Here are some tips you might find useful to increase your chances of success:
- Research your prospects.
Find out who they are and to whom your message should be addressed. If you are sending your message without specifying to whom it is addressed, your message will be treated as spam. If most of your prospects are translation companies, find out if they prefer new translators to contact them by email: many translation companies prefer candidates to fill a form on their website. If that is their preferred way to collect information from freelancers, usually contacting them by email instead is a waste of time.
- Find out what kind of translations they do.
You need to know what specializations they need from their translators. This will help you craft a more targeted and more successful message: for a translation company it is much more interesting to receive a message that says “I’m an English into Italian translator with a degree in mechanical engineering and over ten years’ experience translating maintenance manuals for naval turbines” than a generic “I translate from English French, German and Portuguese into Italian”.
- Keep the Subject of your message brief and to the point.
A good subject, for example, could be “English > Italian translator with 10 years of experience, specialized in mechanical engineering”. That is better than, for example “Spanish Freelance Translator/Proofreader” , and much better than “Searching better opportunity at your respective company” (an actual subject line from a misguided translator.)
- Write your message very carefully.
If you are writing in a language that is not your native one, I recommend you have a native speaker edit it. Remember: the purpose of your message is to entice your prospect in opening your résumé.
- Don’t say that you translate from your native language into a foreign one.
Doing so ensure you will be treated as an amateur. If you are one of those rare people who are native speakers of more than one language (true bilingual), do say so, but be prepared to say how exactly you came to be a true bilingual (“I traveled and studied in X country” won’t do, but “My mother is English, my father Italian, each only speaks to me in their native language, and, while living in Italy, I studied from first grade through high school in an international school where most classes were taught in English” might.)
- Write your name and language pair in the heading of your résumé.
For example, “Mario Rossi, English into Italian translator”.
- Keep your résumé brief.
No more than one page if you don’t have extensive experience, no more than two in all other instances.
- Don’t include your rates in your email message or in your résumé. Talking about rates comes later.
- Don't include your references.
Providing them, if asked, comes later.
- Make sure your résumé is written flawlessly.
Again, if it is not in your native language, consider having it edited by a native speaker.
- Localize your résumé for your target market.
For instance a résumé for a French prospect should include your photo, but a résumé for an American company should not.
- Make sure your résumé contains all the necessary information, but no irrelevant details. If you have minimal experience, it’s OK to include in your résumé information about other kind of work, but, as soon as you do gain some translation experience, remove the extraneous information.
- Make sure that all the information you provide in your message and in your résumé is verifiable.
- What you should include in your résumé: Your working language pairs, how best to contact you, your translation experience, other relevant work experience, education, expertise with specific software programs (for example, CAT tools or DTP programs: don’t include in the list of programs that you know how to use Word or Excel – it is assumed that everybody knows how to handle them), and platform (PC or Mac.)
- What you should not include in your résumé: personal information such as your age or marital status (normally: see above – if a résumé for your target market usually does include such information, use your best judgment about whether to include that information or not). Also not to be included: your hobbies and personal interests. An exception to this is if your hobbies contribute to your specialization. So “I am a passionate skier, and I have competed at international level. This experience has helped me when I translated technical manuals for Rossignol” is OK, while “I like reading and classical music” is not.
Remember: it’s you who decides what your rates are, not the translation companies. Conversely, translation companies are free to accept your rates, reject them, or try to get you to lower them.