Who are those “top-level” interpreters many agencies refer to?

March 26, 2015 § 16 Comments

Dear colleagues:

I am sure that what I am about to describe has happened to many of you: You get an email from an agency either telling you that they are new to your market and they are looking for “top-level” interpreters in your area, or they address you directly by email to let you know that they have an upcoming project and they would like to have you on board for the event. Both emails end by asking for your resume, fee schedule, and sometimes even references.  I have basically received this email, or similar ones, innumerable times during my career.  I do not know what you do when you get such a request, but I usually respond to the communication by email. I attach the most recent version of my resume, a boilerplate letter that details my fee schedule, accepted payment options, cancellation fees, and travel expenses requirements; and when the agency asks for references, I just state, in the body of the email, that I will only ask my clients for references when the assignment offer is firm, and in the meantime I suggest they google me under: “Tony Rosado Interpreter” and they will find many pages that talk about me, including professional achievements, publications, interviews, and testimonials. I have found that in most cases, this strategy works. It is common for prospective clients to waive the references requirement after they have googled my name.  To me, this is standard practice because I do not like to bother my regular clients unless it is absolutely necessary, and I value my time too much to be happy about spending time collecting reference letters for agencies who have not even extended a solid offer.

Now, what happens after I send the information can be classified in three categories: The exceptionally rare, the exceptionally common, and the deafening silence.

Every once in a while the agency contacts me after I emailed all the information and offers me the job.  This is not a common occurrence and sometimes I have to work a little harder to get the fee I command. Things like an explanation of the work I do, sharing my professional experience, and bringing up potential problems that the client had not thought about, will get me the fee requested on my fee schedule.  Usually, these agencies turn into regular clients after the first assignment as they are serious about customer service and quality interpreting. Of course, most of our work comes from agencies that already know us, or from those who were referred to us by another client or colleague, but we should never discard unknown agencies who reach us by email, unless the communication sounds like a scam, a pipe dream, or we hear about their bad reputation.

The overwhelming majority of these agencies contact me back to thank me for my quick response, and to tell me that my fee schedule is way above their means. Some of them end the communication after this revelation, and some others let me know that they will keep my information, and when they get an interpreter request for an event that “…requires of someone with my experience and credentials… (they)… will contact me”. That is usually the last I hear from the agency.

The rest of the agencies never get back to me. They simple apply the “silent treatment”.  I imagine that their reasons for totally ignoring me have to do with my fee, payment policy, or my travel requirements, but I will never know for sure.

Now, if you are like me, before answering the original email, you do a little research on the agency. I run a search on the web, and when they have a website (it is a bad start when they do not even have one, or the one they have is one of those free websites full of commercial advertisement) I read it very carefully. Although the wording changes from one website to another, all of them promise top-notch, professional and experienced interpreters. This is what gets me thinking. When the agency does not answer back after I send them my resume and fee schedule, or when they respond to let me know I am too expensive for them, I cannot help it but wonder who are they hiring for these assignments?  I know many interpreters and I believe that, at least by name, I am aware of practically all of the top-level interpreters in my language combination. Certainly, I know every name in my region; I have to: this is my market and I am trying to provide a professional service.  Sometimes I ask around, sometimes the information comes to me without doing a thing, you all know how it is in this profession: information gets around.

For this reason, it puzzles me how these agencies can claim that they provide top-notch, experienced interpreters when, as interpreters, you know all those who would fit the description, and many times even the ones one tier below, and none of them was retained to provide the service. Are these agencies being honest with their customers when they promise the best of the best? I do not know for sure, and I am not accusing anybody. I just wonder who these “top-level, experienced” interpreters are, and where are they finding them. I would love to meet them, get to know them, and ask them how they can make a comfortable living when they provide their services for such lower fees. I just do not understand; even if I were to assume that they are all brand new interpreters just out of school and therefore (although erroneously, as I have discussed it many times before) willing to work for a lower fee, how would they meet the “experienced” part of the offer?

I am extremely confused, but maybe you are not, and for that reason I invite you to tell me who are these top-level, experienced interpreters these agencies are offering to their customers. In the meantime, I will share this post with clients and prospective clients to see if they can help me solve the mystery, and in the process, I will inform them that the “top-level, experienced” interpreters I know are not been retained by these agencies.

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§ 16 Responses to Who are those “top-level” interpreters many agencies refer to?

  • davidgilley says:

    Tony, you are the top-level experienced interpreter! By sending in your resume and having them add it their roster of freelancers, they are claiming you and others like you as their quality credential, even when the interpreters that they send out on assignments are not at the same level. I have seen multiple posts by AIIC certified interpreters who found that unscrupulous interpreting agencies were marketing their experience, certification, and even their name without ever having sent them on an assignment, simply because they had sent their resume.

    • Carla Koch says:

      My colleagues in Eastern Canada have informed me that this is, indeed, what many of them do. Buyer beware.

  • Kathleen M. Morris says:

    I, too, would like to meet one of these top-tier, bargain basement priced interpreters! Has anyone ever met one of these fantastical creatures?

  • Anyuli says:

    I agree with the comment above. I have been in situations where agencies try to use my CV and information to get the client, and then they send a cheaper interpreter.

  • André Csihas, FCCI says:

    These so-called agencies are mostly engaged in fishing trips, trolling through lists of interpreters to call upon whenever they are contacted by their clients. They don’t check on each interpreter’s credentials, they don’t do any research about them other than perhaps a cursory look in some list —that according to their standards is good enough for them—, and they certainly don’t engage in any sort of financial agreement with the interpreter.

    Switch and bait seems to be their modus operandi.

    What bothers me, is that these people whom I never have met before and whom I don’t know from Adam, are calling frantically at the last minute in an attempt to fill some job or project requirement that should have been considered previously. Not only does that smack of a total lack of professionalism, but also it is a disservice to their client.

    I take umbrage at their attitude.

    André Csihas, FCCI

  • Same thing happens in my neck of the woods, Tony. I know and work with the most talented, professional interpreters in the field, yet, very few agencies contract with them because of their “higher-than-most” fees.
    I’ve had requests for my résumé so they can bid on a job and show that they have qualified interpreters. At the end, it is not me they hire. I do not send my CV out anymore. I refer them to my website.
    Top-level interpreters require top-level pay. I am seldom called by these agencies, but my direct clients call me on a regular basis. They know who they’re dealing with when dealing directly with me.

  • […] Source: Who are those “top-level” interpreters many agencies refer to? […]

  • Well…I’m confused too, but it’s because too many agencies do things that do not make sense to the intelligent person. For example, I was hired by one of the top three interpretation companies in the world, a huge company out of NYC, with sales in the hundreds of millions of dollars per year, and they sent me to interpret for one of their clients –THE largest company in the world of its kind– to a multi-day conference involving ultra-complex financial jargon. Two of my three partners were “top-notch,” well-known interpreters in the Washington D.C. area, but one of the three was absolutely so bad that she would freeze and also would suddenly become totally nonsensical in her interpretation. I had to report it to the company, and they sent me some one else who is well known and did a superb job. Why did they send the middle interpreter? I surmise because they wanted to “save” money. Maybe everybody was busy. These big agencies often wait until the last minute to get the interpreters (after they win a bidding war). They risk their relationship with their client and risk losing that account (which I believe that they did end up losing).

    All companies are struggling in this economy and many are cutting corners to save money, but what they don’t realize is that to amputate the heart, brain, etc., is business suicide. I own a tiny agency, and we only hire the best –not just good/certified/experienced interpreters– but only the very best, period. That’s the way it should be done. We are tiny, tough, barely doing about one thousand assignments per year, so we are not well known. When I have a conference with a direct client, I chose my partners. I contract only with the best in the area, and we pay them what they ask, period. If I only make 30% or 15% gross income or whatever, so be it, but I’m not going to lose the client because of mediocraty.

    Some of these monster agencies have project managers who do not have the slightest clue how to hire interpreters. Their company website has glorious statements about “their” top-notch interpreters, and yes, occasionally they certainly hire the best, but great interpreters are very busy too, so sometimes they hire whomever they can get. These PMs are carefully watched to make sure that they get the most profit for their companies. They have been refusing for years to pay for travel, hotel, etc., and so they hire “locals” who are not necessarily any good.
    Some agencies “train” their top-notch interpreters too. Well, I was visiting a well-known mid-west agency, and one of the VPs invited me to listen in for a couple of hours during one of their training sessions of new independent contractors. I couldn’t believe the extremely low quality of the training. It was a total joke.

    I’ve often sensed that companies troll for names or are just trying to figure out what our rates are to undercut us! Price is the last thing I talk about with potential clients. If they are serious, they will pay high rates –maybe not the absolute highest– but they will pay me well. We should wow them in ALL areas, not just in interpretation. We should just strive to be the best that we can be, and spoil the clients with superb work.

  • oxana says:

    It is always with great interest that I follow the essays you write detailing the ills and abuses that plague the interpreting marketplace. What seems to be missing, however, both in those essays and the reader’s responses, are any proposed solutions.

    A useful start to a discussion of solutions would be to point out that the ATA, an entity “established to advance the translation and interpreting professions and foster the professional development of individual translators and interpreters” putatively tasked to address these problems actually does nothing of the sort.

    The ATA is a most peculiar organization indeed. One that houses the representation of management (agency owners-in whose interest the ATA seems to be run) and labor (the professionals who do the work) under one roof and one that has spent a good part of its existence pretending that this is normal, not a problem, even beneficial and suppresses any notions proffered to the contrary.

    If this sounds like a conspiracy theory, I challenge anyone to find one article published in the ATA Chronicle or one presentation given at an ATA convention which even mentions this state of affairs let alone addresses it in a complete and forthright manner. The same can be said for the problems you brought up in previous essays e.g. unacceptable working conditions, the unfair competition by the “paraprofessionals” depressing both income and quality, not being granted the respect afforded to other officers of the court etc.

  • Bob Feron says:

    Serious direct clients and language service companies will pay whatever the market rate is for top-notch interpreters. The best direct clients and companies will also pay for travel costs. I frankly couldn’t care less who the other allegedly nonprofessional clients and agencies are. It’s simply a waste of your time — and mine — to spend more than 30 seconds wondering about anyone who isn’t prepared to pay the going market rate for the best-qualified professional interpreters in a specific language combination. If there are actually such amateurish sharks out there, who attempt to provide low quality interpreting services at below market rates, they won’t last very long because their clients will get rid of them. Meanwhile, let them stay far away from us.

    • oxana says:

      Mr. Feron,

      the business model of language service companies is predicated on the revenue generated from paying the interpreter/translator as little as possible and charging the end client what the market will bear.

      The far from the norm idyllic interpreter favoring scenario you describe in your comment can be found to occur in the exclusive world of the high-end conference interpreting market and occasionally in situations where a rare language combination involving specialized expertise is required, often at the last minute and in a high- stakes situation e.g. a law suit.

      Meanwhile, everywhere else, we have agencies sending nominally bilingual warm bodies that walked in off the street out on jobs shamelessly and unscrupulously packaging them as “highly qualified and experienced professionals”. Individuals Mr. Rosado describes, as “paraprofessionals in his incisive and devastating exposé entitled “Excuse me, interpreting is a professional service Got it?”.

      A step to consider toward a solution of this problem would be to require governmental licensing to practice this profession. Yes, just like lawyers and doctors, even beauticians.

      This would at least partially drain the swamp of the moonlighters and bottom feeders and make huge strides toward professionalization. And, deprive the agencies of the downward pressure on fees caused by the unfair competition posed by the paraprofessional willing to work for a pittance at the sacrifice of quality. Might that be why we do not see the ATA, supposedly “established to advance the translation and interpreting professions” discuss let alone champion this idea?

  • Ivelina Vaykova says:

    Most confusing is when such “high professional” agencies do USE your name for further advertising:
    We did invite for our clients such interpreters as Mr. …. !!!
    It is not a lie since they DID contact you and did get you fees and resume. But they NEVER did pay or ask you to agree for USING your name! Or even worse – they did not pay in time, did not give you the promised fee or what ever else and they continue to write your name as their collaborator … I would not wonder if you find your name later on the respective web-pages of the AGENCY…

  • Lola San Sebastián says:

    Tony, I agree entirely with you, and I am sick of wasting my time with these people.

  • In my state, agencies are always vying to get a contract for interpreting for social services work. In order to get the contract they need to present a roster of interpreters they will actually be able to send out to assignments. Since they have to bid low, they can only pay a laughable amount to “their” interpreters and no mileage or travel time. None of the qualified interpreters in my area will have anything to do with them. Since my area is small, I know some of the interpreters they use–inexperienced, untrained, uncertified “bilingual” folks who don’t mind working for a pittance. And how are these “interpreters” presented? As fully qualified, top-notch professionals! Once one of these agencies contracted me at my usual rates because they were in a bind. The person they usually sent was sick or something. My assignment was to interpret for the mother of a suicidal daughter in an interview with a mental health therapist. The daughter spoke English, but the mother did not. As I interpreted the conversation between the girl and the therapist simultaneously to the mother, the therapist did not understand what I was doing. She said she had never seen such a thing, and informed me that the interpreter the agency usually sent would either just nap or chat with the mother when she was interviewing the daughter, and that the interpreter would only interpret when the therapist and the mother conversed. A real top-notch professional. What a joke.

  • […] Aprovechamos para felicitar al resto de premiados, entre ellos José Sentamans, con el que comparte premio al mejor conferenciante, y reconocidos lenguantes como Alessandra Vita o Tony Rosado, al que tuvimos recientemente impartiendo el taller de interpretación al otro lado del charco en coLenguando. Alessandra ha ganado el premio al mejor perfil de ProZ y al mejor artículo por ENETI: Interpretación en el mercado privado e institucional, y Tony, a la mejor entrada por la titulada Who are those “top-level” interpreters many agencies refer to?. […]

  • […] post: “Who are those “top-level” interpreters many agencies refer to?” by Tony […]

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