Chartered Institute
of Linguists

Breaking into the profession: the value of networking events

Written by Fiona Baillie and Anna Binning, CIOL Student Affiliates, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh

Embarking on a new career is both exciting and daunting.  After deciding to change careers and immerse ourselves in the world of languages (German and Spanish), we joined Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University on two of its postgraduate Masters programmes accredited by CIOL: translation for business, and translation and interpreting.

Our backgrounds are in HR and early-years education, and while we are confident that our coursework will provide us with the skills and knowledge necessary to become translators and interpreters, this still leaves some unanswered questions about what happens next: how do we get started in our new careers? What is it really like working as a translator or interpreter day in, day out?  What positions are available to us as employees or freelancers? What support networks can we access once our studies are finished?  In February we set out to find answers to these questions (and more) at two networking events: SWATI and the  CIOL’s Scottish Society networking meeting in Dundee.

SWATI (Starting Work as a Translator and Interpreter) is a regular networking event at Heriot-Watt that gives practitioners a chance to share knowledge, tips and advice with students. The university clearly maintains strong links with its alumni, and SWATI is a great platform for former students to pass on valuable tips on finding work, coping with professional demands and managing continuous professional development. The event started with presentations (given in person or via Skype) by speakers who work in very different fields: an in-house translator, a freelance audio-visual translator, a public sector interpreter, an EU translator working across several languages and a specialist in legal translation. We then added to the wealth of information gleaned from these presenters by taking part in a speed networking session. In small groups we spent a few minutes firing off our burning questions to translators, interpreters and representatives from agencies and other organisations, quickly moving on to meet a new person every few minutes – a hectic but informative experience. The atmosphere was friendly and informal, we were able to get a feel of current employment opportunities and the procedure involved in signing up with agencies.

All speakers were generous in providing contact details and handouts, and we left with the impression that there are many people out there who have completed our courses and come out at the other end with very successful careers to show for it. Better still, these professionals are willing to share their experiences to help us forge our own career paths.

CIOL’s Scottish Society event in Dundee was our first as Student Affiliate CIOL members. Heriot-Watt University’s Department of Languages & Intercultural Studies (LINCS) is in an official partnership with CIOL in its Higher Education Language Partner scheme, and we were keen to make the most of this link and the membership opportunities it offers. 

The Dundee meeting started with lunch, which set our expectations that this would be a relaxed event, and it did not disappoint. A networking event like SWATI is set up for students to attend with their peers, but attending a professional networking group can be quite intimidating. However, we felt very welcome and chatted happily and informally with fellow CIOL members, all at various stages of their careers and with different specialisms as linguists. Again, the practical insight gleaned from such conversations is invaluable: it enhances our academic work and enables us to start building up contacts in our fields of interest.

The main speaker was Dundee University’s Dr Marion Spöring, who delivered a fascinating account of the work of the University Council of Modern Languages Scotland (UCMLS).  She gave us an understanding of how different aspects of language learning, starting in childhood, need to come together in a cohesive way if modern language skills in Scotland are to improve in the medium to long term. This networking event helped us to understand the bigger picture beyond translation and interpreting, and the many collaborative opportunities open to language enthusiasts who want to promote a positive view of language learning within their communities. The session resonated with us, and with our professional backgrounds in recruitment, training, education and working in multicultural teams, we had some good discussions on this topic long after the event.

The CIOL members we met were approachable, and what better way to end a professional networking event than with a drink at the pub before we all embarked on our return journeys. We reflected on our return to Edinburgh that taking the time to attend both events had been extremely worthwhile. Not only did we expand our knowledge and contacts, we also met some interesting people and heard about how they got to where they are today. We got a better understanding of day-to-day life as a professional linguist, and the practical steps we can take to maximise our chances to getting work we will find challenging and enjoyable. We hope to see some of you at future events!