisfied with your translation or finds an error within the translated text?
  5. How do you balance the satisfaction and expectations of your client when they might not align with the reality of the project?
  6. How familiar are you with regional variations on each language you speak?
  7. Have you ever encountered an ethical or moral dilemma on a translation project? How did you handle it?
  8. Do you hold any translation certifications?
  9. Describe a difficult work environment you've been in and how you navigated it to continue to meet deadlines and get work done.
  10. Where do you hope to see yourself in 5-10 years?
  11. What types of clients do you typically work with?
  12. What do you do to motivate yourself when you hit a brain block while translating?
  13. What are the top 5 things on your desk while you're translating?
  14. If a career in translation could take you anywhere, where would it be and why?
  15. What language pairs do you typically translate? Do you speak any additional languages?
  16. How are your writing skills?
  17. What drew you to a career in translation?
  18. 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?
  19. What experience do you have with CAT tools? Which ones?
  20. What do you feel is the most important skill a translator should possess?
  21. Why is cultural fluency as important as language fluency when it comes to translating a text?
  22. What is one component of translation that you would like to improve upon the most?
  23. What does your dream career as a translator look like?
  24. What draws you to our company, and what makes you a valuable asset?
  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?
15 Translator Answer Examples
1.
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."
2.
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."
3.
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."
4.
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."
5.
How do you balance the satisfaction and expectations of your client when they might not align with the reality of the project?
Clients of translation projects often don't understand how complex thei 'asks' might be. Even seemingly straightforward texts can be nuanced, and the completion of a translation can take longer than expected. Translators have to balance reality and expectations using a customer-oriented approach. The interviewer is looking for your ability to walk this line, so respond by demonstrating that you can make the client satisfied while not making promises you can't keep.

Clara's Answer
"My primary objective is to maintain open and honest communication with my clients to ensure that there are no surprises on their end. I want them to know that their satisfaction with the final product is my goal, and if I see that I might not be able to fulfill those expectations then I will direct them to a better-suited colleague. If I'm in the middle of the project, I try to avoid misunderstandings by keeping clients fully up-to-date with progress and milestones and checking in on any updates to their goals and needs. I will offer projections at the beginning of the project and re-iterate them along the way."
6.
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."
7.
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."
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.
Describe a difficult work environment you've been in and how you navigated it to continue to meet deadlines and get work done.
When presented with an opportunity to share a story, be sure to clearly outline the direction you want to go in your response so you don't miss a key component or go down an unintended path. Your response doesn't need to be directly in the field of translation. The interviewer is looking for a candidate that will approach this question as objectively as possible and focus more on the solution than on the problem, itself. Consider a few scenarios that reference different kinds of 'difficulty' with solutions that you played an active role in executing.

Clara's Answer
"In a former job, I worked on a team that had challenges with communication. We didn't have standards for how information was distributed, when, and to whom, and email correspondence often got lost. This would result in missed deadlines and last-minute rushes. I believe that communication is critical to successfully operating a team and executing projects that involve multiple people, so I would tailor my communication based on each individual and level of priority. For example, if I knew that a colleague was not responsive via email, then I would pop over to their desk for quick check-ins or set up a meeting to discuss in person. I would follow-up with an email outlining what we discussed to have documentation of the process for future reference. For projects involving multiple people, I would set up Microsoft Planner tasks and set automated reminders at deadlines. By automating our communication and tailoring one-on-one methods, we were able to increase our on-time efficiency."
10.
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."
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 do you do to motivate yourself when you hit a brain block while translating?
Everyone hits a block at one point or another. It can be easy to sit and stare, hoping for an a-ha moment, but that might not be very productive or time-saving. The interviewers are looking for insight into your habits and how quickly you are capable of overcoming crippling blocks.

Clara's Answer
"I have tried a number of techniques to fight myself through a brain block, and I've found the most beneficial to be physical movement. Sometimes, I'm not aware of how long I've been sitting at my desk working on a project, and my body just needs to move. I'll stand and stretch or take a quick walk around the block. Generally, when I come back to my desk I've helped clear my mind and feel more prepared to dive back in."
13.
What are the top 5 things on your desk while you're translating?
This question has room for some fun and an ability to demonstrate your industry knowledge. Many translators live at their desks while on a project, and they often have a few essential reference guides with them. When answering this question, balance fun things like 'bottomless coffee' with resources like 'my most trusted French-English dictionary.'

Clara's Answer
"I have a few things that are permanent fixtures and a couple that are rotating. The permanent fixtures include my Larousse French-English dictionary, an English grammar and style guide book, and a tennis ball to toss at the wall while I'm thinking. My two rotating items are a form of caffeine and some sort of snack. Some sort of sustenance is an absolute must on my desk!"
14.
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."
15.
What language pairs do you typically translate? Do you speak any additional languages?
The interviewer is interested in what you are currently capable of and what potential you might have to develop additional language pairs that could ultimately be added to your portfolio. When responding to this answer, consider sharing the direction in which you translate as well. For example, you might primarily translate into your native language, not out of it. When providing additional spoken languages, be sure to include your proficiency level. If you took Spanish several years ago, and you don't remember most of what you'd learned, then let them know you have an elementary proficiency - you don't want them to assume you're fluent if you aren't. You might elaborate even further by displaying your interest in enhancing your fluency in order to add to your translation portfolio.

Clara's Answer
"As of right now, I primarily translate from French to English. English is my native language, and I have full fluency in French. I love to dabble, so I have limited elementary proficiency in a few additional languages: Italian, Spanish, and Arabic. Given the similarities between French, Italian, and Spanish, I hope to advance my proficiencies in Italian and Spanish to one day translate in those languages as well."
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