Have you thought about using the freelance marketplace website Upwork to look for interpreting or translating work? What are the pros and cons? And is it really worth all the time you need to invest in applying for jobs? A translator colleague of ours, Dania Habib, tried the site. Here’s what she experienced with the first contract she landed:

I initially created an account in 1998 with Elance, which is known today as Upwork. The freelancing platform allows people from around the world to get contracts in their field, from graphic design and architecture to consulting, marketing, and translating/interpreting. As with any similar platform, creating an attractive profile that boasts about your experience, skills, and certifications takes a bit of time. Then, each job posting on Upwork requires an application and cover letter. In my experience and field (translation), the challenge often lies in getting hired, making all that time and effort spent worth it.

How Upwork works

Once you create your profile, you can start browsing for jobs according to your industry by using relevant keywords or languages you specialize in.

Here’s an example of a job/project you might find:

Sample job posting on Upwork

When you find a project you like, you can place your bid and indicate the amount of time you estimate the project will take. You then write a cover letter and attach any other documents to support your qualifications. Each job has an amount of “connects” or virtual tokens that you need to use for your application. You also have the option to “boost” your proposal to place it at the top of the candidate list.

Boost your proposal section of an Upwork job post

The pros and cons of Upwork


  • The site offers a large international pool of jobs.
  • The site is great if you’re in a niche industry or have a specialty.
  • You can see how many proposals there are for each job posting.
  • Client reviews show on your profile.
  • The site follows current tax laws, and you can add your tax information.
  • You can find premium/recurring clients on the site and develop a professional alliance.
  • The site includes an integrated time-tracking tool for you to bill per hour.
  • The site offers payment protection.
  • The site handles the contracts, billing, invoicing, and mediation.
  • Using the site is a good way to kickstart a freelancing career or practice newer skills.


  • Job descriptions do not offer much information for you to make an adequate proposal or offer.
  • There is competition with other proposals that have extremely low bids for not necessarily quality work.
  • There is competition with other freelancers registered on the site from more than 180 countries.*
  • Often, you do not hear back from employers.
  • There are scams and scammers.

My experience with Upwork

I applied for several jobs on Upwork, but I never heard back from anyone. Were my profile and cover letters adequate? Maybe there were too many proposals and mine didn’t shine bright enough. I will never know.

Last year, I landed my first job on the platform. The client was searching for someone with experience in the script and movie industry, which I highlighted in my proposal. Because there were only five other proposals for this job, I boosted mine with extra “connects” to put my application at the top of the candidate list.

We agreed on a price. I started using the time-tracking tool but ended up needing to process a refund before the full payment was made. Due to the client’s and my lack of experience using the platform, this ended up costing us both, but I was more penalized as the service and administration fees are much higher for freelancers. However, I want to highlight that I loved the project, and sometimes, passion is more important than money.

In conclusion, I think every freelancer should go on Upwork to look for work, especially when you have fewer contracts and can take the time to create a profile, browse through job listings, and write cover letters. Upwork is also a great place for beginners to gain experience in their field, to get practice in complementary services and skills, or if you have unique qualifications. In my case, as a translator with a few language combinations, I always face competing with 30–50 bids for each job post, and I do not find this worth my time. I believe that Upwork should be used as a supplementary way to earn extra money and clients, not as a main source of income.

*Source: https://investors.upwork.com/static-files/cf4ef777-2f78-49fb-8e85-3d760c54643c, accessed July 2023. Upwork doesn’t reveal the number of freelancers registered on its site.