Case study

Translator — Cecily

Cecily studied modern and medieval languages. She believes that time spent abroad alongside relevant work experience helped her to secure a job as a translator

How did you get your job?

When I graduated with a degree in modern and medieval languages (Spanish and modern Greek), I went back to the city in Greece where I had spent my year abroad. I taught English as a foreign language for three and a half years and picked up voluntary translation experience whenever I could.

I left Greece to do a five-month traineeship at the European Commission's Directorate-General for Translation (DGT). It was a very valuable experience, both in terms of motivating me to pursue a career in translation and more specifically in gaining knowledge of EU institutions and preparing me for the competition that would result in my current post.

I hadn't completed a specialised Masters degree in translation, but the traineeship equipped me to apply for translation posts and I secured a job as a technical translator in France, where I worked until I took up my position at DGT around nine months ago.

I was able to sit the first two stages of the competition in the French city where I was living, and I prepared for it by using targeted books and online exercises.

How relevant is your degree to your job?

I believe my subject of study, and particularly my decision to study a more unusual language, played an important role in securing my current job. However, a degree in languages is not essential - a lot of my colleagues have come to translation by very different routes.

My languages degree and my successful placement year abroad encouraged me to move abroad for several years after graduation, and I'm sure that this experience with language 'in the field' was equally instrumental in securing my job.

What are your main work activities?

I am usually working on several documents at the same time, which will be at different stages of the translation process. A typical day will consist of some drafting, some proof-reading, discussing improvements with revisers or revising colleagues' work as well as helping prepare longer documents for outsourcing.

Apart from discussions with colleagues I usually work alone, but the day is often broken up by a language class or conversation table, which brings me into regular contact with others.

My working hours are flexible and I am largely in charge of managing my own workload, so my routine can vary from one day to the next.

What do you enjoy about your job?

My favourite thing about this job is the variety of the work, both in terms of languages and content. I may be translating a Greek financial text one day and then a French text on agriculture, or a Spanish one on energy, the next.

It is a job where you never stop learning, both formally through regular seminars and language classes and informally through the texts you come across on a daily basis.

What are the most challenging parts of your job?

Being largely responsible for managing my own workload requires a high degree of autonomy and organisation. Predicting how long I will need to complete a task or judging whether I can fit in an urgent translation and still keep to my existing longer deadlines are some of the daily challenges.

Any advice for someone who wants to get into this job?

My main advice is to be careful with your language choices. An unusual language is attractive to employers and helps your CV stand out, but all posts in the European Institutions also require you to have French or German (as an English native speaker) and unusual languages may be less useful in the private sector.

I would also strongly recommend a traineeship such as the one offered by DGT - having constant feedback from experienced translators is a valuable learning opportunity, as well as giving you key work experience early in your career.

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