Becoming a State Department interpreter for the U.S. federal government is a goal and dream of many language professionals.
While it isn’t easy to find work as a government interpreter, especially for the State Department, many people find that it is a rewarding career and enjoy being part of the government process.
The most difficult part of any government job, however, is the process you have to go through to be hired. Usually there is a lot of paperwork to fill out, interviews to go to, and the process can sometimes take up to a year!
This page will help to outline the process for becoming a State Department interpreter and hopefully give you a little more confidence in applying.
A Little Background
The Interpreting Division of Language Services at the U.S. Department of State is the office that provides interpreting services for not only the State Department, but also for the White House and Executive Branch of the government. Language Services not only employees staff interpreters, but also relies heavily on contract interpreters to provide interpretation both in the United States and abroad for around forty languages (and they’ve done so ever since George Washington!)
Types of Interpreting Positions
According to the Language Services website, there are three main categories of interpreters that are employed by the U.S. State Department: Conference Interpreters, Seminar Interpreters, and Escort Interpreters.
Contractors at the State Department that pass the test for conference interpreting are assigned to the most important interpreting assignments such as the White House and Department of State. Most of the contractors that work as conference interpreters have at the least prior experience, but many times this is accompanied by academic training as well. The majority of interpreting done at this level is from English into a foreign language, so you’ll need to make sure your foreign language skills are exceptional.
While conference interpreters are reserved for high-level meetings and events, seminar interpreters at the State Department are called on to perform simultaneous interpretation at a more basic level. As opposed to interpreting for the Executive level, or the President, contractors that successfully become seminar interpreters are given assignments at the International Visitor Program of the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program, or the Law Enforcement Training Program from the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.
Escort interpreters are similar to seminar interpreters in that they provide services to the same set of organizations. They also accompany delegations and groups to provide interpreting services.
Requirements for Becoming an Interpreter
So now the stuff you really want to know… what you need to do to get a position as a State Department interpreter.
First of all, the Language Services division obviously looks for interpreters that have a well-rounded knowledge of a variety of topics such as military affairs, current events, and financial and scientific domains. If you feel like you fit the bill, you’ll next have to send in an application. If the reviewers like your application and would like to continue processing your information, you will then receive a phone call screening. Following the screening, you’ll have an interview where you can complete any information that might have been missed on your application.
Following all this processing comes an interpreting test. According to Language Services, the interpreters test is made up of two passages where the interpreter has to interpret from an actual soundproof booth with all the equipment and devices that are used in the interpreting industry. Oh, yeah, and you can’t use any type of dictionary either.
Hopefully this will give you some direction what you can expect when becoming a State Department interpreter. For more information, be sure to check out the Language Services website.
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