Now what do I do?

By Michelle L. Hall

So you’ve worked hard and finally passed your 225 wpm speed test, or you may still be working on passing your final speeds. So how do you go about finding a job? In this day and age of national agencies or independent reporters working from their homes, how are you supposed to get the training and experience you need right out of school? The demographics for court reporting firms are so diverse from state to state and city to city across the United States.

I have owned a firm of four years and have been a freelance reporter since 1985. All of my reporters are employees. I have recently needed to hire a court reporter to fill in some gaps. I was weighing my options between hiring a new reporter directly out of school or a reporter from my database of resumes that I have accumulated over the years. I thought I would write an article for the students on what I, as a firm owner, look for when interviewing a new reporter for a position with my agency in hope that it would give the students information on what to do when looking for a position.

In our area, the job market is very competitive for students looking for their first jobs out of school. Not many employers are willing to take the time to sufficiently train a new reporter. Also, as work moves to national agencies due to contracting with insurance companies, new court reporters find themselves competing with more veteran independent reporters who are looking to become affiliated with other agencies to supplement their salary as well as workload.

In the current market, students have to make themselves as marketable as possible. While students are still in school, they should devote as much time as possible on building their dictionaries. This will help them immensely when starting to report, because they won’t be spending as much time editing and creating new dictionary entries. They should be reading magazines and books to build up their vocabulary. They should find an agency they might like to work for and ask if they could intern through school with them. Students might want to consider asking to continue the arrangement without pay after the internship concludes, if they haven’t yet finished their schooling, to see if the agency could offer additional training. Some reporters even got a start acting as the scheduler or scopist for a firm before truly embarking on their court reporting career. That way, if the firm isn’t hiring at the present time, students will have a foot in the door and will be ready to start when the firm is hiring. Students also benefit by seeing if this is where they really want to work. Oftentimes when students go out for their internship, they don’t truly get a feel for the way a place is run or the personalities of all the people involved. Students can use this opportunity to establish a good working relationship with the owner and shows an eagerness to learn and achieve. All employers are looking for hard-working, dedicated employees, and this is a wonderful way to show those traits.

During this internship/training period, ask the owner for an example transcript to review. This will enable you to see the way the company prepares transcripts, especially how it expects to see punctuation and caption pages. One of the most tedious and time-consuming things to learn in court reporting is how to prepare a caption page in the software. The more time students take learning and navigating way through the software program now, the less time it will take to do so when students are actually on the job. Once students become new reporters, they will be able to prepare and edit transcripts much faster, get the work out the door, and hopefully get more job assignments.

Here are a few rules to follow during an internship or other training period:
Always dress professionally and be punctual when going out with a reporter to a job.
Never ask to leave in the middle of a deposition or hearing, unless there is a break where you can pack up without disruption to the proceedings.
Never interrupt the deposition because you didn’t hear a question or response.
Always turn off your cell phone before entering any office or place where you are attending the job.
Be discreet when choosing topics to discuss on breaks with the people in the room: Never discuss politics or religion! Showing any affiliation to one side over the other can cause a firm to lose a contract.

So what about the interview? When new reporters call about a job posting, they should ask what they need to bring to the interview. I always ask the reporter to bring their steno machine, as I may give them a five-minute NCRA RPR exam, just to make sure that they are truly capable of writing at that speed. Likewise, new reporters should also be prepared to take a grammar and punctuation test, or, in some instances, a commonsense test. Believe it or not, some employers find this test very useful when weeding through applicants. Be prepared to be at the interview for at least an hour. In my case, I like to meet personally with the applicant to see how they present themselves, as well as talk about their past work experience. This is where I can ascertain how dedicated they will be to the profession and inform them how much time will be expected of them, especially during the training period. I have found that many students truly aren’t aware of how much time and effort is involved in this profession. It is not a 9-to-5 job. There will often be times where you may need to cancel your plans because someone has asked for a job expedited or overnight.

There is a huge difference between being an employee and an independent contractor. New reporters need to find out what is expected from each prospective employer. Some agencies supply software edit keys to the employees, but most likely the reporters will be expected to provide their own equipment. New reporters need to ask questions about whether the firm or the reporter will produce and deliver the transcripts and whether they will be expected to be in the office all day or will be working from home. Ask about healthcare benefits; part-time employees usually are not provided benefits, but it never hurts to ask. The more questions interviewees ask, the better off they will be. As an employer, we cannot think of all the topics that need to be covered.

Once reporters are hired for their first job, they should ask for the company’s employee handbook and examples of transcripts. When reporters are assigned jobs they haven’t been on before, ask questions about the proceedings and what will be expected. In the current world of referral agencies, reporters may be asked to cover an assignment that was referred from an outside agency. Be sure to get all of the paperwork that needs to be filled out. There are often restrictions on reporters of what they can and cannot do, such as whether they can give a business card or contact the client directly. There is no quicker way to lose business from a referring agency than to violate one of those rules. It is imperative that reporters read all of the paperwork that accompanies that job assignment.

There are many ways that student court reporters and recent graduates can prepare themselves for their first jobs, and I have just touched on a few. However, I hope that it will be give some insight into what firm owners will look for in the process.

Michelle L. Hall, RMR, is a freelance court reporter and firm owner in Pittsburgh, Pa. She can be reached at michelleh@pittsburghreportingservice.com.