by Cynthia E. Roat, MPH
Past blogs on this site have talked about how community interpreters are contracted: as full- or part-time staff or as freelancers, working directly for healthcare or social service institutions or through language service providers (sometimes called language companies) that in turn have contracts with healthcare or social service institutions.
But how do you get a job with these employers? And what are those employers looking for in an interpreter? How can you make sure that, among all the candidates for a job, you are the one they choose?
Companies that contract with or hire interpreters are looking at three groups of qualifications: your language pair, your interpreting credentials and your professional demeanor. Let’s take a look at each.
Your language pair
Your language pair is the pair of languages between which you interpret: English-Spanish, English-Vietnamese, English-Somali. These are also called your “working languages.” And regarding these languages, there’s good news and there’s bad news. If you speak a common language like Spanish, the good news is that there is a ton of demand for interpreters of this language. Spanish accounts for the vast majority of all the community interpreting in the United States, both in person and remotely, so every organization that serves the public needs Spanish interpreters. The bad news? You’ve got competition, as there are a lot of highly qualified Spanish interpreters out there already. You need to stand out from the pack in order to get hired.
If you speak a “language of lesser diffusion,” that is, a language that is not so commonly spoken in the U.S., there’s also good news and bad news. The good news is that there is very little competition for jobs, and language service providers are always desperate for good interpreters in these languages. The bad news? There’s not a lot of demand, that is, there aren’t a lot of appointments in these languages. As a result, very few organizations hire staff interpreters in these languages, and while on-site interpreting agencies may be happy to have you on their list of available interpreters, you probably won’t get much work. You will most likely do better working with a remote interpreting service (telephonic or video) that serves large medical centers all over the country, as these are the companies that will have enough demand in your language pair to keep you busy.
Your interpreting credentials
Do you have any basic training? Any continuing education? What about certification? And experience?
As far as employers are concerned, the more formal education, interpreter training and interpreting experience you have, the more competitive you are as a candidate. Some jobs will require national certification as well, especially for Spanish interpreters and especially for staff positions.
This is one of the reasons why taking basic training and getting nationally certified are such good ideas. Taking periodic continuing education classes will also make you stand out, as well as, of course, improving your knowledge and skills. But how do you get that experience when you need experience in order to get hired?
Your best bet is to seek out volunteer interpreting opportunities near where you live. This might be through the local chapter of the American Red Cross, through your church, through the local school district or through private non-profit organizations that serve immigrant or refugee communities. Start with low acuity assignments, that is, those assignments in which the potential consequences of making a mistake are not so serious. Before you know it, you’ll have a variety of experiences to list on your resume, making you a more competitive candidate.
Your interpersonal skills and professionalism
Lastly, whether you are being considered for a staff position or a freelance job, those who hire interpreters want people with solid interpersonal skills and a professional demeanor. Employers know that the way you present yourself to them will be the way you present yourself on the job. So, make sure your application is well written and proofread; this shows attention to detail and suggests that you’ll fill out encounter forms and other paperwork accurately. Have a resume and a business card ready; this shows that you consider yourself a professional. Dress in conservative “business casual” or even a suit and tie; better overdressed than underdressed! Be on time for interviews; this suggests that you’ll be on time for appointments. Be confident, friendly and honest about your qualifications.
For many community interpreters, their work is not “just a job.” But whether this is for you a mission, a paycheck or both, position yourself so that when you find an opening you want, it’s not “just a job”, but YOUR job.
Be the Bridge!
Learn more about getting trained as an interpreter at https://www.vcinm.org/.