Here’s a running list of questions I ask agencies. I don’t ask all of them in every meeting but I often use these to establish a strong foundation for good communication and a warm relationship. This is a living article with new questions being added based on consultations in my own practice as well as with practitioners.
Click any question title to jump to an expansion on the topic.
When and how can I get a hold of you if there is an issue with a client?
Often, you’ll find yourself in a job where the dynamic suddenly changes and you need additional resources. You might arrive to a job expecting one thing and arrive to something entirely different. Last year in an episode of Pro’s & Q’s we discussed a situation where a male interpreter expected to arrive to a standard physical for a male patient only to find out it was a female patient in active labor. The interpreter then needed to reach a representative at the agency as the patient preferred a female interpreter, but it was late at night. In situations like these, it’s important you’re familiar with the protocol and when possible, collaborative in its creation.
How do you prefer to communicate?
This should be a standard question in every meeting. I don’t like chasing people and as a freelancer, I don’t really have the time in my schedule to. What I prefer is direct communication and I’m always happy to be flexible with whatever avenue it takes to make it possible. Some agencies prefer strictly email for paper trails, others don’t mind texts for lighter questions, some prefer text for everything. Whatever the method, you can easily avoid frustration and resentment from the representative(s) you’re working with by getting this boundary established up front.
What percentage of gigs are you able to get prep for?
While this might seem a bit presumptuous to ask in the first meeting, in my experience it opens up the conversation about prep which often leads to their preference in how it’s asked for. Prep work is often a nuisance and it really shouldn’t be. I think the vast majority of interpreters would tell you as an industry we need to be better with it. I like to get a sense of how an agency handles it up front before I get my expectations too high. It also helps me strategize in how I’ll ask and forecast how much legwork I’ll have to do on my own. An agency who doesn’t get it for me will need to pay me more.
Do you advocate for prep time?
If not, how can I? I think this question is a great indicator of how much experience and comfortability a company has in the space.
What are you doing to support an increased presence of DI/CDIs in our field?
I personally love this question. My goal is and has always been: to work with Deaf Interpreters more. Not only are they experts in the culture and the language but they offer a unique insight into our work. I’ve never left a job with a Deaf Interpreter worse than when I came in. I’ve always improved my practice in one way or another and seeing their lack of representation in our field should serve as a constant reminder that we can and should advocate for their much needed services at every turn. This question signals to the agency that you have an active investment in this field and your own work. It also serves to communicate that accountability is something fundamental to your practice.
What is your cancellation policy with clients/is it different than with contractors?
I know plenty of colleagues who would consider this question controversial but I like to know upfront what the business policies of a potential partner are. Is the agency charging a cancellation to the client of 7 days but only paying out 1 day to the interpreter? That seems shady to me. I want to partner with someone who does good business and if their practices seem exploitive to me, they will have a harder time earning my business. Consider that every time you go to work with their name on the invoice, their reputations gets directly associated to the face in the chair… yours.
What sort of efforts do you participate in, in the community?
This doesn’t have to be a confrontational question or a competition but a great opportunity for collaboration. If an agency I’m working with is sponsoring free interpreting at dog adoption events, I want in!
How do you support new students?
To me, this is absolutely central to a deal. I will not partner with an agency who does not have supports in place for new graduates and students. Of course I always expect agencies to take advantage of their ignorance, hence this blog and course. However, if an agency is putting new graduates in dangerous situations that could destroy their reputation before they even have a chance to practice… it’s a no. Full stop.
How do you feel about seasoned interpreters charging a premium when working with students?
I like to know that agencies respect the investment we place back into the profession. While most of the agencies I’ve worked with over the years don’t offer this, it’s a great entry point to discuss their additional fees offered. I also can usually get a sense of the respect they carry for their more seasoned interpreters based on their response. I’ve heard “no, but we ensure that they have dibs on other work and more convenient hours as a trade off for their support on jobs where we’re curating a pool of interpreters for a specific client”. I’ll accept that. If they’re just churning new interpreters into the mix without regard for the impact it has on their talent pool, I’m disappointed and will consider that in my overall relationship and time investment with them. For the record, I don’t typically charge for this because it’s a passion of mine and I don’t want to create a potential barrier to working with new talent. I do however, think additional fees are very deserved and I stand by that.