Organization and staffing for visual novel translations, Recruiting

In the previous piece of the series I argued that staff should be composed of as few people as possible, and also as few ‘dedicated specialists’ as possible. So that brings us to the question, how do you actually fill up positions?

The topic of recruitment is a pretty universal one, it’s the same problem that faces a giant megacorps, to small shops, to volunteer group, and everything in between. You have a job, you know the sorts of skills needed to complete that job, all that’s left is to select 1 person out of the crowd of interested parties to help you out.

Before we go onto recruiting strategies, I have 2 things to keep in mind.

#1 The importance of good people

If you spend any amount of time in business, there’s one thing that you learn: good people are worth their weight in gold. It’s a common rule of thumb that if someone leaves a company, it costs that 2-3x person’s salary to replace them with someone, this includes finding the replacement, training, time lost while training, etc.. And this is for fairly low level positions. High level management and really specialized and skilled labor can go way past 10x in things like lost revenue before a replacement is found.

So one very strong rule of human resources is that if you find someone good, you try your very best to keep them happy and productive. Of course this is tempered by the fact that you can’t let them take advantage of you also, the relationship should be a mutual one.

This also extends to the importance of weeding out bad people. There are plenty of people who say they can do something — when they really can’t. They might believe they can, but that’s only because they don’t know enough to know how pathetic they are. They might not think they’re lying on their resumes, but effectively they are.

#2 Objectivity isn’t everything

The world of HR is full of laws, most importantly anti-discrimination laws. I’m glossing over details because this is certainly not my specialty, but companies can get in a great deal if trouble if someone can prove they were qualified for a position but didn’t get it for certain discriminatory reasons, such as race or gender if those traits don’t materially affect the performance of the job.

In order to shield themselves from that (somewhat) companies need to document objective criteria for a job, such as “can program in C”, so that if someone can’t program in C, then they can reject them on an objective basis.

As a culture, this objectivity and equal opportunity is very prominent, and I have a feeling that sometimes it clouds better judgment. There’s more to people than just ‘can they do the job specified’, and the people who forget that learn to regret it. Simple fact is, some people are horrible to work with. They have wretched personalities, or they’re absolutely unreliable, or all sorts of other things.

Don’t compromise your own integrity, or your existing team’s. It is a very big mistake to think that “this guy is an ass, but we only have to tolerate this guy for a few months to get the project out the door”. Unless your head is on the chopping block, it’s not worth it — And even then, it’s not worth it. Given the choice between one extremely disagreeable genius, and one agreeable guy who’s just capable, I’d rather take the capable guy than burden myself with a prima donna who will destroy my team’s morale for months at a time.

Method 1: Open recruitment

This is the most obvious way of getting people. Go to someplace public, like a forum, or whatever, and simply announce you’re looking for someone to fill a position. Then watch people flock to you, and you can pick the best of the them! Woo!

This method certainly can work, and in fact, sometimes you’ll find people who are established members of the community, with full reputations and previous work, who see your announcement and ask to join. However, beware of the unqualified and semi-qualified people who come, if you can’t spot them, you’re saddling yourself with them.

Method 2: Direct recruitment

If open recruitment is like the resume drop, then this is the executive headhunt. You identify the talent you need, looking at prominent people that already have a name for themselves (how else would you know of them?). Then, you send those people an invitation to join your project.

If they agree, you’ve just gotten someone with an established track record, their ability to do the work is more or less guaranteed. However, their personality is something of a mystery. Maybe they’re hard to work with, maybe they’re not, it’s hard to say.

Method 3: Networked recruitment

This is a spin off direct recruitment. In a way they’re very much the same thing, but I prefer to make a distinction here. I consider direct recruitment a case of where there’s not very much back and forth between parties before initial contact, while I consider networked to have more contact.

This is the “friend or friend of a friend” approach to recruiting. Do you know a guy who knows a guy who can do something? Well you can go talk to them and see if they want to help. What’s interesting about this method is that you are somewhat more likely to have access to more information about the potential recruit. If they’re a friend, you’d already know whether they’re good to work with or not. If they’re a friend of a friend, you’ll at least have a second hand account of their personality. Plus you’ll have someone to vouch for their objective skill.

There’s a very good reason why the vast majority of jobs in the world are gotten through networking and direct recruiting, as opposed to resumes. It’s less risky. Now this isn’t to say that you’ll find the right person for the job this way, but it’s often better than wading through unqualified random resumes in the mail.


Personally, for my projects, I only consider doing open recruitment for my translation projects if I am absolutely desperate. I’m doing this in my free time, and I’m not about to take the risk of being saddled with a jackass. I’m tired enough as it is after work.

I’m also not the sort to ask people if they want to work with me out of the blue. Instead, I work with friends, people I already spend time with, and have a good sense of where their skills are. I can think of one or two instances it wound up being a mistake, but there had been other times when it worked out great.

So once in a very long while, I get people who wonder whether they can work from me, and usually, the answer is ‘probably not unless I know you better.” I hang out on forums like the gemot, and also on IRC, and this is where I approach people to help with projects. This is why I’m very interested in building a strong community, the stronger, more talented, and well connected the community is, the faster reliable teams that can see a project all the way to end can form.

Next time in the series, project management 101!


  1. Clarious
    04/15/2008 12:24 PM | #

    Just want to say thank for these articles!

    I am a translator myself, although I don’t translate visual novel and I don’t know Japanese either (what I do is translating English to my native language), these articles have teached me a lot about organizing tranlation team etc…

    And I have a question, can someone learn how to read japanese only with a dictionary and internet? I only want to understand written Japanese and have no intention of speaking/listening nor doing some ‘real’ translation. I hope you can give me some advices for this, as I want to learn Japanese but don’t have enough money to go to class, and another few minor reason too.

    PS: I said that I am an translator, but I am only good at translating English to my language, my English writing skill is really bad, but I hope you still can understand me. BTW, I have learned English only with a dictionary, but Japanese seem to be a problem :(

  2. 04/15/2008 01:35 PM | #

    I’m happy that someone’s found my writing useful. And for someone who only learned English using a dictionary, it’s pretty understandable.

    If you’re just aiming to learn enough to do basic reading and understanding, you can probably get by with online resources.

    I’d strongly recommend you learn the grammar. The rules are probably different from what you’re used to, so without a good grammar resource you can’t understand anything.

    Try the grammar section at:

    If you don’t listen to the language you might have trouble with nonstandard things like mispronounced/misspelled words (in wordplay etc.) and word contractions, but you should be fine for many things.

  3. Clarious
    04/16/2008 03:43 AM | #

    Thank you! It is really good to have advices from someone who learned Japanese. Of course I won’t skip the grammar part, I don’t think I can learn Japanese without understanding its grammar, the language is pretty hard.

    And one last question, how many kanjis do I need to remember to, well, playing visual novel and reading common Japanese stuff?

    Once again, thank you for your advices!

  4. 04/16/2008 12:13 PM | #

    The kanji question has no particular good answer. You learn what you need as you go along. I’d estimate that I could read 500-750 kanji without resorting to a dictionary, but the usual quoted number to be fully functional in the language is around 2000.

    Instead of worrying about it, just look up what you come across, learn those, and move on.

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