We were recently discussing with a mentee of mine at PEEMPIP’s Mentoring Program, who is taking their first steps in the translation industry, what Project Managers look for in their communications with linguists. As this is a topic that interests a lot of people, I thought it would be useful for everyone, if I summarized a few points in this post.
- Be kind and friendly, but honest and professional
In your emails or phone conversations with PMs, you should always be civil (as with everybody in your life, really). Refrain from using too-informal language or writing extremely short messages/speaking very briskly, as the lack of visual contact and therefore the missing of non-verbal cues could lead to misunderstandings.
Friendliness and a more personal tone is something most PMs value when a partnership is very close or has lasted a long time; however, use these sparingly at the start of a professional relationship, unless the PM has given you “permission” to feel comfortable with them, e.g. by asking you to address them on a first-name basis/in the singular.
Always, always be sincere with your PM – it is of vital importance to your relationship. Hiding your inexperience with a CAT-tool or your unfamiliarity with a subject matter will not work 95% of the time. Something will almost definitely reveal the truth, be it a problem during the use of the tool or a reviewer’s feedback. It is best to be honest upfront, although you may be worried that you might lose the job. Good PMs will often be willing to offer you a chance to try new things, but they should be warned that this might mean extra effort for them (e.g. support with the tool or the terminology/client specifications, extra work during the QAs or simply asking the reviewer to take extra care at that step of the process). Truthfulness is a mark of professionalism which is much appreciated in day-to-day communications.
- Respond swiftly/inform about ooo periods
The language services industry is full of pressing deadlines. Therefore, you should try to respond to PMs’ messages or calls as quickly as possible. Be online as long as you can (during working hours, of course). Luckily, in our days the availability of mobile data can be your ally in that.
If you need to be out of office for longer periods of time, do let your frequent partners know about that in advance or enable out of office messages (for more info on that, see Popie’s invaluable advice here). This way, PMs will know they should contact you by phone or not at all, if something is really urgent. Most agencies nowadays have platforms where you can enter your absences (e.g. public holidays, summer vacation etc.), however a short email notifying your regular PMs a bit in advance is always welcome.
- Be flexible, willing to help and available for follow-up requests
Even when you are not able to fit something in your busy schedule, it is a good idea to suggest an alternative deadline or offer to take only a portion of the project. Your doing so will save the PM some time and effort, as they won’t need to continue the communication to explore such options.
If you are totally unable to handle something due to an extremely heavy schedule or an unknown subject matter, though, be clear about it.
Remain available for follow-up requests, such as QA-related queries, small additions or modifications. The PM should feel that they can count on you to complete the work you have started – after all, who would do it better than you?
- Answer all questions and do it clearly
If the PM’s request email contains multiple questions, answer each one of them in a plain way. When you are finished writing your reply, double-check that there aren’t questions that have gone unanswered; there is a reason the PM has asked them (we are not crazy, our mothers would have had us tested).
- Do not spam
PMs receive hundreds of emails daily. Try not to fill their inbox with a lot of emails, by gathering your questions and answers. Please also use the preferred channels of communication. Do not call when we have specifically asked for a written reply (this might be due to corporate policies that demand documentation or, simply, ease of tracking). On the other hand, call when we have asked you to call: some things may be better explained orally.
- Report problems and queries in time
Always notify about problems (e.g. with the files or CAT-tool licenses) right from the start of an assignment. It is best, if you open packages or log in to web-based tools and search for projects as soon as you receive the files or credentials. Try not to leave such things for the last moment.
Raise your queries in a sensible and timely manner. In cases of lengthy projects that last over long periods of time, clear with your PM whether queries should be collected to be sent at regular intervals or at the end, or whether they should be sent at the moment they arise (this may be crucial in multilingual projects, but there are clients who prefer to be “bothered” with providing feedback only one-off).
It goes without saying that you should always consult the project’s reference material and do extensive research before logging a query into a query sheet. Sending questions with obvious or easy answers doesn’t give a nice impression of your expertise and professionalism, and wastes people’s precious time.
- Ask for extensions only in time and only for good reason
Sure, a child’s sudden illness, a computer failure or a power outage qualify as serious reasons for the granting of extensions. The fact that you can’t open the files the PM has sent you two weeks ago when it is two days before the deadline, doesn’t. Ask for extensions sparingly and only when there is absolutely no way you can make the original deadline.
About the author:
Panagiota (Penny) Karagiannidi holds a University Degree and an MA from the Department of Foreign Languages, Translation and Interpreting, Ionian University. Ever since her graduation, she has been working as a linguist and translation project manager. She mainly copes with technical texts and loves her job, despite often complaining about it. She is a Mentor in PEEMPIP’s mentoring program in the fields “Translation Project Management” and “Translation Agency Management”.