The 1954 musical Brigadoon featured a mystical town in the Scottish Highlands that appeared to mere mortals only once every hundred years for one day, thereafter to disappear into the mists of time for another century. Similarly the ALJ register opens only for brief periods, then to close again, sometimes for years.
Attorneys who aspire to join the ranks of Administrative Law Judges will have to be prepared at the moment that the “town” appears. With no exam since 2009, many ALJ aspirants are awaiting the opening of this much anticipated event. The ALJ hiring process begins with the establishment of a register of qualified candidates which is maintained by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Names of qualified candidates are added only when the examination is announced, an event that has occurred about every 13 months in the last few years. The opening of the exam is long overdue by this standard, and it leaves those anticipating its arrival guessing about the next steps. Unlike Brigadoon, the exam’s appearance does not occur at regularly scheduled intervals. Another large unknown in the process is the uncertainty of Congress’ budget dealings. No examination or hiring can occur until the budget for 2012 is set.
Hiring reform aimed at eliminating arduous narrative-heavy applications was implemented for competitive service positions throughout the federal government in late 2010, but thus far, the ALJ examination process has been untouched from its last few iterations. OPM has formed groups to study the ALJ hiring process to see how it might be streamlined or improved, and there is some speculation that the exam will not open until this new process is established and implemented. Competing rumors say that the existing examination process will used once more in the spring of 2012 under a repeat of the recent, more-familiar process.
Whatever your guess, the Social Security Administration just announced that it will hire retired ALJs to serve on temporary contracts to help alleviate the agency’s backlog while it awaits funding to fill positions on a permanent basis. This may be a clue that we will all wait a little while longer to join the desirable land of ALJs.
What can you do to be ready? Regardless of how a revised process might affect the specific format of the ALJ exam, we bet it will still require a fair amount of writing. Preparing an application based on the last examination announcement will save you invaluable time and help you have your required details all in one place. An effective application features your unique career achievements—with measurable results—that demonstrate why you are a standout among candidates. You will need a federal style resume, as well as narrative content that speaks to your accomplishments in specific competency areas. These are detailed in the 2009 ALJ examination announcement which can be viewed online.
What else can you do? Join online discussions about ALJ issues to stay informed about the latest musings and happenings about ALJ hiring and other relevant issues. Set up an automatic job posting search on www.USAJOBS.gov to receive alerts about ALJ related job postings. And stay tuned right here for future updates.
Elizabeth Juge is CareerPro Global’s primary expert on federal attorney applications, including Administrative Law Judge qualifications and application processes. Drawing on her experience consulting with federal jobseekers and potential ALJ candidates, Elizabeth co-authored Roadmap to Becoming an Administrative Law Judge: How to Find ALJ Jobs, Determine Your Qualifications, and Develop Your Application. She has helped numerous job seekers earn “best qualified” status in their applications and positions on the ALJ register.