During my years as an interpreter and as a manager of interpreting services, there were 5 characteristics of interpreters that began to emerge from my go to group of interpreters.

1. Being on time.

Seriously, this is an issue. In the rush to fill out the schedule with jobs, interpreters try to cut corners and that means less flexibility and showing up late.

2. Dressing appropriately.

I was so disappointed when I was running an agency how often I needed to have this conversation. It’s not, “wear black, not navy.” It’s more like, “don’t wear spaghetti strap dresses.” If this is a professional field, don’t look like you just walked off the beach.

3. Flexibility on site and during jobs.

This one, flexibility, might be the most important characteristic. Addresses can be entered incorrectly. You get an office phone number for M off-site job, or, turns out the job is for DeafBlind but it wasn’t marked appropriately. Stuff happens. Be a Boy Scout or Girl Scout, aka, always be prepared.

4. Soft skills.

Soft skills will get you the most positive feedback from consumers. Realistically, most consumers and requesters will not be bilingual or trilingual (especially the hearing consumers). So, when they look over at the interpreter to see “if they are doing a good job,” soft skills is the easiest skill or ability to see.

5. Accurate and timely invoicing.

While federal and state law will typically give you multiple years to invoice for your services, agencies really dislike anything past 60 days. Most would want an invoice every 2 or 4 weeks. Some platforms “auto-invoice,” so that would take care of that for you. But, if you are creating your own invoices, plan on sending them out weekly. Also, remember the agencies’ payment cycles and due dates or you might be waiting a month for a check.

It might be hard to imagine that language fluency or interpreting mastery is not on the list. There is a reason for that. Of course, there must be a minimum level of competency for interpreters. That's exactly what certification is designed to assess. Certification is not intended to tell you which interpreter to select for a job, or even how good that interpreter is. Certification is intended to demonstrate that (among other things, like ethical decision-making) an interpreter has met that minimum quality and level of proficiency.

Emory David Dively

Emory is an NIC: Master ASL interpreter, has operated small and large agencies, and consulted with agencies across the US. He has an MA in Communication & Leadership from Gonzaga University.