Page updated 2/12/2016
Postal Service workers must be at least 18 years old. They must be U.S. citizens or have been granted permanent resident-alien status in the United States, and males must have registered with the Selective Service upon reaching age 18. Applicants should have a basic competency of English. Qualification is based on a written examination that measures speed and accuracy at checking names and numbers and the ability to memorize mail distribution procedures. Applicants must pass a physical examination and drug test, and may be asked to show that they can lift and handle mail sacks weighing 70 pounds. Applicants for mail carrier positions must have a driver’s license and a good driving record, and must receive a passing grade on a road test.
Job seekers should search the postal services' web site to locate open job announcements. If no announcements are currently posted contact the post office or mail processing center where you wish to work to determine when an exam will be given. Applicants’ names are listed in order of their examination scores. Five points are added to the score of an honorably discharged veteran and 10 points are added to the score of a veteran who was wounded in combat or is disabled. When a vacancy occurs, the appointing officer chooses one of the top three applicants; the rest of the names remain on the list to be considered for future openings until their eligibility expires — usually two years after the examination date.
Only a few applicants become postal clerks or mail carriers when first hired, because of competition and the one to two years or more waiting period after passing the examination. Most entrants transfer from other occupations.
On the job training is required for new Postal Service workers and the training is conducted by experienced postal workers. Classroom instruction is available at many post offices on safety issues such as defensive driving. Workers receive refresher and new equipment training when needed or when operating procedures are introduced. In situations like this, workers usually receive training from experienced postal employees or from a training specialist.
Postal clerks and mail carriers are required to be courteous and tactful when dealing with the public, especially when answering questions or receiving complaints. A good memory and the ability to read rapidly and accurately are important. Good interpersonal skills also are vital, because mail distribution clerks work closely with other postal workers, frequently under the tension and strain of meeting dispatch or transportation deadlines and quotas.
Postal Service workers often begin on a part-time, flexible basis and become regular or full time in order of seniority, as vacancies occur. Full-time workers may bid for preferred assignments, such as the day shift or a high-level non supervisory position. Carriers can look forward to obtaining preferred routes as their seniority increases. Postal Service workers can advance to supervisory positions on a competitive basis.
Employment of Postal Service workers is expected to continue to decline through 2016. However, many jobs will be advertised to fill positions needed to replace those who retire or leave the postal service. Expect considerable competition for anyone seeking post office jobs. In many cased the number of applicants exceeds the number of available post office jobs due to attractive wages and benefits and minimal entry requirements.
The stable employment overall of Postal Service mail carriers and Postal Service clerks will be offset by declines in Postal Service mail sorters, processors, and processing machine operators, which will likely cause overall employment of Postal Service workers to decline 2 percent by 2016. An increasing population, the greater use of third class, or bulk, mail by businesses, and more electronic shopping will generate more business for the Postal Service. However, demand will be moderated by the fact that people are sending out fewer pieces of first class mail because of the growing use of electronic communication.
These changes will affect Postal Service occupations in different ways. Efforts by the Postal Service to provide better service and meet the needs of a growing population will increase the demand for Postal Service clerks. However, the declining use of first class mail as the use of electronic communication grows will hold growth in this occupation to a minimum.
Employment of mail sorters, processors, and processing machine operators is expected to decline moderately because of the increasing use of automated materials handling equipment and optical character readers, barcode sorters, and other automated sorting equipment. In addition, companies that mail in bulk have an economic incentive to presort the mail before it arrives at the Post Office to qualify for a reduction in the price.
Employment of mail carriers is expected to grow, but only by about 1 percent through 2016. As the population continues to rise, the need for mail carriers will grow. In addition, businesses are using the mail more to deliver advertising, which is making up for the reduced use of first class mail. Also, the Postal Service is moving toward more centralized mail delivery, such as the use of cluster mailboxes, to cut down on the number of door-to-door deliveries. The best employment opportunities for mail carriers are expected to be in less urbanized areas as the number of addresses to which mail must be delivered continues to grow, especially in fast-growing rural areas. However, increased use of the “delivery point sequencing” system, which allows machines to sort mail directly by the order of delivery, should reduce the amount of time that carriers spend sorting their mail, allowing them to spend more time on the streets delivering mail. This will mitigate the demand for more mail carriers.
Excerpted from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook