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How to Become a Mortician

Morticians are commonly called Funeral Directors and are some of the most valuable members of our society. While the work of a Funeral Director typically involves long hours, stressful situations, and hard work, it is well worth the effort for the right candidates. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the average salary for Funeral Directors at around $54,000 per year, or around $26.00 per hour. In addition, those who choose this career enjoy a full range of employment benefits, the opportunity to become self-employed, a higher-than-average predicted employment growth rate, and the personal satisfaction of providing help and comfort to families in need.  Although this career field is decidedly not for everyone, the right candidates will find that it is an excellent choice for lifelong career satisfaction.

Paths to Becoming a Mortician

The steps to becoming a mortician vary greatly from one state to the next and depend upon state regulations. You can find the information for your state, as well as contact information for state funeral service boards on the National Funeral Directors Association website. If your state requires postsecondary education, look for a program that is accredited by the American Board of Funeral Service Education.

Option 1 – Unofficial Training and Education

If you live in a state that does not require a college education to become a funeral director, you may be able to find an entry-level position that provides on-the-job training. While this may seem to be the fastest way to start your new career, be aware that it may take a great deal of persistence to find a funeral home that is willing to hire an untrained candidate. If you do choose this path, you need to:

  • Earn your high school diploma or GED. Nearly all employers will require that applicants have at least a high school education or its equivalent. If you have not reached this level of education, you should consider completing a GED preparation class so you can sit for the examination.
  • Find a funeral home that offers training. While the vast majority of funeral homes will choose candidates who have a formal education, you may be able to find one that will provide training. Check with local establishments and see if you can arrange a meeting to discuss your career goals and willingness to learn. If you choose this path, be prepared to take any open position and to perform any necessary tasks while you are receiving your training under the supervision of a licensed funeral director.

Option 2 – Official Training Programs Through Accredited Programs

In the majority of states, funeral directors must hold at least an associate’s degree in mortuary science in order to become licensed. There are currently 57 mortuary science programs that are accredited through the ABFSE. Most of these programs offer associate’s degree programs through local community colleges, while around nine schools offer bachelor’s degrees. It typically takes around 2 years of full-time study to earn an associate’s degree and around 4 years to earn a bachelor’s degree.

On-Campus Programs

On-campus mortuary science programs allow students to complete all coursework and clinical requirements on campus in a face to face setting. Traditional programs have set class and lab hours and may be offered during day, afternoon, or evening hours, depending upon location and student preference.

Advantages

  • Personal interaction with instructors and other students
  • Increased opportunities to communicate with peers
  • Highly structured educational setting
  • On-campus assistance and resources

Disadvantages

  • Commuting costs in time and money
  • Inflexible scheduling
  • Time away from family, work, and other obligations

Online Programs

Increasing numbers of students in all disciplines are choosing online education because these programs allow busy adults to earn a degree from home while meeting family responsibilities and working a full-time job. There are many mortuary science programs that allow students to complete all coursework online. Even in online programs, however, all restorative arts, embalming labs, and clinicals must be completed either on campus or at an approved facility off campus.

Advantages

  • Classes can be completed from anywhere there is Internet access
  • Scheduling is highly flexible for online components
  • Access available to technology and online resources
  • Students can attend school while working and caring for families

Disadvantages

  • Low level of face to face interaction
  • Requires a high level of student organization and motivation
  • Restorative arts, embalming labs, and clinicals must be worked into student schedule

Hybrid Programs

Hybrid programs are a good choice for many students who have time restrictions, but who are not comfortable with a completely online educational program. These programs allow students to complete a portion of the required coursework online, while attending on-site classes for a portion of the work and for labs and clinicals. Hybrid programs offer more flexibility than traditional programs, reduce the need to commute, and offer more interpersonal interaction than online programs.

Advantages

  • Combines a high level of flexibility with opportunities for interpersonal interactions
  • Offers access to online resources
  • Reduces commuting expenses and time

Disadvantages

  • Offers less flexibility than completely online programs
  • Requires a great deal of motivation and organization in students

Completing an Apprenticeship – Step 2

Since most states require the completion of an apprenticeship before granting a funeral director license, it is important to start working with a sponsor as soon as possible. Find a licensed funeral director who is willing to take on an apprentice in accordance with your state’s requirements. Some states will issue a mortician’s apprentice license after you appear before the State Board of Morticians and Funeral Directors with your sponsor mortician and sign a written agreement to the conditions of the apprenticeship. If your state requires that you assist in funerals and embalmings as part of your apprenticeship, you will be required, along with your sponsor, to submit complete documentation of each completed task.

Becoming Licensed and Certified – Step 3

In most states, you must be licensed to work as a mortician or funeral director. Licensing requirements vary from one state to the next, but typically require that candidates complete at least a two-year program in mortuary science that is accredited through the ABFSE. In addition, most states require that applicants be at least 21 years of age, that they serve as an apprentice for between 1-3 years, and that thy pass the licensing examination.

Certification is not required for morticians, but getting certifications can provide a great resume boost and may lead to increased job opportunities and salaries. There are several certifications available, including those of Certified Crematory Operator and Certified Preplanning Consultant. Both of these are available through the National Funeral Directors Association.

Preparing Your Resume – Step 4

Your professional resume is your first impression with potential employers. As such, you may wish to invest in the services of a professional resume preparer. If you choose to complete your own resume, take your time to produce a quality resume that will properly present you as a desirable and qualified job applicant. Both your cover letter and resume should provide ample information of your experience, knowledge, and skills while being concise and to the point. When listing your skills and knowledge, be sure to use keywords that are specific to the funeral service industry and add personal touches that make each submission relevant and valuable to the employer to which you are sending it. While it takes a bit more effort to customize each submission, doing so will greatly increase your chances of landing a great job.

Finding a Job – Step 5

While the field of funeral services is expecting higher than average job growth, there may still be very stiff competition for the most desirable positions. As such, you may need to look outside your immediate community for open positions and/or be willing to take a lesser position that provides an excellent opportunity for advancement. Candidates willing to relocate will have the best opportunities to land a dream position. You can also take advantage of job placement services at your school. Finally, you may find potential positions by searching employment websites such as Monster, Indeed, and FuneralNet.

The Importance of Acing Your Interview

Landing an interview is exciting, but it is only the first step in landing the job you want. A fantastic interview will almost guarantee you a job, while only a few bad answers can cost you the opportunity. Because the interview is so important to your future, it is necessary to be fully prepared. A good way to do so is to practice formulating answers to some typical mortician interview questions. These will typically include questions regarding communication, strengths and weaknesses, behavior, and competency. Here are some sample questions you may encounter during an interview.

Communication Questions

  • What is most important to you in a new job?
  • What problems and challenges have you faced in your pursuit of this career?
  • How do you envision your first days on the job?
  • Describe a time when you felt overwhelmed.
  • How do you deal with difficult people?

Strengths and Weaknesses Questions

  • What were your favorite courses while earning your degree?
  • What is your ideal working environment?
  • Describe a time you had to negotiation with someone.
  • How would this job relate to your overall goals in life?
  • What characteristics do you have that make you ideal for this position?

Behavior Questions

  • What personality type do you work best with? Why?
  • Explain a high pressure situation you experienced.
  • What do you like and dislike about this career field?
  • What do you have to offer that makes you a better choice than other applicants?
  • Describe a time you worked successfully with a team.

Competency Questions

  • What would your teachers and previous bosses say about you?
  • What are your qualifications for this position?
  • What is the most difficult assignment you have ever completed?
  • How do you stay organized when involved in multiple tasks?
  • What tasks would you be comfortable completing on your own on the first day?

While these are some sample questions you may experience during an interview, the actual questions will vary greatly depending upon the interviewer. As such, it is important that you spend plenty of time in self-reflection. Why are you applying for the job? Why did you choose this career? What do you hope to accomplish throughout your career? How will you handle potential challenges? What are you good at? Would you hire yourself? Why or why not? Once you feel that you fully understand yourself and your motivations, you will have the confidence you need to ace the interview.

Answering questions is only one part of the interview process. Your appearance and demeanor can say more to an interviewer than words can. Dress in professional attire and make sure you are well-groomed and have a tasteful appearance. Avoid flashy jewelry and accessories as well as strong perfume or cologne. Use proper posture at all times, make good eye contact, present confidence, and make eye contact while talking. Take familiarity cues from the interviewer and answer questions as succinctly and informatively as possible without talking too much. Take the time to ask questions as well as answer them to show your interest in the job and the business. At the conclusion of the interview, shake the interviewer’s hand and thank him or her for the chance to meet. If you wish, you may express a hope to hear from him or her soon, but avoid sounding desperate for the job.

Becoming a mortician requires a high level of dedication and work, but the career provides rewards that are well worth the effort it takes. In this field, you can enjoy a great salary and benefits, excellent growth potential, and the personal satisfaction of helping grieving families through some of their darkest times  with empathy, compassion, and kindness.

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