Friday, March 28, 2014

On Freelancing

Conference interpreters work as staff in large international organizations or contractors. The magic of outsourcing and the #freemarket have actually made most interpreters work as independent contractors, or as it is most commonly known, freelancers. In fact, only an infinitesimal percentage of interpreters get to ride the permanent staff gravy train in places like the European Union, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, and NATO.
As a freelancer, you’ll enjoy unprecedented levels of #freedom and #flexibility, as well as experience the excitement of running your own business. Forget the 9 to 5 office drudgery, and stodgy socialist concepts like a regular paycheck and social benefits: you are now the lone ranger of added-value creation in the Wild Wild West that is the Language Services Industry.
Unlike an employee, you will not work during certain times of the year. Peak seasons for conference interpreting run from March to July and September to November. This means two things:
1-    During peak season, you will be à droite et à gauche. Murcia on Tuesday, Bern on Wednesday, and Gdansk on Thursday. Your bedtime reading will be embargoed documents that no one could send you until 9 p.m. the night before. You will sip on tea hoping for your melodic voice to recover, and spend your only day off in bed lying in a heap of exhaustion and discarded draft agendas. Friends? Who needs those when you have an assigning officer?

1.1 This is, of course, if you are in an in-demand booth, like the Chinese or the Arabic booth. In the other booths, peak season is whenever people need to learn English, have translations done, or are looking for au pairs.

2-    During low season, it’s time to kick back, relax, and enjoy underemployment. Take pleasure in swiping your carte bleue and watching the balance dwindle as you check it nervously, twice a day.  Thank god BNP Paribas now has an iPhone app, right?! Send emails to your employers reminding them that their payment for your invoice is 8 months late. Receive a curt response, and subtle threats of never being hired again. Become familiar with UNWeb TV, as it will be your only form practice so as to not lose your simultaneous technique, unless someone still in an EMCI programme can secretly share the password to (don’t tell anyone, bitte!). And finally, take time to reconnect with your loved ones and field questions about “getting a real job.”
However, it is not all the swing of the seasons, greasy food from the airport McDo, and generally being a brown noser. As a freelancer, you are essentially an entrepreneur. Hope you got mad business skills because homey will be doing accounting, collections, and marketing. The payoff for all your hard work is that half your cash will be spent on taxes to pay for things like la sécu and le remboursement de la dette sociale. It may be painful, but be glad you aren’t in #America, where only millionaires are allowed to visit professionally trained doctors!

Additionally, much of your time will be spent managing your professional calendar. ¡Cuando no hay sequía, hay huracán!  When it rains, it pours! Major interpreter employers have a vested interest in fostering rivalry, miscommunication, and paranoia among their pool of freelancers. Divide ut regnes! There are many murky systems to do this, depending on which market or geographical region you work in.  
Do the words “inquiry”, “option”, “firm offer”, and “right of first refusal” ring a bell? No?! Your plucky interpreting teachers didn’t mention this a single time during your two-year (or three or four, depending on how many times they failed you) EMCI programme? Fear not! Our interpreting intifada at Become a Conference Interpreter! is here to save the day: in our next post we shall explain the finer points of managing your calendar!

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