CVs (or résumés in the US) are a wonderful tool. But whenever I hold a webinar or workshop that even touches on CVs, you can bet there will be plenty of questions.
I find that, when written well, CVs not only help you to show your value to future clients. They are also fantastic at keeping your assignments organized. For example, they could help you keep records to become a member of a professional association.
But once you become a member of that association, do you often think that you don’t need a CV?
One of the things that always puzzled me before I became an AIIC member was how few members had CVs ready to send out. “I’m in the book,” seemed to be the standard response. When I requested one from AIIC members, it took them ages to write something up.
Even though many people trumpet the death of the CV, I still find myself sending out several a year. You can send CVs both in response to direct requests and in prospecting for new clients.
Let’s start with what you should include:
👉 Your name
👉 Your language combination
👉 Your contact details
👉 Your skills
👉 Your relevant experience
👉 The technology you own, use, or have experience with
👉 Your relevant education or specialized training and publications
👉 Your specialties or “Areas of Greatest Experience”
👉 Optional: your professional photograph
👉 Extra: watermark
These elements are pretty much what you will find in anyone’s CV, interpreters or not. If this is what everyone includes, why is it so difficult to write a good CV?
Myth 1: CVs are tools for beginners.
Seasoned professionals think that their experience speaks for itself. They are on the roster of vetted interpreters of their association, and that should be enough.
But clients in many fields often ask for and receive CVs for all sorts of jobs. You need to fit yourself into their world in a way that they understand. And CVs not only give an idea of your experience, but also show your attention to detail and presentation.
Myth 2: Regular old CVs are passé, and you should have a graphic CV.
No one needs anything super trendy, with icons that confuse people. A good old-fashioned CV that is well-formatted will serve you just fine!
You can find all sorts of CV-builders or resume-builders online. Your professional association may have one, which allows you to brand yourself with their logo as well. Online tools help in that you don’t have to worry about formatting, and you will still have a nicelooking CV.
(download an example of my own AIIC-branded CV from my directory page, here)
Myth 3: You should fit in everything you have ever done! After all, potential clients need a full picture…
Your CV is part of your personal brand. To simplify my post on branding, a brand is a curated view of what you can do.
If you fill the page with writing and have hardly any white space for the words to stand out, you had better use a larger font. Who knows who will be looking at your CV in the future – and how old their eyes are?
As to curating what you can do … keep reading this article!
Your Biggest Mistake
The biggest mistake you can make is that you send the same CV to everyone – hoping they will see your value. But how will a potential client see the value you can bring if you don’t tailor your CV to that client?
Are you sending it to another interpreter or translator? An agency? A direct client? Answers to these questions will tell you how to showcase your information.
Are you sending it to law firms? Construction businesses? Universities? This tells you what experience would be relevant to include.
Example: Showcase Your Languages
Let me give you some examples of different ways to show your language combination, using my own.
If you send your CV to an interpreter from the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC), to international organizations, or to agencies in Europe, you would use the A, B, C classification.
👉 For example, my own combination would be A: English, B: Russian, and C: French.
If you send your CV to an interpreter or agency not familiar with AIIC, you could still use some jargon.
👉 For example: Native: English, Active: Russian, Passive: French.
If you send it to clients who are not interpreters or translators, you should avoid jargon at all costs. You could use arrows, or the words “from” and “into.” Be as clear as possible, and spell out all language abbreviations.
👉 Russian/French > English, English > Russian.
👉 I work from Russian and French into English, and from English into Russian.
Example: Showcase Your Skills
You should also change your approach in explaining your skills.
If you write to a colleague or an agency that works with interpreters, do use the jargon: simultaneous interpreting, consecutive interpreting, whisper interpreting, etc.
But if you write to people who have little experience with interpreters, explain your skills instead.
👉 “Interpret with no specialized equipment, speaking after the speaker has finished speaking.”
👉 “Interpret with specialized equipment, in real time, in a team of two or more.”
Example: Relevant Information
Intermediaries have their own requirements that differ from what direct clients need.
If you send a CV to an intermediary, you should include a section on the technology that you own, use, or have experience with.
👉 RSI platforms want to know your upload and download speeds.
👉 They will want to know what headsets and microphones you own.
👉 Agencies will want to know what platforms you have worked or trained on.
Example: Relevant Experience
The single most important part of your CV is your experience. And this is where you will truly show you are thinking of your client.
What I have done throughout my career is keep a list of all my jobs in a simple spreadsheet. I have filled in a table with:
👉 meeting name, and
👉 meeting location.
You could add any other tags you want, such as:
👉 Client name
👉 Type of client (direct, agency, colleague, international organization, etc.)
👉 Simple Client Relationship Management information
👉 Payment terms vs when they actually paid
👉 Any rating system to show how much you liked working with that client
👉 If you organized the meeting, extra costs and income from that meeting
👉 Etc. etc. etc.
If your data is in a table, you can then sort it by any column. For your CV, you would sort by topic, and create groups of similar jobs, or what I call experience modules. You can then swap these modules in and out of your CV, depending on your target audience.
Remember not to give away confidential details! On my own CV, I use the format: <Name of Meeting>, <City/Organization of Meeting>, <Year>. This gives little away, but is detailed enough to show that I actually have this experience.
When you need to send a CV to a law firm, swap in the module with your legal experience. If you need to send a CV to a particular company, then swap in the module showcasing your relevant experience.
My entire CV is 7 pages long (and growing) – but people almost never see all 7 pages.
My first page is a traditional CV with all the information in my opening list above, and a bird’s eye view of my experience.
After that comes my “Work Experience Appendix.”
For the appendix, all my experience is grouped into modules: Aerospace, Business, Development, Nuclear (civil and military)… The last pages list my training experience.
Modular CVs save a lot of time. You could write your entire CV on one page, with a dedicated space for the relevant module. Then swap in the modules as you need them.
Agencies and others may ask for your CV, to keep it on file or to use to win a bid on a job. But we have all seen examples where they use it to get the job, and then hire someone else, without your qualifications.
So, if you do send a CV, at the very least use the PDF format.
It would also be good to include a watermark – a phrase that shows up behind your CV. For example, the wording could be: “This résumé is for information only and is not for job tenders.” This is the wording in the watermark for the AIIC résumé builder, and what you see in the background of my own CV (again, here).
Of course, anyone with tech knowledge can still strip out and use your information. But at least you will have made it more difficult for them.
Adding Value or Noise?
It’s always a good question to ask yourself before sending anything to your prospects. Are you adding value to their work? Or are you simply noise that they can ignore?
If you tailor your CV to the client’s areas of expertise, and show them only relevant information, then you will keep their attention for longer.
However, if you send the same CV to everyone, there is no story for them to latch onto. They will see all these areas you could help, but nothing jumps out at them to say, “This is the person we need!”
Tailoring your CV helps them see a story;
👉 We have this problem.
👉 This person has dealt with this problem in the past.
👉 Let’s use this person to solve our problem.
Not only does it give potential clients a reason to hire you. It also gives them a reason to consider you an expert, and not simply an interchangeable dictionary on legs that shouldn’t cost a lot.
And we all want to be considered experts, right?
A shorter version of this article was originally published in the American Translators Association’s The Savvy Newcomer.