Exams for translators, editors and verbatim reporters

A translator of the Documentation Division at work. UNHQ/DGACM

Positions for language professionals in the United Nations Secretariat are filled through competitive examinations. The procedure and the general requirements are described below.

In addition, examinations for placement on the Secretariat’s global roster of language professionals eligible for contractual work or temporary appointments are arranged on an as-needed basis. The requirements vary from one exam to another and are specified in the examination notices, which are posted here and in Inspira, the UN careers portal.


Competitive examinations for translators, editors, précis-writers and verbatim reporters

Translators, editors, précis-writers, and verbatim reporters are recruited through a single competitive examination. Candidates must take the 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?

The whole examination is conducted remotely and consists of three parts. These usually comprise:

  • Part 1:  two or three translation exercises and, in some cases, an editing and/or summary-writing exercise
  • Part 2:  two translation exercises
  • Part 3:  a competency-based panel interview, and possibly another exercise

In Part 1, candidates may use online and other available resources, but may not consult or obtain help from other persons.
In Part 2, which is a remotely proctored test, candidates may be required to translate without using dictionaries, glossaries or any other resources. 

Only candidates who are successful in Part 1 are invited to Part 2; and only those who are successful in Part 2 are invited to Part 3.

Successful candidates are 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?

Competitive examinations for language professionals 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 prior to the date of the examination, 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 linguists, who work with documents covering a wide-range of topics on the United Nations agenda. It is therefore recommended that you stay informed with regard to 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.


An excellent way to practise is by translating an official United Nations document from your source language(s) into your main language and then comparing your version with the document posted on 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 you begin editing or translating, it is advisable to read through the text in order to better understand the context. Just as important is the need to read through your text text one final time before submitting it to ensure that it flows smoothly.

If the examination that you have applied for includes a summary-writing exercise, practise summarizing speeches that you find posted on the United Nations eStatements. You will also find useful materials in the resources section of the précis-writing 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.

Candidates usually receive a trial version of the examination a few weeks before the actual examination date. When you receive the trial version, make sure to familiarize yourself with the online examination platform and to read very carefully the instructions and tips about accessing exercises and submitting responses.

Candidates who pass the first two parts 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

As soon as you receive the details of the examinations, take careful note of the time allocated for each exercise, so you can practise translating or editing at the speed required in the examination.

Try to set a time limit for each practice session and pace yourself accordingly. You should be able to work under pressure. 

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 extremely 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 Careers portal and social media such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. All videos are accessible through the Department's YouTube channel.