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How to Get a Realtime Captioning Job
Oregon's Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services (ODHHS)-Technical Assistance Center
ODHHS Information and Technical Assistance Series

How to Get a Realtime Captioning Job
(Source: Gary Robson, Cheetah Systems)
I am constantly shocked and amazed when people who have never worked in the captioning business, approach me about starting their own captioning company. Not that there´s anything wrong with starting a new company, of course. It´s just important to know the business thoroughly before venturing off on your own.
Personally, I worked as a computer programmer for years before starting a computer software company, and that experience was a major factor in the success of my company. I would not have considered starting a software company fresh out of school, yet this is exactly what many new captioners wish to do.
The best approach to get established in the captioning business is to work for somebody else. You can gain experience by doing volunteer captioning work, and it will help in developing your skills. Contact your local church; or chapter of Self-Help for Hard of Hearing People Inc., the National Association of the Deaf or the Association of Late-Deafened Adults; or a local support group, and volunteer to caption their meetings.
Then call a captioning company.
The arrangements vary from firm to firm. Some companies bring on all of their
captioners as employees, supplying you with all of your equipment, fixed work hours, benefit plans and support staff. Others have you work from home, strictly as an independent contractor, providing your own equipment. Most firms operate somewhere between these two extremes.
If you´re just starting out, you´ll want to be prepared when you walk in the door. Successful captioning companies get a lot of inquiries from aspiring captioners, and you will want to stand out from the crowd. Here are some suggestions for accomplishing that:
1. Get certified. You won´t make it past the front door at most captioning companies without at least a state CSR license. An RPR from NCRA helps. If you are a working court reporter, try for some of the advanced credentials before you apply. A CRR or RMR is a great help, and you´ll want such a designation to appear after your name on the very top line of your résumé. Speaking of which ...
2. Prepare a résumé or curriculum vitae. You are applying for a job, so you should produce as professional a document as possible. List your training, your work experience and your major accomplishments. Go into detail, but don´t ever go over three pages. If you´ve done captioning or realtime work as a volunteer, absolutely list it. Don´t get overly fancy and artistic about the résumé. You´re trying to get a job as a captioner, not as an artist. Keep it simple, readable, professional, readable, concise and readable. And did I mention readable? Nothing´s worse than a résumé prepared with eight-point script type. If the manager has to get out a magnifying glass and squint, the résumé is going in the trash.
3. Prepare a list of references. Your potential employer will want to talk to people you´ve captioned or realtimed for in the past. As a courtesy, make sure to notify everyone on the list that you´ve included them and that they may be receiving calls about you.
4. Prepare a demo tape. This is a tough one. If you´re starting out and you don´t have your own equipment, how are you supposed to prepare a demo tape? If you´re serious about getting a good job, the demo tape can be a potent tool. If there´s any way to borrow the equipment and prepare a demo, do it.
5. Do your homework. Before applying to a company, check it out. See if it has a site on the World Wide Web. Talk to somebody who works there. Find out all you can, and put it in your dictionary. If you are asked to demonstrate your skills, it will certainly look good if the name of the company and the name of your interviewer come out spelled right.
6. Dress professionally. Even if you plan to wear a bathrobe and fuzzy pink bunny slippers while captioning from your home, wear professional business attire to the interview. Obviously, if you´ll be working for a company in another state or country, and you never even have a face-to-face interview, you can go ahead and wear the bunny slippers.
7. Be prepared to be tested. Your résumé may show that you are the best in your profession, but the captioning company will still need to verify your skills. Don´t be offended or get huffy when they ask to see you write. If you´ve gotten that far in the process, you´re in the home stretch, so be relaxed and go for it.
If you apply for a job at the National Captioning Institute, for example, be prepared for two tests. You will be sent a skill-test tape before you even have a chance to interview. Before being hired, you will take a written English and grammar test, and you will be given a live skill test. Your steno notes from the skill test will be reviewed instead of, or in addition to, the translation.
When you do get hired, don´t expect to start off with all the plum assignments. A television news reporter doesn´t get assigned to a presidential press conference the first day on the job, so don´t expect to caption one on your first day on the job.
Certification is a thorny issue. On the one hand, well-respected captioners and owners of captioning firms tell me that court reporting certification is largely inapplicable to the captioning field. "The credentials that currently exist don´t mean anything to me," says Valerie Waite, of Waite & Associates, a well-known Canadian captioning firm. To secure an RPR or RMR requires passing written tests on American law, as well as verbatim writing skills with legal material. The certification does not test for even a rudimentary knowledge of captioning technology or skill.
On the other hand, Valerie goes on to say, "If someone can´t pass the CRR, they´re definitely not at a level where they´re ready to go on the air." Most captioners I´ve spoken to agree with this. A captioner´s daily work is more difficult and more demanding than the CRR exam. Whether the particular firm you approach believes a CRR is required, or not, having one will certainly give you a leg up over candidates who have not secured a CRR.
Tammie Shedd, of NCI, has probably hired more captioners than anyone else in the industry. According to Tammie, she is most likely to call you if you have a CRR credential and computer experience. She looks for well-written résumés that demonstrate good grammar and punctuation skills. If your résumé has a spelling error, you might still get a chance to interview. If it has two spelling errors, it goes straight into the garbage can.
You´ll find, over time, that there will be a particular field you like better than the others. You may like the variety and fast pace of a newscast, or the intensity of professional sports. Whatever it is, if you develop your skills and become known as the best in your niche, you´ve got a career established.
Developing Your Stenocaptioning Skills
Vocabulary is critical to your success as a stenocaptioner. You must have a well-developed court reporting dictionary, containing all of the specialty terminology for whatever you will be captioning, plus general terms that might come up. Here is a list, offered by Patty White of Caption Colorado and Kevin Daniel of Bay Area Captioning, of some (yes, I said "some") of what should be in an American news captioner´s dictionary:
  • U.S. Presidents (past and present and potential)
  • First Ladies
  • Cabinet Members
  • U.S. Senate
  • U.S. House of Representatives
  • National figures (government, religious, entertainment, criminal, etc.)
  • All the countries in the world and their capitals
  • All the states in the U.S. and their capitals
  • All major U.S. cities and some of the smaller ones
  • Geographical information, like mountain ranges, mountain peaks, oceans, rivers, lakes, local creeks
  • Meteorological terms, weather terms
  • World leaders, including United Nations leaders
  • World history terminology, as in Tet Offensive, Bolsheviks, Chairman Mao
  • Major wars, domestic and international
  • Terms related to world organizations, like NATO, OPEC, etc.
  • Nationalities, and the languages of foreign nations
  • Supreme Court Justices and important Supreme Court decisions
  • Military leaders, Joint Chiefs of Staff, military bases, weapons of war, like A-10 tank killers, F-15s, AWACS, Tomahawk missiles, Scud, etc.
  • National parks
  • Colleges, universities and their team names
  • Local stuff for the area you plan to caption in, landmarks, hospitals, junior colleges, prominent people, etc.
  • All the professional sports teams and their nicknames, players and coaches
  • Sports terminology, awards, and organizations, both amateur and professional
  • Makes and models of automobiles
  • Major businesses, brand names, trading organizations, stock terms
  • Currencies and major banks around the world
  • All the colors, and their shades and hues
  • Dog and cat breeds
  • Foods and their measurements and spices that go in them
  • Holidays, Christian, Jewish and all other faiths
  • Special events, like Kwanzaa, Cinco de Mayo, etc.
  • Religious structures, like mosques, temples, etc.
  • Books of the Bible and religions around the world
  • Basic chemicals
  • Drug names and manufacturers, both legal and illegal
  • Common first and last names
  • World literature, philosophy and religious terms, like Aesop, orthodox, Buddhism, Eucharist, the Brothers Grimm, etc.
  • Political terms, like Glasnost, apartheid, anarchy, propaganda, caucus, expatriate, Kremlin, Parliament, etc.
  • Computer terms
  • Commonly used foreign words and phrases, such as adieu, aloha, de rigeur, fait accompli, modus operandi, etc.