Behind the Scenes

Behind the Scenes

Managing Employees as an HR Expert


Terena Bell

Terena Bell is a reporter covering the language industry for MultiLingual, The Atlantic, The Guardian, and others. In a past life, she owned In Every Language, an LSP, and served on the GALA and ALC boards.

Who are the people who make interpreting happen? Ask people on the street — or in our own industry, even — and the first response you’ll get likely would be interpreters. But the answer doesn’t end there. From scheduling managers to quality assurance, linguistically, an entire team backs each interpreter, handling the language and logistical needs that get that professional on the line. So what about all those other people? From marketers to office managers, interpreting companies are filled with monolingual and multilingual professionals who make the industry go.

In this issue’s edition of “Behind the Scenes,” a MultiLingual column profiling these very essential folks, meet Elizabeth Garvin, director of human resources (HR) for Portland, Oregon-based interpreting giant Certified Languages International (CLI).

So what does an HR director do? Process interpreter applications? Not exactly. “Our interpreter services department works directly with our independent contract interpreters on things like recruitment, testing, and general inquiries,” says Garvin. “As an HR director, I oversee a wide variety of things that have a great impact on the company, such as salary and benefits, communication, employee relations, training, employment law, strategic planning, recruitment, and employee engagement, to name a few.” 

 The HR team at CLI only works with its employees. As far as what makes those groups different, in the United States, interpreters are typically freelance, independent contractors as opposed to employees. Contractors can interpret for multiple providers; employees typically work full- or part-time for only one. Contractors also control their own schedules — they’re allowed to turn down any given assignment, whereas employees cannot. Taxes are also processed differently and contractors do not receive insurance or other benefits. The difference may sound negligible to those outside the country, but confuse the two and a company faces hefty government fines.

 How is HR for the language industry different than other industries? “The one difference is the variety of cultures I get to interact with and learn about. The actual issues that I deal with on a day-to-day basis are very similar to other industries. Most [employee concerns] within the workplace are not unique to the language industry.” No matter what they do, says Garvin, people want to feel valued and know that the work they do is meaningful.


Elizabeth Garvin


Elizabeth Garvin

As for why the language industry even needs HR professionals, Garvin says “Every industry needs HR professionals! As a company grows, HR becomes much more than employee paperwork. HR helps guide and grow the business by looking at all aspects of the organization from people to finances. HR handles what just might be your largest expense — payroll and benefits — and employee retention.”

 In addition, HR can be “the heart and soul of a company,” says Garvin. “Having an individual or team who can support managers and team members through challenges and celebrations on the job or outside of work is only going to make your company stronger. The more meaningful engagement you have with your employees, the more they are going to know that they are valued and needed. This may just sound like feel-good stuff but in actuality, when employees are taken care of, are valued, and know that the work they do has meaning, they are more productive and tend to become longer-term employees. This all translates to a stronger bottom line.”

 CLI is the only language company Garvin has worked for, and she’s done so for almost 20 years in a few different roles. She began in the accounting department when CLI only had about ten employees. At the time of interview, there were 212. “Over the years, I took on more responsibilities and helped wherever a hand was needed. I found that my passion was within the HR field.” She became HR certified by the Society for Human Resource Management in 2015.

 “I didn’t know I wanted to work in the language industry until I worked for CLI,” says Garvin. “I wanted to work for a company that made a difference and I found that in CLI and in the language industry. Knowing that each call or video session is touching someone’s life, helping people connect to one another, or delivering vital information is very rewarding. We are not selling widgets; we are helping people and businesses connect.” 

 CLI’s work has also made a difference for the language industry itself. Before his death in 2016, founder William Graeper lobbied US federal and state governments for language company rights, played a pivotal role in ASTM F43 standards discussions, and mentored countless translation company owners, including this reporter. CLI was also a founding member of the Association of Language Companies (ALC), a US-based association that offers a service award in Graeper’s name today — most recently given to Bill Rivers, our January/February profilee.

Like so many in the industry, Garvin encounters her share of surprise. The biggest misperception when non-industry people find out where she works has to do with language. “The first thing that I’m always asked is how many languages do I speak. It surprises people when I tell them I only speak English.” 

As for those inside the industry, people are surprised to learn how many facets of the business HR touches. “We work with every employee in each department. We help guide and shape the culture of our organization, balancing both employee and company needs. We are an integral part of everything from party planning to disciplinary actions,” says Garvin.