Stenographer Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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The majority of stenographers earned an annual salary between $24,000 and $94,000. Is it worth the education requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a stenographer is right for you.
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A Stenographer Career: the Pros and Cons

Stenographers use a stenotype machine to create a word-for-word documentation of everything stated in legal proceedings, television broadcasts and live events. Read here about the pros and cons of becoming a stenographer.

PROS of a Career as a Stenographer
Increased demand for realtime captioning services*
A good paying profession (court reporters averaging about $55,000 a year as of May 2014)*
Bilingual stenographers should have excellent job prospects*
Many opportunities for freelance and contract work*

CONS of a Career as a Stenographer
Employers may call for certification*
Some states require licensure*
Injury risks can be associated with repetitive typing and long hours of sitting*
Pressure for documentation to be done quickly and error-free*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Many stenographers, also called court reporters, create transcripts of legal proceedings. However, as a stenographer, you can specialize in other growing areas, including transcribing Web meetings, performing realtime captioning of television broadcasts for bilingual and hearing impaired audiences, and providing realtime captioning of courtroom proceedings.

Using a stenotype machine takes training and practice. The stenotype machine has several keys with symbols that represent various sounds, words and expressions; stenographers learn to press several keys at once to record a representation of what was said. The key combinations are then electronically recorded and translated in a process called Computer-Assisted Transcription (CAT). Stenographers are responsible for verifying grammar, spelling and proper use of terminology in their documentation.

In live-captioning, or Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART), the machine is connected to a computer, which immediately translates the symbols onto a screen. This is most often done so it can be read instantly by the hearing impaired or can be translated from English to another language. Being able to perform CART services generally requires additional training. CART stenography is often used to broadcast to large audiences in courtrooms, classrooms, government events and conferences.

Salary and Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that job opportunities for court reporters were predicted to increase 10% from 2012-2022, which was about as fast as average. According to the BLS, federal laws require that new broadcasting be captioned for hearing impaired and Spanish-speaking populations, which was expected to increase the need for stenographers trained in realtime captioning. As of May 2014, the mean salary for court reporters was about $55,000 a year. PayScale.com indicated in July 2015 that stenographer salaries can vary greatly; most workers earned between $24,000 and $94,000 annually.

Education and Licensing Requirements

Many schools offer associate's degree programs in court reporting with an additional degree or certificate program in realtime stenography. During a court reporting program, you can take classes in legal and medical terminology, transcription and speed building. Courses in realtime stenography can include deaf studies, broadcast captioning and CART procedures. Becoming proficient in CART and broadcasting captioning can take over two years. In addition to postsecondary programs, some states require court reporters to be licensed or to become notary publics.

Certifications Available

Certifications are generally voluntary; however, credentials can give you a career edge. Some certification exams can also count toward licensure, depending on your state's requirements. The National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) offers a number of certifications, including the Registered Professional Reporter (RPR) credential, as well as advanced certifications in court reporting (www.ncra.org). You can also become certified in realtime reporting, broadcasting captioning and CART. Some certifying associations require that you be able to type at least 225 words per minute (WPM).

Useful Skills

Skills that are helpful for a career in stenography include strong communication skills, the ability to focus for long periods and the ability to work under pressure. It's ideal if you have knowledge about the industry in which you plan to work; for example, you should understand legal terminology if you want to become a court reporter. You might like being a stenographer if you have the following skills:

  • Aptitude for swiftly processing what you hear
  • Ability to multi-task (hear and type at the same time)
  • Excellent typing speed, usually about 225 WPM
  • A high degree of accuracy

Jobs Posted by Real Employers

Employer postings in March 2012 revealed that some companies are looking to hire stenographers who have relevant experience, while others want you to have specific credentials. Below are examples of some real job postings from March 2012.

  • Courts in Washington, D.C. are hiring RPR-certified realtime court reporters who can transcribe up to 225 WPM for legal testimony with 95% accuracy. You must be able to perform under pressure, record legal testimonies and provide your own equipment. Applicants must have at least four years of court reporting experience.
  • A national captioning agency is looking to hire sports captioners in Dallas, Texas. Supplementary training is provided. The employee can work remotely, but must be able to caption sports programming with 99% accuracy. If you work in-house, you must complete captioning with 98% accuracy.
  • A court reporter is needed in San Diego, CA, to certify and file records, record proceedings and complete transcripts under time constraints. You must have your own equipment and furniture, and realtime reporting certification from NCRA is ideal.
  • An experienced realtime captioning assistant is needed at a broadcasting company in Connecticut. You should have good memory recall, a calm manner and exceptional grammar. The job requires that you perform closed captioning for the hearing impaired. You must be able to listen, type and proofread simultaneously. The employer prefers to hire someone with a bachelor's degree and experience using captioning software.

Standing Out from the Crowd

Most employers want stenographers who can perform realtime captioning or transcription, so being proficient in CART is important. Becoming certified in an area of stenography, such as court reporting, broadcasting captioning or CART can give you an edge in most jobs. Also, accuracy and typing speed are critical, and some organizations only accept your resume if you meet their requirements in this area.

Experience in specific fields, such as law, sports, medicine or working with the hearing impaired, can open up more career opportunities. If you're bilingual or know sign language, these language skills could also help you find jobs working with non-English speaking or deaf clients.

Other Careers to Consider

Medical Transcriptionist

While stenographers generally transcribe spoken words in real time, a medical transcriptionist translates a physician's spoken or written notes into a document used for medical records and insurance. Certificate and associate's degree programs in medical transcription are available at many community colleges and technical schools. May 2011 statistics from the BLS indicated that medical transcriptionists received a mean salary of about $34,000 per year. Positions in this field were predicted to increase six percent from 2010-2020, which was slower than average.

Interpreter and Translator

Interpreters translate spoken language, while translators convert written language. If you have exceptional bilingual or sign language skills, this could be a good career for you. Interpreters and translators can work at healthcare companies, courtrooms, government agencies and travel companies. Some college programs in interpretation and translation are available at colleges and universities, but many who work in this field have been fluent in more than one language since childhood. According to the BLS, job opportunities for interpreters and translators were expected to grow 42% from 2010-2020, which was much greater than average. As of May 2011, interpreters and translators earned an annual average salary of about $51,000.

Paralegal

If you're interested in working in the legal system, but prefer research and administrative tasks, you might consider becoming a paralegal or legal assistant. You generally need a bachelor's degree or an associate's degree with a certificate in paralegal studies. Job opportunities were anticipated to grow about as fast as average, at 18% from 2010-2020, reported the BLS. As of May 2011, paralegals earned a mean salary of around $50,000 per year.

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Keiser University

  • B.A. - Legal Studies
  • B.A. - Criminal Justice
  • Associate of Arts - Criminal Justice
  • Associate of Arts - Paralegal

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Colorado Technical University

  • Doctor - Management - Criminal Justice
  • M.S. - Criminal Justice
  • BS - Criminal Justice

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American InterContinental University

  • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Corrections and Case Management
  • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Generalist
  • Associate of Science in Criminal Justice

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CDI College

  • Diploma in Legal Administrative Assistant
  • Diploma in Legal Assistant
  • Diploma in Paralegal

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Northcentral University

  • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership - Criminal Justice

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Grand Canyon University

  • MS in Criminal Justice: Legal Studies

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Penn Foster High School

  • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
  • HS Diploma

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