May 1, 2020
For many language professionals in the US, working at the United Nations (UN) seems to be paramount in one’s career. This seems more like a stereotype but, indeed, this is a top tier job. Apart from the status that comes with such an honored workplace and a good salary, one can also fulfill their personal aspirations by taking part in international diplomacy facilitating the spread of the UN agenda. It fuels the immense interest of people in the language industry towards employment in this organization and primarily they are concerned with how to get a job at the UN.
First things first, let’s figure out what languages are used at the UN. The six official languages of the organization are English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Russian, and Chinese. There is also a minor department of German in New York UN Headquarters. So if one does not have an excellent command of at least two of the mentioned languages, he/she will not be able to apply for work in this organization. The general requirement for all of the language professionals working in the UN is to be familiar with the current political situation in the world, know the processes in the UN, and have a good command of the specific terminology of the organization.
It is not mentioned at the UN official website how many languages the UN translators should work with but in sample assignments for the translator position the tasks require to translate texts to and from at least three languages. Translators in this organization work with different kinds of documents covering all the topics within the UN agenda including human rights, international security, and many more. All translations are done in electronic format and to maintain homogeneity across different language versions of each text, all documents are translated with the help of a machine translation tool called eLUNa. The main requirement for translations apart from correctness is adherence to the UN terminology. The translators are expected to understand the context of the texts they work on and be knowledgeable about the new issues that arise. All translations completed are then further checked by senior revisers who ensure the quality of the work completed.
English and French translators can also work as précis writers. There are professionals occupied with drafting the summaries of the UN bodies proceedings. These summaries are then further translated in all other official UN languages. Précis writers apply in the same way as translators do but after the approval of the candidate the latter takes a special course training this stream of work.
At any of the official UN meetings the communication is conducted in all the six official languages. Interpreters that are present at these meetings are required to translate the speech of the speakers to another UN language. So if one of the participants speaks French, five interpreters simultaneously render what is being said to five other UN languages. Interpreters of Russian, French, English, and Spanish are required to render the speech to their main language while interpreters in Arabic and Chinese do it both ways (to and from their native language). The work of the UN interpreters is rather challenging because for many delegates the language they speak at the UN proceedings is not their native and so they may have a strong accent that impedes the recognition of their speech. So the interpreters that work for the organization are required to flawlessly decode what is being said regardless of the accent and individual pronunciation characteristics. In addition, they always are required to understand the wider context of the discussion. During the UN meetings, interpreters of the same language pair work in groups of two or three people and alternate every 20-30 minutes depending on the workload. As a rule, interpreters are assigned to 7-8 meetings that last for 3 hours every week. So their working hours are about 21-24 hours weekly.
Before the publication of any document all of them are reviewed by editors in order to ensure accurateness, coherence, and the correspondence of different language versions. Editors are required to correct any factual, logical, or language issues. They work with texts only in electronic format and often need to cooperate with authors and translators. Together they decide on the necessary corrections to provide equal authenticity of all language versions of a document. Since 90% of all UN publications are initially written in English, the majority of the UN editors are English native speakers. Because editors in their work often need to take into account the political aspect, they often need to conduct research and their main source of information is the United Nations Editorial Manual Online.
Production editors at the UN are concerned with preparing documents for publications. They perform such functions as typographic formatting, preparing templates, and proofreading in the six UN official languages. They always start the production process by arranging the original document (typically written in English) and work on its design, layout, and proofreading. Performing their functions often presupposes extensive research. One of the main requirements for production editors is arranging the documents in an attractive and easy-to-read manner while adhering to the UN Standards.
Verbatim reporters at the UN provide word-for-word transcripts of the meetings of the UN bodies that are also often referred to as procès-verbal (PV). Their work is extremely important as it contributes to the institutional memory of the UN. These are not the people who write down immediately what is being said by the delegates but rather process the already compiled transcripts and recordings. Their primary functions are to translate, proofread, and edit the transcripts and prepare them for further publication.
Since many language professionals want to get a position at the UN, the recruitment process of the organization is rather complicated and involves several steps.
The first stage is the self-assessment against a simple checklist. If the applicant meets the mentioned criteria it is time to move on to the next step.
2. Creating a Profile
Here one needs to create a profile on the UN Human Resources website.
3. Submitting Application
After the successful registration one can create an application by filling in a special form and saving it. After that the applicant needs to submit the form.
4. Application Processing
At first the submitted application is checked against the main criteria mentioned in the self-assessment. If the applicant is eligible, he/she will be notified about the further processing of the application or otherwise be informed that it was rejected.
5. Test Center Assignment
If the position one has applied for presupposes taking a test in a center, the applicant will be assigned to the nearest test center based on the address mentioned in the profile. In other cases, the test will be done remotely. The examination consists of two parts, the first one checking the professional skills and the other one is an interview.
6. Notification on Results
The candidates who successfully passed both parts of the text will be recommended for roaster placement and notified of results via email.
7. Roster Placement
The roster is a pool of the approved candidates. Once there is a vacancy, one of the candidates from the roster will receive a job offer.
8. Receiving Job Offer
Typically, candidates receive a two-year fixed term for working in the UN Headquarters or its other duty stations.
There is no information on the UN website regarding the salary of language professionals. It is generally stated that professionals at entry-level earn US$ 37,000 – 80,000 annually and the price range considerably increases with the professional level. The wages also depend on the country where one works. As explained by the UN they strive to provide salaries as high as those of government employees. As reported by Glassdoor.com the average salary of the UN interpreters is US$ 71990 and translators earn around US$ 70322.
A dedicated language professional can be successful at any work and it does not necessarily have to be the UN. But if one feels the inner calling to work in a diplomatic sector, then the UN is the best place.
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