Becoming a translator is not the easiest thing by any means: not only do certain basic conditions need to be met (such as possessing strong mastery of two or more languages), but furthermore there are long and challenging degree programs geared specifically towards creating translation professionals. In fact, over the last several decades the amount of higher education institutions throughout the world that offer translation degrees has grown at a phenomenal rate, and the requisites to be admitted to these programs have become ever more stringent.
Not every translator follows the institutional path in order to enter the industry, however. As my colleague Scott pointed out in his most recent post, some translators follow a different road towards a career within the field of translation, and there are certain benefits–as well as certain challenges–of taking this sort of road.
People that take this more individualistic path will have to take lots of initiative and work very hard on improving their language skills; having access to professionals in the field and being able to keep up with recent professional writing on the issue of translation theory and practice will be a must for these people. The biggest challenge comes when actually applying for positions within translation companies: most companies will give priority to certified translators, and will be skeptical of individuals with no experience (as well as no degree) in the field.
One way to get around this obstacle is to do volunteer work. You can offer yourself as a translator to NGOs and other organizations that would like to save $ on translation expenses, and this way get some CV material pertinent to the field of translation. A few months of this type of work–accompanied perhaps by a letter of recommendation for your efforts–will give you much better footing when it comes to the job hunting process itself. This type of foresight pays off, not only in translation work but generally in life…