Answers to Common Questions of Terrified Newbie City Carrier Assistants - The Impending Interview
Dr. Mel Is In
My CCA related articles have generated hundreds of comments, and I do my best to respond to them all. Most of the time the beleaguered, severely stressed, utterly exhausted City Carrier Assistants use my comments section to vent about the stress and difficulties they encounter while dodging pitchforks in Postal Hell. In these cases, it is my job to provide a cozy therapist's couch and then, as I doodle in the margins of my therapist's pad, pretend to listen, sympathize, and sometimes make a few encouraging, soothing, hopefully helpful remarks.
In other instances, CCAs ask me questions that are way above my paygrade. I don't pretend to be a Union contract or postal policy expert, so I refer them to a source that is much more competent about these complicated matters than myself.
Then there are those situations where our dear Postal Newbies ask questions that I can answer using my own knowledge and experience, or at least make an intelligent guess at. But sometimes the questions come at me in such rapid fire fashion that I feel like a mechanical duck in a carnival shooting range.
Such was the case last week, when a prospective CCA named Josh fired off a frantic plea for help that was way too much information to respond to using my fat fingers on a tiny phone screen. So instead of wearing out my digits and vision punching away at tiny phone letters, I decided to sit down at the computer and write an article.
This is the result. Here you have answers to the questions of a terrified CCA who has an impending job interview this coming week. Since there are always CCAs out there pressing me for answers to questions on all sorts of postal topics, perhaps I will make this a regular feature, a sort of Dear Abby for lost, love-deprived letter carriers.
I would be grateful if other letter carriers of all ranks could help me out. When I am training new CCAs, the regulars in my office always tell me to make sure I teach them this, that, and the other thing. My response is that it takes a village to raise a child, so if there is something you think they really need to know, YOU TELL THEM. This article operates on the same principle. It is an interactive medium, so if you want to fill in the gaps in my responses, please scribble them in the comments section below.
Will I Work on Sundays?
Does the Pope work on Sunday? Yes Josh, and as a new CCA you will work on Sunday too. Amazon has a sweetheart deal with the Postal Service, and I believe other companies like Wal Mart are trying to join the party, or have already done so. I refer to the Sunday morning parcel delivery ritual as CCA church. On Saturday in my office, they post a schedule next to the time clock of which parcel routes are going to be driven by which CCAs. I call this the CCA church bulletin. Being a devoted parishioner of Saint Mattress, this is as close as I've gotten to these sunrise services. I have not personally participated in the order of the mass.
There are a couple caveats I will add to this which might give the upstart CCA a little hope. In my district, at least, CCAs don't work Sundays until they have passed probation. Also, based on what I have observed, the junior CCAs are the usual Sunday morning crew, so once you get a little seniority you, Josh, might not have to do this anymore. MIGHT NOT.
Therefore, if you are one of those CCAs who believe that the Sabbath is a day of rest, you better get that out of your head and start practicing postal paganism. Get your praying out of the way now, while you still have time for it.
Included but not Limited to
Your subsequent question, Josh, is if you will be working "an absurd amount of routes." I wrote an article on this topic a while ago called Have Satchel, Will Travel. One might think I absolutely own that topic, there being a severe shortage of postal bloggers like me on the Internet, but on Google you actually have to go to page two, where it bears the title Have Satchel Will Travel - The Daily Life of a Postal Carrier Assistant. The reason why I bring the article up here is that your satchel is going to be your new life Josh, your new wife. You will be inseparable from it, as one being, joined at the hip. The following is a quote from the article:
Here's the downpour that is going to flood out your Postal picnic: It doesn't matter if the Post Office you belong to on paper is on the next block or the next county. Either way, you aren't going to be spending a lot of time there...So be prepared to receive the manager's phone call every morning telling you there has been a "change of plans," and whatever you do don't leave your satchel hanging overnight on some cozy looking hook you find on the route you think you are going to carry tomorrow.— Mel Carriere
Keep your satchel with you at all times, Josh, because the station you may go to tomorrow may not have any spares.
If you become proficient at this job, however, and your supervisors begin to trust you, when they get a call from the Area Manager requesting help they're going to send that CCA slug who always gets back to the office two clicks before the stroke of midnight, and let you stay. So be a reliable CCA, but don't overdo it.
My answer to your question about hellish, seven day weeks varies town to town, from what I have ascertained reading horror stories on Facebook. In my city CCAs get regular days off, but this might not be the case where you live. In either case, the holidays are coming up and, believe it or not, this is the Postal Service's busiest time of the year. Therefore, for at least the next three months it is highly probably you, Josh, will be working hellish seven day weeks. Yes Josh, there is a Santa Claus, and his name is Josh.
Can You Say No?
Wikipedia tells us that "Just Say No" was an advertising campaign, part of the U.S. "War on Drugs", prevalent during the 1980s and early 1990s, to discourage children from engaging in illegal recreational drug use..." The same slogan does not apply to postal employment, however, especially during your probationary period, Josh, when they can and will fire you for habitually unleashing this nasty two letter word.
All of the examples of standing up to supervisor intimidation tactics come from regulars who know the contract and are fireproof. As a fledgling CCA, Josh, you will still need to clothe yourself in a fire-retardant postal uniform. My best advice is to do what they tell you unless it is unsafe, immoral, unethical, or impossible. If it is impossible, pretend you will do it anyway, then call by your station's designated time to say you are going to be late. Instead of Just Say No, there is another popular CCA slogan that should be your constant mantra. This is CYA, meaning cover your shiny, glow in the dark CCA butt before they can kick it.
When you get that 5 AM phone call, my advice is to Just Say Yes. If you don't want to work, why did you sign up for this gig anyway? Remember, your supervisor might be desperate for your services today, but tomorrow all the routes may be covered, which means no work for you. Take advantage of whatever hours they offer, because they are not necessarily constant.
Don't worry, Josh. Once you make regular, then you can cop an attitude.
You also ask in this paragraph if you are going to have a set schedule or be forced to carry an absurd amount of routes. In the beginning, the latter is probably closer to the truth. CCAs do carry an absurd amount of routes, often a different route every day, in a different station. They even carry bits and pieces of different routes on the same day, then get sent to another station to carry more bits and pieces. The good news is that CCAs are allowed to opt on routes that are temporarily vacant because the regular letter carrier is on vacation or out with an injury. Being on the bottom of the seniority list, Josh, you are probably not going to be awarded very many of these opts, but as you move quickly up the roster, you will find that your work day becomes increasingly more stable and predictable.
Any Tips for The Interview?
This was your first question, Josh, but I decided to save it for last, because before you actually start suffering the indignities and misfortunes that CCA life brings you have to clear the interview hurdle.
Bear in mind that it has been 23 years since I interviewed for letter carrier, but interviews are interviews no matter where you take them, and I am pretty sure Postal hiring managers subscribe to the same sterile, uninspired interviewing guidelines that most major businesses do. They all speak the same generic interviewing language, so you might want to research "job interview tips" in general before going in.
One of these tips is that when the interviewer says "do you have any questions?", ask some, for crying out loud. Interviewers get tired of talking all day, and would love to give their vocal chords a break by hearing you ramble on for a while. Good questions indicate a spark of intelligence on the part of the interviewee. Postal hiring managers are looking for such a spark. Not a flame, mind you, they see a flame of intelligence and right away they want to stamp it out, so limit yourself to a spark.
All of the questions you ask in your comment are good questions for an interviewer, Josh. They are legitimate concerns that potential employees need to have answered before accepting. The interviewer understands that because he or she has a family too, and a commute, and sometimes a life. The trick is to find a way to ask these questions without sounding whiny.
I will now add a few postal-pertinent caveats to these interviewing tips.
Postal interviewers, probably like interviewers everywhere, get mired down in certain company approved forms and procedures that are rigidly followed, often to the point of insanity. In the Post Office in particular, management likes to see questions addressed in what is known as the STAR format, which is as follows:
S - SITUATION. What was the situation you were confronted with?
T - TASK. What was the task set before you to resolve the situation?
A - ACTION. What actions did you take to carry out that task?
R - RESULTS. What was the result of your actions?
In almost every interview I have participated in, I have been asked a question along the lines of "Give me an example of a problem co-worker, or a problematic or challenging job situation, etc., and tell me how you responded to it."
In the event that your postal interviewer poses a question such as this, Josh, try answering in the STAR format. It may show the interviewer that you have been doing your homework, and it may impress them. Just don't be so dopey as to verbally enumerate the STAR format point by point, as in THIS WAS MY SITUATION, THIS WAS MY TASK, etc. Use your imagination and make it sound natural. Practice a little.
Thank You Josh
In closing, I would like to say thank you, Josh for giving me the idea for this article. In creating my postal-centric blogs I often run out of ideas, or at least I think I do. You have reminded me that the Postal Universe is an intricately complicated one, with new fires that always need to be put out, new questions that always need to be answered.
Thanks again, and good luck.