Creating an effective CV / resume

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Note: This article was originally written by Sheila Wilson, a member of the ProZ.com Certified PRO Network.

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Contents

Overview

CV or resume or profile or brochure or...?

The document that Americans refer to as a résumé or resume (from the past participle of the French verb “résumer” meaning to summarise) is known in British English as a CV, short for curriculum vitae. Latin scholars will know that the plural is curricula vitae and that the meaning is “course of life”. However, in the 21st century it is best referred to simply as a CV or a resume. Note that, to complicate matters even further, the term "CV" is also used in American English, where it refers to a lengthier document to be submitted by a scientist, doctor or professor for an academic position. To avoid any confusion, this article will henceforth use the American term, resume, even though British English is used otherwise. This article is not concerned with the lengthier academic document.

The Oxford English Dictionary calls it “a brief account of a person’s education, qualifications and previous occupations, typically sent with a job application”.

The Merriam-Webster American Dictionary calls it “a short document describing your education, work history, etc., that you give an employer when you are applying for a job”.

Now, a freelance translator is not in the position of “applying for a job” so, strictly speaking, does not require a resume. However, a freelancer does require a document of some form to act as a sales and marketing tool in support of their claim to specific areas of competence and experience. Some freelancers prefer to call it their brochure or profile, but most agencies insist on using the term CV/resume.

The reader’s information requirements

In rough order of importance, your reader needs to find answers to the following questions:

  • Which language pair(s) does the translator work in?

On job-seekers' resumes, language skills are often towards the bottom, even on the second page. In a translator's resume this is guaranteed to put your client off! Your working languages have to be the single piece of information that is absolutely essential for your reader, so they must take pride of place at the top. Remember to detail which is your native language, or which languages you have native-equivalent skills. Other, non-working, languages can be listed further down.

  • Which services are offered and which subject areas can the translator handle?

Mention if you handle translating jobs only or if you offer interpreting services, and if so, which types (consecutive, telephone,...)? Do you offer transcription, voiceovers, etc.? Can you handle texts in the subject areas of legal / medical / scientific / marketing /...? Translators who work in uncommon pairs often handle all types of texts (with a proofreader where necessary), while those in common pairs would be better off specialising - to stand out from the crowd, you need to become an expert.

  • What experience has the translator had in relevant areas?

Inexperienced translators sometimes list every text they have ever translated, but this simply highlights their lack of experience! Every client receiving your resume needs to know your principal areas of experience. Some idea of volume can be useful and prestigious translations can be itemised. Nobody has time or patience to read through a repetitive list of documents. Dates are not normally of any relevance.

  • Can I be confident that the translator has excellent abilities in source and target languages?

Back up your claim to be a professional linguist by briefly giving the source of your expertise. This is particularly important if you work from several source languages or you translate into more than one target language, where you risk being labelled a "Jack of all trades, master of none". If you live in a country where your only source language is spoken and you translate only into your native language, this is not so important. Otherwise, there should be something in your resume to justify your language skills (studies, family, earlier residency, etc.).

  • Can I be reasonably sure that the translator will be able to handle the techniques of translation?

Being fluent in two languages or more does not automatically give you the ability to produce a flawless translation. Many people, even those with a reasonable level of education, are not able to express themselves clearly and concisely in their native language, so writing skills are important. Having a website, blog, or similar forum will demonstrate your writing style. However, even if you write fluently and have good comprehension skills, can you handle the tricky details of professional translating: appropriate writing style and register, how faithfully (or not) to stick to the source text, how to deal with acronyms and proper names, how to deal with source-text errors? It is always a plus for your resume to be able to show at least a basic study of translation techniques.

  • Does this resume inspire confidence in its owner to produce an error-free, polished translation?

If your resume contains spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes, or even slight inconsistencies of formatting, how will it inspire confidence in the client? A translator is hired to deliver a perfect document (even if the source document is far from perfect). So, however tedious it is, you must go through every character of your resume. The first step, of course, is to use a spell-checking tool. But spell-checkers can't detect every error: "from" and "form" will both pass the check, but only one is right in context, so read every word very carefully. Asking someone else to read your resume is always useful, and it is essential if you are not writing in your native language. When the text is perfect, display all hidden formatting characters and delete any double spaces (or use a find/replace command). Look carefully at punctuation for both correctness and consistency. Look particularly at the use of initial capital letters. Very often, a bullet-point list item can start with a capital and end with a full-stop, or it can start with a small letter and end without punctuation; a mixture is not acceptable. Check that all indentations are consistent, so that you have clean vertically-aligned starting positions. Also check that all headings have identical formatting (choice of font, type size, and features such as bold, italics, underlining, and shading). Finally, print it so that you can see exactly what the reader will see.

  • How do I contact this translator to offer them work?

Obvious as it sounds, this point is forgotten by some translators. Some give their full postal address, but no e-mail address or telephone number(s). It is essential that you give the client every help in contacting you, so give all useful contact details (with the postal address being the least important), with international dialling prefixes where necessary. Your time zone can be useful information, too.

Some important advice in a nutshell

  • Put yourself in your readers' shoes. What do they need and/or want to know about you?
  • Only include details that the reader will be interested in knowing. Be selective.
  • On the other hand, include everything that may be relevant to the reader, even if not strictly job-related.
  • Structure your resume carefully to give the most important information first and to avoid repetition.
  • Use a template to get you started if you wish, but do not be constrained by it - it will never fit you perfectly.
  • Leverage your skills, experience, qualifications and personality to paint a 100% positive picture.
  • Avoid pointing out your lack of experience or qualifications, your weaknesses, your limitations.
  • A wordsmith’s resume absolutely must be convincing. Invest in professional advice if necessary.

Some of the most common pitfalls

  • Poor structure: The reader can’t find important information quickly
  • Too much detail: The reader simply doesn’t have the time to read it and/or loses interest
  • Insufficient attention to detail: The reader will doubt your ability to produce a polished translation
  • Over-inflated claims: These rarely work in your favour and can be the cause of grave problems
  • Wrong message: The reader is looking for a competent business partner, not an employee

FAQs

  • Question: What are the rules to be followed?
  • Answer: There are really no firm rules, there are only opportunities for improvement. But do make sure your language pair(s) and service(s) provided are clearly displayed near the top.


  • Question: What length should my resume be?
  • Answer: As long as necessary and no longer! In practice, this means one or two pages. More than that and you are probably giving too much unimportant detail.


  • Question: Do I need to use reverse-chronological sequence?
  • Answer: No! It is actually being used less and less for job-seekers' resumes, as career paths nowadays are not necessarily date-led. A freelancer's resume should present the information in the best possible sequence. Choose your own section headings, too.


  • Question: “I’ve been a translator for 20 years and worked for a dozen companies before that - how can I list all that in less than four pages?”
  • Answer: Will a prospective client be interested in exactly which companies you worked for over 20 years ago? As a freelancer, your areas of expertise and an overview of experience are what count. Do notattempt to list everything. Instead, give a summary of document types, subject areas and maybe volumes. You might like to highlight documents/clients that everyone will be familiar with as this will creategeneral interest. As a freelancer, your employment history does not need to figure on your resume, although you can briefly note any relevant jobs (i.e. those in your specialist areas or using language or writing skills).


  • Question: Should I list all my qualifications?
  • Answer: Only if they are relevant. All translation, writing or language qualifications are relevant, and so are those gained in your specialisation areas. Others are not necessarily worthy of inclusion - for you to decide.


  • Question: Should I list my hobbies?
  • Answer: Only if they are relevant. A translator who practises Judo may well be chosen for a martial arts text, whereas “Music and sport” on a medical translator’s resume is normally irrelevant. The bottom line is that if you think it will add something, then include it, but your clients really are not likely to be interested in what you do in your free time.


  • Question: Should I include personal details?
  • Answer: Employment discrimination laws do not apply to freelancers and you are free to choose. However, will the reader have any interest in your marital status, your children, your age? Readers in some parts of the world (especially in the USA) may be put off by this type of personal information in your resume, but if you feel strongly that the information represents an advantage, then maybe that outweighs prejudice. For example, although normally irrelevant for an office-bound translator, an interpreter may feel that being without family ties means they are more available to travel at short notice.


  • Question: Should I include client details?
  • Answer: Careful here! Do you have the clients’ permission? If not, you could be in breach of confidentiality, even if you have not signed an NDA. If you worked for an agency, does the end-client even know that you have worked on their texts?


  • Question: My clients are all European. Should I use the Europass presentation?
  • Answer: There will be times when you need to present your details in the specific format requested by the client (e.g. for online registration). However, that application form does not replace your unique, customised resume.


  • Question: Should I include my rates?
  • Answer: The resume stored in client files and on the web is not necessarily the latest version complete with your current rates. You may also want to adapt your rates to a particular job, particularly depending on formatting requirements and urgency. If your rates are quoted in your resume you can lose some flexibility. Some clients will appreciate your frankness, though.

Possible resume templates

Template I

CV/RESUME

{name} Professional {language}, {language}, {language} translator.


NAME: XXXX XXXXXXXXXX
ADDRESS: XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
PHONE NUMBER: XXXXXXXXXXXXXX
FAX NUMBER: XXXXXXXXXXXXX
EMAIL ADDRESS: XXXXXXXXX@XXXXXXXX.com
SKYPE CONTACT: XXXXX


SERVICES: {service}, {service}, {service} and {service}.


MOTHER TONGUE: {language}

SOURCE LANGUAGES: {language}, {language}, {language}, {language}

TARGET LANGUAGES: {language}, {language}, {language}


SPECIALISATIONS

* General: {field}, {field}, {field}.
* Business: {field}, {field}, {field}.
* Technical: {field}, {field}, {field}.
* Legal: {field}, {field}, {field}.
* Medical: {field}, {field}, {field}.
* Science: {field}, {field}, {field}.


CAPACITY

* X,XXX words / day for translation
* X,XXX words / day for proofreading


RATES                  

* minimum X.XX EUR/ source word for translation
* minimum XX.XX EUR/ hour for proofreading
* supplements may apply - please contact for a quote


SOFTWARE

{software}, {software}, {software}, {software}, {software}, {software}.


EDUCATION           

* {degree, certificate}
* {degree, certificate}
* {degree, certificate}

Template II

{name} Professional {language}, {language}, {language} translator

CONTACT INFORMATION

{mailing address}
{phone number}
{cell number}
{fax number}
{primary email address}
{secondary email address}
{website address}
{skype contact}


LANGUAGES

{language 1} - {level}
{language 1} - {level}

EXPERIENCE

{job} - {client}
{job} - {client}
{job} - {client}
{job} - {client}
{job} - {client}

EDUCATION

{most recent degree obtained}
{other degree you obtained} 
{other certificates}

PORTFOLIO

{title of sample translation} - {client} - {date}
{title of sample translation} - {client} - {date}
{title of sample translation} - {client} - {date}
{title of sample translation} - {client} - {date}
{title of sample translation} - {client} - {date}
{title of sample translation} - {client} - {date}
{title of sample translation} - {client} - {date}
{title of sample translation} - {client} - {date}
 

SOFTWARE

{software}
{software}
{software}
{software}
{software}
{software}


REFERENCES

{name} - {relationship} - {contact details}

/or, better/

References available on request.

Further reading

Discussion related to this article

Please note that ProZ.com forum rules apply to this area.


Creating an effective CV / resume

jdjagath
India
Local time: 21:12
Telugu to English
+ ...
F/QNov 12, 2011

very good information

 

Tomas Mosler, DipTrans IoLET MCIL MITI Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 16:42
Member (2008)
English to Czech
confidentialityNov 24, 2011

"you could be in breach of confidentiality, even if you have not signed an NDA"
- Could this be elaborated? If there is no NDA, how is confidentiality defined (especially with "world-wide" effect)? Thanks.


 

ac2000 Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 16:42
English to German
+ ...
Thanks ...May 30, 2013

... a lot for this nice summary. There's lots of useful information.

 

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 16:42
English to Polish
+ ...
TortsMay 31, 2013

Tomas Mosler, MITI wrote:

"you could be in breach of confidentiality, even if you have not signed an NDA"
- Could this be elaborated? If there is no NDA, how is confidentiality defined (especially with "world-wide" effect)? Thanks.


In the EU, confidentiality falls under competition law. Statutes that regulate competition may also regulate confidentiality, e.g. by making certain specific disclosures into statutory torts or defining certain kinds of information as protected, or both, or something yet else. Information regarding the supply chain might be such information.

You generally want to be on the same page with the proprietor of any information you disclose.

[Edited at 2013-05-31 18:22 GMT]

From the article:

Avoid pointing out your lack of experience or qualifications, your weaknesses, your limitations.


Actually, that's debatable. You can't focus on that, but you don't really lose much for admitting something that your client would prefer to know, even if it wouldn't normally lose you the deal. For example, your client may ultimately not care that you graduated only last year but may be unhappy to see you hiding dates. Just don't overfocus on the bad stuff.

A wordsmith’s resume absolutely must be convincing. Invest in professional advice if necessary.


Either you are a wordsmith or not. When you are an actor, you don't hire a double to attend a casting for you. This said, you can surely talk to a consultant.

Too much detail: The reader simply doesn’t have the time to read it and/or loses interest


Depends on the reader. Some people will penalise you for only giving bare-bones information, others for giving anything more than that. You can't please everybody. Business is much like dating in this regard. Therefore, among other things, don't expect anybody to be too much of a reasonable person.

Insufficient attention to detail: The reader will doubt your ability to produce a polished translation


Hear ye, hear ye.

Over-inflated claims: These rarely work in your favour and can be the cause of grave problems


The bolded part needs rephrasing for style and specificity.

Wrong message: The reader is looking for a competent business partner, not an employee


Again, depends on the reader.

[Edited at 2013-05-31 18:29 GMT]


 

Sarah Valentina Identity Verified
Indonesia
Local time: 22:42
English to Indonesian
+ ...
New to FreelanceNov 11, 2014

This is a very good information. Although I have a question. I am currently working as an in-house translator too. In a resume intended for my freelance work, should I write the agency where I am working now or not?

 

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