Before joining the United Nations, first as a freelance interpreter, and later, in 2003 as a permanent staff-member, I had worked for fifteen years as a freelance conference interpreter in the United States, Germany and Switzerland interpreting for such international organizations as the United Nations, the World Intellectual Property Organization, the World Trade Organization, the International Labor Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the United Nations Environment Programme, the United Nations Development Programme, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Fédération Internationale de Football. I interpreted a broad array of topics including information technology, medicine, law and sports. I worked at the G-8 Summit in Japan, at the Olympic Games in Atlanta, Sydney and Salt Lake City, and at the Football World Cup. I have always had an aptitude for languages and tried to acquire new foreign languages whenever I had a chance. I have studied Arabic, German and Portuguese.
Why work for the United Nations?
For me, the main motivation for pursuing a career at the United Nations was the opportunity to work in a non-profit organization with an international view of current world issues. I was eager to work for an organization governed by the principles enshrined in the UN Charter. As an interpreter, I contribute to the Organization’s mission by upholding the principle of multilingualism, which is essential in achieving international cooperation.
Life as a freelance interpreter can be unpredictable because of the constant travel, shifting work schedules, varying conditions of work and temporary nature of contracts. Working as a permanent staff-member for the United Nations has given me greater stability and afforded me the opportunity to grow professionally and acquire new skills. I benefit from the United Nations language courses by studying Arabic and I have been able to participate in external studies by attending Arabic classes at the University of Damascus, Syria.
Preparing for the United Nations Language Competitive Examination
It took me approximately a year to prepare for the United Nations Language Competitive Examination for Spanish Interpreters. I practised using recordings obtained from UN Headquarters and from United Nations Webcasts of meetings (including recordings of General Assembly meetings and Security Council open debates) as well as audio books in French.
Challenges and rewards of the job
Working in the ultimate international environment, where the politics of the entire world are front and centre, is exciting and rewarding. Interpreting at Security Council meetings requires interpreters to be informed of the latest developments in international policymaking.
Yet the career of a United Nations language professional can be challenging. Interpreting speakers with such a wide range of native tongues is one of the greatest challenges, since accents can be heavy or hard to understand. Another challenge is that speakers often deliver their statements at a high speed, resulting in increased pressure on interpreters. Extensive preparation and constant practice, along with acquired familiarity with certain regional accents, has helped me to overcome these challenges. I also make it a habit to record my own delivery. In order to stay informed of social, political and economic events worldwide, I regularly read periodicals and watch international news channels.
Recommendations to potential candidates for the United Nations Competitive Examination for Interpreters
I would recommend becoming familiar with the United Nations lexicon and the issues covered by the various United Nations bodies.
A good way to do this is to visit the United Nations web site often. Use the webcast feature at the United Nations News Center site to practise interpretation skills with real speeches.
When preparing for the interview, try to think of examples that substantiate your ability to work in a team. Familiarize yourself with the United Nations core values that shape the work ethics in the Organization and require all staff to perform with integrity, professionalism and respect for diversity. To learn more about the UN core values and competencies, go tohttp://www.un.org/staffdevelopment/pdf/competencies_booklet_en.pdf.