Opportunities for the Localization Job Seeker
By: Larry Salas (Comsys Globalization)
21 February 2007
The changing economic climate of the past few years has meant changing realities for the job seeker looking for opportunities in localization (L10n). Industry players, priorities, and technologies have changed. This calls for flexibility and intelligent strategies on the part of professionals seeking to stay ahead in their careers.
It appears that the overall economy (at least in the U.S.) is once again growing and employment numbers are approaching those of five years ago. The stock market is hitting record levels on a daily basis and the Fed is allowing the economy to strengthen. Except for the real estate market, which saw its own crisis in the fall of 2006, things seem to be looking up.
Leading indicators point to the probability that we are coming off an extremely uncertain and volatile period in the L10n job market as well. Looking back to the early “naughts” as the business world was getting ready to forge full steam ahead into larger-scale globalization, the dot-com bubble burst. Companies of all sizes had to engage in some serious soul-searching to determine what would maximize their investments with the smallest sacrifice in quality.
From the professional's point of view, those who manned the L10n departments at Fortune 500 companies and were sitting pretty in 2001 were faced with a completely different and shocking reality after that year of upheaval. Those with little or no L10n experience went from making exorbitantly high salaries to having trouble even finding jobs a few years later. Today, for workers considering jobs in the industry, a reality check is in order. In this piece, I intend to sketch the current landscape for the job seeker from my perspective working for a staffing company that specializes in the globalization, internationalization, localization and translation (GILT) industry.
In the beginning of this decade, most Fortune 500 companies were using in-house staff, temporary contractors (to work on specific short-term needs), and vendors for the bulk of the translation work. More recently, we have seen a growing trend among companies to outsource their GILT activities more to vendors and use contractors for temporary periods where they previously would hire permanent staff. With globalization picking up speed again, we continue to see an increased demand for qualified L10n project and program managers, and quality assurance engineers. Larger companies are looking for more specialized people (L10n and internationalization (i18n) engineers) while smaller companies need more multi-faceted candidates able to wear many hats.
In the past six to twelve months, we have seen demand from client-side (i.e. non-vendor) companies grow and while contract jobs still far outstrip permanent positions. This suggests a continuation of the trend to outsource all but a few of the more senior jobs within L10n departments. Specifically, we have seen increasing demand for L10n project managers, L10n program managers (who lead overall L10n processes and often multiple project managers simultaneously) and quality assurance engineers (who ensure the vendor's work maintains required standards). Established companies with a strong international presence are looking for such experienced and trained project managers. Appropriate candidates need to possess superior communication and organizational skills. Further, they must be able to work on cross-functional teams. Positions requiring i18n engineers have also been difficult to fill, as well as less common language specialties such as Dutch and Turkish.
Smaller companies, generally those without a significant international presence yet, often require project managers to have even greater versatility. The technical, communication and organizational skills are identical but in addition, they are required to define L10n processes as well as hire and oversee resources and vendors. Besides having to be even better at multi-tasking, program managers on the other hand must have a deeper technical background to work with the development teams.
For both project managers as well as program managers, a general (or tool-specific) knowledge of enterprise content management systems (ECMS), including globalization management systems (GMS), is becoming an increasingly important asset to have. The increased sophistication of ECMS and their ability to address the entire life cycle of the content management supply chain have prompted companies to specify job requirements to include skills in leading GMS and ECMS.
So, what does all this mean for those of you who want to advance your careers in the L10n industry? Here are a few tips that may help you attain your goals in this fascinating industry.
- Make an inventory of your current skill set and where you want your career to go in order to decide whether you would create more added value to a vendor company or one engaged in localizing its products. Above all, be honest with yourself and set realistic goals and expectations.
- Should you find that you are lacking certain key skills, such as project management, make sure to learn the necessary, new, and relevant skills and technologies that will make you competitive. You don't need to go back to school full-time, as many organizations offer part-time, evening or online classes. In addition, industry organizations and academic institutions offer a variety of seminars and workshops that would be valuable assets to your resume.
- Investigate the vendor market by gathering in-depth information from industry organizations. By looking at a company's website, you can gather the necessary hints that show you who is involved with L10n and to what extent.
- Important transferable skills for getting into the L10n industry that will set you apart are: technical writing, business analysis, RFP (request for proposal) writing, scoping and project management and Sigma 6, among others.
- Network with people in the industry. You are lucky if you know someone who works in L10n but nowadays, tools like LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com), are great resources to help find contacts that may be able to help you along on your quest.
- Do your job search online and have a number of different CVs or resumes at the ready that highlight your skills in different ways so you can tailor each submittal. Use the newer job search sites such as www.indeed.com and www.jobster.com. These are spiders that crawl onto a multitude of job sites using your search specifications and give you one convenient place to find postings.
- Make use of a specialized recruiting or staffing company that understands the market and can anticipate events. While these companies work for the employer, they may be looking for someone with your particular combination of skills and experience. Oh, and always contact them before submitting your resume, otherwise you run the risk of landing in a 'black hole'.
Other pieces of advice useful in your search are applicable to any search you undertake and these days go without saying. I'll mention them anyway. For example, make sure your resume's spelling is impeccable (after all, you are looking for a job in a language industry!) and not longer than two pages. Remember to prepare adequately for the interview by researching the company and the interviewer(s), rehearsing common questions, etc.
What I would like you to take away from this article is that the economy is strengthening, including the L10n industry, and more broadly the content management industry. It still seems as though companies are not willing to commit to full-time hiring and will continue to look for contract help, so be flexible. As the economy continues to strengthen, the demand for qualified candidates will start to increase and permanent hire jobs may become more abundant. There are skills that you have now that could serve you well in the L10n industry. Take advantage of those institutions and organizations offering courses, certificates, seminars and workshops to learn new skills specific to the industry (as well as project management skills) to be a more competitive candidate. Do your homework on the industry and continue building your network. In everything regarding your localization career, let yourself be guided by the scouting motto: "Be prepared".
Larry Salas is a resource manager with Comsys Globalization. He is originally from Curacao, Netherlands Antilles and has dual degrees in computer science and economics. Larry's career has spanned the Caribbean and the U.S. He has been a business owner in the book industry, as well as an international sales executive in academic publishing. Prior to joining Comsys Globalization, he worked as a freelance translator. Larry has a passion for languages and is quadrilingual. He can be reached at [email protected] or by calling (781) 907-6254.