Managing availabilities: your sidekick on the web

Make sure it doesn't take recruiters too long that you are free for the days they needs you.

You are a freelance interpreter. How long do you spend managing your time? How long does it take a recruiter to figure out that you might be available for that special assignment where your language combination or your expertise would make all the difference? Probably too long.

Let's take your side of the relationship first. You have been in business long enough to know whom it is worthwhile to send availability information to. Assume that there are six or seven such key recruiters: a couple of consultant interpreters, a couple of big Professional Conference Organisers or groupings, and the regulars in the European Union or United Nations sectors.

Now let's do the drudgery:

  • You must keep track of when you last sent an updated card to each of your pet recruiters;
  • You must remember how regularly each prefers to get an update;
  • You must take heed of the format. In practice this means dusting off one or two of those antique AIIC-labelled calendar cards, because that is the only format that will fit into the consultant interpreters' shoeboxes. But it will have to be e-mail for the big PCO, because they say it is so much more convenient, and would you please do your calendar in state-of-the-art Word 97 with embedded Excel? And fax, of course, is how your calendar is to be sent to the big boys of the agreement sector, probably because they assume that as a non-local you like to pay long-distance;
  • You realise that you may want to customise your availability information, including options in some cases only, excluding whole months in others, etc;
  • You can now start writing your individual cards, emails, attachments, and faxes. By the time you send them all, you have probably missed dinner.

On the recruiter's end, how is the information processed?

  • If they have an IT system and a formal structure in place, their staff will manually enter your dates into a management database. But in many cases their system will be defeated by the heterogeneity of the information that they receive, as many interpreters will fill in their card following their own logic;
  • Most of the time, recruiters will not have a computerised recruitment system with built-in time management, and your fax, card or e-mail will hit the paper tray, stacked vertically for future reference;
  • In some cases your information may even get lost, or end up in the wastepaper basket.

And what happens when a meeting comes up?

Not much if it is a normal day, a regular client, a standard language regime, and there is a decent lead-time. Human memory works wonders in such situations. But if it is a busy day, a new or difficult client, or a tricky language combination and all ten interpreters have to be in the booth at 9 a.m. tomorrow-or all of the above-the recruiter will wish they did not have to browse through 100 availability cards, leave 50 urgent messages on colleagues' answering machines, and pray that they are free when they eventually call back.

By now you realise that the time and effort you spent on compiling and sending individual availability information in all possible formats was in vain, because the data could not be used when it really would have made all the difference between a contract and no contract.

Should we leave it at that? Or is there a way to make the recruiting side of the profession as a whole both more efficient and more effective?

Solving this conundrum means reconciling some seemingly contradictory objectives: facilitating time management for individual interpreters and improving their chances on the market, and providing recruiters with meaningful and immediately usable information whilst allowing interpreters to retain full control over their diaries and securing confidentiality.

In other words, what we want is a world-wide availability exchange that both interpreters and recruiters can tailor to their own needs to exchange private information.

System description

The system we are looking at exchanges interpreter availabilities over the Web, and does only that, albeit centrally and systematically. It is not an electronic booking system and could not be. Since most freelance interpreters have multiple clients, they can be booked only after confirming with them personally that they are ready and willing to take a given assignment.

Using any Internet-enabled device (computer, Web-TV, PIM, or any other hand-held gadget) the interpreter logs on to the system. His workspace is a simple calendar, where dates can be left open or marked as "busy" or "have option", for instance.

You're often out of town and are concerned that regular updating will be difficult? You have just accepted an offer, or one of your options has just been cancelled, and you would like to refresh your calendar but you have no computer or Internet connection at hand? Your mobile phone is all you need. You will be able to call the system and update your details using your mobile phone's keypad. The technology is there to do that right now.

For the more sophisticated, we could also imagine a dual offline/online system. Similar to how home banking often works, a personal time management application running on your computer would allow you to edit your availabilities and other settings offline, and when you're through the programme would briefly connect to the Internet to update the online database.

That information is then made available to recruiters, but according to an individual profile defined at least once by each interpreter. Recruiter profiles could include various options such as:

  • Who can consult my availability information? (Anyone on the Web, any interpreter participating in the system, all registered recruiters, selected registered recruiters, etc.);
  • What can individual recruiters see? (Available dates, available dates and options, available dates if the assignment is in the interpreter's home base, etc.);
  • For each recruiter, what time-frame should the calendar cover? (Information as above for the next week, two weeks, month, quarter; no information between dates X and Y, etc.)

Recruiters can be any consultant interpreter, PCO, secretariat, co-operative or international organisation. To access the system for the first time, they must register. They can also set up personal interpreter profiles, filtering in or out interpreters from the recruiter's own workspace, for example, or including or excluding interpreters based on their languages or geographical distribution, etc. If you recruit for the German market, chances are that colleagues in, say, Latin America will be of little interest to you. Then, using a Web interface similar to AIIC Extranet's (see figure 1) with an add-on calendar, they can shortlist interpreters on multiple criteria, including availability on certain dates.

Figure 1: Interpreter Search Interface. Available to AIIC members at

To make the system even more efficient, large recruiters using in-house recruitment packages can incrementally download the availability information to which they are entitled to refresh their own databases at regular intervals. How much information recruiters get by interpreter and even whether they get the information in the first place depends on the individual profiles defined by both parties. Confidentiality is tamper-proof. The system itself is hosted and managed by a third-party.

Figure 2: With an add-on calendar to further narrow down the search, interpreters could also be shortlisted on certain dates, depending on their availabilities, as shown above in this recruitment software package.

New technologies and work processes are a desirable option only if they benefit all parties involved, and are accepted as such. Automating the exchange of interpreter availabilities appears to be a perfect choice in this regard:

  • Once managed centrally yet in a customisable format, availability information is turned into a real asset for the interpreter;
  • Recruiting interpreters is made more efficient across the board and less costly;
  • The profession approaches technological change in the driver's seat.

The road ahead

The suggestion of an AIIC-sponsored, world-wide interpreter availability exchange was first put forward at a joint meeting between AIIC and the chief interpreters of all major international organisations in May 1999. AIIC was encouraged to explore the matter further.

AIIC interpreters are still being consulted on the matter. When the consultation process is over a couple of months down the road, we will carry out a market and feasibility study.

By the way, the proposed system would not necessarily be restricted to AIIC interpreters only, so feedback from any of you out there is most welcome.

Recommended citation format:
Vincent BUCK. "Managing availabilities: your sidekick on the web". February 15, 2000. Accessed August 20, 2019. <>.

About the author(s)
Vincent BUCK

Vincent Buck is a Brussels-based freelance conference interpreter and IT systems analyst

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Comments 7

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The above comment was posted on the request of Serge Mouravieff.

Serge had previously posted another comment under the same article a couple days ago. His comment did appear on the site as soon as he hit the 'Submit' button.

In parallel, all comments posted under an article are also routinely emailed to the original author and - if they so requested when posting their own comments - to other participants in the thread.

Notification is delivery by email by a mail robot (a bot, in Internet jargon). We called it Loquace/Loquacious because we thought it was a funny name back then.

Now, Loquace/Loquacious does not filter anything out. It just dispatches messages. That said, web editors do have the possibility of editing/removing comments from the website and have been doing it on occasion (typically in the case of self-promotion, totally off-topic or offensive comments. But that's it.

So please accept our apologies if we gave you the impression that we were in any way filtering out comments. That's certainly not the case. And everybody in AIIC is committed to this website being as interactive as possible.

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Sorry for my imperfect English (C) but I didn't catch (nor find in my

dictionary) what a mail bot is. Besides, to be honest, I don't appreciate

very much talking to an Anonymous Censor who, in addition, seems to have

completely misunderstood both the article I commented upon and the comment

itself. The latter incidentally was meant for Vincent Buck and all the

colleagues visiting the site.

As the Russian proverb has it, ????? ????????? ?? ???????? (syty golodnogo

ne ponimaet), whose belly is full can't understand the hungry. Your byline

reflects just that.

Right you are : I do not spend much time managing my time. Because to

manage it I need engagement proposals. Right you are again : it does not

take much time a recruiter to figure out that I might be available for that

special assignment where my language combination or my expertise would make

all the difference ; he/she has only to call me or my secretariat. Provided

he has the means to know: a) that I exist at all and what are my

coordinates; b) what are my language combination and my expertise; c)

whether I am available on the days he needs me.

But on the site he/she can only learn that I exist, what are my

whereabouts and that Russian is one of the languages I work with. She/he has

no means of knowing straightaway whether Russian is my A language or my C

language (which makes a lot of difference: this is available on extranet,

but he has no access to it), and no means at all to learn about my expertise

and availability. To know that, he/she must browse in alphabetical order or

at random through all the links in the long list of the 46 Geneva

interpreters having Russian as one of their languages (of which 90 % have

Russian as a C language) until she/he finds what she/he needs (if he looks

for Russian A, he'll find only 12 names!). It goes without saying that

unless she knows beforehand the name of an interpreter who suits her, she

will be satisfied with the first name found.

So, if you are a beginner, and/or a newcomer on the market, and/or if you

have more important business to do than flinging yourself about to court all

the would-be recruiters, and/or if your name does not begin with an A or a

Z, and/or if you are satisfied with just enough engagements to earn a modest

living (say 50-60 days per year), then you are condemned at the slightest

fluctuation of the market (e. g. when your habitual recruiters no longer

need you) to find yourself completely unemployed.

I know for sure that this is the case of many colleagues who have no easy

means of making themselves heard by the recruiters and being treated on an

equal footing with their more lucky colleagues (hyperactive, veterans,

habitués, AIIC officers etc.) who, of course, are not much inclined to move

up (whence the 'official' reaction to Buck's proposal which shows through

your byline and the absence on the site of any more recent comment, n'est-ce


Vincent Buck's proposal has three enormous qualities.

First of all it gives the recruiters direct access to the coordinates of all

the interpreters having a particular language combination in a particular

region and it gives them direct access to the interpreters' electronic

availability cards, where, incidentally, their special fields of expertise

could also be mentioned.

Second, it creates absolutely equal opportunities for all the interpreters

of a region — provided they're AIIC members — , whether young or old timers,

long time residents or newcomers, greedy wolves or shy lambs: the sole

criterion would be their professional efficiency.

Third, it poses no technical and financial problems : search by region and

combination is already available on extranet ; electronic availability cards

were (and perhaps are still) in use in Brussels at the EU SCIC extranet. Of

course, those AIIC members who are not interested would be free to remain


I wind up with two demands: (1) that my comment be posted where I put it,

and (b) that your (dear Mail Bot) comment for's comment watch

service and this here reply of mine be published as a seprate item in the

next issue of Communicate! and of the Bulletin. I hope that my 806 CHF

contribution to AIIC gives me this right. OK?


Much more loquacious Serge Mouravieff

on 14.10.2003 23:02, at wrote:

> Hi, this is the loquacious mail bot at!


> I was asked by's comment watch service to bring you this message:


> Article: Managing Availabilities: your Sidekick on the Web

> Byline: You are a freelance interpreter. How long do you spend managing

> your time? How long does it take a recruiter to figure out that you might

> be available for that special assignment where your language combination or

> your expertise would make all the difference?


> Probably too longsted: 15 Feb 2000

> URL:


> ------------------------

> A new comment was just posted by Serge Mouravieff

> (





> AIIC.MAIL - A service of the International Association of Conference

> Interpreters to Members

> ---





> Message:

> What a pity, Vincent, that there has been no progress since 2000. Even your

> questionnaire no longer exists. Has the project been abandonned? What is

> the present state of affairs? What are the obstacles? If AIIC is not

> enthusiastic maybe a private or cooperative system of the "secrétariat

> d'interprétation" type could be set by interested volunteers not only to

> manage the interpreters availability but also as PR tool?


> Comment URL:

> ------------------------


> The 5 comments posted under the above article are available at




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Serge Mouravieff


What a pity, Vincent, that there has been no progress since 2000. Even your questionnaire no longer exists. Has the project been abandonned? What is the present state of affairs? What are the obstacles? If AIIC is not enthusiastic maybe a private or cooperative system of the "secrétariat d'interprétation" type could be set by interested volunteers not only to manage the interpreters availability but also as PR tool?

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Vincent Buck


Just to remind AIIC members that a questionnaire has been posted on the Extranet at to collect their views and questions about this online availability initiative

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Marilda Averbug


Dear Vincent,

I've enjoyed and learned from your explanations about the system. As far as I'm concerned we should go ahead with this project.

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Phil Smith


You should continue. The suggested system has its attractions and, Vincent, you are right to say that the old postcard/shoebox system has probably had its day.

Would being on the system not suggest an AIIC endorsement of the person? Therefore I wonder about opening it up to all and sundry.

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Anne Lamming


Your article on interpreters' time management was fascinating, and so were

your proposals for a diary/time-listing.

Yes, please, go ahead with the plan ASAP. There must be many of us out here

looking for just such a tool!

The only reservation I have is about putting non-members on: who checks

their professional qualities?

Thanks also for all the interesting ideas you are proposing!


Anne Lamming

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