What is an option? What is an offer?

The following is taken, without permission, from Chapter 11 of Robin Setton & Andrew Dawrant’s wonderful book, Conference Interpreting – A complete course. Please go and buy the whole thing that I might be forgiven for using this extract here!

As the authors point out, their text is itself is a reworking and summary of AIIC’s practical guide for interpreters

Setton & Dawrant Introduction to professional practice

An inquiry…

 is simply a request for information about your potential availability. This is a preliminary stage of contact, and no obligations are undertaken by either the recruiter or the interpreter. 

An option…

 is an offer of work that is subject to confirmation. In accepting an option, you are giving the recruiter a right of first refusal for the dates concerned. This concept is sometimes confusing for beginners. When you accept an option, it means that (a) once the assignment is confirmed, the recruiter will let you know immediately and will engage your services for the dates specified under the agreed terms; (b) if the assignment is cancelled, the recruiter will let you know immediately and release you from the option; and (c) before the option is either confirmed or cancelled, if you receive a firm offer for another, conflicting assignment, you will, before accepting, first contact the holder of the option and give them the right of first refusal, at which point the option holder must either confirm the option or release you. 

A firm offer…

 is one which, when accepted, creates a binding commitment between the interpreter and the recruiter. A firm offer can be made and accepted orally or in writing, including by email. Acceptance of a firm offer is usually followed up by signing a writ-ten contract, which is a formal written agreement setting forth the agreed arrangements, working conditions, and the rights and obligations of each party.

When you are discussing a potential assignment with a recruiter, seek explicit clarity about whether you are being presented with an option or a firm offer/contract. Keep your en-gagements calendar up to date, and clearly mark the status of each meeting as either option or firm. Often (but not always), a contact develops into a contract sequentially, from inquiry to option and then to firm offer, followed by a written contract. It is important to be clear about what stage of the process a potential assignment has reached, and what obligations you and the client have respectively undertaken at each stage in the process.

Second, after accepting a firm offer, protect yourself by signing a written contract with an explicit cancellation clause, stipulating the fees that will be paid to you if your assignment is cancelled (or curtailed). Beware of recruiters who are happy to give you a ‘firm offer’ but who refuse to back it up with a written contract containing a cancellation clause. Without such a written contract, you are at risk, because if your assignment is cancelled, it can be very difficult if not impossible to get paid. It is especially important to make sure that you sign such a contract before you turn down other work for the same period. If you have accepted a ‘firm offer’ from a recruiter who then refuses to sign a written contract with a cancellation clause and you subsequently receive a conflicting firm offer, give the first recruiter one last chance to put it in writing; if they still refuse, cover yourself by writing them formally, removing yourself from the ‘firm offer’ and stating the reason.

NB: All contracts entered into with organizations with which AIIC has concluded a collective agreement (known jointly as the ‘Agreement Sector’) are governed by the corresponding agreements, all of which contain cancellation provisions. If you have any doubts about particulars, get in touch with the professional delegation of the organization in question for clarification. 

Third, if you have committed to an assignment, do not try to get out of it because some-one else has offered you something more attractive. This ‘No Replacement Rule’ is a fundamental part of our professional ethics. Accepting an assignment is a personal commit-ment, and once you have committed yourself, it is unethical to accept another assignment for all or part of the same period of time, and it is unethical to attempt to have yourself replaced for frivolous reasons.

If, after accepting a contract, you need to be replaced or serious and valid reasons, first find out if a suitable colleague is free on the date(s) concerned, without providing further details. Next, approach the person who recruited you to see if the colleague you propose is acceptable as your replacement. Remember, however, that the person who recruited the team will have taken care to ensure that it is balanced linguistically and otherwise, and will not be pleased if you disturb that balance. Be aware that your reputation for reliability will suffer if you ask to replaced.