Employment Prospects


There are approximately 76,100 interpreters and translators in the United States. Although many interpreters work for government or international agencies, some are employed by private firms. Large import-export companies often have interpreters on their payrolls, although these employees generally perform additional duties for the firm. International banks, companies, organizations, and associations often employ both interpreters to facilitate communication. In addition, interpreters work at schools, radio and television stations, airlines, shipping companies, law firms, and scientific and medical operations.

More companies with call centers are hiring interpreters to work in customer service departments, and there is a growing demand for interpreters in the health care industry. 

A large number of interpreters find work in New York and Washington, D.C. Among the largest employers of interpreters are the United Nations, World Bank, U.S. Department of State, Bureau of the Census, CIA, FBI, Library of Congress, Red Cross, YMCA, and the armed forces.

Finally, many interpreters and translators work independently in private practice. 

Starting Out

Most interpreters begin as part-time freelancers until they gain experience and contacts in the field. Individuals can apply for jobs directly to the hiring firm, agency, or organization. Many of these employers advertise available positions in the classified section of the newspaper or on the Internet. In addition, contact your college career services office and language department to inquire about job leads.

While many opportunities exist, top interpreting jobs are hard to obtain since the competition for these higher profile positions is fierce. You may be wise to develop supplemental skills that can be attractive to employers while refining your interpreting techniques. The United Nations, for example, hires tour guides who speak more than one language. Such positions can be initial steps toward your future career goals.

Volunteering or working as an intern for an interpreter is also a great way for you to gain valuable experience you can include on your resume and develop relationships with possible employers.

Advancement Prospects

Competency in language determines the speed of advancement for interpreters. There are few executive or high-level positions in the field, however. Those who want to earn more money or have more responsibility may need to work for a large interpreting service firm or begin their own company.

Interpreters need to constantly work and study to keep abreast of the changing linguistic trends for a given language. The constant addition of new vocabulary for technological advances, inventions, and processes keeps languages fluid. Those who do not keep up with changes will find that their communication skills become quickly outdated.

Interpreters who work for government agencies advance by clearly defined grade promotions. Those who work for other organizations can aspire to become chief interpreters or reviewers who check the work of others.

Although advancement in the field is generally slow, interpreters will find many opportunities to succeed as freelancers. Some can even establish their own bureaus or agencies.

Tips for Entry

Take a foreign language class in high school. This will provide an important foundation for further study and also a cultural education.

Join a cultural organization or a foreign-language group at school or in your community to bolster your foreign-language education, learn more about other customs and cultures, and to participate in activities.

Contact a state or federal courthouse to request an information interview with an interpreter or a tour of the facilities.

Visit the following Web sites for job listings: