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Mail Handler Career Guide

What is a mail handler?

A mail handler plays a critical role in the processing and distribution of mail, contributing to the smooth functioning of the postal system. Their role is vital for the successful delivery of millions of letters, packages, and parcels across the country and worldwide. As a part of the broader postal network, they facilitate communication and commerce, supporting individuals and businesses. Their role is integral to maintaining the reliability and efficiency of the postal service, impacting the service quality experienced by customers.

Duties and responsibilities

The main responsibility of a mail handler is to ensure that all mail is correctly sorted and organized, which entails taking in packages and letters, sorting them by destination, and loading them onto delivery vehicles. In addition, they unload incoming mail and packages from delivery vehicles for processing. They also operate machines that automate the sorting process for increased efficiency.

These individuals also prepare outgoing mail for distribution, which includes arranging the mail onto trays or into sacks, depending on its final destination. They also track registered, certified, or insured mail and confirm its secure handling. It’s important to note that their duties may vary depending on the size and nature of the postal facility where they work.

Work environment

Mail handlers work in a postal facility. The environment is usually busy, with a steady influx of mail and packages. The job involves physical activities such as standing for long periods, lifting and moving heavy packages or bags of mail, and operating mail-handling equipment. They also have to deal with dust and noise from the machines. Safety is a priority in this work environment, with protocols in place to prevent accidents or injuries.

Typical work hours

The work hours for a mail handler can vary considerably based on the needs of the postal facility. Some facilities operate 24 hours a day, meaning shift work, including evenings, nights, weekends, and holidays, may be required. Full-time handlers typically work 40 hours a week, but overtime may be necessary during peak mailing or holiday seasons.

How to become a mail handler

This career guide section outlines the process of becoming a mail handler. The primary steps involve completing your education, gaining experience, honing physical abilities, and going through a formal recruitment process.

Step 1: Complete basic education

Many mail handlers typically have a high school diploma or the equivalent. Although some further academic qualification can always be an added advantage, it is not a strict requirement for this job.

Step 2: Improve physical ability

This profession requires lifting heavy parcels, operating mechanized mail processing equipment, sorting and arranging delivery trays, and standing for long hours. Therefore, maintaining good physical health and strength is critical in this career path.

Step 3: Gain experience

This position doesn’t generally require specific job-related experience; however, experience in customer service, logistics, or related areas can help you better understand the job’s demands and give you an advantage during the hiring process.

Step 4: Apply for the job

Most mail handler positions are available through the United States Postal Service (USPS) or similar entities in other countries. Visit their official websites to see open positions and apply online.

Step 5: Pass the postal exam

The USPS requires applicants to pass the 473 Postal Exam. This test covers your ability to check addresses, complete forms, coding, and memory skills. Good preparation for this test is advisable as it can improve your chances of securing the job.

Step 6: Nail the interview

If you pass the postal exam, you’ll likely be called for an interview. Prepare well by reviewing common interview questions and practicing your responses. The interview will assess not only your qualifications and readiness for the job but also your communication skills and problem-solving abilities.

Step 7: Complete on-the-job training

Once hired, on-the-job training for new employees to learn about postal procedures and how to handle, sort, and deliver mail effectively and efficiently. This stage varies in length but usually takes a few weeks to complete. Your performance during this training could determine your future progression in the organization.

How much do mail handlers make?

Mail handler salaries will vary by experience, industry, education, location, and organization size. The type of mail service provider they work for (e.g., private companies or government organizations like the U.S. Postal Service) can greatly impact their compensation.

Highest paying industries

  • Federal Executive Branch – $54,720
  • Couriers and Express Delivery Services – $51,850
  • Air Transportation – $49,990
  • Postal Service – $49,280
  • General Freight Trucking – $47,680

Highest paying states

  • California – $53,890
  • Alaska – $51,320
  • New Jersey – $50,860
  • Massachusetts – $50,600
  • Washington – $50,020

Browse mail handler salary data by market

Types of mail handlers

Below, we explore common career types and areas of specialization for mail handlers.

Mail sorter

As the name suggests, a mail sorter is responsible for sorting mail according to destination and delivery route. These individuals must be organized, detail-oriented, and capable of operating sorting machines when necessary. They’re also charged with bundling, bagging, and transporting sorted mail to the appropriate delivery area.

Mail carrier

This role involves delivering mail to homes and businesses. A significant portion of a mail carrier’s job involves being on the move, requiring physical endurance. They deliver mail on foot or by vehicle, depending on the area. Aside from delivering mail, they also collect outgoing mail and packages, taking them back to the postal office for further sorting and processing.

Bulk mail handler

In charge of processing large volumes of mail, bulk mail handlers play a vital role in mail processing centers. They may operate machinery designed to handle such volumes and are responsible for the initial sorting of incoming mail. This job entails heavy lifting and requires a high degree of physical fitness.

Top skills for mail handlers

This career guide section outlines the skills and abilities that will help you find success as a mail handler.

Physical stamina

Working in a postal facility often demands a great deal of physical strength and endurance. This role often requires lifting heavy packages, long periods of standing, and quick movements. Good physical stamina allows handlers to perform their tasks without causing undue stress to their bodies.

Organizational skills

These individuals are responsible for sorting and organizing vast amounts of incoming and outgoing mail. As such, solid organizational skills are necessary to quickly classify mail by type and destination and maintain an orderly workspace.

Attention to detail

With a significant volume of mail to handle, being able to focus on the fine print is crucial. Missing the small details can lead to misplaced or misdirected mail. Thus, careful attention to detail helps ensure accuracy and efficiency in the mail sorting process.

Communication skills

Though you’ll spend much time handling mail, you’ll also need to interact with colleagues and supervisors. Clear and concise communication skills are essential for coordinating tasks with your team and addressing any issues that may arise.

Mail handler career path options

As a mail handler, you’ll find various possibilities for career progression with the potential to elevate into many roles.

One common path for career progression involves moving into supervisory positions. With demonstrated proficiency in your work, the next step could be becoming a lead mail handler, where you’ll be responsible for leading a team of handlers. Your gained knowledge about the ins and outs of mail processing makes you a suitable candidate for supervising newer or less experienced team members. Beyond being a lead handler, you might find opportunities to move into managing an entire mail processing center.

Another path for career advancement can lead to specialty roles within the organization. Some positions deal with certain types of mail, such as registered, certified, or insured items. These roles generally come with added responsibility and increased attention to detail but also usually command higher pay and more prestige.

A long-term career progression option is the postal service’s administrative side, including roles in operations, logistics, or other managerial positions. These roles involve overseeing broader aspects of the postal system and require a higher level of skills and experience, which they can gradually acquire during their career trajectory.

Some handlers may want to leverage their skills into an instructional role or become involved in training new employees. This can open up opportunities in the field of education within the postal service, helping to train and educate the next generation of mail handlers and other staff.

The changing landscape of mail and package delivery impacts the daily operations of mail handlers. Digital communication continues evolving, gradually shifting from traditional mail handling to more technical services. With an increase in online shopping and e-commerce activities, parcel handling has seen exponential growth in recent years, providing a new dimension to their role. Automation has also emerged as a major trend in this profession, with many organizations using automated systems to sort out mail, reducing manual sorting and increasing accuracy and efficiency. Through these technology advancements, they are expected to be more tech-savvy and capable of working seamlessly with various automated systems.

Environmental responsibility is also a significant trend affecting this profession. With an increasing societal emphasis on sustainable practices, organizations in the mail industry have implemented numerous initiatives to reduce their carbon footprint – encouraging paperless options and utilizing green energy sources whenever possible. In light of these developments, the sustainability element of this role is taking center stage, adding a new layer of importance to the role.

Employment projections

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mail handler profession is anticipated to decline 6 percent through 2031. The transition toward digital communication platforms, along with the automation of several mail sorting processes, is expected to reduce the need for this profession. However, the continued growth of online commerce may offset some of this decrease by increasing the volume of parcels that need processing.

Mail handler career tips

Stay updated with regulatory changes

It is essential to stay informed about any potential changes in postal regulations and policies. These rules define what you can and can’t do on the job, and not being aware of updates might lead to inadvertent mistakes. Stay current by regularly visiting regulatory websites and subscribing to industry newsletters.

Master safety protocols

Your role involves handling potentially risky things such as heavy packages and hazardous materials. Mastering safety protocols will help you to prevent accidents and protect both yourself and the mail recipients. Regularly participate in safety training sessions and strictly adhere to all protocols.

Adopt efficient systems

The faster and more accurately you can sort and handle mail, the better. To improve efficiency, consider adopting proven systems or streams of work. Look for opportunities to speed up your processes without compromising accuracy, which include using technology to automate certain tasks or organizing your work area for maximum productivity.

Build a professional network

Networking is a powerful tool for any professional looking to succeed in their career. Connecting with other mail handlers can provide opportunities for mentorship, job opportunities, and the sharing of best practices. Here are some relevant professional associations and networks:

  • National Postal Mail Handlers Union (NPMHU)
  • National Association of Postal Supervisors (NAPS)
  • National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Engage in continuous learning

Committing to ongoing education can enhance your skills and advance your career. Look for relevant courses, workshops, or seminars to broaden your knowledge and stay ahead of the curve. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Certification in mailroom management
  • Courses on safety protocols for handling dangerous goods
  • Workshops on effective mail handling and sorting techniques

Where the mail handler jobs are

Top employers

  • United States Postal Service
  • FedEx
  • UPS
  • DHL
  • Pitney Bowes

Top states

  • California
  • New York
  • Texas
  • Florida
  • Pennsylvania

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • Indeed
  • Monster
  • LinkedIn
  • CareerBuilder


What skills are necessary for a mail handler?

Mail handlers must be detail-oriented, have good hand-eye coordination, and possess physical stamina. They often have to lift heavy objects, sort mail according to strict guidelines, and work under pressure.

What training or education do mail handlers need?

Those interested in becoming mail handlers should have a high school diploma or equivalent. Beyond that, they will need on-the-job training to become familiar with sorting systems and mailing machines.

Are there any physical requirements for the mail handler position?

The ability to lift heavy mail bags, load and unload trucks, stand for several hours a day, and have good hand-eye coordination are typical requirements for mail handlers.

Does mail handlers need any licenses or certifications?

Generally, mail handlers do not require special licenses or certifications. However, having a valid driver’s license can be advantageous if the job involves making deliveries or operating mail vans.

Do mail handlers typically work full-time or part-time?

Majority of mail handler positions are full-time. Occasionally, part-time or seasonal positions may be available, particularly during busy periods like the holidays.

Is previous experience required for mail handlers?

While previous experience in a warehouse or delivery position can be helpful, many employers offer on-the-job training and do not require specific experience for mail handlers.

What is the work environment like for a mail handler?

The work environment for mail handlers can be fast-paced and physically demanding. These individuals work in mail sorting facilities and might be required to function both independently and as part of a team.

Are there opportunities for advancement as a mail handler?

In larger postal facilities, experienced mail handlers may have the opportunity to move into supervisory or management roles. Additionally, with additional training or education, they might move into other positions within the postal service.

What kind of work schedule can mail handlers expect?

Mail handlers often work a standard 40-hour week, although it may be necessary to work evenings, nights, or weekends, especially during busy periods. Depending on the size of the facility, shifts can vary significantly.

What are the major challenges a mail handler can face?

Among the most significant challenges for mail handlers include the job’s physical demands, the need to work fast to meet delivery deadlines, and the necessity of working in different weather conditions if you’re in a role that involves a lot of outdoor work.