No, I Won’t Translate a 225-Word Document to Get the Gig! Is a sample translation request a well-intended protocol or a way to get a free translation?

  • Greater than 4 minutes, my friend!

    About four months ago, I received a translation proposal through LinkedIn ProFinder with the following request:

    Beverly, would you consider translating a 225-word document to evaluate your skills in translating church related terminology?

    I felt uneasy about this petition.

    In the past, I had heard horror stories about potential clients asking translators to translate a sample document for evaluation with the intention to have the work done for free.

    I had plenty of reasons to deny this request.

    But, as much as I wanted to say, “No–I won’t translate a 225-word document to get the gig,” I couldn’t.

    I couldn’t bring myself to think that someone would make a request of this nature with such intention in mind.

    I felt uneasy, but I really wanted to trust this potential client.

    What if he were to become a long-term direct client?

    What if this was my chance to gain experience in a new field of specialization?

    What if he referred me to other potential clients in the same niche?

    I was afraid to miss out on potential opportunities.

    So, I agreed.

    “Sure. I would be happy to do that for you,” I replied.

    But honestly, I wasn’t happy about it.

    I finished the translation, sent it, and his response email went like this:

    Thank you, Beverly. We’re in the process of reviewing all the samples. I’ll get back to you in the next couple of weeks.


    Robert (name has been changed)

    I waited two weeks and still no word from him.

    I sent a second follow-up email, to which he replied:

    Hello, Beverly. Thank you for reaching out. I’ve been sick for the past week and I’m still not through with the review process. I should have a decision early next month.

    I wanted to believe his health situation to be true, that it wasn’t a scheme to simply get a free translation.

    But my gut feeling was telling me otherwise.

    I waited until mid-January and still no response.

    I decided to send a third and last email, keeping my hopes up, and this is what I got:

    Hello, Beverly. I’m still reviewing the large number of translation samples we’ve received. I should have a decision in the next two weeks.

    It’s been 3 months since that last email, and I still haven’t heard from the guy.

    To this day, I still don’t understand how some people–like Robert–say they’ll do something and not follow through with it.

    Keeping my word and protecting my reputation in my professional and personal life are truly no-brainers.

    But it’s obvious that for some people these aren’t a priority.

    It would’ve been nice if Robert had sent me an email to let me know I wasn’t selected for the job.

    If that’s what truly happened, that is.

    I believe he never intended to hire me. 

    And if Robert happens to email me in the future (yeah right!) with a Spanish translation request, I’ll kindly say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”


    Because I have a hard time working with people as unprofessional as Robert.

    So, what do I learn from all this?

    I still trust people and believe the “Roberts” out in the world are more the exception than the rule.

    But next time, I’ll need to handle this kind of request a bit differently.

    If a buyer is looking for translation services, I assume this individual does not speak the target language.

    And even if a translation buyer can get by in the target language, I assume his language skills are not advanced enough to determine the suitability of a translator for a translation job.

    If he did, why pay for a translator, right?

    So this is what I’ll say when a potential client asks me to translate something to “evaluate my translation abilities for the job at hand,”

     “Thank you for inviting me to translate the attached document to evaluate my Spanish translation skills. I understand how important it is to find the best match for the type of translation that you need. However, doing so will take up extra time I’ve already set apart to work on my current translations. I invite you to visit my website,, to view samples of my work. I’m also available to answer any questions you may have about my previous work and translation experience. Looking forward to working with you in the future.”

    My fellow translators, what are your thoughts about this issue? How would you have handled this scenario had it happened to you?

    About the author:

    Beverly Zayas Hayes is an English to Spanish professional translator specializing in translation & website localization in the following areas: social sciences, education, healthcare, marketing, advertising & business. A mother of five, Beverly is the founder/owner of Spanish Connect Translations, a boutique translation provider based in Rexburg, Idaho. She graduated from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah with a Bachelor’s degree in Clinical Laboratory Science, and on December 2015 she completed her Master’s degree in Spanish Linguistics from New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Being a stay-at-home mom for most of her life, Beverly has now taken upon herself a new goal–to contribute to the world in a different way by jumping on the entrepreneurship bandwagon. She has the education, the cultural background, and the writing skills that are necessary to succeed in this competitive field and provide a quality product that will stand out among the rest. You may visit her website at, or contact her via Twitter: MySpanConnect and email:

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    Beverly Hayes

    About Beverly Hayes

    I'm a wife and a mother to five beautiful children who's now become a Spanish Translator! I love what I do and believe in my skills and the value I have to offer.

    13 thoughts on “No, I Won’t Translate a 225-Word Document to Get the Gig!

    1. Hi Beverly,
      Sorry to hear this potential contract of yours has fallen through.
      I, for my part, usually do tests, but only: 1) when I have time, and I never agree on the proposed deadline- if it’s a con, they’ll need the translation right now (“I’d be happy to do it after finishing my current project. I can deliver within next week/by [date]”); 2) if the client has a good rep (if they have no reputation at all, I will just send them my samples); and 3) if the volume is 250 words or less, naturally.
      Why I don’t just send samples to everyone? Because I worked at a translation agency and know that when you have dozens of potential translators to be checked out it takes much less time and effort to review translations of the same text that you know well than that of dozens unfamiliar texts.
      I also never expect a quick answer or any answer at all, actually – agencies prefer not to contact those whose work has been considered unsatisfactory. Too often translators get offended and start useless time-wasting discussions. Nobody wants that.
      One agency sent me a congrats letter (“your test has been approved without a single mistake, we’d love to work with you”) 4 months (!) after receiving the test.
      All in all, I think every one of us needs to decide for themself. I personally think 200 words is no big deal if I have a free afternoon, but I know that it’s not the same for everyone! Translation samples are a pretty good alternative if you don’t feel comfortable doing tests or think they are a waste of time.

      1. Thanks, Elena, for your comment. Great food for thought. I never had this happen before and was quite frustrated by the whole situation. But you’re right, translating 225 words is not a big deal if I have the time to do it.
        However, I still feel this example goes to show how we always have to pay attention to “that gut feeling.” Thanks again!

        1. Your frustration is understandable! And of course the “gut feeling” is always worthy to listen to, ’cause it’s your brain telling you that there’s something fishy about a person or a situation.
          If I might add, it is also important to gather any info you can find on the prospect before making decision.

    2. I had similar experiences: working on 200-300 words of translation “test”. After several months, no more follow up email from the clients/agencies. I didn’t even receive any result (passed or failed). Where were the texts finally going?

      Sometimes I have negative thinking: the document was consisting of thousands of words, then was divided into several parts with each part is consisting of 200-300 words, and sent to many translators. After the all translators submit their “test”, then the document would be re-assembled to get the fully translated document. Ah, I do hope that it is not true 🙂

      1. Wow, Khadis, I never thought of it that way, but it could very well happen! I now understand that we need to research thoroughly the person requesting the translation before agreeing to it. I failed to do that myself, probably because he was a member of the catholic clergy and didn’t think someone like him would actually do such thing. But it does happen, unfortunately. Thanks for commenting!

        1. Let me confirm what Khadis has supposed: the practice of splitting a larger text into smaller parts is more common than you’d think. Also, sometimes jobs come not as “tests” but rather as proper, paid jobs, and then you don’t get paid. I don’t know what is worse… Sadly there is no 100% effective method to prevent these things from happening, but checking out the client’s reputation on the Web and following the other suggestions you were given on this page is definitely a good place to start.

          1. Thank you, Eleonora, for pointing that out. I’m hoping that somehow I get to continue to work with good, honest people and not have to deal too much with scenarios like the one I went through. I can only hope, right? Thanks for your comment!

    3. Sorry you had this experience, Beverly! I think this happened to me in the past, but it’s been a long time since I had to do a translation test for a new client.

      I think that template that you’ve come up with at the end of your post is very well-reasoned. It’s always better be safe than sorry.

      Oh, and the gut feeling is one the feelings in freelancer’s senses that you should ALWAYS listen to. It has never let me down.

      1. Agreed, Dmitry! I wanted to get my hands on his project so badly that I neglected to listen to my inner core. It’s not happening again for sure!
        Thanks for commenting!

    4. Great article, Beverly.

      It looks like buyers have grown to expect “free” as their welfare entitlement, whether it’s a translation test or trial software (our Slate Desktop software). We’ve received considerable criticism that we don’t offer a free trial version.

      The fact is, there are charlatans looking to abuse a “free trial.” Our money-back guarantee screens the charlatans. Reading your article, I thought translators could follow our money-back guarantee policy to screen the charlatans. Try this on for size:

      Accept every approach to take the test. You don’t even need to do the work up front. Have a 200- to 300-hunred word explanation in your target language that tells the would-be buyer that they have to pass your “charlatans test.”

      Here’s the “charlatan test explanation”: You will do your best work and provide the true test results AFTER they pay your attached invoice. If they assign you work within the next 60 days, you will credit the amount they paid to their next invoice. If they send you a rejection letter within 30 days, you will refund their payment. This is your money-back guarantee policy.

      Now, map the target language “charlatan test explanation” to the target segments and package it as a completed test project. Return the completed “project” with a duplicate explanation letter in the source language with an invoice for the word count at 1/2 the going per-word rate. Let’s face it, 300 word @ ~3 cents/word = $9.00. That won’t break anyone! It’s not about the money. It’s about screening the charlatans.

      Here are the possible results:
      (a) They contact you. They’re a company with legitimate intention. They will either follow the instructions (unlikely) or follow-up with you personally. Either response means you’re on the right track with a possible new client.
      (b) You never hear from them. They’re a legitimate company. They trashed your package. That’s okay. You’re protected. One 4-letter word applies: N-E-X-T
      (c) You never hear from them. They’re a charlatan. They forwarded your “test package” to their clients as the final work. After their client unscrew themselves out of the ceiling, they terminate the relationship with the charlatan. The client could even contact you directly and you get a new customer higher in the food chain.

      This is the practical experience we’re having with our money-back guarantee. If you see value in this approach for all your colleagues, please feel free to share it. I don’t need credit (or blame). I wish you luck.

    5. As an R>E sci/tech journal translator for 66 years, I’ve received many test requests, which in the early years was a legitimate request. from honorable publishers. In recent years with the devolution and not evolution of human professional translation and crooked agencies/clients working out of a phone booth on wheels with a neon sign changing the agency’s name and location every other day, if asked to take a test, I first ask for the qualifications of who/what is checking the test. Usually no replies. In any event, I don’t take tests, I have no faith in the checkers, I don’t need the work, and the suggestions by others above are good.

    6. I don’t get asked to do a test translation very often, but I have to say that I’m pretty relaxed about them.

      I do assess the request first, however – so if it’s just a few hundred words, for a definite project that I’m interested in, and for a client who seems reliable (and that’s a gut feeling issue more than anything) then why not?

      It’ll take me maybe 40 minutes and unless I’m really under deadline pressure I can usually find that kind of time in most days.

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