Lessons learned in times of Covid

By Karen Tkaczyk

Inspired by and modeled after Barry Slaughter Olsen’s piece of a similar title, with his blessing, I give you another Covid transition, another set of lessons worth sharing as we move to the “post” phase and see which new opportunities are here for the long-term and which were temporary. We have heard much in language services about technology shifts and about M&A. Let’s talk about the individuals involved — the freelance linguists, the new hires with poor remote onboarding, and the leaders struggling to prevent the Great Resignation from getting too close to home.

There was no “typical” experience for linguists during the pandemic. Already set up with home offices, by and large, some of the aspects of the pandemic that hit those used to an office life hard were smooth sailing for freelancers. But work volume was another story — snowed under with work related to education, healthcare, or to subtitling our favorite shows and having their best year ever? Peering hopelessly at empty inboxes as whole industries shut down and wondering what might return in 2021? Many of those who had a solid basket of clients fell in between — ticking along, filling the lull with a focus on professional development— or simply working part-time while they helped school their children. Some qualified for government help, others none. Like everyone else though, the forced changes sparked new ideas in many.

Transitions are natural. I’m GenX. Many people my age recall parents who worked for one company for their entire careers. That’s a rarity nowadays. Some of us like to stick with things long enough to become experts (What’s Gladwell’s Mastery rule? 10,000 hours?) and shift roles within our industry. Others shift to a new field entirely. Freelance linguists are already on a non-traditional path, compared with those prior generations. My transition led to looking for a job within language services.

The three months I spent interviewing were revealing. We hear constantly of a shortage of talent within the industry, yet I was told by more than one HR Manager or recruiter words to the effect that, “You have an amazing resume and background, but we can’t put you on the shortlist because you don’t have direct experience.” In other words, I didn’t check the boxes. Of course, there’s a good chance that any company with an inflexible approach wouldn’t have been a good fit for me, but really? No flexibility? After 15 years of building and keeping my own client base, of course I was ready to do it on a larger scale. Why wouldn’t my transferable skills apply to a larger arena?

Thankfully, that is not an all-encompassing corporate culture. When a good friend of mine connected me with MasterWord’s original and current CEO, I knew we weren’t dealing with that box-checking approach. Mila and her company hire for values and find the best fit for people who show promise.

Hire for attitude and attributes, not a checklist. If the industry cannot find key players, and we all hear through the grapevine what the job market is like, why not look at the linguists, those who have been running their own smaller-scale language services business for years and think about what they might have to offer you. 

As a freelancer, you have to do everything. That entrepreneurial spirit doesn’t die when you join an LSP, so you may find that former freelance linguists are not expecting to be siloed and are willing to help in multiple areas. That was the case for me, as it became obvious that my prior experience should be leveraged for process improvements beyond my official role. Vendor management and quality assurance are obvious choices, but even years of marketing experience can bring benefits for the new employer.

The hybrid workplace opens a world of possibility. Yes, onboarding and teambuilding are harder. Make those initial HR processes robust. Budget to bring the team in, one department at a time, over the course of the year (like we did with much of the translation team in June). If the entire MasterWord team were now to work in the headquarters we would not fit. So of course the model of a distributed team is here to stay. 

Timing and preparation make much possible. On a personal note, I should say that several factors affected my decision to consider change: my children are now adults, making the massive benefit of the flexible freelance lifestyle less necessary, and for a while during the pandemic we needed health insurance. But it was my years of organizing myself that made the transition to effective account management possible, made the way I run meetings appealing, made the intrateam communication so smooth: made the transition easy. No regrets. 

Karen Tkaczyk
Karen Tkaczyk is Director of Sales – Life Sciences at Vistatec.

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