I made it onto the UN roster!

(O LCE-2012-Spanish Translators. Part VI. )

By Amaia GÓMEZ. Translated by Mary C. BLACK.

“What else could I want?!” Unfortunately, I was not the one to utter this cry for joy. The ones who probably could have done it at the top of their lungs were two acquaintances of mine: Olga Campos and Ana Puga, whom I’d like to take this chance to personally congratulate on their amazing feat, since the percentage of people who pass is extraordinarily low. Olga passed on her first time and Ana on her second. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again! And so personally, I’ll follow her example.

Since it’s obvious that I myself cannot give a blow-by-blow account of all the steps in the exam before being added to that roster, I decided to interview Olga so that she could tell me about the last part: the personal interview after passing the written exam. This is the last in a series of interviews on this topic, which you can read at the following links: http://wp.me/p1CP3Z-4y, http://wp.me/p1CP3Z-4I, http://wp.me/p1CP3Z-4W, http://wp.me/p1CP3Z-5q and http://wp.me/p1CP3Z-5H.

But first, let me introduce Olga:

Olga 72 ppp 27-6-13@Olgacamposa has a Bachelor’s Degree in Translation and Interpreting from Barcelona’s Universitat Pompeu Fabra (1999) and is a sworn English translator. She earned a Master’s in Medical-Health Translation from the Universitat Jaume I in Castellón (2008) and is currently a freelance translator and instructor in the same Master’s programme.

We met in Salamanca in around September of 2012 when we took the written exam, and we immediately took to each other so much that we are still in touch today. But I’m sure that the history of our friendship is not exactly the most interesting topic for you, so I’ll get right to the point.

Olga, we took the written exam on the 11th of September 2012, and I received notice that I did not pass it on Wednesday the 6th of March. But I think that those of you who passed it received their notification a bit sooner, around Friday the 1st of March, is that right? How did it happen, because if I’m not mistaken it was late on Friday, at around seven or eight p.m., when you’ve already stopped watching the computer, right?

Hi, Amaia. First, thanks so much for your congratulations. It was great meeting you in Salamanca, and I clearly remember how great that beer we had in the Plaza Mayor tasted after three hours of testing! Actually, this past year has been full of changes, projects, hopes, yearnings and pleasant surprises for me. I received notice that I passed the exam on Friday the 1st of March at around 8:30 p.m. I remember this, too, because that same night my husband had a dinner engagement and I was alone with my children playing in the living room. On a fluke I got up and saw that the red light on my phone was lit, meaning that I had received an email. When I saw where it was from, I was paralysed: so many months awaiting a reply that was finally here… I immediately opened it but the seconds it took for the PDF file containing the answer to open were excruciating. But there it was. It was hard for me to grasp at first, but I was so extraordinarily happy, and that sense lasted several days.

The letter said that later on they would inform you about the date and venue of the exam, which for you was on the 9th of April in Madrid. How long did it take for this second notification to reach you, and how many colleagues did you meet in Madrid?

The letter gave us four business days to forward our updated Personal History Profile plus a scanned copy of our degrees and passport. Once everything had been sent on the 21st of March I received another letter notifying me that my exam was scheduled for the 9th of April in Madrid.

So prior to the 1st of March, I didn’t know more than a few people (you were one of them) who had sat for the exam. With the euphoria of having passed, I posted a message on Twitter and so did three other women. That’s how I met Ana Puga, Alicia García and Antía Collazo, and we exchanged email addresses and have been in contact ever since. They have been really supportive because we’ve shared concerns, questions and fears, and this had made this part of the process much easier to handle. In addition to Ana, Alicia and Antía, through Twitter I also met Sabela Avión, who works in the UN headquarters in Geneva and was so wonderful with us, since she answered our questions about the organisation and on the part of the selection process that we still had to go through.

In the end, all four of us ended up having our interviews scheduled for the 8th or 9th of April, so I was finally able to meet Ana and Alicia and we had lunch together in Madrid.

I should also say that my interview was scheduled first thing on the 9th, and I think that they leave around an hour between interviews, so you didn’t get to see the other interviewees as you arrived and left.

A few others had taken the exam the day before, right? In Geneva? Do you know how many people passed this phase of the exam?

Yes, interviews were held in Madrid on the 8th and 9th of April, and I understand that the jury later moved to Geneva to interview more people. What I don’t know is whether the interviews in New York were held before or after ours.

Regarding the number of people who passed, that information never appeared in the list on the UN website, but I think that a colleague who works there told Ana that 19 of the 306 people who took the written exam passed it.

What exactly was the test like? What were the parts, how much time did you have and what was the jury like?

The jury was made up of the heads of the translation service in New York and Geneva, a senior reviser from Geneva and the head of human resources, who also came from New York.

When I arrived, they gave me a text that was approximately half a page and told me that I had ten minutes to read and prepare it. Afterwards, they took me to the room where the jury members were seated. I translated the text in front of them and then answered the questions they asked me about it (basically, they asked me to offer alternatives to my translation of certain terms, or to reformulate a given sentence).

Once that part of the test was over, the rest of the interview was conducted in English and followed the model of what the UN calls a competency-based interview. It’s not a job interview like the ones we’re used to; instead, it’s a bit “special”. You see, in the exams they told us that the competencies they value in the job of translator are professionalism, teamwork, lifelong learning and knowledge of the new technologies. So all the questions they asked me revolved around these competencies, and they asked me to cite real examples from my professional (or personal) life which would prove that I had the competencies they were looking for. For example, one of the examiners asked me to tell about a situation in which I had to work on a team, whether any problems had arisen and how these problems were resolved. They also asked me what qualities I thought a good professional translator should have. I have to say that the situation itself is quite daunting, but it was 45 minutes of natural, calm conversation, and I personally never felt intimidated. They were all very friendly from the time I entered the room until I left, when could finally breathe easily.

So after that, when did they notify you that you had been added to the roster? Do you know how many of the candidates who went through the last test passed it?

I don’t know how many of us made it to the final list. You get very little information on this sort of thing. I got the news on the 24th of May at 11:30 p.m. Since they send it from the headquarters in New York, they always reach me “outside office hours”. We knew that the results were just about to arrive, so my husband had been joking the entire day about the “little red light on the telephone”. Just before going to bed he asked me ironically if I was able to go to bed without looking at it first. And there it was, just like the other time: a new message in my inbox with wonderful news that I expect will change my life in the next few months.

And now you have to wait to be offered a job… Guillermina Ruiz was offered two jobs within one month, so start packing !

Again, my heartfelt congratulations, Olga, and thanks for letting me interview you!

A big hug, Amaia

Thanks to you, Amaia, for the amazing work you’re doing in your blog, which will be useful for many people, not just technical translators. I hope to have good news within a few months, and of course, when it comes I’ll write to you to let you know. Fond regards.

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One response to “I made it onto the UN roster!”

  1. Maria Zambrano says :

    Excelente, esto me servirá de mucho, la verdad que es bueno conseguir sitios como este, ahora mismo comenzaré un proyecto del cual este tema me va como anillo al dedo.


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