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Lessons Learned from a Supreme Court Judge's Federal Application

Lessons Learned from a Supreme Court Judge's Federal Application

Judge Samuel Alito and Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA).

Kathryn Troutman / Monster.com

Supreme Court Judge Samuel Alito used this SF-171 form to apply for deputy assistant attorney general in 1985. Here’s my assessment of his application and what you can learn from what he wrote:


Work Experience


Job A’s description is 28 words, while Job B’s is eight words, and Job C’s is four. These are way too short for government applications in 1985, and they still are today.


Description of His Work


These should have been expanded to include some of the language from the Position Description. If you read the Position Description carefully, you’ll see important duties that the new deputy assistant attorney general will perform. Some of these keywords and skills could have been added to the duties section of the form:

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Chief advisor to the attorney general.

Assist the attorney general in his duties as advisor to the president.


Narrative Statement


The SF-171 form did not include a form or space between pages one and two for writing about beliefs, opinions or personal background, so Alito took the liberty of inserting a creative, interesting narrative to grab readers’ attention — even before they read his employment history and education. This approach worked for him.


Ideas and Opinions


Alito was determined to make very clear his opinions about the Justice Department, his lifelong interest in law, his political affiliation and how he contributed to President Reagan’s important legal decisions. It is a passionate letter of interest with clearly stated views. Obviously he wanted everyone to know where he stood on everything, and if they didn’t like it, they wouldn’t select him. I like the narrative. This creative addition to the SF-171 probably helped get him hired.

Despite its brevity, the SF-171 Alito submitted demonstrates passion, interest and qualifications for the target position. He was well-qualified for the job, because he had been a GS-15 for many years and had the education and experience needed. The narrative inserted between pages one and two is not in the right place, but it made the difference.


Lessons for Federal Job Seekers


Don’t follow Alito’s short descriptions of his work experience. Write more about your duties, skills and knowledge. Use language from the Position Description or Vacancy Announcement. Federal HR specialists want to see experience that supports the target position in the Work Experience sections, not just in a creative narrative attached to the form.

Be sure to include your passion, background, interests, opinions and beliefs, as long as they are in sync with the mission of the department or agency where you are applying.

Write a letter of interest, qualifications summary, personal statement or some narrative about your beliefs and interests.

Read and analyze the Position Description. Alito’s narrative statement covered elements of the position description plus more. It would have been good if he had mentioned each of the skill sets in his work experience sections as well.


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