The Importance of a Good Mentor Why both newbies and seasoned translators should join mentoring programs

Greater than 4 minutes, my friend!

Today I would like to share some thoughts on a topic I touched upon in my First Story: The importance of a good mentor.

Now, some of you may ask: Do we still need offline mentorship nowadays? We have plenty of online platforms and forums, where newbie translators can ask their most pressing questions, from invoicing and insurance to price calculation and marketing and get not just one but several replies in real time.

Well, translator mentoring forums are a great thing when you’re looking for inspiration and answers to specific questions. I profoundly admire all colleagues who invest time and effort into sharing their knowledge on those platforms.

However I’ve seen two things go wrong there from time to time:

  1. Answers and questions can be easily misunderstood (no matter how many smileys you put after them), as tone of voice and facial expression are missing in online communication.
  2. Some seasoned translators tend to share their knowledge in the form of a one-size-fits-all advice. “You must …, otherwise you’ll end up … and you definitely should not…”. Sometimes each and every mentor has his or her strong viewpoint about something, which may contrast to those of the other mentors of the community. This may result in the mentee being more disoriented than before asking the question.

That’s why I chose not to rely ONLY on online communities when I started freelancing.

I felt I needed to talk to someone willing to sit down with down with ME for a while, learn something about me and give ME some PERSONAL advice, based MY personal weaknesses and strengths as well as MY goals.

You may say I was asking for too much. And still, most professional associations (at least here in Germany) offer well-structured mentoring programs, that are completely free of charge for the mentees.

The first thing I did after graduating was joining the German Professional Association of Conference Interpreters (VKD), as they have a great mentoring program. Unfortunately I wasn’t the only one applying for the program and the (amazing!) people in charge of it didn’t want to give false hopes that every mentee would get a suitable mentor.

In December last year, when I still hadn’t got any reply whether I would be admitted or not to the program, I attended a local Christmas gathering organized by the Association and met an experienced colleague, who lived in my area and specialized in the same language combination. We talked for a while. She told me her story and asked me about my background, my goals and aspirations.

A few days later I received an e-mail from the guy in charge of the mentoring program, telling me I had been admitted and that the colleague I had met at the gathering a few days before had decided to join the program again (after taking a few years off) and would be happy to mentor ME. That was one of the best Christmas gifts I could get!

In the weeks and months we started meeting and calling each other on a regular basis. She would encourage me to call or text her whenever I got a job enquiry I couldn’t deal with. The biggest issues where of course price and conditions. On average, the daily fee I ended up charging was 100 to 150 € higher than what I would have charged, had I not asked for her advice.

As time went by, she realized that I was a reliable and professional colleague, willing to play by the rules of HER, of OUR market and observe the ethical standards of our profession. She started recommending me to other colleagues and clients for interpreting assignments she wasn’t available for.

As a result I started getting more and BETTER jobs than I probably would have got, If I had worked at lower rates.

To cut a long story short: What are the main benefits of a mentoring program?

Let’s start with the benefits for the Mentor, as he or her usually doesn’t get any financial reward.

The main advantages of helping a younger colleagues are listed in Carmen Arismendy’s great story here on The Open Mic.

Fees are of course a key issue. Because let’s be honest: A mentor and a mentee who specialize in the same languages and live in the same area are most of the time direct competitors.
I would add that seasoned professionals can learn a lot from their younger colleagues when it comes, for instance, to technology and social media.
Moreover, being able to recommend a professional and reliable colleague whenever he/she can’t accept an assignment will increase the mentor’s credibility with his or her clients.

Main benefits for the mentee:
– receive PERSONAL advice, which is tailored to his or her needs and personal situation
– avoid typical beginner’s mistakes that may damage not only his/her career, but also the profession as a whole
– be recommended to colleagues and clients
– gain self-confidence by talking to someone who really believes you are going to make it in our profession as long as you stick to “the right path”.

Do you have any questions about mentoring programs in general or my experience? Feel free to leave a comment or send me a private message 😉

Caterina Saccani - Saccani Translations

About Caterina Saccani - Saccani Translations

Italian freelance Conference Interpreter & Translator, living and working in Aachen (Germany). Languages: Italian, German, English, Dutch

5 thoughts on “The Importance of a Good Mentor Why both newbies and seasoned translators should join mentoring programs

  1. Thank you so much for sharing, Caterina! In my humble opinion, every single professional translator should be mentoring at least 2-3 newbies. Because this is the only way to make this industry a little bit better.
    Of course not anyone can afford one-on-one sessions, but even writing a blog or giving advice via email is a big step forward. I always reply to emails when someone asks me for help or advice no matter how busy I am.

    I believe that we need to support and inspire each other and forget about us being competitors because it’s nonsense. There’s a ton of work out there for all of us 🙂

    Report comment
  2. Thank you so much Caterina for including my little article in this wonderful piece. I believe just like you that offline help is very important. I am grateful to have had a handful of wonderful mentors during my start almost ten years ago. Thank you for sharing Caterina 🙂

    Report comment
  3. Thank you Caterina for sharing this. Even if your article dates back to some months ago, so much truth lies behind it. I coudn’t agree more 🙂 I don’t know where I would be now without the help of my mentor. I’m still starting out as a freelancer, but knowing there is always someone I can turn to for advice at any time is crucial 🙂
    Keep up the good work 😉

    Report comment
    1. Thank you so much for your feedback, Ilaria!
      The article dates back to a few months ago, but my opinion about mentoring programs hasn’t changed 😉 I still get a lot of useful advice from my mentor and in return I try to help her whenever I can. Last week, for instance, I offered to proofread her Italian website and made some suggestions to improve it.

      Report comment

Leave a Reply

The Open Mic

Where translators share their stories and where clients find professional translators.

Find Translators OR Register as a translator