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What it’s really like to be a funeral director

It’s a career long misunderstood and under-represented in popular culture, but there’s a lot more to the $1 billion Australian funeral industry than many in society know. For many people, a funeral is a time of healing and celebrating the life of a loved one, and the expectations that come along with that make it a high pressure job behind the scenes.

Being a funeral director requires a lot of skill and a dedicated work-ethic to overcome the challenges facing the job. There’s an emphasis not only on respecting the deceased, but also having well-engrained customer service skills, event management and business management skills.

Above all, it’s about creating a positive impact in people’s lives, according to Director of Botanical Funerals and Deakin MBA graduate, Ian Allison. Here, he unshrouds the mystery of what it’s really like to be a funeral director.

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What led you to becoming funeral director?

‘In hindsight, it was probably inevitable that I would become a funeral director. I grew up with both my grandparents having been funeral directors as well as my father and brother. As a sixth generation funeral director, I continue a long standing family tradition which was started in 1801.

‘Also, funerals, believe it or not, were often the main topic of conversation in our household and I would also often visit our different funeral homes with my father and would love to play in the casket selection room. At a young age, I just saw caskets as comfortable looking beds without an understanding of what they were designed for.

‘Above all though, I see my job as a calling or vocation.’

What does an average day look like for you?

‘Each day is different and this is one of the things I love about my job. It could be meeting with a family to organise a funeral (every family is different), coordinating a funeral or liaising with cemeteries, florists and other suppliers in organising a funeral.

‘Also, we are involved in regular community activities such as charity events, meeting with community groups, presentations etc. There’s never a dull moment and everyone you care for is different, so our approach is flexible and individualised.’

What do you love most about your job?

‘I love many different aspects of my work. From looking after families from a diverse range of cultural backgrounds, to being challenged by complex cases for sending deceased people back to their home country overseas.

‘As funerals are considered a critical part of helping people heal in their time of grief, I love the fact that we have the opportunity to make a lasting positive impact in someone’s life from delivering an exceptional personalised service.’

What are some of the challenges of your job?

‘In funeral service delivery, you only have one opportunity to get everything right for the family and as it can’t be re-done this puts particular challenges on your processes and procedures.

‘Once you are committed to organising a funeral it never leaves your mind until it’s over. You’re always thinking about what needs to be done. So if you don’t want a job that you take home with you after you finish work, then funeral directing isn’t the job for you.’

'I love the fact that we have the opportunity to make a lasting positive impact in someone’s life from delivering an exceptional personalised service.'

Ian Allison,
Director, Botanical Funerals by Ian Allison

What are the necessary skills required in your job?

‘You need a diverse range of skills to become a successful funeral director. These include excellent customer service, event planning and coordination, human resources and business management skills.

‘Above all though, people skills are probably the most important as you’re generally exposed to looking after the full spectrum of people in the community from various multicultural background, or the wealthy to the poor, or from the strictly religious to non-religious.

‘You might conduct a funeral for a well-known person one day and for a foreigner who died here on holiday the next. Nothing can really prepare you for these different situations, just very good people skills are important and being able to adapt and put yourself in the other person’s shoes is also important.’

What subjects and qualifications fit this job?

‘If you wanted to give yourself the best opportunity to become a successful funeral director, I would suggest subjects related to event management, customer service, business management and also embalming are all important.’

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