After graduating from MGIMO (1978) and the UN Language Training Courses (1979) I was assigned to work as a P-2 translator at UNHQ in New York. After two accelerated special promotions I assumed the responsibilities of a P-4 reviser at age 25, suddenly becoming the youngest P-4 in UN history.
From 1984 to 2006 I worked for the Soviet (Russian) Foreign Ministry in Translation Department, Department of International Organizations and Department for International Humanitarian Cooperation and Human Rights, was twice assigned abroad to the Permanent Missions to the UN in New York and Geneva. My last position in the Ministry was Director of Human Rights Department, with the diplomatic rank of Envoy Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary.
Why work for the United Nations?
UN translators and revisers are the cream of the crop in translation. If you decide to become a translator, why not aim for the top?
Preparing for the United Nations Language Competitive Examination
In my day, UN competitive examinations were conducted only for the graduates of the UN Language Training Courses, and very strict admission procedures and extremely intensive training by the best professors available made it almost impossible not to pass the exams. Now, the best way to prepare yourself for the examinations is specialized postgraduate training provided by leading Russian universities - MGIMO, MGU and Herzen University - which have signed Memorandums of Understanding with the UN. Just believe in yourself and remember – nothing is impossible.
Challenges and rewards of the job
A UN career is a constant challenge in itself. The key to success is continuous training and self-education, and there are lots of possibilities for this offered by the Organization. Never feel you already know everything, always try to learn something new and rewards will come - both psychological and material. Conditions of service for international staff at the UN are at least comparable, and in most cases are superior, to any of the best paid civil services in the world.
Recommendations to potential candidates for the United Nations Competitive Examination for Translators
During the examinations stay calm and confident. Don’t panic if you realize that you don’t know the exact meaning of a particular term (Remember: NO dictionaries available in the exam, which to my mind is wrong). Try to put the phrase you have doubts about into general context of the text and make your translation as vague as possible. However, when you are sure of the meaning of all the terms, stay as close as possible to the original without compromising the style of your translation. Very often it is useful to completely “explode” the phrase in the original to better understand its true meaning and to really capture its nuances.
And always remember: you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Good luck!