Webinar question: Does age matter?

Yesterday I had the pleasure of presenting a webinar on Getting Started as a Freelance Translator as part of ATA’s ongoing series of online educational sessions. I think that it went well, with huge thanks to Lucy Brooks of eCPD Webinars and Mary David and Naomi Sutcliffe de Moraes of ATA. Lots of participants submitted questions, but we only got to a few of them before our time ran out. I’ve started a new blog category, “Webinar questions,” in order to answer some more of them here. Thanks to everyone who participated!

A participant asks: Can one be too old to begin a translation business (for example, as indicated by degree completion years) or do prospective employers generally not care?
Short answer: As a freelancer, I wouldn’t worry about age too much. If you’re up-to-date enough to participate in a webinar and even submit a question, I think you’re fine.

Longer answer: This worry applies to both ends of the spectrum: 22 year old new graduates and 68 year old retirees often ask “Will clients take me seriously?” In both cases, I think the answer is “yes,” if you keep a few important factors in mind:

  • As a group, freelance translators aren’t that young. Case in point: I’m 39 and have an 8 year old child, and I’m regularly referred to as a “girl” or “young lady” by elder members of the profession. The oldest freelancer I’ve heard of was in his early 90s and I know of  numerous successful freelancers in the 70+ bracket.
  • Degree completion years? For a US resumé, I’d leave them off. After all, age discrimination is illegal and as long as you can do the job, your clients really don’t need to know how old you are. Likewise, I know several translators in their 60s and beyond who deliberately do not put their photo on their marketing materials.
  • Whether you’re on the young or old end of the freelance spectrum, keep the negative stereotypes of your age group in mind and defy them. For example, take the stereotype that older workers are set in their ways and resist new technologies. Beat this image by pointing out that you’ve recently participated in a webinar (or even more than one!) for freelance translators, that you use Skype to communicate with your clients and colleagues and that you’re really looking forward to getting to know your clients’ preferences and style guidelines. If you’re in your 20s, pay particular attention to being reliable, responsible and possibly more formal than you would be otherwise. For example, a conference interpreter training program director in the UK recently attributed the EU’s difficulty in finding new into-English interpreters to the candidates’ poor skills in their native language: Many of the young hopefuls cannot speak in the appropriate “register” for the event they would be interpreting. Their only modes of speech are informal, peppered with “like”, for instance, she says. They misuse words and don’t know the subtle differences between synonyms. So, brush up on your formal speaking skills before you go for the interview!
  • For better or worse, freelance translation is a real meritocracy. On the one hand I think that most clients, at least in the US, are largely concerned with your ability to do a good job and don’t really care if you’re older or younger than they expected. On the other hand, one flubbed assignment can get you kicked to the electronic curb, so make sure to keep your focus on outstanding work.

I’ll be answering more questions from the webinar soon!

8 Responses to “Webinar question: Does age matter?”
  1. Charles Rothwell November 10, 2010
    • Corinne McKay November 12, 2010
  2. Caitilin Walsh November 11, 2010
    • Corinne McKay November 12, 2010
  3. Michael November 11, 2010
    • Corinne McKay November 12, 2010
  4. Charles Rothwell November 11, 2010
    • Corinne McKay November 12, 2010

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