Postal Service Mail Carrier  What They Do

Just the Facts

Postal Service Mail Carriers Career Video

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dot Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

Letter carriers may not have an official motto, but this saying about them is well known to many people. But what about all of the other postal workers? There are more roles in North America's postal services than those occupied by letter carriers.

"Most postal workers do not deliver mail," confirms Sally Davidow. "They work behind the scenes in mail processing centers, where they sort mail. Postal workers also transport mail between postal facilities. Or they provide maintenance services at the facilities and to the vehicles and machines associated with those facilities' operations."

Davidow works with the American Postal Workers Union. This union represents all postal workers except the letter carriers who are responsible for home deliveries.

dotLetter carrier Matt Charlton agrees that postal work is about more than delivering mail.

For example, postal retail clerks are the public face of the postal service. They wait on customers at post offices. Some of their tasks could include selling stamps, weighing parcels, and answering questions about postage rates, mailing restrictions, post office boxes and other postal matters.

Retail clerks may also sell money orders and mailing supplies, register, certify and insure mail, and determine whether packages are in suitable condition to be mailed.

Then there are postal clerical or distribution workers who sort, process and distribute mail to its next destination, often by machine. They may work at post offices or large processing centers. They prepare incoming and outgoing mail for distribution.

Postal workers also operate the vehicles that transport mail within a geographic area.

In addition, all of the machinery in a postal facility is serviced by maintenance-craft employees. The facilities themselves are maintained by postal custodians while support personnel handle payroll, computer issues and other matters.

dotSome of these positions require prolonged standing, walking and reaching, as well as the ability to lift 70 pounds. By comparison, a letter carrier's mail bag weighs, at most, only half that much.

All of this physical work and the need to communicate with the public can make it difficult for people with special needs to find employment with postal services.

"There are few conventional desk jobs available to postal workers," Davidow confirms. "In large part because of the urging of postal unions, the Postal Service has made jobs available to those with special needs."

dotThose wishing to work for the postal service may find the best positions hard to come by. Automation, a low turnover rate and large numbers of applicants make employment opportunities somewhat hard to find.

"Technology is our double-edged sword," says Charlton. "It can help improve our processes, but can also have a negative impact on the type and volume of mail we deliver. There will always be product that needs to be picked up from one customer and moved to another, but what that product is and how it is delivered is constantly evolving."

"Still, many jobs will become available because of the need to replace those who retire or leave the occupation," Davidow adds. "But those seeking jobs as postal workers can expect to encounter keen competition."

dotGetting through that competition has its rewards. Postal workers can enjoy schedule flexibility as well as a varied work day. While retail clerks tend to work typical retail hours, sorting and distribution personnel are often on a 24-hour clock. This means working shifts that can, eventually, fit into your schedule.

Are you a night person who doesn't enjoy working with the public? That midnight sorting shift might be just the thing for you. Can't work evenings? Then the retail position could be for you if you have the right skills for the job.

"Postal clerks must be courteous and tactful, in particular when fielding questions or complaints from the public," says Davidow. "Good interpersonal skills must be supplemented by a good memory and the ability to read rapidly. There are frequent dispatch deadlines in most types of postal work."

Then, of course, there are the letter carriers. These people work days, often starting early in the morning.

"Letter carriers and drivers can expect to work in a depot with anywhere from 20 to 300 carriers," Charlton explains. "The larger the depot, the noisier the environment, with machinery such as forklifts and hand trucks moving about. Once you are outside, however, a letter carrier is at the mercy of the elements.

"Inside workers can expect a work environment with little or no outside light. The sort floor can be noisy depending on the department. Mail can also generate a fair amount of dust, though most depots are quite clean and the air fresh."

So regardless of your preferences, chances are good that a position with postal services -- if you can get one -- can satisfy them.

When people get a position with postal services, they tend to stay. Because of this, the number of qualified applicants always exceeds the number of job openings, and this trend is expected to continue.

Just the Facts

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At a Glance

Deliver the mail in snow, rain, sleet and hail

  • There are many other jobs besides mail delivery
  • You'll answer customer questions about postal regulations
  • You need to finish high school and pass a written examination