Author Archives: Yung-Chung Heh

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

 

Nailing A Remote Interview—Tips for Success

By Anne He (MATLM 2021)

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!

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. Phone screening

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.

  1. 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.

  1. Technical Interviews

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.

  1. Final interviews

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!

Do The Scary Stuff Every Chance You Get – How Gustavo Mercado (MACI 2019) Accomplished So Much In Two Years

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.

  1. 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

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

Winnie Heh

Career Advisor

It’s Showtime. Act.

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.

She wrote:

“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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Implement your project plan, knowing you are able to adjust along the way.

The key points are:

  • Put down a plan.
  • Get feedback.
  • Take action.

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:

  • It’s showtime. Act.
  • Get comfortable co-existing with uncertainty.
  • Strive for excellence, not perfection.

(Image credit: www.streamspy.com)

Winnie Heh

Career Advisor

MIIS