U.S. mail delivery to the western states initially was done by stagecoach—a slow and undependable means. Then, in the mid-1800s, a group of enterprising businessmen obtained a contract with the U.S. Postal Department to provide the “Pony Express,” a nonstop chain of riders, each covering up to 100 miles a day and changing horses every 10 to 15 miles at relay stations. The Pony Express decreased delivery time from Missouri to the West by more than half, but it operated only from 1860 to 1861, when the transcontinental telegraph line immediately rendered the service obsolete.
Today, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is one of the nation’s largest civilian employers, currently employing more than 700,000 people in career positions throughout the country. A career position with the Postal Service can be rewarding work: the compensation and benefits packages are among the best you’ll find anywhere, and you’ll enjoy the additional satisfaction of knowing that you are part of a long tradition of providing vital services to the country and its people.
Understandably, Postal Service employment is attractive to many, many people, and the market for Postal Service career jobs is very competitive. Application exams such as Test 473 are one means that the Postal Service uses to screen applicants and identify those who are best qualified for various positions. Test 473 is officially known as Test 473 for Major Entry-Level Jobs and is also referred to as the 473 Battery Exam. (It replaces the old 470 Battery Exam.)
USPS Employment Eligibility Requirements
To be eligible for USPS employment, you must be 18 years of age at the time your employment would commence (or 16 years of age if you have a high school diploma), and you must be either a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident alien. Here are some additional requirements for USPS employment:
You must demonstrate basic competence in the English language, as demonstrated through Test 473 or some other written examination and through job interviews.
You must submit to a medical assessment, which provides information about your physical and mental ability to perform various jobs.
You must submit to a urine drug screen to ensure that you are drug-free.
You must provide the name of your current employer (if any) and the names of all your previous employers dating back 10 years (but not further back than your sixteenth birthday).
Before deciding whether to employ you, the USPS will conduct a preliminary criminal-conviction check. Should the USPS decide to hire you, it will then conduct a more thorough criminal background check.
Additional eligibility requirements apply only to certain applicants or for certain jobs:
- If you’ve served actively in the U.S. military, you’ll need to complete and submit DD Form 214, “Certificate of Release and Discharge from Active Duty.”
- If you’re a male born in 1960 or later, you must be registered with the Selective Service System (for the U.S. military draft).
- If you’re applying for a job that involves driving, your driving record must show that you are a safe driver.
USPS Compensation and Employment Benefits
The U.S. Postal Service provides compensation packages to its employees that are very competitive with those offered by most private-sector employers. New Postal Service employees in career positions are usually paid an hourly wage. In 2006, the beginning wage for entry-level career positions was between $15 and $20 per hour. Overtime pay is provided at the rate of one-and-a-half times the regular wage beyond 8 hours during any workday or beyond 40 hours during a workweek. Employees who work night shifts or on Sundays receive premium pay as well. Most employees receive regular wage or salary increases.
For most job seekers, the first question about any particular job that comes to mind is, “How much does the job pay?” But other questions soon come to mind as well—for example:
Is health insurance provided?
How many days off do I get each year?
Is a 401(k) or similar savings program available?
One of the attractions of working for the USPS is the generous benefits package offered to employees. Here’s a brief description of those benefits. Keep in mind that there may be a waiting period for some benefits, and that some benefits may be available only to full-time or career USPS employees.
A variety of health-insurance plans, including HMOs (health maintenance organizations) and traditional health-insurance plans, are available to qualifying USPS employees through the Federal Health Benefits (FEHB) Program. Most of the costs are paid by the Postal Service. The portion of the costs paid for by the employee (in the form of premiums) offsets the employee’s taxable income.
Social Security and Medicare
Both types of coverage are provided to all USPS employees.
Through a federal program, the USPS provides a defined-benefit annuity program, which guarantees a certain level of income during retirement, as well as disability benefits to qualifying employees.
A basic life-insurance plan paid for entirely by the Postal Service is provided to qualifying USPS employees, who also have the option to purchase additional coverage by payroll deduction. All coverage is provided through the Federal Employees Group Life Insurance (FEGLI) Program.
Thrift Savings Plan (TSP)
Qualifying USPS employees may participate in a Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), which is a lot like the 401(k) plans provided by private-sector employers. Under this plan, the employer (the USPS) matches the employee’s TSP contribution each year up to a certain percentage (currently 5 percent) of the employee’s compensation. The TSP provides a vehicle for tax-deferred retirement savings, and plan contributions reduce the employee’s taxable compensation.
Flexible Spending Account (FSA)
Qualifying postal employees may participate in the Postal Service’s Flexible Spending Account (FSA) Program. Under this program, an employee can make tax-free contributions up to a certain amount each year to an FSA account. The employee may withdraw FSA funds to pay for qualifying health and child-care expenses at any time without tax or penalty.
Vacation and Sick Leave
During the first three years of employment, qualifying employees are allowed a total of 13 days of vacation and sick leave per year. After three years of employment, the total number of days allowed for leave each year increases to 20, and after 15 years, the total number increases to 26. Full-time employees are also allowed 13 additional days of sick leave per year as insurance against loss of income as a result of illness or accident.
The USPS currently observes 10 holidays, so all USPS employees receive 10 days off each year for holidays.