Weird Job: Funeral Home Assistant or Administrator

Image: Funeral Home
Matt Davis under Creative Commons

This post is the first in our new series on Weird Jobs. Check out the other articles to learn about more weird jobs you could try!

When it comes to funeral homes, the funeral directors get all the glory. Also known as morticians or undertakers, these men and women have become synonymous with death — and their skilled craftsmanship can’t help but be noticed.

From preparing bodies for viewing through embalming, dressing and cossetting (make-up artistry); to funeral arrangements; to burial or cremation preparations, morticians have a lot on their plates. And they couldn’t succeed alone.

While morticians typically need a degree in mortuary science as well as director and embalming licenses (depending on their state), there are plenty of other positions within funeral homes that are easier to break into and pay well.

Working With the Living

Sales associates, bookkeepers and administrative assistants are all important parts of the mortuary team. These positions are less “hands on” when it comes to the deceased, but still require professional decorum and compassion as they often work closely with grieving families. (Like this idea? Click to tweet it!)

California-based Nydia Martinez works as a sales associate and part-time bookkeeper at her local funeral home (who wished to remain anonymous). Martinez applied to the position straight out of high school as the requirements were “just knowing basic math and a high school diploma.”

“I do all kinds of stuff,” says Martinez. “From helping families see their loved one, to calling doctors, to making arrangements with the cemeteries… It’s a little bit of everything. I love helping families — giving them some sort of closure and relief. But it’s really, really hard not to cry. I still haven’t been able to control that as good as the other employees do.”

In her current position, Martinez earns $11 an hour plus commission. “You get money from flower sales,” says Martinez. “You also get commission on urns, caskets and funeral services. It’s a percentage and it varies depending on the company you work with.”

However, while you can earn commission from those with an immediate need, Martinez far prefers those who plan ahead — making funeral arrangements for themselves or their loved ones far in advance. “Basically you open a contract for a ‘pre-arrangement,’ which is paying before the time of death, and you get a cut depending on how much you sold it for,” she says. “The other way is ‘at need’ which is the same thing only the person is already expired so it’s a little sadder.”

Working With the Dead

Mortuary technicians and mortician’s assistants work behind the scenes, helping the funeral director, or they assist by going out into the field and removing the deceased from their places of death. While these positions work more directly with the dead, you’ll also be expected to interact with family and friends of the deceased.

Kris Cardinale currently works for Deltona Memorial Funeral Home and Cemetery in Orange City, Florida, as a removal specialist and an administrative worker. Much like Nydia Martinez’s application process, Cardinale found few obstacles when it came to entering her current career:

“When I was in high school I was in a health academy, and different health fields would come and talk to our class. I liked what [the morticians] had to say so much I asked to job shadow,” says Cardinale. “They offered me a job that day. You don’t need any special qualifications. Just compassion and professionalism.” (Note: Legal requirements vary from state-to-state and city-to-city; check before you apply.)

“I have done just about every job except sales,” says Cardinale. “I started out as a staff associate — they are the ones who stand visitations and assist with funerals. I then moved up to removal specialist. I go and pick up the deceased from the hospital, hospice, home or medical examiner. [And] I now do administration work and [do] more on the cemetery side.”

“The pay depends on what you do and what region you’re in,” continues Cardinale. “Also, pay differs greatly if you work for a family-owned [funeral home] versus a corporate-owned. You can start out at minimum wage and work your way up. For example, I make around $11 an hour and I work for a corporate company. If I were to work for a private family, I could be making maybe $15 an hour.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2012 those who work in funeral services earn $28,000 to $94,000 each year. Mortuary Technicians specifically earn an average of $37,000 per year. However, the paychecks are far from the only benefit to working with the deceased.

“The job is very fulfilling in a sense of helping someone when they need you the most. You learn that people really aren’t all that different. Everyone dies,” says Cardinale. “I’ve also learned that if you smile, you have no gag reflex when you’re dealing with a decomposed body. But I think you learn a lot about yourself and what you can handle.”

If you’re looking for a job in which you help others — living and dead — you could do a lot worse than this “weird” occupation.

Your Turn: Would you work at a mortuary?

Lauren Tharp is a freelance writer and the owner of LittleZotz Writing. Through her website, Lauren helps small businesses bring their brands to life through written content; and she also helps fellow writers get started as freelancers via weekly blog posts, bi-monthly newsletters, free e-books, and one-on-one mentoring.