Frequently asked questions

General

Q : What is a language competitive examination?
A :
Language competitive examinations (LCEs) are the examinations used to recruit language professionals to fill staff posts at UN Headquarters in New York, the United Nations Offices at Geneva, Nairobi and Vienna and the Regional Commissions located in Santiago, Bangkok, Beirut and Addis Ababa. Please note that the distribution of posts varies by career and language: for example, verbatim reporters work only in New York, not every location has staff interpreters, and the only translators working in Santiago are those who translate into Spanish or English.
Q : What type of language professionals are recruited through language competitive examinations (LCEs)?
A :
We hold competitive examinations for translators, editors, verbatim reporters, interpreters, and copy preparers/proofreaders/production editors. There may be competitive examinations for other categories of language professionals if the needs of the Organization so require. The academic background, training and/or experience required are specified in the examination notice of each LCE.
Q : I have more than one nationality. Am I qualified to apply?
A :
Language examinations are open to candidates of any nationality recognized by the United Nations.
Q : In what languages do the United Nations language professionals provide services?
A :
The United Nations has language staff working between all six of its official languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. There is also a small German translation section at Headquarters in New York. All language staff, except Arabic and Chinese interpreters, work exclusively into their main language (the one of which they have perfect, native-level command and in which they passed the LCE).
Q : What is the difference between official and working languages?
A :
Official languages at the United Nations are the languages in which all official proceedings and documentation are made available to Member States. Working languages are the languages used for internal communications among staff. English and French are the working languages of the United Nations Secretariat. Some of the other official languages may also be working languages in the Regional Commissions located in Santiago, Bangkok, Beirut, Geneva and Addis Ababa.
Q : What languages do I need to sit an LCE?
A :
You must have perfect, native-level command of the language of the examination, which should be your main language. Usually this will be the language in which you were brought up or educated. In addition to this language, you must also have excellent knowledge of at least two other official languages of the United Nations. Exceptions to this general rule may apply. Please check the announcement for the examination you are interested in to see the specific language eligibility requirements.
Q : What is the format of the LCE?
A :
LCEs are generally administered in two parts: part 1 comprises career-specific skills tests and part 2 comprises an interview and, possibly, other tests. Successful candidates are placed on a roster for subsequent recruitment according to the Organization's staffing requirements (i.e. depending on where vacancies arise and the particular skills and language combinations required).

Age/Education

Q : I see that candidates need to be 56 years old or under in order to qualify for a language examination. Why do you have an age limit for language examinations?
A :
This requirement is based on the Organization’s need to recruit staff who can serve for a reasonable period of time and progress through the Organization’s career structure before reaching the mandatory retirement age of 65 years.
Q : I will be obtaining my B.A. in June of next year. Can I apply?
A :
In order to be eligible, you must have completed a degree relevant to the job function by the time of the first part of the examination. Please check the announcement of the examination you are interested in for the specific educational requirements.

P-2 LEVEL

Q : What does "P-2 level" mean?
A :
It is one of the levels used to classify professional positions at the United Nations. P-2 level is at the entry level and normally does not require any extensive experience.

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Application Process

Q : Where do I go for help if I have problems completing the application form?
A :
Click on the “Contact us” link in any section of the application.
Q : What do I do if an educational institution from which I obtained a qualification does not appear in the dropdown list in the application?
A :
(i) Click on the look-up icon at the end of the "Name of Institution" field;
(ii) click on the "Advanced Lookup" link;
(iii) select "contains" in the "Long Description" dropdown menu and then enter part of the name of your institution (for example Chicago if you are looking for University of Chicago);
(iv) if no result is found, search for "Other Institution". Note: If you select "Other Institution", a new text field "Please enter name of institution" field is automatically added allowing you to be more specific.
Q : Do I need to attach all my diplomas in my application? What if, given the size, they cannot be all uploaded?
A :
Yes, you must attach them all. Upload them one at a time and shrink the file size if necessary.
Q : Although I have the necessary qualifications, I have lost the diploma and the university that issued it is no longer operating. Can I still apply?
A :
If having a degree is a requirement and you do not have a proof that you obtained that degree, you will be screened out for not meeting requirements.
Q : I have been asked to write a cover letter, in which language should I write it?
A :
Usually cover letters must be written in the language of the recruiting service, for example if the examination is for Russian translators, the cover letter should be written in Russian even if the rest of the application form is being completed in English or French. However, read the instructions in the announcement of the examination very carefully as the instructions vary from one examination to another.

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Application Results

Q : How do I know whether or not my application has been successful?
A :
Successful applicants will be sent an e-mail inviting them to part 1 of the examination (career-specific skills test). The e-mail will contain an application number specific to each individual, which is used for several purposes (e.g. to find out their assigned test centre, as applicable, and whether the results have been sent out).

Unsuccessful applicants will be sent an e-mail notifying them that their application has not been accepted.

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Examination Locations

Q : Where will I take the examination?
A :
Some examinations are taken remotely, in which case you make your own arrangements to take the examination online on a specified date. Otherwise you must go to one of the test centres designated by the United Nations for your LCE. Test centres are assigned a few weeks after candidates have been invited to the career-specific skills test. The location of the centres depends on the number and location of the applicants admitted to take a given LCE, as well as on the availability of the necessary technical equipment. If your application has been accepted, go to the Information for candidates page for information on where part 1 of the respective examination will be held.

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PART 1 (CAREER-SPECIFIC SKILLS TESTS)

Q : What is the structure of part 1 of the examination?
A :
Each competitive examination has its own format. Please check the UN Language careers portal, since samples of career-specific skills tests used in part 1 are often posted in the corresponding pages.
Q : Can I get a sample of the career-specific skills tests of part 1 of the LCE I am interested in so that I can prepare?
A :
Some sample tests are available the UN Language careers portal. Visit the relevant pages for your language and language career. Since there may be changes in test formats, the sample tests are meant to be only an indicator of the type of content and level of difficulty of the actual career-specific skills test. Note that the Board of Examiners decides whether to release a sample for each examination. If no sample is available for a particular LCE, please do not request one.
Q : I will be residing abroad at the time of part 1 of the examination. Can I take it at a local university or at my country's embassy or consulate?
A :
Part 1 of the examination is administered only in a limited number of test centres. On request, either when you submit your application or at least six weeks before the test date, we will make every effort to arrange for you to take part 1 at the test centre closest to your place of residence abroad.
Q : Does the United Nations cover my travel expenses to take part 1 of the examination?
A :
No, the United Nations does not cover any cost incurred for taking part 1 of the examination. However, the United Nations will cover the costs of travel of candidates who are successful in part 1 and are invited to part 2 (subject to the United Nations travel policy), unless part 2 is held remotely.
Q : I have an important appointment that I cannot miss on the day of part 1 of the examination. Can I take it earlier or later on that day or any time before or after the announced test date?
A :
No, this is not possible. All candidates must start and remain until the end of the test according to the specific schedule of their test centre. There is no makeup examination; there are no exceptions, not even for medical or other compelling reasons.
Q : Can I arrive late to part 1 of the examination?
A :
In examinations for interpreters, you will not be allowed to take part 1 if you arrive late because the speech that candidates have to interpret cannot be interrupted or restarted. Arriving late to part 1 for translators, editors, copy preparers or verbatim reporters is strongly discouraged as it will disturb others and you will miss the instructions read at the start. In the event that you are delayed, you will be admitted up to thirty minutes after the starting time. After that you will not be allowed to take the test. You will not be granted any extra time if you arrive late.
Q : I have very poor handwriting, so can I use a typewriter or a computer?
A :
This is currently not possible in most LCEs, except those held remotely. We strongly encourage you to write as legibly as possible in such cases.
Q : What should I bring to the test centre? What is not allowed in the test centre?
A :
Depending on the examination you are taking, you may be asked to bring writing materials, as well as a printout of the document inviting you to take the career-specific skills test and a picture ID indicating your nationality (passport, citizenship card, etc.). You may also bring some light food (candies, chocolate, etc.) and refreshments that will not distract others.

Do not bring cellular/mobile phones, dictionaries, reference materials, laptops or draft/scrap paper unless specifically told you may do so. Otherwise you will be required to leave them outside the examination room in a secure area for the whole duration of the test. Using a dictionary or any other reference material is not usually permitted during the tests for translators, editors, copy preparers or verbatim reporters held at test centres. Interpreters are strongly encouraged not to bring anything to part 1 of the examination. If you are instructed to bring a laptop, you will receive specific instructions when you receive your invitation to take part 1 of the examination.

Check the examination notice and notifications about the LCE to which you have applied carefully. Smoking is not allowed in examination rooms.
Q : Is there a dress code to take the examination?
A :
There is no dress code to participate in the examination. Please be aware that some examination rooms might be rather cool or warm and prepare accordingly.

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PART 2: THE INTERVIEW AND ADDITIONAL TESTS

Q : What is the structure of part 2 of the examination?
A :
Part 2 includes an interview and, usually, additional tests connected with the specific nature of the post for which you would be recruited. The interview includes questions on the competencies expected of you as a candidate for a language post, and in more general terms as a candidate for a job at the United Nations. Portions of the interview may be conducted in the language of the LCE you applied for. You can find more information on competency-based interviews here.

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Examination Results

Q : When should I expect the results of the examination and how will I be notified?
A :
The marking of part 1 of the examination can take some time, up to 4 months. Check the Information for candidates page for the status of each language examination. All candidates are notified in writing via e-mail to their last updated e-mail address. The application numbers of candidates invited to part 2 of the examination are also published on the Information for candidates page. Part 2 usually takes place 1-2 months after the completion of the marking of Part 1.
Q : How do I inform you of changes in my contact details such as my e-mail address?
A :
Our preferred mode of communication is by e-mail (use the address ohrmlce@un.org); please send us an e-mail message indicating your full name, your application number and your new contact details.
Q : I passed part 1 but failed part 2 of the examination. Do I need to repeat both parts at a subsequent examination?
A :
Yes, you will have to go through the entire examination process again, starting with the submission of your application. Results from one examination do not carry over to another.
Q : I failed the LCE three times. Can I still apply for the next one?
A :
Yes, you can. There is no limit to the number of times you can apply.

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Career prospects

Q : Where can I expect to get a job if I pass a Language Competitive Examination?
A :
Language positions in the United Nations Secretariat exist at United Nations Headquarters in New York, at designated duty stations (the United Nations Offices at Geneva, Nairobi and Vienna) and at the Regional Commissions located in Santiago, Bangkok, Beirut and Addis Ababa. Candidates who pass a language competitive examination are placed on a roster for the corresponding language and function (e.g. Chinese translators, Russian verbatim reporters). When vacancies occur at any one of the above locations, the most suitable candidate on the corresponding roster is contacted and offered the post. Please note that the distribution of posts varies by career and language: for example, verbatim reporters work only in New York, not every location has staff interpreters, and the only translators working in Santiago are those who translate into Spanish or English.
Q : When can I expect to get a job if I pass a language examination?
A :
The length of selection for a specific position varies, and is determined by the needs of the Organization. Vacancies may arise very soon after the LCE results are issued or several years later. Timely updates of your profile via the application portal Inspira will facilitate the recruitment process.
Q : What happens if I turn down an offer of a post?
A :
Successful candidates who receive an offer of appointment are strongly encouraged to accept it, as declining may affect their prospects of receiving a subsequent offer.
Q : How long will my initial contract be?
A :
Language staff are normally offered an initial fixed-term appointment at the P-2 level for a trial period of two years. Upon satisfactory completion of this trial period, they may be promoted to the P-3 level, which comprises 15 steps. Language professionals with several years of internationally recognized experience and demonstrated ability to perform high-quality work may be recruited at the P-3 level. After two years of satisfactory service on a fixed-term appointment, the candidate will be considered for a continuing appointment. Fixed-term appointments of language staff whose performance proves unsatisfactory will not be extended after the trial period of two years.

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Last updated on 23 November 2016
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