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!
It’s May, 2021 and time for graduations, so a lot of you are probably interviewing at the moment. Interviews, especially in a remote setting, can be nerve-wrecking. See if the tips below can help calm your nerve and help you prepare!
Setting up an Interview
You will typically receive an email or a phone call to set up an interview (sometimes, a LinkedIn message as well). In my case, I have gotten more phone calls than emails, so it’s important to update your phone number on your resume and make sure you answer you phone, even if it’s coming from a number you don’t recognize!
During the initial phone call, some interviewers/employers would want to do a quick screening, asking why you have applied to this job or briefly ask about your experience, but most of the time this call is only to confirm that you’re still interested, and to set up a time for the interview.
Before an Interview
Make sure you know the date, time and format of the interview. Sometimes, the interviewer or HR will send you a calendar invitation with all the information, but other times, the person might just tell you the date and time over the phone or via a message. Make sure to confirm the time zone! Also, ask about the format of the interview as well. We usually assume that it’s Zoom or Teams, but if you can’t find a link, then it is probably a phone screening.
Also, some interviewers will send you an automatically generated email asking you to schedule a time on a calendar system yourself. In this case, after I have booked a time, I usually still reply to their email to thank them and let them know that I have booked a time. This way, if the system somehow goes wrong, at least they know you have tried to book a time.
Phone screening is common for the first round of interviews, and it’s a bit challenging for me because my house pretty much doesn’t have any signal. When I get a phone call, I usually have to go outside to answer. Therefore, I usually do my phone interviews from the back seat of my car.
Another thing is that the person will usually call you a bit past the time you agreed on, so you might get more and more anxious while waiting. I usually like to do something irrelevant to relax (reading a random article, browsing on Facebook). You can also warm up your voice by humming a song or doing some vocal exercises.
More often than not, on the client side, the person who interviews you during the phone screening is from the HR department. Therefore, they might have very little idea what localization is or what localizers do. Keep this in mind, and don’t go on and on about technical details (unless you’re sure this person has a localization background). If you’re asked general questions, answer in general terms. When they ask you about your language abilities, also use layman terms and describe what you can do. They might not be familiar with the A1-C2 system or other language certification systems.
Preparing for a Video Interview
When I first started interviewing, I thought it was a bit funny to wear a suit in your own home, so I just had a blouse or shirt on, but later on I had no problem dressing up as if I were going to a real interview. Most of the time, interviewers are casual, just wearing a T-shirt, but I think being a bit formal doesn’t hurt.
I have set up a Zoom “background” in my house because on my computer virtual backgrounds don’t work. If you worry about your real background being seen, clean it up a little. I usually move everything I don’t want to show at an interview out of the camera. Some platforms might not support virtual background at all. Also, make sure your Wi-Fi is stable!
I usually log on 5 minutes before the interview, but no earlier than 10 minutes, because some platforms ping the interviewer to tell them you’re waiting, and if you log on too early, or are simply testing the link, it might interrupt them during their meeting or work.
Technical interviews are usually right after the phone screening. Some interviewers will call it a technical interview, some will not, but in this round definitely be prepared to speak to someone from the localization team. Rest assured, the technical interviews I have been through are never too technical. These interviews will focus more on work experience and the ability to solve problems than real technical questions like, “What code do you write to import the localization module in C++?” Instead, they will ask questions like, “What are the i18n issues you have seen?” Occasionally, they will throw out a term or two you don’t know, but don’t worry. It is perfectly acceptable to ask the interviewer for clarification and they don’t expect you to know absolutely everything.
I personally think that situational questions are the hardest to answer, since we don’t have that much work experience to begin with. For example, I have never seen a client being angry or upset, because I don’t directly talk to clients at work, and also because we do good work! How do I know how I’m going to respond if a client is very upset? Still, I think this is where our MIIS education comes into play. Since we have so many simulations and projects at school, you can probably think of something that is relevant to the question. The situation you come up with doesn’t have to exactly match their prompt, it just has to make sense. This also applies when you have no work experience in the field.
Don’t worry if they ask follow-up questions, especially for the situational questions—they’re just trying to grasp the situation—it’s not easy for someone to understand other people’s work situations, the workflows in their companies, etc. Also, don’t worry if you just cannot come up with a matching situation, I have been told that it is fine.
When asked what questions I have, I usually like to ask about their daily work or their workflows. It’s a good learning experience, even if the interviews end there. I try to avoid asking about visa or compensation because, on the client side at least, it’s likely they (the localization people) don’t know. You will need to ask HR.
The following rounds can be with other members of the localization team, or with the HR department, and can be general or technical, but in any case, be prepared for anything when you’re past the second round. Note that some interviewers in this stage (or the previous one) will follow some kind of a script or list of questions, so it can feel a bit unnatural. In any case, interact with the interviewer and be conversational—don’t just robotically answer the questions. In addition, be prepared to discuss compensation, relocation, or visas.
I always struggle with “What is your salary range”. You shouldn’t ask for too much but asking for too little does you no good either. However, I usually figure that they have a range or number in mind already when recruiting, so I usually say, “Money isn’t my focus now, and I just want to learn and grow as much as possible at my first job, so as long as the wage is livable in the area I’m going to work, it’s fine,” which is authentic and true. Some interviewers are satisfied with that and reassure me that they won’t let me live in my car. Some, however, insist on getting a number. I used to have the range 50,000-70,000, but there was one time when someone offered me 45,000, so I kind of adjusted it to 40,000-70,000.
When it comes to relocation, I’m usually wide open because I don’t mind it anyway, but the start date—for me May 17 at the earliest—kills a lot of opportunities. It has to be the case, since I’m an international student. I would offer to start earlier part-time perhaps, but they always say no.
As for visa, I usually ask whether they would consider sponsorship when they ask me my visa status. It’s the most convenient time. Even if a company says they won’t sponsor H1-B, you might still consider working for them. However, do try to find out whether they’re e-verified. If they’re not, you CANNOT work for them while you’re on STEM OPT, you can only work for them for 1 year at most.
Finally, try asking, “what are the next steps?” to find out exactly how many rounds of interviews you still have (typically 3 for most companies, but some have as many as 6-7), and when you will hear back from them, so that you have an idea of what’s going to happen next.
Well, that’s it! I hope you find this article helpful, and feel free to think of your own strategies to handle some of these questions/situations: you don’t have to take my word for it! Ask your colleagues, career advisors and professors if you’re not sure what to do. And with that, I wish you the best of luck on your job-seeking journey!
As you can see from this interview, Gustavo Mercado (MACI 2019) has not let COVID slow him down. In addition to internships in international organizations, passing prestigious interpretation tests, building a freelance career, moving several times, he took time out to share his learnings and words of wisdom. I am so grateful to his generosity of spirit. MIIS alumni are the best.
Please tell us about what you have been doing since graduation.
To be perfectly honest, I left MIIS with a bit of anxiety; I had turned down a full-time position in New York City, which left me feeling rather uncertain about the future. Following graduation, however, Christiane Abel sent me a message about an internship opportunity with an international organization. I applied to see what would happen and by the end of the week I was offered a spot in New York City with the United Nations English Verbatim Reporting Section. I lived with two other MIIS graduates from the German and Russian programs, and I spent my time there creating transcript translations of speeches that were delivered on the floor of the General Assembly, as well as various committees. The job felt a bit weird to me at first: imagine sight-translation, but backwards. I got to listen to the original speeches as well as the interpretations of those speeches from all the booths to help me create my transcripts and listening to those interpreters every single day truly helped to prepare me for the freelance exam down the line. That internship lasted from September to December of the same year.
Then, at the beginning of 2020, I moved to Washington, DC to do yet another internship with the Organization of American States. This one was much more focused on my goal of becoming an interpreter for major institutions. My intention was to get established in the DC area as a freelance conference interpreter. Having passed the UN exam, though, conferences come my way quite frequently, and my eyes are now set on passing the Federal Court Interpreting exam while gaining enough conference days to apply to AIIC and TAALS to work with organizations like the OAS, the IMF and the World Bank
How did you prepare for the UN Freelancer Exam?
The tricky thing with the exam is how comprehensive it is. Yes, the speeches are fast, and the topics can seem obscure – everyone knows to expect that – but I feel that there are underlying factors to watch out for. Agility is key. You must be able to switch from the abstract to the formulaic in a matter of seconds and you can’t let flipping to your second language combination trip you up either, which is tough because it feels like you’re attacking the content from a different part of your brain. Your endurance needs to be robust as well, so that you can handle something at the speed of light and avoid traps when you’re already fatigued from interpreting multiple speeches in a row.
I had heard about people dedicating months or even years of constant study to passing the exam (which always seemed a bit excessive to me), but when every foreseeable plan fell through at the beginning of the pandemic, I figured “what better time than now to eat, sleep and breathe this test?” I tried to take advantage of the fact that I could focus on just practicing for the exam while “sheltering in place,” so I sat down for some two months or so and worked on speeches every single day for hours on end. I compiled a list of about 80 United Nations speeches and repeated every single one of them until I could interpret them as accurately and as quickly as possible. I made sure that my practice speeches covered every country that spoke my languages, as well as each of the major UN topics at the four duty stations. It goes without saying that you need to feel very comfortable with regional accents before you try to tackle this test, and it helps to know the UN system backwards and forwards. Ironically enough, I don’t know if this would have been possible had it not been for my schedule being forced open by the health crisis. Don’t mistake that as me taking the pandemic lightly, because I certainly did not, but thinking this way allowed me to find a silver lining amid the chaos.
What does passing the UN exam mean to your work life? Do you expect to start being called for assignments by the UN?
This is a massive achievement for me, both personally and professionally, as I used to think that it would take me ten years or more to get UN accredited. But I managed to pass the test just a year and a half out of MIIS and I hope that it opens the door to other international organizations. As I understand it, opportunities will arise at the UN once the Organization starts using its freelancers again. In the meantime, the private market has welcomed me with interesting new projects.
Looking back, what parts of the MIIS preparation do you think have helped you the most in navigating your career path after graduation?
Everything I learned at MIIS prepared me to succeed after graduation. One of the last conversations that I had at the Institute was with Barry Olsen in his office. He asked me what my goals were, and I mentioned that I would like to work for the UN one day, but that I didn’t expect that to happen for at least a decade. He said that there was no reason why that couldn’t be a medium-term goal. I ran with it and made it short-term one instead!
If it hadn’t been for Christiane Abel pointing me towards the Verbatim Reporting Internship, I wouldn’t have known the UN system inside and out like I did when the time came to take the exam. Leire Carbonnell’s advice from when she herself prepared for the Language Competitive Examination was the model for my own practice regimen. As I sat down to prep, I could hear her telling me to divide everything up by duty station, committee, issue, region, country, and even to specific speakers if necessary. Jacolyn Harmer’s stories helped me understand that challenges were to be seen as fun chances to see how things went and that they didn’t have to intimidate me. Julie Johnson’s mindfulness strategies taught me to keep my cool and deliver a great interpretation despite wanting to strangle a particular speaker. And I wouldn’t have gotten certified to work in court without Cas and Holly’s specific training and insight, a field of interpreting that I work in quite regularly now.
Adding to that, there was, of course, all the advice that I got in the Translation and Interpretation as a Profession course, which I still use to guide my professional development. In Stephanie’s class, I learned about the advantages of creating an LLC, how to handle scammers, and that checking in with agencies that you haven’t worked with in a while really does make a difference. As a full-time freelancer (hehe), running my own small business is something I have to work on and get better at each day, and her guidance has been supremely helpful in that respect.
For MIIS students who want to pursue an interpretation career path, what words of wisdom would you share with them?
I feel that I don’t have much more experience than anyone else currently at MIIS because I just left two years ago, but I can offer this: do the scary stuff every chance you get. MIIS interpreters really are a cut above the rest, and I’ve had the luck of working in the booth with alumni almost exclusively thus far. If you feel like you’re jumping straight into a void, you will be fine. You will stick the landing. We graduates are out here waiting to connect with you and we’re excited to get you working alongside us.
I recently came across a video on YouTube of somebody (not from MIIS) trash-talking the profession and saying that it was a bad career choice because it’s impossible to make a good living and that we’re all going to be replaced by machines in the next 30 seconds, anyway. Let me just say that I completely disagree with that statement. There is a ton of work out there to do and very few people capable of doing it well. And, for what it’s worth, the interpretation field of the future belongs to those of us coming in now who already know the tech side of the profession. Trust me.
What should my first steps outside of MIIS be? What should I do on, say, May 16th, the day after graduation? A well-articulated question from a student who is about to graduate in May, 2021 inspired me to write this blog, with her permission to share her question.
“Recently, I have noticed that, in conversations with fellow second-year classmates, many of us are struggling to grasp what our first steps will look like outside of MIIS. We have been hearing from and talking with many professionals, both within our classes and outside of them, which has been wonderful. Naturally, the vast majority of those we speak with graduated 5, 10, 20, or 30 years ago. Much of the advice they give us, as inspiring or helpful as it is, is provided with the caveat that the market has changed or that it doesn’t apply during the pandemic.
This leads me to my question. Though I think many of us (or at least I personally) understand what we want our lives to look like in 3-5 years, it’s hard to know what to do on say…May 16th (the day after graduation), or even August 1st, 2021.”
What I shared with her:
“Since you asked about informing your first steps, my thought went to creating a check list. The closest I have come to a post graduate check list is this:
Assume that you “know” enough already for your needs. It’s time to act. No amount of additional knowledge will replace your actions at this point. “Action” will be the theme of my message.
Recognize that you have all of the information you need to guide you. None of the professors, advisors, colleagues or friends will have that totality of the “database” you own, even if they may know more about specific domains. Part of that “database” has information that you, and only you, know – your dreams, values, directions.
Think back on the MIISMap that you worked on during New Student Orientation two years ago. You were asked about your career goals in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years and at retirement. Have you changed your mind about your career goals since that time? If yes, congratulations! You have grown. If not, congratulations! You knew what you wanted clearly before coming to MIIS. My point here is: there is no “right” answer and it is ok to change your mind (within reason).
Number 3 above is important. Keep your goals in mind as a “guide.” Make sure your career moves, short-term and mid-term, go in the “general direction” of your long-term goals. Regular calibration will be useful.
Put on paper your vision for the next year – where you want to live and what you want to do. Know that these ideas are not coming from a vacuum. These ideas come from your “database” that has been collecting data. Don’t be afraid of these goals being “wrong” or “unrealistic”. We will get to that next.
Put your “project plan” on paper, noting how you would reach your goals from item 5 with actions, milestones and dates. Think about goals in three categories: professional, personal and financial.
Review items 5 and 6 with trusted professors, advisors, colleagues, family members and friends. Their role is to be your sounding board – to point out blind spots, provide additional perspective or connect you with others. Remember that this is not a private struggle. Use your network to support you.
Implement your project plan, knowing you are able to adjust along the way.
The key points are:
Put down a plan.
Your question made me reflect on my own and some of my close friends’ journey after MIIS. Every one of us has a post-graduation story to tell – one with twists and turns. It is typically not straight forward. What I have learned from so many of these stories is: just land somewhere and go from there. We are not defined by our first jobs. Analysis paralysis is your biggest enemy right now.
At this point of the Spring Semester, I think of 2nd year students as great performers who are about to get on stage. You have studied and you have rehearsed. At some point, you have to get onto the stage. Know that you are well-prepared. Have a support system that can be your sounding board and you will be just fine. Finally, know that I am always available to act as your sounding board now and after graduation.”
It occurred to me that expectant graduates have worked hard to enhance their professional profile by acquiring knowledge and skills. At some point, a switch of mindset from knowledge acquisition to action needs to happen so that they can continue to thrive post-graduation. I have boiled down the new mindset to:
Jamie Cox is a Localization Producer at Blizzard Entertainment with years of experience on both the vendor and client sides of the localization industry. His October 2020 post on LinkedIn was on an issue near and dear to my heart – with two degrees in Japanese literature, how he “stumbled” into localization and how liberal arts and foreign language skills can translate into a successful career outside the classroom. I am always on the lookout for role models for language students, hence this conversation on lessons learned in navigating his career path.
Q: Please tell us about what sparked your interest in Japanese literature.
In high school, my family hosted an exchange student from Japan for a couple of weeks. This student taught me about Japanese culture and sparked my interest. I then was able to visit him in Japan a year later and I fell more in love with Japanese culture and the language. Japanese literature was the available major at my undergrad university (University of Montana), and so that’s where my passion for Japanese literature began.
Q: You used the word “stumble” in describing how you got into localization. How did it happen?
After graduating with my MA in Japanese Literature from Portland State University and moving to California, I didn’t know what to do next. A friend suggested I do some freelance translating for a company called Gengo. I noticed Gengo had an office close to where I was living at the time, and I reached out to see if they had any internships available. As luck would have it, they were looking for a project management intern at the time. That was over seven years ago, and I’ve been a localization project manager ever since!
Q: Have your two degrees in Japanese literature helped you in your career in localization? In what ways?
In the localization industry, it’s definitely a plus to know an additional language, even if you don’t actually use it for your own work. In my case, my knowledge of the Japanese language helped me secure the internship at Gengo, because Gengo is a Japanese company with its main office in Tokyo. In a practical sense at work, I don’t often use Japanese, but in the past I have occasionally done a quick check to make sure characters are appearing correctly in a delivery, or line breaks are accurate, those small types of things that every project manager will do from time to time.
Q: In addition to one’s language skills and cultural knowledge, are there any additional skills that can help one’s career in the localization industry?
I think soft skills that one tends to learn from education around language (like foreign language learning or other liberal arts degrees) help tremendously in being able to accurately and easily convey information, either written or verbal. Additionally – at least for project managers – organization and documentation is paramount, so learning how to stay organized in your personal life will help you in your professional one as well.
Q: Knowing what you know now, is there anything you would have done differently in terms of managing your career?
The more you can offer to a company in terms of the skills you bring to the table, the better. There have been times I’ve wanted to streamline or modify a workflow but haven’t had the technical knowledge to do so, whether through Excel macros, database queries with SQL, or something similar. If I could do things differently, I would try to focus on cultivating some of those more technical skills to be a more well-rounded project manager.
Q: What is the best career advice you have ever received?
The most important thing to know about the localization industry is that it is a small one – you never know when the person you worked with (and hopefully made a great impression on) will pop back up later on in your career. Networking is very important, and so is making sure you’re always putting your best foot forward at work. We work in a great industry with amazing people from all over the world, so be sure to enjoy the connections you make.
There is no way to sugarcoat this – the job market is challenging for 2020 graduates. According to a USA Today report on August 8th, 2020, “the unemployment rate in the United States stood at 11.1% as of June. While this is a marked improvement from the 14.7% jobless rate in April, it is still higher than at any time in at least the last 70 years. In some U.S. cities – many of which are major economic hubs – the unemployment crisis is far worse than it is nationwide.”
As we shine a spotlight on the language industry, however, we are seeing some promising signs. Slator reported on August 6th, 2020, “the language industry job market is stabilizing after plunging in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the Slator Language Industry Job Index (LIJI).” Slator further indicated that “prior to Covid-19, the LIJI started off slow in January 2020, but quickly bounced back with a record high in February 2020. August 2020 is the first month that the LIJI recorded an increase since March 2020, likely due to the ripple effects of Covid-related lockdowns around the world during the five months prior.”
In March, April and May, MIIS students and alumni reported hiring freezes, cancellations of internships and layoffs. The number of interviews I heard about slowed to a trickle. I started to hear more about interviews in late June and July although far from the level I saw in previous years during the same months. In late July and now in August, I have heard good news of May 2020 graduates receiving more than one offers. The main point here is: job search, no doubt, is difficult this year, but the job market is not completely dry.
This is why I decided to interview Xingchen Hu (MATLM 2020) for the first episode of my “This Is What Worked For Me” podcast. I hope how she managed the challenges and her subsequent success in her job search can help those who are still going through the process. Thank you, Xingchen, for sharing your learnings to lift others up.
This podcast is my conversation with Jon Ritzdorf.
Jon is a fellow graduate from MIIS who is a Senior Solutions Architect at RWS Moravia and an Adjunct Professor at MIIS, NYU and University of Maryland. I have always been very impressed by his industry insights, generosity towards students and his overall positivity. After he shared his career ups and downs with me, including the difficult timing of moving to New York City 2 months after the 911 attacks in 2001, I thought to myself: “Boy! Those were hard knocks. How did he recover from those setbacks and how does he maintain his positive outlook?” Hence this podcast.
Throughout July and August 2019, I was an intern at Chinese
Translation Service, a section within the Department for General Assembly and
Conference Management, U.N. Secretariat. The Service is responsible for
translating all kinds of U.N. documents including General Assembly and Security
Council resolutions. I provided draft Chinese translations of summary records
of meetings and provisional agenda items for the 74th session (the upcoming
one) of the U.N. General Assembly.
This internship was a great experience in many ways. I
received feedback from top-notch translators, learned the workflow of U.N.
translation teams, gained first-hand knowledge about what it takes to be a
staff translator at the organization. In addition, I had the exciting opportunities
to observe ECOSOC and Security Council meetings. But perhaps the greatest
experience to me was working in an internal translation team. The importance of
maintaining consistency across the agency and meeting productivity requirements
was complementary to my school training.
What did the application process entail?
I filled in an application form at U.N. career website
Inspira. The form consisted of multiple pages, with detailed inquiries about an
applicant. I carefully examined my answers on every page, with extra attention
to the initial, screening questions. At the end of the form, a cover letter was
required. I wrote a draft and asked my Career Advisor, Winnie Heh, for
suggestions. It took time for the recruiters to process applications. In some
cases, there may be an interview or even a test for applicants.
Now that you have experienced working in an international organization as a translator, what part of your T&I training do you think helped you the most for that role?
Having attended two U.N. MoU schools, I was trained by
professors who used to be staff translators at the organization. I believe my
previous exposure to the language of U.N. documents gave me a head start in my
internship. Also, the great attention to details and the pursuit of utmost
accuracy I inherited from my professors mirror what is expected of a U.N.
What advice would you give to students who are interested in pursuing an internship with the UN?
First of all, do not give up! Before this internship, I had
applied three times only to be turned down. In fact, I hesitated for a long
time before I finally applied for this one on the very last day. Now I am glad
that I made the right decision. In addition, what I have learned through
subsequent talks with senior translators at U.N. is that your cover letter
matters. Prove to the recruiters your commitment to the type of work in the
internship; show the qualities they are seeking; write more about what you can
offer, less about what you wish to gain; stick to the business – it is
irrelevant to mention how much you like the city where the internship is. And
if you are to attend an interview, try to illustrate how you possess the core
competencies that U.N. seeks. (see https://careers.un.org/lbw/home.aspx?viewtype=WWLF)
Alexander Alyakrinskiy (MATLM 2017) is a Localization Program Manager at Fitbit. Before attending MIIS he worked as a Foreign Language Instructor, Linguist and Localization Analyst. I was intrigued by his observations on the crucial role that one’s temperament plays in their success. Here is our conversation.
In our recent conversation, you brought up the topic of how to align one’s skills and temperament with specific roles in the localization industry. Can you talk about how you arrived at this idea?
As a program manager I interact with a variety of stakeholders on a daily basis including language specialists and l10n engineers. I noticed how certain temperaments help people to succeed in a specific role (ex. vendor management and engineering) and align with their type of communication.
Could you please give us some examples of skills/temperament types and the types of roles that are good fits for them?
came across many project/program managers who do not have a strong linguistic
background, but possess well developed interpersonal communication
skills. Being able to adjust and staying flexible in difficult and sometimes
frustrating situations is more important in this area of l10n.
The rare and well desired mix is a localization engineer. They
tend to be on the introverted side but have difficulty using soft skills and
can’t handle multitasking.
It came as a surprise to me that many language specialists within tech are introverts and enjoy focusing on the language as opposed to communication with stakeholders and project management.
How did you figure out your skills/temperament and how did you find the right role to match your skills/temperament?
For me it came with experience and wasn’t a straightforward path. I got to work on the vendor side and have experience as a language specialist. I really enjoy puzzles and I am stimulated by complex projects. I got my job as program manager at Fitbit right after graduation from MIIS and I realized that I enjoy the amount of responsibility and interactions with stakeholders. Brining people and ideas together and translating them into a localized product is something I really enjoy. I face daily challenges on a bigger scale and have to make decisions independently using sound judgement and direct the resources to make things happen.
What advice would you give to TLM students in terms of how they can approach this exploration process?
My advice to the students is to apply for internships and learn about different roles and their daily responsibilities within the company. Also, self-assessment and understanding of personal strengths and weaknesses is crucial in defining the right role in the future workplace. I’ve seen many students so desperately trying to apply for project/program management role to only realize that it requires way too much interaction and ambiguity they didn’t expect and can’t handle. There should be a clear understanding that program/project management isn’t about language and creative side of it per se. It’s about bringing people and resources together, analyzing risks and forecasting the budget which requires marketing and analytical skills.
After building Eezy’s localization program from the ground up, Hilary Normanha is taking a new position as a Localization Program Manager at ASICS Digital in Boston, MA. She sat down with me recently to reflect on her career as a language professional and the learnings she would like to share.
How did you enter the localization industry?
As a teenager, I had the incredible opportunity to move to Brazil where I ended up living for many years. After high school, one of my first jobs there was teaching English at a language school. The owner of the school got me started on the road to translation, I was hooked from day one and the rest is history! Over the years, I’ve always kept one foot in the localization industry (even when it didn’t pay the bills) because I am passionate about languages and I enjoy the constant evolution of this industry. I have a bachelor’s degree in Psychological Sciences with a minor in Women’s studies.
What do you think are the most important skills, knowledge and mindset aspiring localizers need?
The localization industry is moving fast, and is accelerating along with the rapid growth we are seeing in the tech industry as a whole. This means that if you enter this industry now, the landscape will change (and continue to change) quickly. If you want a long and prosperous career, you must be open to continuous learning and professional development from day one! This is no longer an option in our industry – it is a requirement. Another thing I love about our industry is that it overlaps with so many others; marketing, sales, SEO, product, design, engineering…the list is endless. This means that localization doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it is cross-functional. Localization professionals today need to be willing to grow broader skill sets in order to provide the best solutions for their companies and end users. As an example, at Eezy I partner regularly with our SEO team, marketing team, development team, and product/design teams. In addition, I regularly present to our executive team and growth teams. This has given me the opportunity to grow additional skill sets so that our localization program fits within the broader scope of the company as a whole and works toward our goals. This role has challenged my assumptions about what localization looks like, and what it could look like in the future.
What are the things that you think educational institutions can do to help prepare students for success in the localization industry?
Many times localization professionals work within small teams, or even on their own. While their work overlaps with many other teams, there is an expectation that they run their department and be their end user’s biggest advocates. In order to succeed, localization professionals need a foundation in data analysis, presentation skills, project and program management, risk analysis, scrum and agile (if they plan to partner with development teams) and reporting (especially financial reporting). These skills are useful even if the student’s professional goals don’t involve working for a large company. Let’s say they want to run their own translation company. If they can look at their client’s core customer, or a Google Analytics report of their client’s traffic and click through rates on the website and turn that data into a report showing how their translation services are the best fit for their client…it will put them a step ahead. They should be able to put together end of the year financial reports and projections for their clients, or convince their client why they would benefit from a service they can provide.
You have worked on both the vendor and client sides. How would you compare your experience in both? Do you think one needs to have different skill sets on either side?
The skills sets are definitely different but there is a lot of overlap as well. Customizing your process/workflow for your end user is something that I experienced on both the client and vendor side. As a vendor, I was accustomed to customizing TMs, terms bases, projects and workflows for both the clients and LSPs that I worked with. Now as a client, I use those same skills when thinking about the end user of Eezy’s products, and partnering with cross functional teams to customize our process. Project management is a skill that overlaps as well.
With that said, there are unique skill sets on each side. Sales and prospecting is a huge part of a vendor’s work flow. I remember spending hours researching how to write cold emails or pitch services early in my career. Thankfully sales has evolved since then, there are a lot more tools available and it is a much more empathetic business focused on solutions. Learning how to identify pain points and offer solutions is key for vendors, as is partnership. Now that I am on the client side I am learning how to leverage my vendors and partner more heavily with them. Vendors have a lot of experience with a variety of clients and projects, so as a client I have to be willing to open up and share the problems I am trying to solve with my vendors. Seeing vendors as partners (and not as a third party service) opens doors. On the client side, I would say partnering both with your vendors and cross functionally within your organization is the best way to grow. On the client’s side being the end user’s advocate is the key to succeeding. This means looking at data, building partnerships with other teams, and finding creative solutions.
What is the best piece of career advice you have received?
Back when I was still in school, struggling to build up a client base as a translator and pushing myself to develop my project management skills I had to supplement my income with bartending. I absolutely hated it, but it was necessary because it payed the bills and didn’t interfere with my daytime schedule. One night at the end of my shift I opened up to my manager at the bar where I worked. She encouraged me find a new vantage point and to “see everything as an opportunity.” Once I flipped that switch in my mind, I began to see bartending as an opportunity for growth alongside school and translating. Working as a bartender helped me develop my sales skills, taught me to prioritize and multitask in a high stress environment, and pushed me to find common ground with any stranger who walked in the door. Her advice stuck with me, it has not only helped me overcome obstacles but has also pushed me to grow both personally and professionally. Every step you take can elicit growth and contribute towards your goals, it just requires the right mindset.