5 Easy Career Enhancers for Sign Language Interpreters

July 10, 2013

What makes up a successful career as a sign language Interpreter? Brandon Arthur offers 5 simple steps that will add an important level of polish to your career.

What makes up a successful career as a sign language interpreter? Logically, it depends on who is asked. Regardless of what are ultimately determined to be the magic ingredients, those interpreters who are the most successful and satisfied in their work are those who consistently seek out opportunities to grow as a professional.

While this growth may seem like it is only possible over time, and time being an important part, I believe there are steps one can take to establish a foundation for success.

Below you will find 5 simple steps that will add an important level of polish to your career.

 1.  A Pro bono Injection.

Commit to accepting pro bono assignments. Notice I didn’t say volunteer? This commitment consciously moves us past the concerns for payment and terms and reconnects us with the fundamental reason we signed up to do this work—supporting people.

There is a tremendous satisfaction in knowing your work as a sign language interpreter has made a difference. Pro bono work will rewarm the goo inside, which will do wonders for your perspective on the work and your role in it.

Pro bono grants perspective.

2.  Forgo the CEUs.

Identify a couple of learning opportunities annually that you believe will genuinely enhance your daily work, sign up, and actively attend. At the conclusion of the learning, forgo the CEUs for the activity. Consciously decide that the learning was for the enhancement of your work as a sign language interpreter and ultimately the experience of those consuming that work.

There is a confidence that comes to the interpreter who hones their craft in the interest of those who use their service.

The right type of confidence is rewarded with abundant opportunity.

3.  Volunteer Your Time.

Take an opportunity to volunteer at least once per year at a community- or industry-related event. It is no secret that local, regional, and national organizations working in the interests of the Deaf community and sign language interpreters are under-resourced and depend on the generous acts of volunteers to support their work.

Become the change you want to see by lending a hand.  The connections made during these opportunities will serve you both short- and long-term.

 4.  Celebrate Your Colleagues.

For one week, commit to sending a handwritten note of appreciation to each of the sign language interpreters you encounter on the job. Specifically compliment them on what you appreciated about their work and what you enjoyed most about working with them.

Celebrating your colleagues in this way requires that you are conscious of the work done while together and that you recognize the talents your fellow interpreters bring to the field.

The karma of these acts of appreciation will come back to you tenfold.

5.  Set One Goal.

Take an opportunity to set one goal, big or small.  Set out and do that thing that you have wanted to do but haven’t made time for. When done, set another. The act of setting the goal and accomplishing it is very empowering. This empowerment will extend to your work and introduce you to new opportunities to challenge yourself, all of which will make you a more versatile sign language interpreter.

So, take that photography class. You might just be the next Jo Hilton!

In Short

The easiest approach to career enhancement for a sign language interpreter is through acts of conscious generosity. Through a willingness to give of your time, talents, and resources you will discover an abundance of opportunity to create a meaningful difference in the lives of those we serve. It is in these opportunities that true career enhancement is possible.

What suggestions do you have on how to enhance the career of a sign language interpreter?

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42 Comments on "5 Easy Career Enhancers for Sign Language Interpreters"

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Stephanie Merchant

This is fantastic.

I just finished a week of Deaf Camp at Camp Pecometh in Centreville Maryland. We had 32 campers with special needs ranging in age from 22-79.


Additionally it provided a safe space to collaborate with staff from the group homes who are Deaf about strategies for dealing with this special population.

I feel as though I got a week long workshop at no cost.

Anyone who is interested in giving even one day the first week of July 2014, email me at stephaniemerchant@gmail.com!

Aaron Brace

Hi Stephanie,

Pardon the digression, but I attended Camp Pecometh 40 years ago! I grew up in Chestertown. Nice to hear they’re serving Deaf campers.

Thanks for the blast from the past!


Randi Decker

Can we start a list of volunteer opportu.nities by region or state?

Thank you for this article. I have continuously voiced the need for “giving back” by doing pro bono service. Over the years my skills were so very much enhanced by the amazing people I surrounded myself with in these situations. I have, in the past, been chastised for “taking away paying jobs”, which was ridiculous as we all know that there are those opportunities that don’t allow for payment in dollars. What needs to be understood is that payment doesn’t always come in the form of money. The skills learned, the vocabulary given, the voicing improvements, the opportunity to see… Read more »
I coordinate a team and interpret an annual 2-day festival. It is low-impact and though it’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of fun. This year, i had one of the largest teams ever. I got a LOT OF FEEDBACK and the comments that led me to set up some workshops in music interpretation by people who interpret in this setting for a living. You know you have a great team of interpreters when they feel free to communicate problems and solutions. It really renewed my self confidence that what I do is extremely valued and that Pro Bono… Read more »
Aaron Brace

Hi Brandon,

Great framework! Can you help me understand the difference between #1 and #3? I’m a bit confused by why you emphasized that you don’t mean “volunteering” in #1, and then offer volunteering as a separate step in #3.



I’m not sure what Brandon means, but I view Pro Bono work as committing to a consumer, or a client over the course of time, while Volunteering is committing to a single event.


What a wonderful commentary Brandon. I plan on passing this out to any and every interpreter I can.

Aaron, I “read” #1 to mean don’t just volunteer, actually get up and do Pro bono work. and #3 to mean volunteer your time (not necessarily as an interpreter) to help organizations.

At least that was how I saw the difference between the two.

Terri Hayes
ProBono/volunteer interpreting is theoretically a fine idea and is suppose to be representative of “giving back” to the community – but this topic just makes me so angry I could spit. Where I live, the business’s and event planners are aware that there is a school or two locally who are training interpreters and these people PLAN *not* to pay for interpreters because they believe they can get a volunteer or a “student” to do their events – for free. (A much better deal if you’re on a budget!) They do not consider (because they need not be aware of)… Read more »

I believe the exact opposite – other professions, such as the legal and medical fields, undertake pro bono and voluntary work and this is actually a measure of their professionalism. There are professionals out there whose sole reason for accepting paid work is so that they can undertake more voluntary work.

It’s strange how advocates for ever-higher “standards” of professionalism in interpreting seem to ignore this particular standard.


Terri….has anyone there had a conversation with the instructors or department head of the ITP in your area? It seems they are supporting a violation of the CPC before these young students even begin their careers. Has anyone spoken to the new interpreters about this behavior? Perhaps a short presentation by a “seasoned interpreter” would assist the ITP in graduating interpreters who understand the full picture of our profession.

Thank you so much! What you say is exactly what has happen in our community. I am a strong believer in giving back to our community, but not at the expense of losing our professionalism. I live in a rural area where interpreters before me were either: friends, family members,someone from from the church, or a neighbor who knew some signs, and would interpret for free because they just wanted to HELP. I have been working for 4 1/2 years trying to tear the walls down and inform the community that interpreters are professionals, we are certified and licensed we… Read more »

Tell us more about this Jo Hilton person?


She is an amazing photographer, chef, jewelry designer, party planner, host, interior designer and above all Trend-setter!!!

LOVED #2!!!! As a presenter and someone who attends workshops to maintain her CDI, I (and probably most of us!) often can tell which participants are there just for the CEUs…at times, that has been me, I have to be honest. However, as I get older and HOPEFULLY wiser, I have come to really, really appreciate the sheer amount of work, energy, and commitment the presenters and other participants put in each and every workshop. That’s why I so much support this requirement for certification, even if it can be a pain in the arse at times. Thank you for… Read more »
Aaron Brace
What do you think about trying to shift our concept of what we do from the term “career” to something more like “vocation”? The former, here in the US at least, is rooted in cultural notions of status and financial gain, while the latter denotes a personal investment and commitment to the work one does and the people one serves. One can, of course, pursue a career with the ardor of a vocation, but “career” just seems to have a magnetic pull toward academia, credentials and advancement that is self-centered, and that gets in the way of committing to the… Read more »

To indulge the romanticised notions / sentiments is to subvert the functional at the expense of support services, for the Deaf or any other environment that requires support services.

Aaron Brace

Hi Ashley,

I’m not sure I understand your use of the words “indulge” and “romanticised” here. Discussing ways for interpreters to be less financially-driven and more community-driven seems like anything but a romantic indulgence. It’s actually at the heart of what Deaf people tell us is missing.

Could you elaborate on what brought those words to mind for you?


I would like to add that there are places like Library Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing that try to provide resources so that interpreters can easily advance in their skills and find out about events going on through the state of Tennessee. I work there and we have thousands of resources about deafness, interpreting, deaf education, speech reading, cued speech, etc. We can ship them to anybody in the state of Tennessee for free. On our website we have an in depth Directory of Services that lists all services provided to deaf/Hard of Hearing throughout the state.… Read more »

Not at all a critique, likely a different way of framing a similar point. I like to track my ceu’s, just to turn in well more than the required amount. I do often forget, it isn’t at the forefront of my mind but any time i hear someone complaining about the requirements i like to respond with, “wow i was done with my required ceu’s a year or 2 prior to my cycle end”. I don’t do this just to be a smart alec, well, sometimes i do….
Fun stuff, be well!

Jenny Miller
A possible addition with a story, or it could be included with #5. About a year out of high school I ran into a friend that was starting his first year of art school. I asked him how he liked it. He said he didn’t, they just kept making him do shading exercises and still lifes, while he fancied himself more of an abstract expressionist. Sometimes I think even after (cough cough) years in the business, that I should go back to my ITP and ask them to re-teach me what I may have forgotten. I think another possible goal… Read more »
Windy Kellems
Hi everyone, Great article and great discussion! Regarding the topic of pro-bono interpreting service, I think we should take our cues from professions for whom pro-bono work is a standard. I cannot imagine an attorney accepting a case pro bono for a client who can and by all rights should pay for their services, such as a corporation or a well-to-do doctor. On the other hand, many attorneys do pro-bono work at places like Legal Aid centers and for people who are unable to afford an attorney. Taking my cues from this, I do pro-bono work in settings where clients… Read more »
Brandon, Very insightful article and I feel aligned in your perspective 100%. Could I ask your opinion then on the Motion D proposal to submit documentation of 20 hours of “Pro Bono” work as part of our CMP cycles? Just curious how we would actually approach this as a profession if it was a part of our requirements for certification. I echo Windy Kellems perspective on the concept of “Pro Bono”. In my humble opinion, I tend to define “Pro Bono” as fee-based professional services provided at no cost, where as volunteering is providing yourself to service an organization in… Read more »

[…] 5 Easy Career Enhancers by Brandon Arthur […]

[…] This idea is often met with contention. Many sign language interpreters believe if they engage in pro-bono work that requesting entities will assume all interpreters will work “for free” and that ultimately doing such work will undermine the efficacy of such laws as the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, there are opportunities to donate your services to organizations that are well-deserving or otherwise not covered under the various accommodations laws we have in place. Think about things like Oxford House meetings (for recovering substance abusers), AA or NA meetings, religious services or events, non-profit events such as Race for… Read more »

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