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How can I Become a Mail Carrier?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A mail carrier sorts and delivers mail for the United States Postal Service (USPS), which is owned by the US government. He or she is a government employee who directly serves the public. People who want to do this job must apply at their local post office as the USPS does not use a centralized location for job applications.

The local post office will supply the applicant with available dates and times for the USPS Exam 473m which is a standardized test that all prospective mail carriers must pass, and it tests memory and reading ability. Test scores are ranked, and those with the highest scores are the first chosen for the job. Competition is steep, but individuals can take the test more than once and only the highest score is compared with the others. Practice tests are available in most libraries, or people can ask at the post office for pamphlet "60-A Test 473 Orientation Guide for all Major Entry Level Jobs" that includes examples of questions on the exam.

In order to become a mail carrier, the applicant must be 18 or older and a US citizen or have a permanent resident alien status. He or she must also pass a physical examination and have a current valid driver's license. A dependable, honest nature is necessary, since the person is considered responsible for delivering the mail and communicating efficiently with the public. Individuals must be able to work well under pressure as sometimes there can be a high volume of mail to deliver. A good physical condition is important as the carrier may be walk several miles (kilometers) every day in all types of weather conditions.

People who do this job must be prepared to not only deliver the mail, but sort and bundle it first. Most start at 7 a.m. and spend a few hours sorting items in the post office before walking and delivering mail for the rest of the day. Overtime is sometimes required. Most mail carriers deliver by vehicle and on foot. Someone who works in a city may be provided with a vehicle, but a mailman working in a rural area might have to use his or her own vehicle.

Since the competition for this job is an issue, applicants should be prepared to be on a waiting list for up to a year or two. People may want to speak to the local post office staff or postmaster about their waiting list. A USPS mail carrier usually must start in a part-time flexible (PTF) capacity, and he or she may have to work in this way anywhere from a few weeks to a few years until a full time 40 hour work week position becomes available. If a carrier must work on a Saturday, he or she will be given a weekday off instead.

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Discussion Comments
By anon986739 — On Jan 27, 2015

From the organization that gave the lexicon the phrase "going postal".

By anon134044 — On Dec 13, 2010

The USPS is not owned by the U.S. Government.

By SolarTower — On Aug 19, 2010

It should also be noted that in addition to scoring high on the test and having your name on a long waiting list, preference is given to those men and women who have served in the military.

The test is not given too often to the public, but veterans can test at almost any time. The postal service often hires rural carriers to cover areas less populated. They also hire PTF’s during the winter season to help with the sorting of additional packages.

By anon31573 — On May 07, 2009

All carriers start as a PTF and I know some that have had that status for 10 years. It depends on mail volume and retirement. If a full time carrier retires from his route and his mail volume has dropped; like it has lately, that route will no longer be a full-time route. Also, only full-time carriers are guaranteed 2 days off a week. PTF are not guaranteed any days off. Bummer!

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