Author Archives: Yung-Chung Heh

Both Sides Now – How Andrea Goethals Navigates a Portfolio Career as Localization Project Manager and Freelance Translator/Interpreter

Andrea Goethals

Andrea Goethals (MATI 2021) and I shared a good laugh when she told me recently what was going through her mind in our first meeting: During New Student Orientation, someone suggested that she should meet her Career Advisor, so she made an appointment with me. After the initial exchange of pleasantries, I asked her what her career goals were after graduation. Neither of us can remember what her reply was, but what was going through her mind was: “Uh, I haven’t thought that far. I just want to pass my classes.”

Fast forward to 2022, she is working as a part time Localization Project Manager while building her translation and interpretation freelance career. How she has navigated her career path is admirable – resourceful, focused plus a healthy portion of good humor.

  • What do you like most about working as a project manager and freelance translator/interpreter respectively?

As a project manager, I get to see all the behind-the-scenes things that go into setting up a job/project, reviewing linguist resumes and rates, assigning a linguist etc. It’s interesting to see both sides of the project, and it has helped me better understand and appreciate the hard work that project managers do! Since I’m also a freelancer, I can relate to questions from the linguists and learn from the experienced translators and interpreters I assign.

I pick up small things like how different people format their resumes and email signatures, how they write their emails, the questions they ask before accepting a job, and the way they handle themselves in difficult situations.

As a freelancer, I love that I can pick my own projects and my own hours. I’ve worked (remotely) with people from all over the world on a variety of different topics. I love using my language skills and working with other people who have the same passion.

I think the mix of translation and interpretation is nice because they complement each other well. Sometimes, I get a little worn out from several interpreting jobs in a row, so, I may want to sit quietly and translate for a while. Other times, if I’ve been doing a lot of translation projects, I get an itch to interpret and flex my oral language skills. It’s a nice balance.

  • I understand that you were offered a full-time position as a project manager, but you decided to stay part time and continue to build your freelance career. Why?

Yes, that was a hard choice! But at the end of the day, my heart really lies with translation and interpretation. I really enjoy project management as well, but I also wanted to give interpretation, especially, a try. Interpreting and second languages in general, are skills that need to be practiced regularly. If you don’t use it, you lose it. And I still have a lot to learn!

I’ve also come to realize that building a freelance career is a long, slow process. I didn’t want to lose the momentum and progress I’ve already made by working full time, because realistically, I didn’t know if I’d still be motivated to keep taking on side work. I wanted to be able to say “yes” to interpretation jobs that come my way and be able to offer competitive turnaround times for translation projects. Sometimes, it seems like the most important thing for getting a job is simply being available for an urgent, last-minute request. I wanted to be able to be that go-to person for potential new clients.

  • One of the complaints I hear often from freelancers is: “I am on many LSPs’ rosters, but I don’t get work from them.” Now that you have the PM’s perspective, how would freelancers get to the top of your “go-to list”?

I’ve had that same question, myself! Being on the project management side has taught me that it’s really about the little things. I think one of the biggest things is simply being responsive and professional via email. Usually, the person who responds first to a request gets the job. Responding quickly in a professional way huge, it makes the PM’s job so much easier. Even just a short message confirming receipt is very useful to the PM.

Another big one is responding to a project manager even if you’re not available to take on the job. As a PM, I appreciate that just as much as the people who respond accepting the job, because I know they’ve seen my message and I can move on with my search. I’m much more likely to send another request for a future assignment to the person who responding saying they’re not available than to the person who didn’t respond at all.

  • What role has your network (professional associations, colleagues, alumni) play in your career thus far? Any tips for newbies?

My network has been crucial! All my first freelance projects came from colleagues who recommended me. I went to the ATA conference the October after I graduated, and I highly recommend it! For me, it was encouraging to simply meet other professionals who actually had a fruitful freelance career in my language pair (which felt impossible when I first started, and often still does). It showed me that there is enough work to go around, and if these 1000+ are all doing it, maybe I can, too.

 It was really interesting to hear the different paths people had taken to get to where they are and gave me some good ideas for my business. I ended up getting a few awesome jobs from the connections I made at that first conference, too.

I went again this year and ended up sharing a cab with you, Winnie, which is what brought me to this blog! So, you just never know who you’re going to talk to and where it will lead. J

  • Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently when you were a student?

I would let myself relax a little bit more. During school and right after graduation, I was very anxious about starting a career in translation and interpretation because I didn’t understand how I was going to start freelancing once I graduated. I really wanted the satisfaction of having a stable job with a regular income and being “done”. Or I at least wanted some kind of clear-cut process I could follow to get started. I’m a hard worker and a faster learner, so I was craving structure to pour my anxious energy into.

But I realized that freelancing is much more fluid than that. I didn’t really start getting semi-regular work until around November after I graduated (in May). I spent the summer scouring job boards, cold calling LSPs and stressing out about not working. I felt like I was never doing enough but I also wasn’t getting any “results.” Once I started accepting that freelancing was going to be a much slower, gradual process, I felt like things started to happen more naturally. I still looked for work and practiced my skills, but I also got a side job to pay the bills and let myself off the hook every now and then.

I wish I could have enjoyed that downtime in the beginning a little more and not stressed so much, because it didn’t help. But if someone had told me that back then, I don’t think I would have listened. (Actually, in hindsight, ALL of my professors did tell me that, and I didn’t believe them. I guess you just have to learn some things for yourself!)

Winnie Heh

Career Advisor

MIIS

On Taking the Leap – Linh Nguyen’s Journey From Student to Intern to Program Manager

Linh Nguyen (MATLM 2023) interned at PayPal during summer of 2022 and has accepted a return offer to start as Localization Program Manager in July 2023. Transitioning from a student’s identity to a professional’s is always challenging. She recently shared with me how she managed the process. 

  • Tell us about your background prior to attending MIIS.

Before attending MIIS, I spent 2 years in the workforce as an English tutor, teacher, copywriter, and marketing partner. Getting work experience before going to graduate school opened me to the world of business and entrepreneurship and also grounded my sense of accountability and responsibility. As a teacher, I learned how to lead a team of rambunctious students and get out of my introverted shell to focus on what mattered the most: teaching my students. As a freelance copywriter, I not only learned how to communicate better in writing, but also learned the ins and outs of starting your own business and managing clients. As a marketing partner at a boutique website marketing agency, I learned how to manage accounts, people, and my own self-doubt. These various experiences in the workforce prepared me mentally to be professional, accountable, and laser focused on what it was I wanted to do, which has always been to bridge connections between people using language.

  • You did not have localization work experience prior to MIIS. When you saw the internship posting from PayPal, did you have any self-doubts about your qualifications? How did you decide that you wanted to apply for it?

The only localization work experience I had prior to MIIS was volunteering as a translator for Viki. When I saw the internship posting from PayPal, I had major self-doubts about whether I would be able to live up to the job description. I was only a month into my first classes in TLM and had just learned how to use Trados and what the localization process was like. Yet, I knew I had to take the leap.

The position was a combination of all my passions: finance and tech, localization and people. Not to mention, I had prior experience using PayPal products like Venmo and PayPal Business. While I knew I didn’t have all the experience listed in the job description right then and there, I knew I had a passion for the company, and that I would still have an entire school year to bring myself up to the standards of the PayPal localization team.

  • How did you prepare for the application process and interviews?

During the application process, I knew I had to be fast. After seeing the job posting, I immediately started fixing up my resume and my LinkedIn basing my examples on the criteria set out in the job description.

I had two close mentors who were not in the localization field, although one was a tech recruiter, proofread my resume. I then set up a meeting with Winnie to get insights on how to conduct myself during the interview. What questions should I be asking? What questions should I prepare for? I then did two rounds of mock interviews with my mentor who was a tech recruiter. She told me to practice my interview answers using the STAR method, which proved to be super useful in showcasing my skills.

On top of this, I also researched PayPal’s website and learned about their company mission, values, culture, and current news. From conversations with my mentors and from my interviews, I learned that willingness to upskill and learn, adaptability, focus on collaboration were three key points that people were looking for in an intern candidate.

  • What are the key lessons you have learned during your internship that you feel you can leverage moving forward?

Just ask. People are willing to help, you just have to ask.

Learn to pivot. Learn to adapt to changes. Instead of complaining, start problem-solving.

Be responsive. People like people they can trust. A part of building trust is being responsive and accountable for your communication.

  • Any words of wisdom for 1styear students who are about to embark on internship search?

Be confident in yourself and your ability to learn and adapt. Those skills carry you far in any job. Showcasing during the interview that you are willing to learn what you don’t know and that you’re flexible to changes will be to your benefit.

Remember that at the end of the day, an internship is just another type of stepping stone into the career you want. I always had a backup plan. Perhaps your stepping stone is a summer-long project to localize a website for a small business or conducting research in the localization industry, or interviewing professionals on your podcast (ahem shameless plug: https://anchor.fm/localizetheworld). These are all ways to upskill, increase your knowledge, and also increase your visibility as a localization professional. You can learn a lot in an internship, but you might learn more surprising things when you forge your own path forward.

Winnie Heh

Career Advisor

MIIS

Professional Identity: What Is It, And Can It Ramp Up Or Stall Your Career?  

Karen Tkaczyk

Professional identity is defined as “the attitudes, values, knowledge, beliefs and skills shared with others within a professional group,” by BMC Medical Education. I read the words, but found the concept hard to articulate with concrete examples when I became a Career Advisor at MIIS 7 years ago.

It changed when I did a mock interview with a seasoned translator, coming to MIIS to study Localization Management with the goal of becoming a  Localization Project Manager. I asked her questions about how she would deal with various challenges in managing localization workflows. My aha moment came when, time and time again, she kept veering towards the perspective of translators. I thought to myself: “Now I get it. She is still thinking like a translator rather than a Localization PM.” Once I understood the concept, I started to see around me how the inability to change one’s professional identity diminishes their ability to pivot to new career directions.

Karen Tkaczyk has successfully transitioned her professional roles multiple times. Most recently, she has transitioned from a freelance translator to a management role at MasterWord. I sat down with Karen to talk about her journey with the goal of highlighting the how rather than the what. The process is applicable regardless of the professions of your choice.

  • Karen, please tell us a bit about the various transitions you have made in your professional journey.

My first professional identity was as a research chemist getting a PhD and then a development chemist working in the chemical/pharmaceutical industry. That was 1994-2000. Then I was a stay-at-home mum from 2001-2005. I started my freelance translation practice in 2005, and my identity was being a highly specialized technical translator, editor and trainer until 2021. Then I became employed again by an LSP in May 2021.

The common thread through all those phases is subject matter expertise. I was always known as the chemistry translator among my peers. And I did much fun science stuff like making the periodic table of cupcakes with my children. 😊

  • Let’s talk about your most recent transition. Why did you decide that you wanted to make a change and how did you choose your direction?

The short answer to why is that I reached a tipping point and to how is that I wanted to grow yet keep the SME focus. The longer version dips into the pandemic, into the sort of introspection and reflection common to many during that period, to the fact that we were approaching the youngest of those kids  leaving home, and partly financial: my husband was furloughed for a while, so we wanted benefits. All that got me thinking and opening up to the idea of change after such a long period of stability.

Then what direction? I wanted to rely on that subject-expertise that has served me well. I wanted to stay in language services—that is to say that for both those points, I wanted to use the years of experience I have, not try something new. I knew I had people/organizational skills that would serve me well. At that early stage I was open to both client-side and LSP, to both operations and client-facing roles. I had a target starting salary in mind that matched my typical net annual revenue. As a freelancer I had strong, stable revenue for the 4 years prior to the pandemic so that number was firm in my mind.

  • Before we started this interview, you shared with me that you have caught yourself being stuck in old professional identities. How did you build that awareness?  

When I am with freelancers (Say training on editing and proofreading, something I do periodically) I still use the first person, we/I. And I do the odd freelance job from time to time for old clients. I handed off most work to colleagues, but my contract allows for the sideline and I like to keep my skills up. For instance, I can see how various CAT tools look from the linguist side, periodically test whether MT engines are any better these days, and share what I learnt in terms of scientific writing skills with the next generation of freelancers. All of that forms part of my overall approach to keeping up with what’s going on the in the industry.

It’s often a positive though, to be able to look back at that identity: When I am at networking events that are largely client-side and LSP focused (For example, Women in Localization or LocLunch events) and explain my background, I often end up being asked for the freelancer opinion on something. “What’s it really like to…”

The other identity that trips me up sometimes is being a chemist. Sometimes I say “I was a chemist” to clients whose accounts I manage (who are often STEM grads), and more than one has said “You are a chemist” and they’re quite right!

  • What is your advice for new professionals who know their career direction, but finding it hard to create a professional identity?

Build awareness of what your strengths are and which roles that might make you naturally better at. It is much easier to identify with something when it is a good fit for your strengths.

Find a mentor or someone to inspire you who has been where you are and has achieved something you hope to get to. So model yourself after others, I suppose until you find yourself.

If you are using a job as a stepping-stone or placeholder on your way to the dream, be careful. Having something else aspirational as a goal or identity can make it hard to shine where you are, as you won’t give your all to the stepping stone. Yet to impress peers and managers, you want to shine along the way. So be aware and make sure you are not being lackluster as you work towards other goals.

I’ll also give you a negative tip. I’m not a proponent of “fake it till you make it,” a fairly common approach, especially to get a foothold in the freelance world. Try to build those skills first before you make claims that you can’t stand behind.

  • For people making changes mid-career, what have been the most effective ways for you to transition to a new professional identity?

Own it. Publicly. Tell your family and friends about the change. Tell people on LinkedIn or anywhere else you are networking. I have colleagues who have made a similar transition but haven’t told the world. To me that shows that at heart they aren’t taking the leap to change their professional identity.

What else? Spend time reflecting (say once a month) on the things you weren’t expecting in the new role and think about how the new role has brought you growth and whether you would have experienced that in the old role. That analysis can make the changes clear.

I have a very practical way to transition too: I don’t handle anything related to my freelance life (or for that matter, my personal life) on my MasterWord computer. I have another computer (and my phone) for that. That split means that I focus on the main professional identity during the work day, and only handle the “former” identity in off times. That makes the transition much cleaner.

  • Thank you, Karen, for sharing such in-depth and candid insights about how you’ve managed the transition. Any words of wisdom as we close this interview?

It has been a pleasure to discuss this with you, Winnie. To start with you said that the definition of identity included attitudes, values, knowledge, beliefs and skills. I think we have covered all of those here! To close I’ll add that transitions are natural. Let’s enjoy them.

Winnie Heh

Career Advisor

MIIS

Higher Ed Should Enable Students to get an Education AND a Career

Image credit: AHA World Campus

And I am not talking about getting the “training” (vs. “education”) to make a buck. Hear me out.

A friend relayed what an Ivy League professor said to her recently: “Students these days seem not  interested in getting an education. They flock to engineering and fields that would help them get a job. Parents are responsible for pushing students in this direction.”

As a parent who has just finished paying for her son’s college education and as a Career Advisor in the last 6 years helping graduate students launch into the professional world, I have something to say about this: The professor seems to see getting an education and gaining the ability to make a living as mutually exclusive. This is not the first time I have heard this binary debate and I am still puzzled by this narrow view. For me, there is no choice to be made. It is not about getting either an education or building a career. I want both. My upbringing has formed this view.

Growing up in Taiwan in the 60’s and 70’s when it advanced from among the least developed countries in the world to being one of Asia’s four “Tiger Economies,” I was raised by a college-educated father who impressed upon his 3 daughters:

  1. The importance of becoming a learned and cultured person through formal education and life-long learning.
  2. How empowering education is – it gives you the freedom to shape your life, choosing what you do, where you live. My father’s mantra was: “Education is the best way to be in control of your own destiny.”

In other words, education is for BOTH cultivating your mind and building a career; there is no conflict between the two. My family did not have the means to fund my MA studies in the U.S. Between working 4 jobs 6 days a week for 2 years and a generous scholarship from Rotary International, I was able to earn an MA degree in Translation and Interpretation from the then Monterey Institute of International Studies. And that did reshape my life.

For U.S. college students, what is the reality they face today? What are the reasons behind, as the Ivy League professor said, young people choosing fields based on career considerations? Student debts fueled by decreasing public financial aid and increasing tuition costs have created the financial imperative. Expanded access to higher ed also means that educators need to acknowledge and support the diverse needs in terms of educational outcomes. The elitist approach of higher ed prior to the 1950’s no longer serves the needs today. Finally, beyond meeting financial needs, engaging in productive work is as much a form of life-long growth as the years spent on campus. Rather than dismissing productive work, educators should view it as their duty to help students bridge into professional lives.  

I became aware of the U.S. student loans issue through my students. It’s understandable that students across the board are anxious to find means of supporting themselves post-graduation, be it through employment or freelance work, but the level of panic among the American students stood out to me. This scene plays out every Spring – my American students say to me: “I have to find a job because I need to start repaying my student loan in 6 months.” A former student told me that by the time she finished graduate school, she was carrying a debt load of $140,000 and she said: “I don’t think I will be able to pay it off in this lifetime.”

I wanted to make sense of the student debt problem in the U.S. How did we go from higher ed being a public good to saddling students with 1.7 trillion dollars of debt?

History of expansion of access to higher education

According to a report by the Department of Defense, the 1944 GI Bill was passed to prevent the potential for economic instability as the 16 million veterans returned to the post-World War II U.S. economy. It contributed greatly to the doubling of college and university degree-holders between 1940 and 1950.

The Pell Grant was passed in 1972 with the goal of narrowing the higher ed attendance gap between low-income students and those with more resources. It was described as the GI Bill for the general population. In subsequent decades, the total population attending higher ed continued to increase, but affordability decreased. Pell Grants’ coverage of college costs has been shrinking. In Dan Barret’s article “The Day The Purpose of College Changed”, he wrote: “under Reagan, the maximum Pell Grant decreased by about a quarter. Student loans became a more common way to pay for college.” President Biden tweeted in August 2022, Pell Grants “used to cover 80% of the cost. Today, it’s only 33%.” Student loans have taken up an ever-increasing share of college costs.

Increase in tuition

Another key factor driving down affordability of higher ed is the increase in tuition. Between 1980 and 2022, the cost of higher ed has increased by 1200% while inflation increased by 236%, according to Visual Capitalist. 

 

Source: https://www.visualcapitalist.com/rising-cost-of-college-in-u-s/

Here is the example of a friend: she attended UC Riverside in the early-80’s and paid  $700/term for fees, making her cost of attendance  $2,100/year. According to the table below from UC Admissions, she would have to pay about $15,000 (tuition + fees, excluding insurance, housing, meals) now. The $2,100 in 1981 is worth $6,800 today after adjusting for inflation. This means UC tuition has increased at double the rate of inflation in the last 40 years. What makes matters worse is the wage stagnation experienced by the U.S. workers during the same period of time, making family support of higher ed costs less and less attainable.

Source: https://admission.universityofcalifornia.edu/tuition-financial-aid/tuition-cost-of-attendance/

Expansion of access to higher ed creates diverse needs for career outcomes among graduates

My analysis shows that in 1950, 1.5% (2.3 million) of the US population was enrolled in college and in 2020 it increased to 5.7% (19 million) – a 7 times increase.  US higher ed institutions are no longer educating just the financially privileged minority anymore.

Source: Educationdata.org and US Census Bureau

In the final analysis, to stay relevant into the future, higher ed needs to deliver on academic excellence AND career readiness. Why? Career readiness no doubt serves a practical need, but it also has a lasting impact on mental health.

  • The good news is access to higher ed has broadened. The democratization of higher ed means it is no longer reserved for the well-heeled. Yes, there will always be the privileged group that do not need to worry about paying back student loans or making a living. Period. But the vast majority needs to pay back loans, make a living and build a career. In other words, the needs of the students we serve have changed, but educators seem to still hold on to the idea of being educated for its own sake. This disregard of the students’ reality is counter-productive.
  • Some educators unwittingly make working “unsavory.” In my mind, working is not merely about making a buck. Having the ability to work and contribute leads to self-sufficiency and self-actualization. Isn’t this the purpose of education after all? My observation among my students is: those who are “under the gun” to support themselves tend to be more motivated and hence get better career outcomes, leading to a better sense of accomplishment. The ones who hover, but never land, are those who can’t bridge the knowledge acquired with real-life contribution – unique or prosaic. The learned helplessness is the price this “hovering” exacts on them, their families and society.

We need to stop pitting “getting an education” against the need to work, to build a career, to build a productive life after formal education is completed. Until and unless U.S. colleges become free, students need to work to fund their education. Above and beyond that, achieving self-sufficiency through productive work is how responsible citizens are built. Every chance they get to solve a problem through work, they are changing the world.

Winnie Heh

Career Advisor

MIIS

In Remote Interpretation, Zoom, Teams and WebEx are the Sizzle. Where Then is the Steak?

A recent article introducing access to interpreters via Microsoft Teams has generated discussions on how it may impact LSPs. Should LSPs worry about the big tech firms entering into the language services market?

While adding means of access to remote interpretation should be encouraged and the efforts to do so should not be trivialized, I would like to shine the spotlight on the core elements that enable the right interpreters to show up at the right time. You’ve guessed it! It’s not Zoom, Teams or WebEx.

I visualize a remote interpretation system with three key components:

Front end: Features that connect multilingual conference attendees and users of remote community interpretation services with LSPs’ core delivery platforms. I think of this as the door into the service platform. The means of access has evolved from any landline phone, to smartphone, video conference system, various meeting platforms, and, also, industry-specific or client-specific user-interfaces (UIs).

Core delivery platform: The technology that powers the delivery of remote interpretation needs to integrate voice, video and data systems. It can be as low-tech as operators manually receiving calls, looking up qualified interpreters, conferencing various parties together and timing the calls. It can be as high-tech as collecting caller information through IVR, routing calls through pre-defined logic and interpreter classification, and timing/billing/invoicing calls automatically.

Back end: These are the users of technology to make sure the right interpreters are recruited, trained, QA’ed and paid. After all,  the whole point of the service is to reach an interpreter. The level of complexity increases, exponentially, when the expected number of languages increases and the time to reach an interpreter decreases. Adding in requirements for specialization and licensure, the work will challenge the best of logistical experts.  

If you look under the hood, there is a wide range of automation levels among LSPs which in turn determines their scalability, margin and growth potential. And, none of the bells and whistles matters if the star of the show, the interpreter, does not perform when the show starts.

Back to Zoom, Teams, WebEx. Sure, they are ubiquitous, but let’s remember that access points can be created on the UI of any system. The possibilities are endless. Twenty years ago, Over-the-Phone Interpretation (OPI) providers competed to program their toll-free inbound numbers on their clients’ phones, then evolving to install video interpretation units at clients’ sites. Now, the new frontier is integrating meeting apps and industry-specific/client-specific UIs with the LSPs’ core delivery platform. The through line here is: enhancing ease of access.

Based on publicly available information from RSI providers, users can access KUDO interpreters via Zoom and Teams. Interactio’s “remote simultaneous platform is compatible with Zoom, Cisco, Webex, Teams, Blue Jeans, Hopin etc.” Interprefy states on its website that they “integrate with over 60 meeting and event platforms.”

On the remote community interpretation side, LanguageLine Solutions says they have “successfully tested the following platforms for SIP connectivity: Zoom, Vidyo, Amwell, Teleport, Caregility.” Boostlingo states that they have “integrated with Zoom, WebEx and other video conference platforms.” Cyracom works with “over a dozen video communication platforms, including Zoom, Webex, Epic Teams, Amwell etc.”

As you can see from the examples above, expanding access to remote interpretation services by integrating with meeting/event platforms and industry-specific/client-specific UIs is a long time coming. In reality, Microsoft Teams is late to the game.

Now, to the question of whether LSPs should be worried.

No, unless meeting platforms such as Zoom, Teams, WebEx decide to make or buy the core delivery platform and the support system to enter into the interpretation services industry.

Yes, because having the ability to receive calls from meeting platforms is no longer a competitive advantage for LSPs. User experience delivered by your core delivery and support systems is what will differentiate you. Access points such as Zoom, Teams, WebEx are the doors that allow users to enter your service. Ultimately, what they find after they pass through that door is what matters.

You may ask: Why then do remote interpretation LSPs focus so much on the means of access rather than the user experience before, during and after the actual interpretation session? The answer is valuation. The performance of tech stocks in the last decade has made anything that is perceived as “technology” attractive for investors. Even a strong company like Netflix cannot escape this pressure.  A recent article by Frank Pallotta on CNN Business discussed how Netflix stock price has dropped because it is “becoming a more traditional media company” rather than being valued as a Big Tech company like Facebook, Google and Apple.

It’s true: technology creates the excitement. As a result, language companies want to look like technology companies. When I consult on M&A deals, analysts are largely in search of unique technology innovations that would revolutionize the field rather than the fundamentals. I am excited to see future breakthrough technologies in remote interpretation. But, I am making the case that integration with meeting platforms is not a breakthrough, at least not anymore. We need to change the conversation.

I applaud the colleagues who have developed the integration between their core remote interpretation delivery platforms with other systems to expand access to interpretation services. That being said, as an industry, we will be well-served to educate clients about the sophisticated work that goes into the service. Bottom line: it’s good for valuation. Equally important, the unsung heroes who make the remote interpretation world go round day in and day out deserve much appreciation and recognition. If we don’t do this, who is going to do it for us?

Winnie Heh

Career Advisor

MIIS

Job Security Is An Illusion: Real Security Comes From Continuous Reinvention

Graduation season is fast approaching. I am privileged to be having critical conversations about their first jobs with my students.

What brings me joy: My students are receiving job offers and, in some cases, deciding among multiple offers.

What makes me cringe: Having “reality check” conversations. I have been working in the U.S. for 30+ years and have grown accustomed to certain norms as par for the course – “at-will employment” being one of them. I feel like I am the one breaking the bad news to my students.

According to the bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), at-will means that “an employer can terminate an employee at any time for any reason, except an illegal one, or for no reason without incurring legal liability. Likewise, an employee is free to leave a job at any time for any or no reason with no adverse legal consequences.” NCSL further stated that “the U.S. is one of a handful of countries where employment is predominantly at-will. Most countries throughout the world allow employers to dismiss employees only for cause.” Among the reasons given for the predominance of at-will presumption is the belief that “both employers and employees favor it over job security.” This may be all good and well in theory, but for someone new to the professional world, this reeks of a submission of all control to their employers. Here is the typical conversation I have with my students on the subject :

Student: “You mean to tell me that employers can dismiss me at any time, without notice and without any explanation?”

Me (taking a deep breath): “Yes,” watching their expression of disbelief.

I then continue with my meager attempt at softening the blow: “In reality, though, that is the exception rather than the rule. Remember, there are always reasons behind these drastic moves, be it a downturn in business or your own unsatisfactory job performance, but legally, they aren’t obligated to provide a reason to you for your dismissal.”

Their raised eyebrows suggest a question that is not voiced: “How is this fair?” I watch the loss of a part of their innocence right in front of my eyes.  During these poignant moments, I ask myself: “What have we (the adults) done to our kids?” I am reminded of the inauguration speech by President Zelensky of Ukraine – about hanging up our kids’ photos rather than a President’s photo and to “look at them each time you are making a decision.” Business leaders, this practice is affecting YOUR kids! O.K. even if you don’t have kids and do not care about this issue, you do care about your employee engagement, don’t you? Know that, with this practice, your employees’ sense of engagement has been chipped away even before they report to work.

I am not here to engineer a change in this longstanding practice per se; that is a much bigger project. I am, however, sharing some of my lessons learned as a resource to these young professionals. This is the core lesson I have learned on the subject throughout my career: Whether at-will employment is present in your job offer letter/contract or not, job security does not really exist. Before you freak out, please hear me out.

Employees somehow assume a fair trade exists between their hard work and a sense of benevolence from the employers. The benevolence is assumed to translate into job security at all costs. But the “trade” only goes so far. First, even the most benevolent employers aren’t immune to changes in their industry or fluctuations in economic cycles. Job loss often happens due to reasons out of the employers’ control. This scenario is close to home now as we fight our way out of a two-year pandemic.

Furthermore, the fair “trade” between employers and employees takes place when the employees have been paid for work rendered. Should the termination of an employment relationship take place, it is the termination of “future” relationships, not a negation of past contributions or relationships. For the employees, it is far more productive to take the energy required to breed resentment and use it instead to invest in one’s future career. 

But how? These are the lessons I have learned:

  • Liberate yourself from the expectation that your employer will “give” you job security. They can’t, and, in some cases, they won’t even if they could. Your career is far more secure if you are able to take the control into your own hands.
  • A job does not a career make. A fulfilling career is one that looks like a colorful puzzle. Every job contributes to making this puzzle your own. Aspire to keep adding pieces to your puzzle. The more colorful your puzzle is, the more attractive you are as a candidate. Clinging on to a job for dear life works against you. Think about career sustainability, not job security.
  • Have yourself a job and a half. My students look at my LinkedIn profile and ask me how I was able to move from being a linguist to HR, to Operations, to Product Management, to Sales & Marketing, and to Technology. (Refer to the previous point about creating a colorful puzzle!) They wonder if I just decided from one day to the next to move to a new role. Of course not! My SOP was: achieve excellence on my current job and look for opportunities to contribute to ancillary functions outside of my current role – expanding my knowledge and network while also adding value for colleagues. Even if pivoting among distinctly different roles isn’t your cup of tea, the point is clear – the goal is to not fall prey to a false sense of (job) security and stop evolving. To achieve true security requires study and work outside of your regular job duties.
  • Money won’t buy you happiness, but money can give you options. Other than the disbelief and self-doubt that follow an unexpected job loss, the most pressing issue is how to absorb the shock of financial disruption. Financial planners generally suggest that you put aside 6 months’ worth of living expenses in an emergency fund. To be clear, this fund does not remove or diminish the probability of job loss, but it does give you peace of mind. Better yet, it helps to give you the courage to take on risks when contemplating a change of direction. I will be forever grateful to my first boss, Mark, who encouraged me to “save until it hurts.” Many of my students have benefited from this mantra.

I know! I know! It’s odd to have someone who had worked for the same employer for 25 years talk about “job security” as a myth. Here’s another way to look at it: I continuously sought to reinvent myself to ensure my career sustainability. The fact that it took place in the same company was incidental. If circumstances had been different, I would have achieved the same thing through multiple employers. Employees are like actors in a show and the employers provide the stage. By all means, regardless of the stage, put on a good performance, always. At the same time, be ready to go on a new stage when the time comes. Don’t let the stage limit you. Don’t let at-will employment happen to you; be the one to exercise it. Keep. Reinventing. Yourself. Keep. Shining.

Winnie Heh

Career Advisor

MIIS

Get to The Point – How to Ace Interviews With Senior Executives

PC: Rogan Public Relations

True story: A few years ago, one of my students, who was about to graduate with an MA degree in Conference Interpretation, did a series of mock interviews with me in preparation for a position as an executive assistant to the US CEO of a large global company headquartered in Asia. After three interviews, the moment of truth came – she was shortlisted to be interviewed by the US CEO. With a reputation of a sharp mind and high standards, working for him was such an intense experience that his executive assistants typically rotated out every two years. The flip side of that is working for a boss like this prepares you for anything that comes your way thereafter.

After the big day I asked my student to tell me how the interview went. She told me that after each of her answers, the CEO would say:  “OK. Give me the same information, but summarize it. Cut the length by half.” She followed the direction. He then said: “OK. Now cut the length by half again.” To make a long story short, she got the job, crediting her training as an interpreter. On a side note, summarizing while retaining the meaning of the message is one of the key skills taught in interpretation training. This is a beautiful story of leveraging one’s transferrable skills.

Back to interviewing. I had never heard of this interviewing approach described, but it made sense to me. What is the most valuable resource of a senior executive? Time. He needed his executive assistant, who would often be his “gatekeeper” of information, to be highly skilled at grasping and articulating the essence of issues.

I thought of the CEO interview story recently when Jingfei Shi (MATLM 2022) scheduled a mock interview with me specifically in preparation for the final round of an interview cycle – this time with the VP of the company she was applying to. In anticipation of this mock interview, I thought back to my VP days. Do I think C-suite executives approach interviews differently from the frontline hiring managers? The short answer is yes. To be clear, accurate and concise communication shouldn’t be reserved for senior executives. Communication best practices should be utilized at all times regardless of where your counterpart is on the org chart, but I do think the more responsibilities one has in an organization, the more information they need to acquire, process, synthesize, frame, and articulate. As such, they do tend to have higher standards in the precision of messaging. Here was the advice I gave to Jingfei:

  1. Take a position on the question you are asked. Know the point you are trying to make. Sounds easy, right? Not so. If you don’t know what message you are trying to convey, you are just filling space with words. Be clear about the point you are trying to make.
  2. Get to the point. Start your response with the “punch line” – the key point(s) you are trying to make – and then use stories or measurable outcomes to support and elaborate on your point(s). This is the best practice I follow even when I am not interviewing for a job. When I approach colleagues, especially the busy ones, I always start with a “bottom line statement” – explaining what information I am about to share, what questions I am asking, or what actions I want them to take. This way, the communication is framed and the listener is oriented.
  3. Brevity is your friend. If you can make a point in one sentence, don’t take two. I get it. When you are nervous during an interview, it’s easy to fall prey to the perception that saying more exhibits knowledge and therefore strength. However, rambling on is exactly what you shouldn’t do.

In case you are wondering, Jingfei was offered and has accepted the position and she graciously shared her learnings from this experience:

  • The VP’s questions were broader than localization with emphasis on technology and business acumen. I felt that showcasing how I think about and think through issues was as important as the “what” in my answers.
  • The most helpful things I did in my preparation:
    • Winnie Heh’s suggestions on “get to the point” when answering questions. I kept answers within 3 minutes and referred back to the key points the interviewer made.
    • Eva Klaudinyova’s class on Leadership. I quickly mapped the VP to a visionary leader. This info may or may not have been useful during the interview, but when I start working in the team, I believe it’s going to be useful at some point.
    • I drafted 5 questions and consulted with professors beforehand. I asked smart questions to let them know that I cared about what they do.
  • Now looking back, I think I could have done more research on the company’s product performance and on their product offerings in various regional markets. This way I could have had a more intelligent discussion with the VP when he shared their market expansion plans.

The job interview is an opportunity to exhibit the quality of your thinking through the quality of your talking. First things first: focus on the thinking and the talking will follow. I’d like to end with a saying by Ludwig Wittgenstein: “Everything that can be thought at all can be thought clearly. Everything that can be said can be said clearly.” (For more than 20 years, I actually had this saying on a small piece of paper pasted to my monitor as a daily reminder.) I think this is what the CEO in the story above was looking for, and for that matter, what most hiring managers are looking for, too.

Winnie Heh

Career Advisor

MIIS

What I Have Learned From Conducting 100+ Mock Interviews

Photo credit: Totaljobs

According to my MIIS students, the most anxiety-inducing thought throughout their internship and job search process is: “I really want this position, but I don’t have relevant experience.” The inference here is: “if I can not point to a track record of past success in a similar position to the one that I am applying for, I can’t actually prove that I can do the job. So why would anyone hire me?”

If that logic held true, no one would ever get a job, nor would anyone ever get a promotion into a job they had never done before. The good news is if you are willing to put in the work, you can overcome this barrier. After all, people without prior experience get hired all the time, and people get promoted every day.

I have come to this conclusion in the process of giving more than 100 mock interviews over the past two months, leading up to the annual TILM Career Fair at MIIS in early March. My “interviewees” have included 1st-year students seeking internships and  2nd-year students seeking employment or contractor roles after graduation. This caught my attention: some 1st-year students, who typically do not have as much academic training and work experience as 2nd-year students, actually interviewed better than their senior classmates. They demonstrated to me, the hiring manager, that they did not only have the tactical skills necessary to apply what they had been learning in the classroom, but also that they possessed valuable critical thinking skills and an acute ability to grasp the big picture. “Why is that?” I wondered.

After analyzing the performance of each stellar interviewee, I have concluded that they all exhibit the same powers of:

  • Observation: They observe themselves and their environment (people, process, and technology). What’s more, rather than passively taking in what they are being taught as the totality of “reality”, they observe the context in which these theoretical processes actually occur.
  • Reflection: They ask questions. Rather than being satisfied in knowing “how” to produce good translation/interpretation work, use a tool, or to leverage a workflow, they ask “why” and “why not” about the current way things are. They ask how we can build on our current processes, and make them better.
  • Application: A solution is only useful when it is applied to the right problem. Telling me that CAT tools and TMS can help an operation is nice (I call this “stating the obvious”), but giving me concrete examples from your experience of how these tools have removed specific operational pain points makes you stand out. “But I have never worked in a real job, how would I have concrete examples?” you say. Think again. Do you really need to have secured a job that pays you in order to experience real examples of how to apply solutions to a given problem? Of course not. Your class projects can provide examples. Examples can also come from dialogues with classmates or industry colleagues, or from reading blog posts/books pertaining to these subjects.
  • Getting results through people: “Stellar communication skills” and “team player” are some of the verbiages used by employers when they intend to say: “No matter how brilliant you are, you can’t achieve greatness all by yourself. Your ability to work with people to achieve the organization’s goals is just as important as your technical skills.” Your potential employers want you to demonstrate that you have the ability to communicate clearly and respectfully. Do you need a paying job to have this kind of experience? No. You have been communicating with people all your life. Examples abound.

If I could boil down everything I have said above into two words, it would be “active learning.” As an experienced interviewer, I can feel it at the gut level whether you are just repeating some fancy words that you think will impress me, or if you are sharing with me your own deeply reflected thoughts. Don’t worry about what you think I “want” to hear. Think about what story you want to tell me so that I get to know you – your insights and your motivations. I am trying to hire a human being that I get to work with, not a list of superficial words.

As I wrap up this post, it occurs to me that this post is a result of an observation which caused me to reflect on a phenomenon that seemingly did not make sense. I am trying to make my reflection as relatable and applicable to you as possible. You see: I am practicing what I preach. Give the process I have shared a try and let me know how it goes.

Winnie Heh

Career Advisor

Feeling Anxious About Internship Search? Start the Search Anyway.

Andrew Taylor (MATLM 2022) came to MIIS with a Bachelors Degree in Japanese, a minor in English and a minor in Computer Science. He secured an internship at Salesforce in summer of 2021. First year students are starting to think about applying for internships. I asked Andrew to share his experience for his internship search.

 

What attracted you to the Translation and Localization Management program?

 

To be perfectly honest, what attracted me to the TLM program was just the very fact that it was a Translation and Localization Management program. It’s a very specific field of study, and it’s the foremost degree in the United States that focuses entirely on the localization industry. 

I think my journey here was somewhat unique because my goal was to enter the localization field from the start. It may not have been my dream from the moment I started my undergraduate studies, but by my senior year I had identified a career in localization as my best opportunity to pursue my passions in both language, cultural analysis, and computer science. I knew that the TLM degree at MIIS would help me find the crossroads to those passions and prepare me for a career in the localization field.

 

What do you think your greatest growth areas were in the last year?

 

It might be surprising to say given all the industry knowledge I’ve gained in the past year, but I honestly think my biggest growth has been in the field of career development. I had very little job-hunting experience prior to starting at MIIS, and my resume crafting knowledge was basically just anything I could find on Google. What’s more, I was always left terrified at the very sound of that infamously menacing word – networking. One year later, I’ve learned how to craft my resume to stand out, how to manage a successful job search, and how to build up my own personal brand. I’ve also learned how networking doesn’t have to be scary – especially as a student who is interested in the field, localization professionals will be happy to connect with you and help you as you begin your journey in the industry.

 

What part of your academic preparation do you think have helped you the most in securing an internship?

 

Of all the skills I have learned throughout my academic career, none may have been as vital to securing my first localization internship than my ability to work together with a team. Teamwork, and its closely related skill, communication, are perhaps the two most sought-after foundational skills in the professional world – so much so that you can just about guarantee that every job interview will include at least one question designed to ascertain your collaborative and communicative efficacy. To be honest, this skill has not come easy to me, but it is something that I have come to see as one of my best strengths after lots of practice. Luckily, the curriculum in the TLM program gives plentiful opportunities to practice these team building skills, so make sure to make the most of it!

 

Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to the current first year students in terms of career preparation?

 

If you are feeling anxious about your career preparedness and your internship search, then the best antidote is to start working at your internship search anyway. It may seem a bit early, but some of the biggest companies in the industry are known for hiring very early in the school year. Just today I saw at least one major big tech company on LinkedIn already looking for a localization intern. So start scouring LinkedIn and Handshake whenever you have a free moment and save any job or internship that looks interesting to you. Read what the requirements are in order to familiarize yourself with the language. Then, once you find one that really speaks to your interests, start working on your application. Once you’ve begun applying, take the opportunity to bring your resume to the career center and get advice on how to customize it for the position you are after.

Your first application might not land you an internship right away. In fact, there’s a decent chance you will get ghosted, which has happened to me more times than I care to count, but every application, every email to a recruiter, and every professional interview is experience that is steadily increasing your level of proficiency as you navigate the job market. No matter how tempting it might be to push it aside for other assignments with definitive due dates, a job/internship search is one thing that you should not procrastinate on.

 

Winnie Heh

Career Advisor

MIIS

Be Brave and Ask – Connor Wertz’s Journey From Peace Corps to Localization

Connor Wertz started his MA program in Translation and Localization Management at MIIS in 2020 after working for the Peace Corps as an English teacher in China. He is scheduled to graduate in summer of 2022. Between his first and second year at MIIS, he worked as a Project Manager Intern at Idem Translations. He is currently the Teaching Assistant for Professor Adam Wooten’s Translation Technology class. He sat down with me to share his career management journey in the last year.

  • How did you decide to pursue an MA degree in Translation and Localization Management? 

After finishing Peace Corps, I decided that I didn’t want to work for the government, but I still wanted to work in a language-related career field. The TLM degree caught my eye because of its heavy emphasis on technology, which I think is the most interesting part about localization. Now that I am in my second year, I can really appreciate how everything in our degree program revolves around learning hard skills, which makes us much more employable. 

  • Looking back at how you felt a year ago when you first started the TLM program, could you have anticipated how your career preparation has evolved? What do you think were your greatest growth areas? 

When I entered the TLM program I had no prior localization experience, so I really felt the pressure to get something on my resume. I spent a lot of time networking with second year students, who were gracious enough to help me find freelance jobs. I grew the most by meeting with our career advisors, Winnie Heh and Edy Rhodes, who helped me polish my resume and prepare for interviews. 

  • What part of your academic preparation do you think have helped you the most in both developing your freelance translation work and in securing an internship? 

I think one of the key reasons I was able to secure an internship with Idem Translations was my knowledge of Trados. When faced with translation homework, many students are tempted to work in Google Docs or in Word, but I would highly encourage everyone to translate using Trados. After spending an entire year working inside Trados, I was able to ace the Trados technical interview for my internship because I knew about features and key processes that some of my peers weren’t aware of. We learn a lot of cool stuff in our classes, but it’s on us to find real-world applications for these tools! 

  • Share with us the most valuable lessons you have learned in the past year as a freelance translator and as a project management intern? 

Many of the freelance projects that I worked on were pretty small, and for companies that weren’t as mature. Idem Translations, however, has been around for 20 years and has very established processes and procedures. By working in these two different settings, I was able to learn how I should and shouldn’t work. 

The most valuable thing I learned is that the more time you spend upfront on a project, the less time you have to spend fixing problems downstream. For example, if you rush a project out the door to translators, you might have to spend hours fixing formatting errors that were caused by a poorly formatted file from the client. However, if you spend just a little time upfront getting everything formatted nicely, you won’t have to spend nearly as much time fixing problems later! 

In other words, the more time you spend setting up a project, the fewer problems you’ll have later on! 

  • Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to the current first year students in terms of career preparation? 

Make appointments with your career advisors! They’re awesome and extremely helpful. Also, reach out to 2nd year students and TLM graduates! People love talking about themselves, so just reach out and ask if people in the industry are willing to share some stories about their work. I’ve learned a lot about the localization industry this way. People are usually really receptive to these kinds of informational interviews, so be brave and ask!!! You can do it! 

Winnie Heh

Career Advisor, MIIS