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Starting in 2017, translators, editors, précis-writers, production editors, and verbatim reporters are recruited through a single language competitive examination (LCE). Candidates must take the competitive examination in their main language.

At least a first-level degree from a university or institution of equivalent status is required. Many United Nations language professionals also have a degree from an accredited school of translation. The ability to translate into your main language from at least two of the other official languages is usually required.

What to expect?

Starting in 2017, the first and second parts of the examination will be conducted remotely.

For candidates whose main language is English, the first part of the examination will usually consist of:
  1. A translation into English of a general text in one of the other official languages of the United Nations (approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes). Depending on the number of applications, this paper may be eliminatory.
  2. A translation into English of a specialized (economic or legal) text in another official language (approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes).
  3. A summary in English of the text of a statement also in English (approximately 45 minutes).
  4. Editing of a text in English, making all necessary logical and stylistic corrections (approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes).

During the first part of the examination, candidates may use online and other available resources, but may not consult or obtain help from other persons.

Those who pass the first part of the examination are invited to the second part, which will include a remotely proctored test, in which candidates may be required to translate without using dictionaries, glossaries or any other resources. This will be followed by a competency-based interview.

Successful candidates will be placed on a roster for subsequent recruitment as vacancies become available in New York, Geneva, Vienna and Nairobi and the regional commissions.

How to apply?

LCEs are held, on average, once every two or three years in each official language. The examination announcements are posted on the United Nations Careers portal a few months beforehand, together with information on eligibility requirements and how to apply. Applicants should check examination notices as eligibility requirements and instructions on how to apply may vary.

Tips for preparation

Before getting started

Broad intellectual curiosity and general knowledge are very important for United Nations translators, who translate documents covering a wide-range of topics on the United Nations agenda. It is therefore recommended to stay informed on political, social, cultural and other developments worldwide. Translators and précis-writers must also be able to think critically in order to perform their functions successfully.

Having good writing skills will make a difference in the examination. Reading extensively will support your writing skills by strengthening your substantive knowledge in relevant fields, broadening your vocabulary, refining your style and giving you a feel for the structures and expressions used in the languages from and into which you work.

To prepare for the exam, compare coverage of the same events by various media outlets in different languages. Peruse the United Nations’ news sources and visit the Organization’s multimedia site to read, watch and listen to the latest news and archival materials. You can also familiarize yourself with the style, register and terminology used in United Nations documents by visiting the United Nations Official Document System (ODS) and comparing different language versions of the same document.

Practice

An excellent way to practise is by translating a United Nations official document from your source language(s) into your main language and then comparing your version with the document posted on the ODS. Please note that the main United Nations website, which contains a wealth of information on the structure and work of the Organization, is not translated by professional translators of the United Nations Secretariat and is therefore less reliable than official documents.

Remember that the factors that determine the quality of a translation are accuracy (no mistranslations, omissions, unnecessary additions or serious shifts of emphasis), style (clear, idiomatic style; proper register; correct terminology, grammar, spelling and punctuation) and consistency (identical terms should be rendered the same way throughout). Generally speaking, the format of the translation should also conform to the format of the original text. Before beginning your translation, it is recommended that you read through the text in order to better understand the context. Just as important is the need to read through your translation one final time before submitting it to ensure that it flows smoothly.

If sample tests are posted on the examinations website, use them for practice to understand the types of challenges the examination texts will pose and the level of difficulty of each paper. If the examination you have applied for includes a summary-writing exercise, practise summarizing speeches you find posted on the United Nations PaperSmart portal. You will also find useful materials on the précis-writing section of the Resources page. Remember to include all the main points and capture the tone and style of the original text. Also make sure that you use reported speech and that your summary is approximately one third the length of the original text.

The Online Report-writing Course, an interactive feature of the United Nations Editorial Manual, available in English and French, may help you prepare for the editing paper.

Candidates who pass the written assessments are invited to a competency-based interview, which is an integral part of the examination. Tips on preparing for such interviews are available on the United Nations Careers website.

Time management

Try to set a time limit for each practice session and pace yourself accordingly. You should be able to work under pressure. Take careful note of the time allocated for each exercise in the examination, which should be indicated in the examination announcement.

What if your first attempt is unsuccessful?

Don't be discouraged if you do not succeed on your first attempt. You may have performed well, but the examination is very competitive and other candidates may simply have performed better that year. Examinations are held every few years. Continue to study, practise and hone your craft and try again the next time around.

Information about upcoming exams and the work of language professionals is regularly posted on the United Nations Language Careers portal and social media such as Facebook, Twitter (@UNDGACM_EN) and LinkedIn. All videos are accessible through DGACM’s YouTube channel.

 
Exams for Interpreters

Exams for translators, editors, précis-writers, production editors, and verbatim reporters