Freelance translators need to keep their pitches professional and concise. Below are five tips for writing a great freelance translator cover letter.
After having received hundreds upon hundreds of terrible cover letters over the years, I thought it was time to provide a public service to my colleagues in the industry.
Click below to jump immediately to any tip or view a sample cover letter for freelance translators.
If you find the recommendations below helpful, then share them! (Then check out our other tips or read about falling rates in the translation industry.)
- Personalize the salutation.
- Keep the cover letter body short and sweet.
- Include a call to action.
- Check your spelling and grammar.
- Use formatting to emphasize your points.
5 Tips for Writing a Great Translator Cover Letter
There’s no way to know for sure that your recipient is going to a) read your pitch, b) view it favorably, or c) act on it.
Still, why not give yourself the best chances possible? If you follow these tips, I can guarantee you that at least one translation agency owner in the world (me)—but probably more—won’t delete your email message.
1. Personalize the salutation.
Find out who will likely be reading your email message. Investigate. Explore the agency’s website to find the name and email address of the owner (if it’s a small agency) or the vendor manager (if it’s a large agency).
Now use this name in your salutation: Dear Mr. Jones, To the attention of Ms. Jill Franklin, etc. Even a greeting like Hello, Steve can work in the right context (if you’re writing to an American agency owner who is the same age as you, for example).
The point is that a translator cover letter that’s personalized is much better than one that isn’t.
- Using Mr. [Last Name] or Ms. [Last Name] in your greeting is a safe bet. It’s professional but personalized. It also shows that you care enough to do five minutes of research. (I worry about freelance translators who don’t…)
- Don’t write Dear Sirs. (Remember that 51% of the world’s population won’t answer to that.)
- Don’t write Miss in an English salutation, even if you know that your reader is a young, unmarried woman. (I’m not sure how or why you would know this.) The term has fallen out of favor and is often seen as condescending or presumptuous.
- Don’t use the first name only unless you’re fairly certain that it’s appropriate to do so. I don’t mind at all if strangers address me as Matthew. (It’s my name, after all.) But not every professional is comfortable with this lack of formality. As a translator, you need to use your cultural competence to understand what is appropriate in the target culture. (The “target culture” here is the culture of your reader.)
2. Keep the cover letter body short and sweet.
Introduce yourself, say what you have to say, then end the letter. That’s it.
There’s no need to write a novel to a potential client. People are too busy to read or care about Section 2, Paragraph 3a of your treatise.
Instead, limit the body of the letter to no more than 9 or 10 sentences divided into 3 to 4 paragraphs. (In fact, I’ve seen excellent cover letters that are even shorter.)
Remember that part of your job as a translator is to write. If you can show that you know how to expertly sequence a letter, then it’s a point in your favor. (And the absence of this skill is concerning considering the profession.)
- Stick to a basic but professional structure. Your first paragraph should be a 1- or 2-line introduction (who you are, what your language pair is), your objective (why you’re writing), and perhaps how you found out about the client. Include years of experience, recent projects, and association memberships in your second paragraph. In your third paragraph, include a call to action of some kind (see below).
- The days of formal paper cover letters are over, at least in the U.S. There’s no magical one-page requirement (or its digital equivalent) anymore.
- List only a few recent projects. Include these projects as proof of your expertise. (If you say you’re a legal translator, then list legal translation projects.) Whatever you do, don’t list every project you’ve ever worked on. I have received countless emails over the years from translators who somehow think that I’ll be impressed by a letter that reads like an inventory list in an auto parts store.
3. Include a call to action.
Of the five tips for writing a good translator cover letter, this is the one that freelancers most often overlook.
A call to action (CTA) is an instruction to the reader. It usually includes an imperative verb form. On a website, the text on a button might read “Call Now” or “Learn More,” for example.
In a cover letter, the call to action is your way of letting your reader know what you want him or her to do.
Do you want your reader to provide you with information? See your attached CV? View your LinkedIn profile?
You get the idea. Suffice it to say that you have to tell your reader—explicitly—what step he or she should take next.
CTA Quick Tips
- Please see my attached CV is a weak call to action. What’s the reader supposed to do upon seeing your CV? Email you? Call you? Send 17 projects your way? Marvel at your industry experience? You can still include your CV, of course, but it shouldn’t be the main purpose of the initial contact with a client.
- If possible, humanize yourself with your call to action. Include a hyperlink to your Proz.com or LinkedIn profile. (Yes, you absolutely need to have a LinkedIn profile and a professional profile picture.) It lets a potential client a) see that you’re a real human and not a spammer, b) learn about your language background in more depth, and c) find out “who you really are.” Do you support a certain cause? Do you have interests outside of your work life that would prove you’re a well-read, intellectually curious person? (Note: If you don’t read a lot and you’re not intellectually curious, then you’re in the wrong line of work.)
- A call to action can be as simple as a request for information, e.g., Are you accepting applications from freelance translators at the moment?
- Leaving out a call to action negates what you’re trying to do. Your message falls flat. Imagine getting a letter that reads like this: I’m so-and-so, a blank-to-blank translator. In my career I’ve done X, Y, and Z. I’ve attached my CV for your reference. Thank you. Would you respond to that? I wouldn’t… and I don’t.
4. Check your spelling and grammar.
I shouldn’t even have to say this, but I will. If you hope to get work as a translator, then your writing needs to be impeccable. If it’s not, try another line of work.
- Read your letter out loud before you hit “Send.” You’ll be able to catch misspellings and words that you’ve accidentally repeated or omitted.
- Run your text through a spell-check tool. It takes 30 seconds. Show that you’re a professional. (This step should be automatic. After all, you should be running a spell- and grammar-check tool on all of your translation projects before you deliver them.)
- Nonnative English speakers can be forgiven for writing the occasional awkward or stilted phrase in English. But even so, if English is a working language for you, you ought to be able to compose a cover letter without any egregious grammatical or spelling mistakes. If you can’t, is your B language really that good?
5. Use formatting to emphasize your points.
Text formatting is your friend, so use it.
If you include a bulleted list or words in bold, your letter will be easier to scan or read. (I’ve done these same two things in this very post.) Line after line of similar-looking text is hard to read, especially on a screen.
- Use a bulleted list to highlight three points—for example, your years of experience, association memberships, and a few of your regular clients.
- Use bold type within your paragraphs to highlight key information—for example, language pair and areas of specialization.
Freelance Translator Cover Letter: Sample
It’s one thing to list a few recommendations for a translator cover letter. It’s quite another to actually show you what happens when you follow those tips.
Below is a sample of a freelance translator cover letter that I wrote at the same time as this post. For confidentiality reasons, I’m not using any actual cover letters I’ve received, though they would have illustrated the point just as well.
I’ve also included the five tips from this post in the screenshot below for easier viewing.If you have feedback for me, then leave a comment.
Would a colleague of yours like to know how to write a great freelance translator cover letter? Then share this post on your favorite social network!
And if you’re just starting out, read one woman’s story about how she became a freelance translator.
Need more tips? Check out how to quickly convert dates in European format to US format (and vice versa) in MS Word. Then learn how to automatically find all acronyms in a Word doc.