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Friday, July 18, 2008

Podcast: What Transcription Companies are Looking for in ICs

We are very excited to be sharing this podcast with you, which is hopefully just the first of many to come. We recently had the opportunity to talk to the CEO for one of the larger transcription companies in this industry, who was kind enough to share some very useful and valuable information with us regarding this career as a whole as well as a little about outsourcing and a lot about what they are looking for in work-at-home independent contractors (ICs).

We have several options for listening to this podcast:

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(Note from Tara: The Switchpod player and site were crashing my IE. If you experience this problem, please leave us a comment so we can look into this issue further!)





TRANSCRIPT

Shaina, Transcription Talk:
Today we're talking with JR, who is the CEO of one of the larger transcription companies in the industry. He's taking the time today to answer a few questions for those of you who might be interested in learning about working in the industry. Hi, JR.

JR, Transcription Company CEO:
Hi, Shaina.

Shaina, Transcription Talk:
As you look for new ICs how important are cover letters and résumés to you?

JR, Transcription Company CEO:
I think résumés and cover letters are actually really important. A lot of times because it's over the internet or because it's via email there's times where I think people might send off a résumé or a cover letter a lot more casually than they would if they were sending a formal letter. We can typically tell almost immediately who's taken the time to really take interest in the position of a transcriptionist versus the ones who've kind of sent of a résumé from some job posting site they found that lists a lot of different non-telecommuting jobs.

So, to me, they're very important, and it's something that anybody that's thinking about working from home should treat it just as the same as they would as if they were applying for a real job.

Shaina, Transcription Talk:
And are there any things that grab your attention when you look through a list of potential independent contractors?

JR, Transcription Company CEO:
Yeah. There's a few things. One of the best ways to probably grab the attention for any job that anyone's applying for over the internet is to actually put text in your email, meaning like that's probably actually the best place to put your cover letter. And a lot of times, if you're going to put text in there, a lot of times the shorter the better. You could still put a cover letter and a résumé attached.

But generally speaking, what we look for is someone who's taken the time even in that email to mention the word "transcriptionist" because that immediately lets us know that, okay, they're really interested in being a transcriptionist; they're not just looking for ten different jobs and sending, again, off that blank, general résumé. So, I think that helps a lot because that way whoever's looking at it is not having to open up a separate attachment just to read the cover letter, but it immediately grabs your attention.

I think it's also important if you can put your résumé in a Word document. That's just the standard really for businesses today. Occasionally we'll get résumés in Word Perfect documents, and sometimes people will put a note saying, "Let me know if you can't open this," and 100 times out of 100 that's going to result in no one contacting them because we're not going to take the time to email someone to ask them to resend their résumé in a format that really – when Word should be the standard.

But I think those are the big things. Even if they're not qualified for it, if they don’t have a lot of experience, I think just mentioning why they're interested in the actual position is always helpful. I would encourage people at the same time to avoid sharing personal stories. We do get a lot of applicants who will tell us why they need the money or why they need the job, and it could range from health problems to maybe a spouse who just got laid off of work. I know, at the risk of sounding callous, that, honestly, it doesn’t help get a job. It's actually personal information you probably shouldn’t share in applying for a professional position, no matter how hard things might be right now for you financially. I think the more professional you can keep it the better, as compelling and tempting as it might want to be to share that. I think it's just – it’s better all the way around to kind of keep it to why you're interested in the position.

Shaina, Transcription Talk:
Great. What things most stand out to you when you start looking at transcription tests, both negative and positive?

JR, Transcription Company CEO:
The biggest one is following the directions. I think the ones that haven't followed instructions on the test files that we send we can literally probably take five seconds to look at and immediately know that they're not in consideration because it's that obvious. We're really sticklers for who we bring on, and we basically figure if someone can't wow us on a test file, then they're probably not going to be that good of a fit for the company.

It's something that if a test file is kind of your one chance to get your foot in the door and to kind of say, "Look, I am a hard worker; this is what I can do," a lot of the tests we get back sometimes don’t look like people spent that much time on it. So, that's the biggest thing I can say without probably – without giving anything too specific away, I guess, in terms of what we're looking for.

Shaina, Transcription Talk:
And then, do you have specific guidelines as to whether people pass the test, such as how many inaudibles they have or how many misplaced commas they're allowed before the test is considered failed?

JR, Transcription Company CEO:
We don’t have anything – there's not a formula, I would say. There are clear things that we're looking for and clear, specific things, and usually there's clear, general things that we're looking for in terms of, again, formatting and following the instructions and basically having the document look as identical to the sample template that we give them. But then there are also specific ones we're looking for that might be related just to that test file.

So, one big thing that I think impacts people's ability to hear the files is doing it with headphones. People that maybe don’t have experience transcribing or think, "Oh, this is easy. I can type and listen," they might be listening to it through their speakers, and there's just a lot, lot more that you can hear through a good pair of headphones and also – also, sometimes, depending on the quality of some people's sound cards. We find those are two really big things that will impact people's ability to hear audio because we do pick audio that's a bit harder to do than just perfect audio, because we do want to work with independent contractors who can do good audio and occasionally bad audio too.

So, we're not really picky, I would say, as much with the number of commas or that sort of thing as, again, we are just really wanting it to look like a clean document and look very similar to the template that we've given. So, the positives would just be, again, following the instructions, just doing their best to look up terms they couldn't find, just really just showing they took time to make this file look as good as they can. And when they do that, I think it will typically – it will stand out.

The negatives that we see are usually people guessing on words and being kind of sloppy, not indicating that they had guessed on the words by putting them in red text, not looking up terms, not putting the header and the footer in the right place, forgetting to – just, again, the nuances of the formatting, forgetting to follow that. Because it's really a test in following directions because we feel like if we can – if people can do well at following directions and are teachable, they're going to do great.

Because we've hired people that have worked for years in the transcription industry, and we have several transcriptionists who we're their first job, but because of their ability to learn and their humility in kind of learning new things and wanting to do their best – their teachability, I guess, is the word I'm looking for – that just goes so far because they're going to continue to want to get better, and they're going to be open to suggestions as well. And those are the kinds of people that we want to work with.

So, generally speaking, that's kind of what we look for, and we tend to only bring on a tiny fraction of the people that actually test with us for that reason.

Shaina, Transcription Talk:
So, you sort of already answered this, but what do you expect from your independent contractors, and what would you consider key to a successful long-term relationship?

JR, Transcription Company CEO:
I would say the two biggest things that we expect from our ICs and probably the same answer maybe to both questions is professionalism and good communication. We're actually very understanding and, I think, gracious when emergencies do arise because they're gonna arise, just like they would in the real world. If you were sitting here in the office, there's going to be times where your – one of your kids is sick and you have to rush to the hospital or whatever it might be. But so, like any, I think, working relationship, I think trust does need to be built over time, and I think one of the things that that is based on is on good communication and that professionalism.

So, for example, we've had several times where an independent contractor might not finish a file, and that's one thing, but then to be told at the last minute on the day that it's due is just not acceptable. We'll be told that they weren't near a computer or something to that effect, but we think, "Well, why couldn't they have called?" Again, in the real world it would – that's how you would do it. You wouldn’t just send an email to someone. You would probably pick up the phone and say, "Hey, I'm having problems on this."

So, I think that's the big thing is just good communication, and that goes for both ends. We're not perfect on our end, and so whenever there's confusion or something that we're not clear about on our end, we always want our independent contractors to know they should always clarify with us and that that door is completely open to do just that. But the ones that have been with us the longest probably are the ones who treat this just like they would a real job in the real world because that really speaks volumes kind of to who they are, and also, it does build a lot of trust in that working relationship.

So, my suggestion would be, I guess, for people who want to make a career out of this that they need to treat it and think of it as a real job, not just the fact that because they're getting to telecommute that it makes it more casual or less of a profession. And I find the ones that really do see this as a profession are the ones that really shine and make a great career out of it, both financially and also in longevity in their relationship specifically with us.

And so, you asked – let's see. You also asked – or I mentioned communication, I guess, in regards to your second question about long-term relationship. Again, communication I would say and even just directness from independent contractors, that if there was a file that was more difficult or, again, if there's some sort of problem that's arisen, for that communication to be really prompt and timely and also direct and succinct is also really helpful. Because we're dealing with so much stuff that we're trying to manage that longer emails are sometimes kind of harder to respond to because they take more time to sit down and focus on. So, a lot of times if the problem can just be kind of out there and, "Here's what it is," that helps us then in making sure that the expectations are fair and clear on both sides.

But let's see here. What else? I think that's it. I'd say, again, our most successful transcriptionists are the ones who do communicate like that. I know I can think of one example where we had a transcriptionist who I think was working with a new account executive here in the office, and she wasn't getting as much work as usual, and she let us know. That's happened I think maybe even a couple times. So, I know independent contractors sometimes don’t want to rock the boat or maybe come off as complaining, but if we don’t know – just as they don’t know what's going on in our world, if we don’t know what's going on in theirs we're not able to realize, "Oh, gosh. We haven't gotten them work," or whatever, and people start to assume and assume the worst sometimes in thinking we're not interested in using them anymore or whatever.

So, I think anytime there's questions like that that are impacting that trust relationship, I think it's good just to kind of ask and have the communication be really clear and out there so that neither side makes any assumptions and everything like that. So, we are trying to implement some tools in the future that I hope will kind of increase the efficiency for everyone in terms of that communication and make things even easier than they are now, but for now, those are the big things.

And just to be available too on the phone. Again, just like a real job, if there's an emergency that we have or we need to get a hold of you ,we want to be able to get a hold of you. To get people that don’t have voicemail or don’t pick up their phone or whatever, that can be kind of frustrating, just like it'd be frustrating for independent contractors if they can't get a hold of us during business hours.

Shaina, Transcription Talk:
And has your company ever considered outsourcing transcription work overseas?

JR, Transcription Company CEO:
We've not, and I'm hopeful that we never, ever will. I'm hoping that – my thought on it is that from day one we really wanted to provide a service that used – basically that kept jobs here in the U.S. And the one trend that I do see is that I think with all areas of outsourcing is that I think more and more people are really getting kind of fed up with it, not just from an economic perspective because of how much it's impacting the economy, but the quality, I believe, on every front, from transcription to getting help with your computer when it breaks down. People might be really well intentioned and helpful, but at the end of the day there's just something very nice about talking with people that speak your own language, literally.

And so, yeah, our goal is to always keep that here in the U.S. because we just think the value and the service that we can provide for our independent contractors and vice versa is just something that is really important and something that we wouldn’t want to compromise just to make a little bit more money because you can get it done cheaper overseas.

Shaina, Transcription Talk:
Along that same note, would you ever consider working with U.S. citizens that are living overseas?

JR, Transcription Company CEO:
We would, and in fact, in the past we have, and that's – so, one of our – our only really one requirement at this point is that you have to be a U.S. citizen. We have had one, I think two, maybe, in the past that were full U.S. citizens but did work overseas. And, yeah, so we have done that in the past, and it tends to not be the norm, but it's something that we're absolutely open to and have done in the past for sure and will do in the future.

Shaina, Transcription Talk:
And what is the most satisfying or rewarding aspect of working with independent contractors you currently work with now?

JR, Transcription Company CEO:
Well, I hope for them, meaning the independent contractors – I hope they realize, I guess, that they know that they're not just providing financial for themselves or their families, but they really are actually helping people. Transcription really isn't one of the more glamorous jobs. When I often tell people what I do, a lot of people don’t even know what it is. And so, I think a lot of people don’t realize what a helpful service it is. We're really helping people get their information organized in a way.

So, I guess my hope – that's one of the satisfying things for me, I guess, is hoping that the independent contractors see that and know that it's more than just a job. But in the end, our entire team of people that we're providing a really great service to some great, great people out there.

And for us, on the satisfying end, it's just that we truthfully really love working with our independent contractors. We work with some of the best people possible and have just met some incredible people through the process. And despite us not working physically in the same office there's very much – I would consider there very much to be a real relationship that's established. We have some that have been with us for – gosh, almost over four years and others who are just coming onboard.

And so, I think that relational aspect is nice, apart from the service and apart from the business side. It's nice to know that we're providing work for our independent contractors, and they are, in turn, providing things for themselves and their families. But the bigger picture is the relational end of the relationship between us and our independent contractors and, ultimately, how that impacts our relationship with our clients. It's a full – the whole process is tied together. You can't have any without the other.

Shaina, Transcription Talk:
And then, what's next for your company? Do you have any big changes in the works that you could tell us about?

JR, Transcription Company CEO:
We do have some big changes coming up, none of which I can talk about now. But I can say there will definitely be changes that will make things a lot easier for our freelancers or for our independent contractors and our clients and then, hopefully, for everybody all across the board. So, we're always trying to get better at what we do, and my hope is that some of these changes that are upcoming will reflect just that. So, time will tell if they do, but I'm pretty confident they will, and I'm excited about it.

Shaina, Transcription Talk:
And I think those are all the questions that we have for you. I just want to thank you for taking the time to talk to us today.

JR, Transcription Company CEO:
Absolutely. Thanks so much for the time as well. Thanks, Shaina.

Shaina, Transcription Talk:
Yeah.

1 Comment:

margi said...

When I was doing Internet research on transcription companies who hire ICs, I found a certain blog post about the comparisons between "Company A" and "Company B" and there was a favorable report for "Company B" and a comment by JR there.

After reading that, I sent my resume to them as quickly as my mouse-clicking hand could click!

He sounds like a genuinely nice guy - a bit of a rarity in certain circles.

Thanks, Shaina - and please allow me to convey my hearty congratulations to you and your family on your little bundle of joy and - get some rest, okay?