Lesson 41: Must-haves of a translator’s CV

Lesson 41: Must-haves of a translator’s CV

It’s been over a year since I published my “How to write a translator’s CV” and taking into account the number of downloads a day you still think it’s relevant. I’m very happy that I could help some of you with my advice, and you’re always welcome to send your translator’s CV to me to get some feedback.

But the industry changes and we’re bound to try new things to get more clients. I always review my CVs (yes, more than one!) every three months, and this time they called for a major overhaul (yes, you can overhaul your CV). I jotted down all my ideas and I’d love to share them with you now. To do that, I printed out a copy of my CV and I recommend you to do the same. We’ll go through them at the same time.

Let’s start with the structure. Make sure that you have all of these sections on your CV. I have a pencil in my hand and I’m ticking them off as well.

1. Name – mine is there, together with my titles
Do you think that adding all your BAs, MAs and other WOWs just behind or in front of your name is a good idea? I’ve seen various cases. I decided to add them after I read a CV of one translator who just by the end of the document revealed she was in the middle of the PhD in translation. Now that is something you want to tell your clients right away. I wouldn’t like not to get the job just because they didn’t know I have some qualifications. What are your views?

2. Contact details – present!
Translators put a whole range of details on their CVs, from obvious telephone numbers, through addresses, to places of birth. I use a simple rule to determine which details should be there: does my potential client need this information? My clients need my telephone number, my email address, my website address and a rough idea about my location. I’d never ever include: my exact address, my date and place of birth, my photo and my marital status on my CV. Why? I’m concerned about identity thefts and I think these details are not relevant at all. Do you agree?

3. Headline – happily standing out
A professional headline is a must. If you have one, you’re already way ahead of your competition. Identifying your language pair and stating what you do is essential to handle your CV properly in a multi-language agency. Just imagine you’re a Project Manager and you receive dozens of CVs every day. Wouldn’t it be much easier for you to deal with them if you could identify the language and purpose straight away? And we all know that a happy PM is a good PM.

4. Summary – tick.
This part is a summary of you as a professional. Don’t forget to mention all the good things about you: experience, abilities, knowledge, USP, maybe availability and daily output? And I think it’s a good place to mention your areas of specialisation. I use bullet points to make them more visible.

5. Key Achievements – on my CV
This bit may be quite controversial. Not every translator agrees that it is relevant. I think it’s a good pitch. Well, you start with telling your reader that you have something called “key achievements” – it subconsciously says you’re good. And it’s a good place to show your involvement with the profession. All bloggers, Twitterers, or Facebookers can mention their activities here. Why not? It counts as long as it makes you stand out.

6. Experience – of course!
This section of our CVs is always crucial. In there the reader decides if you’re up to the job and if they’re going to give you this project. Make sure that your experience is relevant, rich, and impressive. If you don’t want to or can’t mention your clients (privacy, NDAs, confidentiality), you can always list your most recent (or most relevant) projects in a given domain. I also add word count of my projects, because I believe that numbers work best with convincing clients.

7. Memberships – done
Is it just me, or do you always try to find people’s memberships as well? In my opinion it is a very important point in a freelancer’s career, because it shows that you’re affiliated with a regulatory/advisory/statutory body and you’re representing similar values as these organisations do. I’m not that sure of putting logos of organisations on your CV. What do you think?

8. Education – as well
Some of you may disagree with listing education so far down on your CV. However, in translation more than in any other domain, it’s not our education that is the decisive aspect. It is relevant and sometimes required, but in most of the cases we’re assessed based on our experience. In my education, I always try to give some examples of modules I took.

9. Software – not on my CV
I still think it’s a very important issue on our CVs, but I decided to leave it out for now. I mention that I use Trados in my summary and that’s it. The rest is mentioned on my website, but I assume that my clients know I’m a proficient user of MS Office, Windows, some Mac knowledge, etc. We’re bound to be tech-savvy, aren’t we?

10. Skills and interests – on some versions of my CV
Right, so there’s no way I can keep to 2 pages if I’m going to add all these details. I decided to have an abridged version of my CV for specific domains and a longer, 3-page CV covering virtually everything.

11. Professional development – carefully selected
I picked those events and training sessions that are relevant to the domain on which a specific version of my CV concentrates. To make it simpler, my legal translation CV gives only my legal CPD. Clear, easy, and works wonders.

12. Publications – yes
Just in case someone gets to the end of my CV and is still hesitant, I add a section on my publications and presentations. Wouldn’t you hire someone who’s giving talks? Everything counts, from an article written to a language-related publication to a presentation on just about anything. Try to impress them!

13. References – not quite sure
I add: “References available upon request” because I feel that I have to close my CV somehow. But I feel it’s the weakest part of my CV. How do you go about it? Do you add contact details to your referees or short testimonials?

Online CV tips

– If it’s an online CV, what about adding links?
– What about your social media presence? Do you link it to your CV?
– Ever thought of linking your samples to your CV?
– Visual CV like this one: http://www.vizualize.me/mstelmaszak?


  1. Gosia , on Sep 17, 2012 at 16:13 Reply

    How about mentioning the third party professional liability insurance? If you have one, of course 🙂

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Sep 17, 2012 at 17:32 Reply

      Thank’s for your comment, Gosia! Did you find it useful? Maybe on a legal CV, but in other cases? And you just reminded me that I don’t mention about my PSI on my website!

  2. Gosia , on Sep 17, 2012 at 16:14 Reply

    How about mentioning the third party professional liability insurance? If you have one, of course :).

  3. MelisaP , on Sep 17, 2012 at 16:59 Reply

    Hi! Always interesting tips!
    I’m about to do all of the CV-reviewing in the next days and I keep wondering: what if your experience is not relevant (for any reason or to that specific client), or if you just simply don’t have any experience? Should you really focus on the ‘Education’ section?
    Would you, if you were a PM for example, even give a chance to a CV with virtually no experience? (Although qualifications may be wowing?)
    I do have experience, but in many cases I don’t want to include it because it’s totally irrelevant, for example… Then what?

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Sep 17, 2012 at 17:34 Reply

      Dear Melisa,

      I’d normally say that you could use your non-translation experience to support your areas of specialisation. You can also write that you’re a freelancer and mention what you did, without getting too much in details.

  4. Carolyn Yohn , on Sep 17, 2012 at 18:41 Reply

    Sounds about right to me! The only thing I’d subtract is #13- References. On your website, you should put excerpts from happy clients if at all possible. On your resume, though, it goes without saying that you are prepared to give names of professionals who can vouch for you. It’s just standard hiring practice now.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Sep 24, 2012 at 12:47 Reply

      I’m still hesitant about References. What’s the point of putting such a schematic sentence anyway? I think you’re right, Carolyn!

  5. Oliver Lawrence , on Sep 17, 2012 at 18:48 Reply

    Good thoughts, as usual, Marta.

    I agree about guarding against identity theft and only giving information that potential readers might find relevant (otherwise, it’s a waste of space).

    On the Italian language version of my CV, I include a data protection statement (“I authorise the use of my data” etc etc), because without it, I gather, clients would not be able to use my information (major prob!). I wonder if that applies in other countries.

    I also have my various profiles and contact details as hyperlinks in my CV documents, so potential clients can contact me at the click of a mouse.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Sep 24, 2012 at 12:46 Reply

      Dear Oliver,

      Thank you for pointing it out! I completely forgot to add this statement on my Polish CV! By the way, what do you think of adding photos to CVs?

      I’ll also hyperlink some of my details, but I found that most clients would print your CV anyway for some reason.

      • Oliver Lawrence , on Sep 27, 2012 at 10:17 Reply

        Hi Marta,

        I’ve never had a photo on my CV, but that might be just out of habit. Maybe it makes the CV more personal, maybe it just makes the file take more space in your potential client’s inbox; I’m not sure how the pros and cons balance out.

        Perhaps it’s a cultural thing – isn’t it commoner to use a photo in the States?


  6. Carlos Mijares Poyer , on Sep 17, 2012 at 19:39 Reply

    Excellent advice, I will make some changes in my CV according to this, thank you for the info.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Sep 24, 2012 at 12:43 Reply

      Glad I could help! Get in touch if you have any questions.

  7. Mathijs , on Sep 18, 2012 at 13:21 Reply

    Really useful advice, I’m going to update my CV according to these tips straight away. Thank you very much!

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Sep 24, 2012 at 12:42 Reply

      You’re welcome, Mathijs! I’m happy you found my post useful. You can always send your CV over and I can have a look at it.

  8. Victor Palacios , on Sep 28, 2012 at 15:13 Reply

    Hi, Marta!

    I have been a part-time translator for some time and I finally decided to go full-time.

    I found your tips very useful to rework and adapt my CV to target translation agencies but I still have a couple of questions.

    Would you be willing to have a look at my CV and tell me what you think?

    Kind regards,

    Victor Palacios

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Sep 29, 2012 at 08:51 Reply

      Dear Victor,

      Thanks very much for getting in touch! Please, go ahead and send your CV over to me! You can do it either via the contact form, or use my email address from the footer.


  9. Carolina Zortea , on Oct 9, 2012 at 14:15 Reply

    Dear Marta,

    first of all I want to say congratulations for your working achievements, I hope to achieve at least half of what you have accomplished one day.
    Anyway, I am young professional interpreter and translator and I am just trying to enter this challenging I/T world.
    Since i don‘t have so much experience it is hard for me to prepare a curriculum that will look attractive to the eye of an employer, I mean I had my little achievements but I don‘t know how to emphasize them.
    I will work on my CV following your tips.
    I would be pleased if you could have a look of my CV eventually.
    Thank you for sharing with us your knowledge!!

  10. Victor Palacios , on Oct 9, 2012 at 17:51 Reply

    I just finished polishing my CV with Marta!

    1. My headline was too wordy. Now it only tells the reader what I do and my highest education.

    2. My experience with translation has been an occasional one (until September 2012 I had worked in banking and education), although I have extensive translation-related education . So in my first draft I was reluctant to being too specific about my scarce translation references and didn’t want to come up as a little bit wet behind the ears. My conclusion here is as follows: do not be afraid of providing rich details about your translation work (however scarce) with topic, type of text, number of projects and wordcount. And then put the spotlight on your previous work experience and relevant education.

    I hope this helps as Marta’s advice has helped me!

  11. Natasha , on Jan 18, 2013 at 08:38 Reply

    Hi Marta,

    Your article made me realise that my CV was an absolute travesty!

    I’ve rewritten the entire thing, but I’m very uncertain about it. Would you be able to please look it over for me and let me know what you think?

    Many thanks,

  12. Sofía , on Feb 24, 2013 at 16:39 Reply

    Hi Marta,

    Thank you so much for your post. Your tips were really useful as I am relatively new to the translation business. I will work on my CV following your guidelines. I would appreciate it if you could take a look at it if you have the time.

    Thank you.


    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Feb 24, 2013 at 22:47 Reply

      Hi Sofia,

      Thank you very much for your comment! Go ahead and send it.


  13. Julia , on Feb 25, 2013 at 22:30 Reply

    Hi Marta!

    I completely agree with what you say about birth date, marital status, etc. in the US, that would be illegal. But when I moved to Europe, I was told that I had to put it, because everyone expects it, and because if I didn’t then people would assume I was a little old lady from the amount of experience I had. Unfortunately, I had to bow to the pressure; fortunately I haven’t yet had to contend with identity theft.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Mar 11, 2013 at 11:49 Reply

      That’s weird! In the UK, no-one expects you to put your DOB on a CV… Maybe continental Europe is different.

      • Catherine Guilliaumet , on Apr 20, 2013 at 09:14 Reply

        Hello Teresa and Marta,

        Marta, replying to Teresa, said :”That’s weird! In the UK, no-one expects you to put your DOB on a CV… Maybe continental Europe is different.”.
        No, no! Feel reassured, continental Europe – at least France – is not different 🙂
        Speaking of difference, there’s one however : You must differentiate an employee’s CV (“salarié ” in French: whether s/he is an “employé”, i.e. a simple staff member, or a “cadre”, i.e. a senior manager) from a freelancer’s CV (profession libérale).
        In the former case, mention of DOB, place of birth, gender, marital status, is common – although not really legal nowadays because might be regarded as “segregational”, but employers do appreciate this type of details and make all possible efforts to find this information if it does not appear on the CV while they might be interested in hiring you.
        In the latter case, if you are a freelancer, you have not to show all this personal information. Do you care about your doctor or your lawyer DOB or marital status? I suppose you don’t, because what matters are their skills and talent.
        I am amazed to see the rather great number of freelancers, and particularly translators, who are still acting and thinking like employees. You are not, or no longer, employees! You are the managers of (very) small businesses, so please think and act accordingly, and your clients will not see you as simple secretaries any more!
        Enjoy your weel-end

  14. Teresa Cuervo , on Feb 25, 2013 at 23:07 Reply

    I was updating my resume today and polish it up a bit. I have an account on VisualCV and one thing is to have a online resume with active links. Mu question is should you put links to your social media and LInkedin on a hard copy? . What about blogs and Facebook page? I have two active blogs.

    Would love your feedback.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Mar 11, 2013 at 11:45 Reply

      Hard copy? Are you still using CVs in hard copies? I don’t think I’ve printed mine in ages… 🙂 I always put links to everything when it’s online.

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