Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Writing Good Letters of Inquiry: Advice for Freelancers

Lately, there’s been a plethora of new freelance translators wildly sending out their CVs to any translation agencies, companies, or even other freelance translators that they find. Most of us who get these e-mail messages tend to ignore them. Why? What are these new translators doing wrong? Or, rather, let me rephrase that question positively and ask: How should freelancer translators write good letters of inquiry?

First of all, if you’re looking for work – and this applies to any job, not just translation – you need to do some research. I suspect that many of these new translators are buying or finding lists of translation companies on translation websites or else that they are doing quick Google searches and that they don’t bother to carefully look at the companies’ websites before hurriedly sending off letters of interest. If you translate from Spanish to Chinese, there is no point in writing to a company that only works with Scandinavian languages. If you only have experience translating personal letters, don’t try to get work at a company that just hires authorized translators. And, frankly, there isn’t much call at all for you to write to other freelance translators, since chances are that they don’t want or need to hire someone, and that even if they do, they already have the contacts they need. So make sure you check to see what languages and what subjects each potential employer works with, and what needs they might have, before you waste both your time and theirs sending them a letter.

Once you have narrowed down your list and know where you want to inquire about work, you have to write a good, brief letter. Some of the applicants who have sent me letters have rambled on about themselves or mentioned things that have little to do with translation, and that doesn’t make me want to keep reading. Say who you are, what your background is, what you can offer the company you are writing to, and why you are interested in just that company. Each letter should be personalized; it is always obvious when someone is sending out a mass mailing (especially when there are lots of e-mail addresses listed in the “To” and “CC” fields, which really looks unprofessional) and mass mailings show that little thought or effort went into it, and that won’t make people want to hire you. This is why research is so essential; if you know something about the company, you’ll be able to add a sentence or two about why you would fit in well with their business objectives and needs. If they haven’t advertised for new freelancers (and, of course, even if they have), then you have to be able to clearly and succinctly explain why they ought to consider you.

Speaking of personalization, find out the actual name of the person you are writing to and don’t just write “Dear Madam/Sir.” If you are unsure of the gender of the person you are addressing, study the company’s website a little more; usually, the biographical information will refer to the person as “he” or “she” and then you know whether to use “Mr.” or “Ms.” Don’t use first names (or any other casual language or slang, for that matter) and make sure you spell the name of the person and the company correctly. In fact, check all your spelling carefully. Correct spelling and good language usage are always important, but this is particularly the case when you want to work with language!

So, if you want your letters of inquiry to be read, start by doing thorough research, then target your letters appropriately, write personalized and brief letters, and use correct, polite language. If you take the time and make the effort to look for work in this way, potential employers will see that you are conscientious and careful, and they will be more likely to consider your application, instead of just reading a sentence or two, getting frustrated and annoyed, and deleting your letter.


Kristen King, Inkthinker said...

Great advice, and much needed!


B.J. Epstein said...

Thank you very much, Kristen!

Best wishes,