Spoiler: It’s not about education.
- Specialization. A professional works in a narrow area. This way they can constantly improve their knowledge in it and not lose focus. Working in ten unrelated subjects means not becoming truly competent in any of them.
- Thoroughness. A professional translates the meaning not the words. They are not afraid to replace negative sentences with affirmative ones, unite or break phrases to make the text flow, and mercilessly get rid of calques. A word-by-word translation is the first sign that the translator focuses on yield not quality.
- Experience and education. Having a degree is helpful but not mandatory. Experience is more important: how long have they been in the business, what type of texts do they work with, do they have positive customer feedback? Granted, translating well does not require having a ten-page résumé — but some things only come from experience.
- Rates. A professional knows how much their work is worth, and does not hesitate to take more for urgency or less for volume.
- Honesty. A professional can use machine translation as a draft, but then it is called “post-editing” not “translation”. This is a different kind of work, with different rates, requirements and techniques. You can’t hand over an edited MT output as if it were a proper translation: This is unethical and immediately visible.
- Communication. A professional is always in contact with the client. They ask questions, propose new terms for glossaries, and say if the translation memory or the original text are “buggy”. They immediately let the client know if they cannot meet the deadline and take responsibility for that, trying to find a way out of the situation together with the client.
- Technology. Finally, a professional knows how to use modern CAT tools. This way they can focus on translation, and let the machine do routine, automatable work.