Mortician How to become, career path, income potential

What is a mortician?

A mortician’s role is to assist in honoring the life of the deceased. When someone passes, a collection of tasks needs to be completed in a timely manner, and a mortician helps take care of them. Depending on the location and size of the funeral home, morticians might also be known as embalmers, undertakers, and funeral directors.

The most important task for a mortician is to assist the families and loved ones as they grieve and plan the funeral services. This might include finding clergy members, planning obituaries, arranging transportation, and choosing urns and caskets. It requires getting to know the family and loved ones to make sure you meet their needs. Some grief counseling and supportive words can help with this; in some cases, morticians may help connect family members with a professional for more help.

In addition, the body needs to be prepared by embalming to prevent decomposition. This process includes dressing, cosmetically enhancing, and casketing them if that’s within the wishes of the family. All of this needs to be done in compliance with local laws and guidelines.

The third main task for morticians is administrative. There is paperwork that needs to be filed, like death certificates. It’s also a business, and at the end of the day, some admin tasks will be required to help the business continue running successfully. Processing payments, completing marketing tasks, and ordering supplies would all fall under this category.

Qualifications and eligibility

Mortician qualifications and requirements vary by location. Some states require a bachelor’s degree and exam; others are simpler, with a high school degree and some experience as an apprentice. In addition to education, working alongside an experienced mortician or funeral director is important because there are parts of the job that cannot be learned from a textbook. The science of the role is critical and requires hands-on practice.

In addition to education, there are some skill sets that are important for the role of a mortician. Compassion and empathy are crucial. Every single customer is dealing with something that is heavy and emotional. Being able to empathize with people while also remaining calm and stoic will allow you to help people through the process as smoothly as possible.

The schedule is unpredictable, so good time management skills are beneficial. Being available and ready to jump into action is important for this role because most funerals need to be planned within a few days, and there’s very little notice. Having a strong self-care routine is also a key to success. The job can be emotionally draining sometimes, and some balance can help prevent discontent.

Work environment

The work environment is pretty standard for all morticians. The majority of the work takes place at the funeral home and includes meetings, overseeing services, and completing the embalming. When there aren’t family members or people in the building, it’s a quiet environment. Some off-site work is possible as well in this role. Morticians are often required to meet with people in other locations, like churches, cemeteries, or crematoriums. Each day looks a little bit different. 

Typical work hours

Morticians and funeral directors don’t have standard hours. Most meetings will happen during the daytime, but there may be calls later in the evenings. There are no standard days of operation, typically, it can be seven days a week. 

Timeliness is important in this field, so morticians are always on call. Services often happen on weekends as well. The workload changes from day to day, so some days will be light and can be used to catch up on administrative work.

Income

The highest-paying locations for morticians and funeral directors are the following locations (annual mean wage shown):

  • Delaware – $79,870
  • Minnesota – $77,460
  • New Hampshire – $73,920
  • New York – $71,030
  • Massachusetts – $70,670

Steps to become a mortician

1. Get an associate’s or bachelor’s degree 

Many colleges and universities offer a mortuary science degree. Each state has a board that determines the necessary requirements to be licensed in their jurisdiction. Make sure you know whether you need an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree before enrolling in school. If you aren’t sure about where you want to get a job and start your career, work towards a bachelor’s degree, and you’ll be set for any location. 

2. Learn the state requirements for a mortician

Use the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) website to find out the requirements of each state’s licensing board. There are clear guidelines for what level of education is necessary, the amount of time spent working alongside an experienced mortician, and what exams must be passed. It’s important to understand these requirements and make a plan to check them off the list.

3. Receive certifications and coursework

Even with a degree, you can boost your resume and become more prepared for your career by taking courses and earning certificates in specific parts of the job.

  • Udemy offers the Funeral Service National Board Exam Tutor course, which will help prepare you for the exam and serves as a refresher course to keep all of the required information fresh in your mind. 
  • The NFDA has a Certified Preplanning Consultant (CPC) program. It gives individuals more expertise in advanced funeral planning and funding options. Anyone who completes this program can better assist families and people wanting to preplan.
  • The Cremation Certification Program is the most recognized certification for cremation services. It’s important for anyone who owns or operates a crematory, considering opening one, or evaluating a third-party location. 

4. Complete an apprenticeship

Most states require an apprenticeship before receiving the necessary license. Find a licensed funeral director willing to take on an apprentice in the state you are looking to work in. Some states require specific documentation of each task, like embalmings and funerals. These apprenticeships are typically paid and will give you hands-on experience.

5. Pass required licensing exams

Exams are created and managed by the state board. Most tests are multiple choice and timed. Practice tests are available, and as long as candidates study ahead of time and have some experience, passing the test should be fairly straightforward.

6. Apply for jobs

Job postings are shared on different online sites, like LinkedIn and Indeed. Many state boards will also have job listings. Because it’s such a specialized position, the network is not as large. The more people you meet during your education and apprenticeship, the better the chance that someone will reach out when they know of an opening.

7. Complete recertification as often as required

Mortician licenses typically expire every one to two years. You’ll need to follow the necessary steps to keep your license current once you are working in the field.

Types of morticians

Morticians, undertakers, and funeral directors are typically interchangeable and all describe the same position. Mortician is the American word, while undertaker is more commonly used in Great Britain. Other than using a few different titles, the roles don’t differ too much. Each funeral service will be different depending on what people want, and the local rules and guidelines may differ a bit, but most of the duties will be similar no matter what type of funeral home. 

Tips for becoming a mortician

In order to help get a mortician position, you can do a few things to help put yourself ahead of the competition. Check out these tips and see what can give you a boost.

  • Avoid flashy outfits and jewelry for your interview. The impression you give off at your interview for this role is even more important than other jobs because a low-key demeanor is necessary for this role.
  • Be open to relocating if necessary. Each community has a need for a funeral home, so there may be less competition in another city or town.
  • Join one or more of the professional networks available for people in the funeral business.
  • Familiarize yourself with multiple religions, traditions, and customs. If you can provide a variety of services, you’ll be more helpful to a potential employer.
  • Develop strong self-care routines to maintain a good balance to offset the amount of grief and tragedy you’re faced with daily.
  • Become an expert in “green funeral services.” 56% of people expressed interest in more environmentally and cost-effective funerals, according to the NFDA.
  • Take a grief and bereavement counseling course to give you the basic skills to assist grieving families and loved ones.

Position trends

Employment trends for morticians and funeral directors are projected to grow by about 4% from 2020 to 2030. While the growth isn’t as strong as some other positions, this role is recession-proof and something that will always be necessary within the community. 

There are two big impacts on this position for the future. First, more and more baby boomers are planning arrangements ahead of time and making sure their wishes are met. This allows funeral homes to plan ahead a bit more. The other impact is that more people are opting for cremations. Less work is required for cremations than for traditional burials, which could impact the job duties and required skills. Over time, that could also lead to fewer job openings in the field.

Career path

Once a candidate has completed their education and apprenticeship, they are eligible for employment as a mortician or funeral director. Typically, that is a role that someone remains in for a long time. Advancement is possible in larger funeral homes that employ more than one mortician and require a funeral home manager role to oversee the entire operation. It’s also possible for a mortician to purchase a funeral home and become a business owner.

1. What makes you want to be a mortician?

Share your reasons for studying mortuary sciences and why you want to be a mortician. Are you someone that wants to help people in need and provide an important service to the community? Are you passionate about science and want to learn more about biology and embalming? Do you come from a family of morticians? This question gives you the chance to tell them more about yourself and why you want this job.

2. What is most important for you to ask about the deceased when meeting families?

To properly organize a funeral, morticians need to know some critical information. Understanding the wishes and desires of the deceased and the family is the most important place to start, but out of respect for the family, start with learning a bit about the person who has passed. Giving people the chance to share a bit will help establish a better connection between the funeral director and the family, so it’s the best place to start.

3. Describe your biggest challenge during your apprenticeship. What did you learn from that experience?

Have one or two scenarios from your apprenticeship that stick out to you to talk about during your interview. Was there a service that had challenging details to organize? Did you have to deal with a body that needed extensive cosmetic work? Describe situations that made you a stronger candidate for the mortician role.

4. How do you maintain a calm, balanced demeanor while meeting with people?

There are going to be some pretty horrific scenarios in which you have to meet with families and loved ones. Share your strategies for getting through the conversations that are incredibly hard. Do you practice meditation or other self-care practices to help keep your emotions in check? Answer this question by sharing any methods you have found to be helpful.

5. Explain your process for giving the deceased peaceful, natural-looking expressions.

This answer should showcase your knowledge of working with cosmetics and preparing the body. The embalming process is not just about preservation, it’s also important if there is an open casket or viewing for the family. Share your experience working as an apprentice and go into a little detail about your process and showcase your expertise in this space.

6. Which part of the job is your least favorite or the most difficult for you?

Death is a very tough subject to deal with on a daily basis. Be honest about which parts of the job are hard for you and how you handle them. No one is expected to feel zero emotions, but it’s important for morticians to remain calm and consistent. If your answer is something on the business side, share that along with something you are currently doing to boost your knowledge in that area to feel more confident. 

7. What are the most important qualities for a mortician to possess?

A good mortician needs to have great communication and listening skills. Dealing with people who are grieving while trying to plan funeral services for their family members or friends is very hard. It requires a patient and calm person who can provide a calm and comforting environment. Having additional knowledge of customs and traditions and maybe even some counseling experience is good as well.

8. How would you handle a situation where a family member becomes upset and has an outburst during the funeral?

Emotions run high in moments of grief. This question gives applicants the opportunity to talk about their experience dealing with grieving family members. Explain your ability to remain calm in tough situations and how you respond if there are disruptions to services. Do you normally move people to a separate room and give them space to calm down? Are there signs you look for ahead of time to prevent these outbursts? Go into as much detail as possible.

9. What community outreach methods would you recommend for a funeral home?

At the end of the day, funeral homes are businesses. Marketing for a business like this can be tricky, so be prepared with some creative ideas on how you would help spread the word about the business. Community involvement is important to build confidence and a positive brand image.

10. Which types of funerals have you helped with? 

Share your experience and highlight any unique funeral preparations you’ve made. You never know what you’re going to face in this role. Show the range you are capable of. Highlight any religious ceremonies you’ve helped organize as well.

11. What do you think is the most important aspect of preparing a body for burial?

There are many ways to prepare a body, so the answer to this question should hit on two things. First of all, highlight the importance of honoring the wishes of the deceased and their families. The other aspect to touch on is the bathing and disinfecting of the body. This is done for the safety of the funeral home staff and the family and out of respect for the deceased. 

Mortician FAQs