Starting mortuary school without having any experience in funeral service was intimidating. Looking to start an apprenticeship without any experience was mortifying. Since funeral service was unlike any industry I had experience in, I didn’t know where to start, but I knew someone who did. One of my professors had several years of experience in the business and was the co-owner and operator of a successful establishment in the city. I sought her advice and guidance and was never afraid to go to her for help. This relationship would be the beginning of my journey into the unknown and instrumental in my career success.
Although each state has a governing body that oversees the practice of funeral service, the requirements for licensure vary from state to state. It is suggested that you familiarize yourself with the requirements of your respective state as well as any other states that you may consider relocating to. The following link illustrates the aforementioned, but it’s always recommended that you contact your state board directly for specific requirements: http://nfda.org/licensing-boards-and-requirements.html
The two most asked questions I receive from current and recently graduated mortuary students alike is in reference to obtaining a viable apprenticeship. In reference to obtaining a viable apprenticeship, students are most interested in wanting to know:
I. How will I know if this apprenticeship placement is the best fit for me?
A. To determine if a placement is the best fit, be clear of your expectations and know what you hope to gain from the experience. The operating structure for each funeral home is different; this includes the division of labor among employees, and the availability of paid apprenticeships. In consideration of which firm best suits your needs first, do not be afraid to ask questions. Apprenticeship positions can often be few and far between. What sets one potential apprentice apart from another is his/her level of preparation during the interview process. Consider the following:
- Have a working knowledge of the firm. Start by knowing the names of owners and managers.
- Know the history of the firm—i.e. how long has the firm been serving the community.
- What is the firm’s objective and business point of view?
This information not only shows ownership that you took time to get to know the firm, but also it allows you to determine if the firm is a right fit for you.
B. The apprenticeship is the best time for learning and should provide full disclosure of the inner workings of the industry. At this stage, consider yourself a sponge and be willing to soak up as much information as possible. The information garnered here will help you become an informed and well-rounded professional. The best placement will provide that knowledge for you. In a short period of time, you will be learning how to work with families, complete legal documentation, and prepare human remains. At this juncture, your preference for one facet of the business or the other should not be considered. This could lead to being “pigeon holed” into one area of the business and not having the opportunity to work in other areas. Here are two key considerations to ask the hiring manager of the funeral home you are considering:
- What percentage of time will be spent on funeral directing and related training?
- What percentage of time will be spent on embalming and restorative preparation training?
Not every professional will enjoy every aspect of the business. During training you may find you have more interest in funeral directing and working with families than embalming and restorative art or vice versa. However, it is in your best interest as an apprentice to use this opportunity to learn all you can about as much as you can. As an understudy, you do not have the luxury to choose; that privilege comes later.
II. How can I get my foot in the door at a potential firm?
Relationships and reputations are key components to getting your foot in the door at a potential firm. The funeral service industry is an intimate community with a small degree of separation, which accounts for the strong emphasis placed on relationships and reputation in career development and sustainability. Networking should begin as a student with the target audience being professors and administrators at your mortuary school. Professors and administrators typically have well established relationships with funeral home owners and managers in the area. They can point you in the right direction and provide you with feedback as to which firms are hiring and which will provide the most comprehensive learning experience. In addition to networking and building relationships, building a reputable name is equally as important. If you have a history of irresponsible, and unprofessional behaviors as a student, professors are less likely to put their professional names and reputations on the line and rightfully so. Arriving late to classes, turning in incomplete assignments, unprofessional dress, and questionable behavior will undoubtedly work against you. Be mindful that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Therefore, it is your responsibility to leave a positive impression in the minds of those whom you will eventually need a recommendation.
Here are a few final points: It’s never too early to research the industry. Start by having a working knowledge of funeral home demographics. Bear in mind that cities with mortuary schools tend to have a high concentration of students looking for apprenticeship positions which results in funeral homes in those areas being inundated with applicants. In such cases where more students are competing for limited apprenticeship positions, you must be at the top of your game. Comprehensive resumes, precise cover letters, stellar academic performance, and community involvement will set you a part apart from the rest of the pack. Do not become discouraged if it takes a while to find placement. Remain persistent in your search and don’t be afraid to hear “no”. Persistence pays.