Blog post dated Oct 7, 2019

Career Options after Earning a Degree in Translation

The question I probably asked myself the most while studying translation was "what are my career prospects?" I already knew that I could become a translator, but let's be realistic – when you're 18, you rarely know exactly what you want to do. Answers to the question frequently include "something with languages" or "something with computers," but rarely do you have all of your career moves planned out at the beginning of your studies.

In the meantime, I now have a much better idea of what careers someone with a translation degree can work in if they do not (immediately) want to go into business for themselves or find a full-time job as a translator. Incidentally, as of September 2018, only 8,813 people worked as full-time translators for companies in Germany (source: German Federal Employment Agency).

An Article by

Flurina Schwendimann
Content Management, Across Systems

In this article you will find out what your career prospects are after studying translation if you do not want to work as a translator.

As part of my research, I had to ask myself whether or not I should advise prospective or freelance translators to choose a different career in this article. I want to clearly state right from the start that this isn't the case. Translating is an exciting profession, but it's good to know that earning a translation degree opens up a number of other options.

So what fields can a translator work in? There are numerous possibilities: marketing, journalism, recruitment, publishing, media, project management, relocation management, support, technical writing (with additional training), PR, social media, teaching (with additional training), etc.

We spoke with seven people who originally studied translation and now work in different fields. We would like to thank them for their stories and career ideas.

Azadeh Eshaghi, Freelance Consultant for Terminology and Knowledge Management

Career

I studied international technical communication at the Magdeburg-Stendal University of Applied Sciences. The focus of my studies was on technical translation, but we also had the opportunity to specialize in other areas, which I did. I quickly realized that I enjoyed working with terminology, and I ultimately wrote my undergraduate thesis in this field for a company that hired me as a terminology and translation manager. 

After several years of working as an employee, my field of activity became too narrow for me and I wanted to leave and continue to advance.
I have now worked as a freelance consultant for terminology and knowledge management for six and a half years. I'm steadily expanding my area of business and I enjoy the freedom to start projects and try out new activities or things that are important to me without having to first convince a long chain of superiors and then ask for permission. 

This freedom not only stimulates my creativity, but also helps me grow. Lifelong learning is an approach to life that requires practical experience beyond a degree program, advanced training, or independent study. Only then can you actually transform information into valuable knowledge.

Degree Program

Before studying international technical communication, I studied business administration for three semesters. The program simply wasn't right for me at the time – I just couldn't identify with the extremely dry subject matter. After that, I wanted to study "something with languages," but from a practical perspective. Business translation was my solution. This would allow me to connect business administration with languages – at least that's what I thought. It was only after my internship abroad, where I finally became familiar with the technical side, that I changed direction toward technical translation. I discovered terminology work during the main study period, and that's when I finally knew where I was headed. The idea behind the relationship between concepts and their terms was something that had always interested me before.
After my studies, I decided to take an advanced training course to learn the different techniques of interpreting and note-taking. And when I went into business for myself, I finally started interpreting.
For the last three or four years, I've worked as an interpreter primarily in the medical and psychotherapeutic sectors, which means that I'm deeply immersed in completely different fields that I find extremely fascinating.

Translation

Let me start by saying that I find translating itself very interesting. The creativity, the in-depth research, and the unbelievable amount of general and specialist knowledge you gain are incredibly appealing aspects. But that's not enough for me personally. I want more variety, more strategic responsibility, more organization, even more creativity, and above all more teamwork and more frequent contact with specialists from other fields. 

During my four years as a lecturer at a vocational school, I taught prospective translators, primarily in the field of technical translation (FR-DE, EN-DE). I always advised my students to stay up to date with the latest technology. Work according to the latest standards. Stay informed, educate yourself, leave the comfort of your own home, and form networks. 
I would also like to pass on some advice that a lecturer once gave me: "Never do a job you don't enjoy!" Be creative, find new ways to do things, and push yourself outside of your comfort zone every now and then to try out something new and develop.

After several years of working as an employee, my field of activity became too narrow for me and I wanted to leave and continue to advance.

Anna Kraft, Teacher at a Vocational School for Childcare

Career

I teach German and English at a private school in classes attended by future childcare workers. My daily activities are similar to those of a normal teacher: preparing lesson plans and classroom teaching, reviewing and documenting students' performance, keeping track of grades and attendance, class teacher activities, participating in team and teacher conferences, parent-teacher meetings, etc.

The day-to-day work of a teacher poses new challenges each and every day. You are constantly confronted with different faces, personalities, people, worries, and problems. I was more or less thrown in at the deep end. It certainly helped that I've basically always wanted to teach and that during my degree program, I concentrated on didactics and educational science in my part-time jobs, in my private life, or while exploring other subjects outside my studies. But theoretical knowledge is one thing – practical experience is a whole different kettle of fish, and I will never forget my first day standing in front of a class for seven hours.

Degree Program

I studied translation in Heidelberg and graduated with a bachelor's degree. But afterwards I realized that I'd rather do my master's in a different field. After all, I studied German as a second language.

While studying translation, I learned some of the skills that now help me in my current profession. On the one hand, I was able to improve my language skills in Spanish and English (even though I don't teach Spanish at the moment), and on the other hand, I was able to considerably improve my writing style, which is especially useful when grading my students' writing. In addition, there are all the other skills that you learn during an academic program, like working independently and exploring new subject areas, being able to articulate your ideas in an academic manner, reaching informed opinions, being able to think analytically, etc.

Translation

I decided not to work as a translator because I can't imagine working in a profession where I have to sit for extended periods of time and work exclusively with computers or the Internet over longer stretches of time. I enjoy translating – but it's not 100% consistent with my abilities.

I could imagine working as a translator at some point, however only on the side. In order for translating to be really interesting to me, we'd probably have to travel back to the Stone Age so that I wouldn't always have to be on a computer. Students always bring me back down to earth with their major and minor problems – they reveal a completely different world to me. I don't think a client or a supervisor at an office could ever do that.

One tip I would give to any aspiring translator is to try it out, and if it's not for you, there are other things you can do. Translating can be fun, even if you don't view as your purpose in life.

Theoretical knowledge is one thing – practical experience is a whole different kettle of fish, and I will never forget my first day standing in front of a class for seven hours.

Evelyn Fischer, Customer Care Advisor at Roche Diabetes Care Germany

Career

After earning my bachelor's degree in translation, I successfully completed the TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) master's program in the United States, and then returned to Germany. I then taught German at the Summer School in Mannheim. Afterwards, I began working in translation management as a project manager, translator, and proofreader. I did this for three and a half years, then left the medium-sized company and switched to translation management at Deutsche Bahn, where I worked as a project manager. Today I work as a Customer Care Advisor at Roche Diabetes Care Germany.

In this capacity, I'm currently responsible for providing technical support for the Netherlands. Specifically, this means I assist private clients, doctors, pharmacies, and hospitals when it comes to issues related to blood glucose meters. Later, I will also be responsible for other countries, most likely Belgium, Germany, and/or Great Britain.

I took an unconventional career path and was hired based on my linguistic qualifications. In this case, I clearly had an advantage because I studied a "minor" language.

Degree Program

I decided to study translation because my aunt and uncle are both translators and I also wanted to become a literary translator when I was younger. That's what inspired me to enroll in this degree program, which I enjoyed very much.

At that time, however, I had no idea that I would have so many career options after graduating! To be honest, the wide range of options was a bit too much for me at first, because I couldn't really decide what I actually wanted to do. The only thing I knew for sure was that I didn't want to be self-employed right after earning my degree.

A number of skills I learned during my studies are still useful to me today. Being able to quickly switch between languages is definitely helpful in my current job. I also use the note-taking technique that I learned back then from time to time.

Translation

I worked as a translator for seven years during my studies and later on the side to earn some extra money. But going completely into business for myself is something that I've never wanted to do.

I don't want to rule out working as a translator again in the future, but I enjoy my current job very much. I still dream of a position that also allows me to translate too, however. So I can certainly imagine working as a translator again in the future – just not only as a translator. I personally find the actual translation work too lonely.

Here are a few tips for budding translators: do internships, study the industry, try out different jobs – I would have liked to get more insight into the different career options. There are some really great careers out there that you probably wouldn't even consider at first. And if you want to the leap into self-employment, talk to other freelancers about how they did it. This is because what you frequently hear at college (especially when it comes to pricing) often turns out to be somewhat unrealistic in the real world – at least for people just starting their careers.

Here are a few tips for budding translators: do internships, study the industry and try out different jobs.

Stephanie Piehl, Terminologist at Agilent Technologies

Career

After studying translation, I first tried to gain initial professional experience by working on smaller translation projects on a freelance basis. But I actually wanted to work as a full-time translator, preferably at a larger law firm. When I earned my degree back in 2006, however, most companies outsourced translation work, and hardly any of them were willing to pay for the luxury of a full-time translator.

After a while, I started to put out my feelers in the industry and then ultimately took a job as a project manager at a small translation agency. Due to the size of the company, we handled a lot of proofreading work and even smaller translation jobs internally, so I wasn't too far removed from actually working as a translator and, at the same time, I was able to gain valuable insight into the administrative and organizational side of the translation business – acquiring clients and consulting on CAT tools and terminology work were also part of my day-to-day work, for example.

After two and a half years at that company, I switched to a different language service provider, also as a project manager for translation projects. Here my work was more limited to just project management, however – they didn't need me to do any linguistic or translation work. This is why, after two and a half years, I decided to work as a freelancer again. But I didn't limit myself to just translating, however, and instead also offered project management and localization consulting services. One of my largest clients at that time was Agilent. I was responsible for managing localization projects for the German-speaking region and, thanks to my professional experience, was also able to help with issues related to translation management systems and terminology management.

When Agilent made the decision to handle terminology management internally in 2016, I was offered the newly created position as a terminologist, which I can now perform entirely as I see fit.

In my current role, I am responsible for terminology management (with English as the source language and nine target languages), managing the terminology databases (TermWeb and Acrolinx), term extraction from existing publications, working with the various product lines to create and maintain the (new) product and part names and the corresponding technical terms, collaborating with the localization team on the localization of extracted terminology, Acrolinx and terminology training for internal and external staff, creating and maintaining style guides for localization, and continuously updating and documenting all of the processes related to terminology work.

I have always been interested in terminology – in fact, my undergraduate thesis was a terminology project. As a freelancer, my current employer Agilent was already one of my clients, and because of my professional experience and the fact that I had steadily completed further training in CAT tools and terminology over the years, I was often able to help out with issues related to these areas, especially if the consultant who was in charge of terminology management at the time was not available because they were in a different time zone.

Degree Program

It was only natural for me to study translation, as I always received very good grades in languages at school with very little effort. When I had the opportunity to attend a conference where interpreters were being used, I made my career choice. During the basic study period, students could take classes in both translation and interpreting, so that they could get a taste of both areas. This is when I realized that I actually enjoyed devoting much more time to written works in order to find the perfect wording than is possible with interpreting. So in the end, I ultimately decided to become a translator.

During my studies, I didn't realistically know what career options I would have. Towards the end of our degree program, they held an information evening on various professions. But the image of a translator's professional situation presented there wasn't realistic (or maybe not anymore by the time I earned my degree). Back then I thought that I could probably work as a court interpreter – in a full-time position, of course...

To be absolutely honest, I didn't really learn much during my studies that is still helpful to me today. In my current job, you need to have an excellent technical understanding of the various tools. Unfortunately, this was not taught at all at that time. There were maybe one or two CAT tool courses per semester, but they were always overcrowded. Terminology management wasn't really covered at all. The only thing we were advised to do was to create a glossary for the technical translation exercises.

The intercultural skills that were taught during the program are the main thing that really still benefits me now, because today I work with people from a wide variety of different cultural backgrounds.

Translation

I worked as a translator for about three years, but decided to switch careers, mainly because I don't like the uncertainty associated with working as a freelancer. And I also wasn't a big fan of chasing after unpaid invoices, which happens quite often. Unfortunately, full-time positions in this field are still extremely rare.

If I wasn't as happy in my current job as I am today, I might be able to imagine working as a translator again in the future. I simply enjoy working with languages and am happy if I succeed in bridging the gap between two languages and in doing so, making content accessible to more people.

My tips for aspiring translators: You should look through job listings in the field that you want to work in after graduation to see what skills are required. You can then do advanced training in these areas and simultaneously gain a good overview of the job market.

As a translator, there are many doors open to you – sometimes down unconventional career paths. And it often pays to think outside the box. For example, a former fellow student now works as a teacher and is extremely happy.

I have always been interested in terminology – in fact, my undergraduate thesis was a terminology project.

Luna Dreyer, Executive Recruitment Consultant at Projectus Consulting

Career

After participating in the Erasmus Plus program in Spain, I got my first job as an international sales representative thanks to my language combination. I took a semester off for this job, and as a result, I already had a job as an account manager at a marketing company in the DACH region after earning my bachelor's degree. Then, only one year later, I succeeded in doubling my salary as a Success Partner Manager. After that I worked for an Australian investment group as a project manager on a temporary project. Today I work as a headhunter in the oncology sector and am responsible for the Iberian Peninsula and the DACH region. As a headhunter, I interview potential candidates over the phone and guide them through the recruitment process. I wouldn't have gotten my current position without my previous experience in sales.

Degree Program

I'm half German and half Spanish. Since I learned both languages as a child, it's easy for me to communicate in both languages. I decided to study translation because it was the easiest course of study for me, but had no clue what my career prospects would be at the time.

The degree program was helpful in that I learned how large the world is and that our decisions shape us for life. There are almost endless opportunities out there, you just have to be brave enough to seize them.

Translation

Being a freelance translator is just too risky for me. The competition is fierce and unfortunately, translators often don't get the appreciation they deserve. I don't want to have to depend on a second job to make ends meet. That's why I couldn't imagine working as a translator in the future. It's very difficult to achieve financial security. The focus of my career is on international sales. Since I speak several languages, I interact with many different people and can travel frequently.

My personal tip for translation students: You should strive to become proficient in Excel as early as possible. The application isn't only important for personal financial management, but can also replace a variety of other tools. Besides that, you should travel as much as possible and meet new people – after all, networking is the key to finding a good job.

As a headhunter, I interview potential candidates over the phone and guide them through the recruitment process.

Christian Szymala, Support Specialist at Across Systems

Career

I studied languages, culture, and translation in Germersheim and earned my degree in translation in the fall of 2012. I began translating freelance for LSPs and private clients during my studies. I soon realized that I didn't want to pursue a career as a freelance translator, however. Before I joined Across in February 2016, I worked as a technical writer and translation manager for two smaller service providers specialized in technical communications.

I currently work for Across in 3rd level support. My duties include:

  • Handling tickets that couldn't be solved by 1st and 2nd level support
  • Independently reproducing, testing, and offering solutions/workarounds for customers, either via ticket system or remote session
  • Deciding whether a ticket should be sent to the development team as a service request or whether it can also be solved with the help of the consulting team. If a solution isn't available, I create the service requests for the developers
  • Requesting or creating additional data for customer analysis
  • "Translating" technical explanations for customers into plain language
  • Acting as a direct point of contact for four of six premium customers
  • Maintaining our internal knowledge base and documenting solved cases

 

Getting started in support wasn't easy, especially since I lacked the IT background in the beginning. I got off on the right foot thanks to my coworkers really helping me get up to speed and my ability to quickly learn new things and try new things on my own – you have to own your shortcomings, as they say.

Degree Program

I grew up bilingual (German and Polish). This meant that my linguistic skills were more developed than other areas. My goal was actually to find a job where I could have a lot of contact with Poland. My potential career options only began to reveal themselves during my studies. The first and most obvious choice was a career as a translator. But this job became less and less interesting to me because it's hard to find a good job as a full-time translator and working as a freelancer can be tough going. But I learned a number of valuable skills while studying translation, especially communication and the ability to express answers in both my native and foreign languages. During my studies, I also learned how to work independently in areas outside of my field of study, how to conduct research, as well as flexibility and cultural competence.

Translation

I worked as a translator on a part-time basis for five years. I already knew during my studies that I did not want to work as a freelancer. I need to be able to interact with coworkers, and I personally believe the job doesn't offer enough variety. I also don't like working from home, it isn't financially stable enough, and I can plan my schedule better working as an employee.

As an aspiring translator, having a good command of a foreign language and your native language is only one aspect. Software skills are at least as important (and not just CAT tools), as is knowledge of business, law, technology, etc. You should complete internships during your studies in order to know whether you really want to work as a translator. They are also a good way to get to know other areas and explore possible career alternatives.

Often times, you only realize what you really want to do professionally while on the job. The faster you come to this realization, the better when you apply. A translation degree opens up a number of career opportunities, you just need to start thinking about what you're going to do early on.

I got off on the right foot thanks to my coworkers really helping me get up to speed and my ability to quickly learn new things and try new things on my own.

Céline Kuklik, Intern at the ifp Catholic School of Journalism

Career

While working on my master's thesis last year, I applied for an editorial internship at a number of public broadcasting companies – with zero success. Then I applied to the ifp Catholic School of Journalism in Munich, and successfully completed the different stages of the application process. And now I've been an intern here since October 2018. I bridged the time until then working various odd jobs, for example as a research editor at Saarländischer Rundfunk, a public broadcaster, as an employee at Saarländischer Filmförderung, a film funding agency, and as an assistant to the production manager on a film project.

Today I produce cross-media print, radio, online, and TV content. In this context, I either independently select topics or they are assigned to me. I research, conduct interviews, edit my material (i.e. cut it for radio or TV), and copywrite by myself. As I am not legally allowed to assume any editorial responsibility in my position, I have designated contacts at the editorial departments that I work with.

As far as my career situation goes, I'm what you'd call a "late bloomer." Many people gain initial experience in journalism in their teens, such as by working for the school newspaper, and then complete their mandatory school internship at a newspaper. I've always toyed with the idea of becoming a journalist, but never took the plunge, since there's really no direct way into this profession – like studying medicine, for example, and then becoming a doctor almost automatically.

I started writing for a local equestrian magazine while pursuing my master's degree in translation – I simply called the editor-in-chief and asked her if I could write for her magazine and she was immediately very receptive and gave me a chance without ever having read anything I'd written! This got my foot in the door, and I clawed my way into internships and then freelance work. Now I've completed one of about two years of my editorial internship, but even before this I realized I had a passion for television. That's why I'd like to work as a TV editor in the future, and also as a freelance journalist, because I don't want to give up translating completely.

Degree Program

I decided to pursue a bachelor's degree in comparative linguistics because I had always been good at languages in school. After earning my bachelor's degree, I actually wanted to study conference interpreting, but realized that it wasn't for me. This meant studying translation was the logical alternative. As for my career options, I approached the whole thing quite naively.

In my current job, I have to familiarize myself with a wide variety of subjects, which is something I experienced during my studies. As an aspiring journalist, you also have to be a communicative person, which was emphasized in the degree program's more practical subjects – like how to acquire customers and how to communicate with them while working on the project, etc.

Translation

I don't want to completely rule out the possibility of working as a translator in the future, at least maybe some of the time. But the job always seemed quite lonely to me – you sit at home at your computer and translate and don't really interact with people in person, unless you're hunting for new clients at a trade show. As a journalist, I make my living telling stories about people.

My tip for would-be translators: Don't insist on only translating in the future, there are so many other exciting careers that you are qualified to pursue with this degree.

Today I produce cross-media print, radio, online, and TV content. In this context, I either independently select topics or they are assigned to me.

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