How to become an undertaker (with definition and steps)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 12 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

When someone comes to the end of their life, sending them off in a dignified way is an important part of respecting their wishes or legacy. For those with an interest in helping grieving families navigate this difficult time, starting a career as an undertaker could be an ideal option. Based on the nature of the job, learning more about the process of becoming an undertaker can help you decide whether this role is definitely for you. In this article, we discuss how to become an undertaker, what an undertaker is and some of the skills an undertaker might use.

What is an undertaker?

An undertaker works at a funeral home and is also referred to as a funeral director. This professional is responsible for organising a funeral with the deceased's relatives and friends, preparing the body for the funeral and arranging all of the events surrounding the day. Undertakers also handle any state-mandated documents for funerals. They often lead a team of embalmers, supporting their career development and showing them how to look after the deceased.

Related: How to become a funeral arranger and find jobs in this area

How to become an undertaker

Learn more about how to become an undertaker with these steps:

1. Finish school

The first step in the process of becoming an undertaker is finishing school. At the GCSE level, the most important focus is developing a fundamental level of English and maths skills. The majority of employers require employees with a 'pass' grade in both maths and English at the GCSE level (minimum of a C or 4). This ensures candidates have a strong enough skill set for completing the fundamental tasks of an undertaker. Companies limit training by hiring members of staff with a high level of competency in the first place.

After completing GCSEs, candidates for undertaker roles benefit from completing relevant A-level courses. For example, completing a course in biology means an undertaker knows as much as possible about the human body and has a better understanding of some of the relevant natural processes. Completing an A-level in religion is also beneficial as it provides a significant amount of insight into the way that different cultures perceive death. Empathy is key for any undertaker, and having more cultural knowledge means an undertaker is able to empathise with people from different backgrounds.

2. Consider a mortuary science degree

Once you finish your secondary education, consider completing a mortuary science degree. A mortuary science degree covers the specific details of working in a mortuary or funeral home. This includes examining the specific biological processes taking place in the body after death, the actions undertakers take when preventing these processes and some of the business side of working in a mortuary. Completing a course that the British Institute of Embalmers approve is important for assuring high standards of undertaker work.

A mortuary science degree is an ideal step for an undertaker, but it's not a necessity. Some people prefer working in practical environments and learning in a hands-on way, getting involved in the process and focusing on manual learning. Before applying for university, consider whether three years of formal study is ideal for you. Candidates have the opportunity to explore alternative routes toward a career as an undertaker, so choose the option that suits your lifestyle and learning needs.

3. Get an internship or apprenticeship

An internship or an apprenticeship is an ideal step if you're looking to start a career as an undertaker, whether you have a mortuary science degree or not. Many funeral homes offer apprenticeships, taking on junior members of staff and combining work in a practical environment with studying towards a qualification. Apprentices complete all of the tasks an undertaker does just with supervision, allowing them to become more competent in the workplace and grow their independence over time.

At the end of an apprenticeship, apprentices have the necessary qualification and valuable experience in an undertaker's tasks. If you're interested in becoming an undertaker but aren't sure if it's the right job for you, consider doing an internship. An internship is a learning opportunity, usually for a set period of time like six weeks, that allows you to shadow an existing member of staff and learn more about the position. Internships are an ideal stepping stone into the industry, providing insight for those who are certain about their future careers and wish to build connections in the industry.

Related: What are apprenticeship benefits? (Plus eligibility)

4. Look for job vacancies

When you have experience working as an undertaker in an apprenticeship, start looking for job vacancies. This includes talking to the company which you completed your apprenticeship with and establishing whether or not there is a permanent role available at the end of the process. Do this before you leave the apprenticeship, as this gives both you and the company ample time for preparing for a permanent role. In the event that there is no role available, maintain good relations with the company and start searching for a role across the rest of the industry.

When you read job advertisements in your search, be as thorough as possible. This includes looking through the specific roles and responsibilities of each of the positions. Knowing more about the requirements for each role means you apply for the positions you have the best chance of succeeding in. You have a more relevant CV for the position and plenty of experience that relates to the challenges of the position, impressing recruiting managers at the companies you apply for.

Related: Guide: using Indeed job search

5. Apply for positions

When you have a shortlist of interesting positions, start applying for roles. The first part of this process is tailoring a CV to each individual position. Different job vacancies specify having different skill sets and discussing these skills and their development in your CV is an ideal way of distinguishing yourself from competitors. Read through each individual vacancy as thoroughly as possible and target the keywords that each position mentions. This increases your chances of passing through the documentation stage of a job application and getting an interview with a member of the recruitment team.

Applications also include cover letters. In your cover letter, talk about why you sent an application to that company in particular. This builds a link between your application and the company itself. This includes the history of the company, experience you have with their work and some of the ethics of the business. Discuss why you are a perfect candidate for that specific company. This includes your personal attributes, work rate and some of your specific experiences. Linking yourself to the company is an ideal method of securing the role.

Related: Different types of job applications and how to apply

Useful skills for undertakers

Undertakers use a range of skills in their role, including:

Attention to detail

Undertakers use attention to detail when ensuring they thoroughly treat the bodies they work with. Being thorough means funeral attendees see their loved ones at their best for the final time. Improve attention to detail by limiting multitasking.

Related: How to improve your attention to detail

Dexterity

Undertakers complete a range of different manual tasks with fine motor movements, including stitching and injections. Completing these tasks effectively means the body looks as good as possible with no mistakes. Improve dexterity by completing hand and finger exercises that increase control over movement.

Resilience

Undertakers use resilience when treating the bodies of those who passed away in difficult circumstances. Psychological resilience is necessary as the role exposes people to a range of different unpleasant sights and concepts. Increase psychological resilience by completing mindfulness exercises and seeking professional help when necessary.

Related: How to build resilience (7 techniques and examples)

Communication

Undertakers use communication in the workplace when working with a large team of embalmers and organisational staff. Communication is important for ensuring everybody completes the right tasks. Improve communication skills with exercises amongst the group and improve your personal skills such as non-verbal communication.

Related: 6 fun communication games to improve communication skills

Time management

Undertakers use time management when preparing a body in time for a funeral. This is vital as funerals are set dates and undertakers work against the rate of decay in the body. Improve time management with a range of techniques including Pomodoro timers and Gantt charts.

Related: Time-management skills: definition, examples and tips for improvement

Organisation

Undertakers use organisation skills when completing all of the right paperwork for a funeral. This is key as keeping the right paperwork with the right cases prevents confusion in documentation systems. Improve organisation skills by creating systems that you understand and work more effectively within.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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