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Answers to Common Questions of Terrified Newbie City Carrier Assistants - The Impending Interview

Although many are mystified by his mysterious moniker, Mel Carriere is a San Diego mailman who writes about the mail, among other things.

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.

Josh's Questions


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.

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Read More From Toughnickel

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 five 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.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on January 04, 2017:

Thank you Jess. You need to know what you are getting into to make informed decisions. I appreciate you dropping by.

Jess on January 04, 2017:

I am going to go to my interview as well and see how it goes.

This is all so eye opening.

I appreciate you speaking the truth.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on November 06, 2016:

Funny you should say that Lawrence. The other day I was talking to one of our local bus drivers, who saw me in my postal uniform and told me he wants to try to be a mailman. He told me he is working 12 hour days, and this made me think of you and all the long hours you work behind the wheel. I told him I knew a New Zealand bus driver who is working crazy overtime too. Are long work days a problem for bus drivers all over the planet? Is that just the nature of the bus driving beast? I'm convinced we will soon be in a global transportation crisis, if we can't get our bus drivers some rest. Thanks for reading.

Lawrence Hebb on November 06, 2016:


I'd go so far as to say this is good advice for any 'public service' position, it would certainly be pertinent to Bus drivers!

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on November 06, 2016:

You are supposed to get three days OJI before they throw you to the wolves, Johnny. Document your lack of instruction in case they try to discipline you for poor performance later. Casing involves putting the mail in delivery sequence. Your postmaster sounds like a gorilla. Good luck with hin.

JohnnyFresh on November 06, 2016:

New CCA hire. I just had my shadow day. Next week After my academy is over my PM told me I will be doing a route alone. HR was always talking about having 3 days training, shadow, hands on , then shadowed, THEN set to the wolves to sink or swim. Will CCA Academy teach us how to case ? What does it entail?

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on October 25, 2016:

I am delighted by your analysis of my article Devika. Thanks for reading.

DDE on October 25, 2016:

Good advice and well informed on an important interview. You know what to do through experience and you shared in detail.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on October 22, 2016:

Alex I don't think it's a long shot at all. I think they need you more than you need them. Good luck, thanks for reading.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on October 22, 2016:

Good for you Tony. 23 years later I'm still humping it, and boy do my feet hurt. No baton passing yet for this old workhorse. Thanks for reading.

Tony Rodriguez on October 22, 2016:

Great article! No sugar coating on what to expect as a letter carrier! All of my four interviews were for clerk positions. My highest score was for city carrier. At the end, he said, "hell, I need letter carriers, and you're in great physical shape!" Twenty years later, I hung up the satchel, so another CCA can step and pick up the baton.

Alex on October 19, 2016:

Hey, I just got into usps, and read your articles. Orientation starts on Monday, I hope I can become permanent cca with 8 hours. I know its a long shot but I want secure and set.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on October 19, 2016:

Ima30yrClerk there is a lot of big brother on your side too, and if you have a manager that sucks, you have to be with them all day long, no escape.

I really loved your comment, and I am thrilled you've read the Tsunami. With the onrush of political mail I am going home in the wee wee hours of the night, and because my computer turns into a pumpkin after dark I just haven't been able to do much writing. I hope to remedy that soon. Thanks for reading, my friend.

robert l stevenson jr from CAPE GIRARDEAU on October 17, 2016:

Sheesh! Jump through hoops just to make a comment here, Mel. I always make a point to read the Tsunami blog, thanks to Randy Z. at 21cpw, and was aware you have others, but haven't spent much time with those. But enough 'splaining. This should be required reading for anyone thinking of becoming a letter carrier. You make several good points and what better advice can you get but from a seasoned veteran. I had an opportunity to convert to carrier early on in my postal career, but, according to my managers, my less-than-stellar driving record would keep me from becoming one. And as an "uneducated" PTF, I believed them. Even after the local carrier's union prez said that wasn't necessarily true. Long story short, I didn't pursue becoming a carrier, and frankly, at this late stage in my postal career, I'm glad I didn't. Too much "big brother" on that side anymore. And to Josh, I hope you consider the postal service. It can be a rewarding career. Or not. Plenty of horror stories out there. But if you are strong enough to ride that trainwreck, you can make regular within a year or two as Mel says. Took me 8 years as a clerk to get converted to full time regular. Crappy hours, 6 days a week, EVERY Sunday (and most Saturdays), but it sure as heck beats coming home smelling like french fries. Or pizza.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on October 13, 2016:

Thank you Blossom. I appreciate you dropping in.

BlossomSB on October 13, 2016:

Thanks for an interesting and informative article. Enjoyed the read.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on October 12, 2016:

Believe me Linda, you never want to try it. You're better off being a CCA vicariously, through these articles. I really appreciate you dropping in!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on October 12, 2016:

This article is useful for prospective CCAs and also interesting for people who are unlikely to ever become a City Carrier Assistant. Well done, Mel.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on October 12, 2016:

Thank you Jodah. I have had a few articles moved here, and Google seems to like the place because they are doing okay. I appreciate you dropping in.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on October 11, 2016:

This was an enjoyable read, Mel. You give good advice to Josh, and your suggestions in regard to the interview would be relevant for most jobs. Wow, ToughNickel...well done. I haven't had any hubs moved there.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on October 10, 2016:

Thanks Larry. Interesting is putting it mildly. I appreciate you checking in. Hope your teaching gig is going well.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on October 10, 2016:

Thank you Mills for checking in, and thanks for supporting your local CCAs, especially as another grueling winter approaches for you Midwest types.

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on October 10, 2016:

Quite an interesting profession.

Pat Mills from East Chicago, Indiana on October 10, 2016:

This sounds like you, Josh, and carriers everywhere need all the luck you can get, especially as the holidays approach. I promise not to be too hard on my local CCAs this holiday season. Besides, I'm usually not home when they deliver. Another fine hub.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on October 10, 2016:

Wives are absolutely the toughest bosses Bill, so if you pass muster with Bev you are really on top of your game. Thanks for reading.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 10, 2016:

You are too funny! Brutally honest but funny nonetheless. I am so happy I'm of an age where I no longer have to interview for anything. Bev doesn't require me to pass a test or interview; all I'm required to so is keep the animals alive. :)

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on October 10, 2016:

Give it a try Josh, what do you have to lose, unless you have a job you are giving up. Some people like it and you might be one of those. The road to regular is only one and a half to two years. Thanks again.

Josh on October 09, 2016:

I feel privileged to have inspired you in writing such an elaborate article. Hope this helps all the other CCA candidates out there, it has certainly given me a lot to think about. Im going to go to the interview, see how it goes, and make a decision based on how it transpires from there. Not going to lie, I'm feeling discouraged. Only time will tell!

Thanks Again,


Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on October 09, 2016:

I pray that is not my only mission, Mike, but you've got to play the hand that life deals you. I've got so many projects going now I don't know where I would squeeze it in. I'm writing a novel called The Gadsden Purchase, about the brutal goings on in your part of the country close to the border. This is consuming a lot of my time right now, but I'm having fun with it. Hopefully I'll be able to get some time to throw together the CCA guide too. Thanks again.

Old Poolman on October 09, 2016:

Mel I honestly believe if you did put together a guide for CCA's on how to survive the battle and win the war you would sell plenty of them. Give it some thought. This may be your mission in life to spare some people the agony's of being unprepared for life as a CCA.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on October 09, 2016:

Thank you Mike, I really do appreciate you dropping in with encouraging comments. I've thought of putting together an expanded version of this and trying to sell it on Amazon in ebook form, but I've never gotten around to it. One of those things I'm always putting off for another day. Hope you're doing well, and that AZ is cooling down a bit for the fall.

Old Poolman on October 09, 2016:

And yet another outstanding bit of info for those who dream of a career with the USPS. This would actually make a good publication to sell on Amazon with a bit of added information.

I am so thankful they never responded to my application when I got out of the Army. If they had I might have taken the job and missed all the other wonderful jobs I held throughout my working years.

You are a great writer my friend.

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