Order member Jeff Jorgenson, natural funeral wunderkind behind Elemental Cremation & Burial in Seattle, once again graces us with some straight talk about working in the funeral industry.

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A few of you have come to me asking about positions in corporate firms; should you take them, should you apply for them, would it be good for your career, will they steal your soul?

Since we’re on the “path of truth” about the funeral biz, let’s just get it out there about the corporate world, shall we? While we’re at it, let’s steal a glance at the independent homes.

I had the good fortune of working in corporate firms for over five years. I don’t say that with any sarcasm; I really did have some of the best training in the industry, met some of the brightest minds in the funeral world and was afforded the opportunity to do a fair amount of travel. I am the type of person that loathes conforming and detests the notion of working for a nameless corporation, and yet I have to confess that I was fortunate to have some great mentors and direct superiors.

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A corporation is run at a critical mass because creativity and innovation is strangled with management by policies. If you’ve worked for a corporation, you know the things that suck about corporate life:

The boss is just trying to hit the numbers.

They don’t care about us.

I’m just a number.

This initiative is stupid.

If the brass only saw what it was like here in the trenches…

I could do their job better.

They have no clue what this market wants…

Uh-huh. And as my grandmother used to say, “It’s always easier to spend someone else’s money and to raise someone else’s kid.” I imagine she probably would have added “and run someone else’s corporation” if she’d had an MBA.

What’s great about corporations is that they come with all of the resources that only a multinational–or, at least, really big company–can afford.  Things like training programs from initial to recurrent, development plans, location transfers, broad benefit packages, lateral mobility, upward mobility, expense accounts, travel, perks, and a fair amount of stability all contribute to a pretty content little existence. There is a fair amount to be said about the anonymity of being in a huge organization. So long as you keep your snout clean, do your job and tell them what they want to hear, you have as long as you want to suckle at their teat. They dig suckling.

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Independent funeral homes are great if you can find one, but don’t think that they are the last bastion of creative funeral service. They don’t want someone to waltz through the doors to change the way they do business. You aren’t going to reinvent the Porti-Boy embalming machine, nor are you going to tell Mr. Samuelsson and his sons how they can improve their funeral home. Even if you’re the social media maven that can turn things on for them, they don’t want your newfangled crap. They want a removal tech, and they want one that does the same thing that the one before you did, like, oh, I don’t know… pick up the bodies.

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There are plenty of stories about cranky old dual licensees (funeral director/embalmers) who own their own funeral homes and treat their staff like Cretin slaves.

Honestly, some of the best stories I’ve heard come from people that have worked for those old bastards. Everything from blackmailing people out of Labor & Industries claims to “just juicing up the head a bit” [injecting embalming fluid into the head to “freshen them up”] to save on embalming fluid costs. These guys (I say guys because there aren’t any old grumpy female owners that I’ve heard of) are legendary for their insanity. They are, without question, why the FTC Funeral Rule was born.

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The plus side to the independent firm is that you probably know the owner and everyone else in the company. It is less likely to be a rule by edict and policy, and more apt to be an amalgamation of best practices that have served the family well. They will bring a fairly deep connection to the community that they are serving, and if they are good people, will make you feel like a family member and not an employee number. If they aren’t one in the small group of nasty old men, you are likely to be very well taken care of and mentored through a traditional, noble funeral director internship. Unfortunately, these independent firms are getting a little sparse in the larger metropolitan areas.

What’s the answer, then?! All funeral homes suck and I need to go get a job in tech? If you were smart, yes.

But you probably won’t be deterred from your “calling” and we all know that funeral starts with FUN. You want to work in a funeral home! My suggestion is this: If you really want to be in this business, you will take any job you’re offered, even the soulless job in the corporate home. The corporations have the bulk of this business figured out, so they have the most comprehensive training. You can learn everything on their dime and get out when you have gleaned all their knowledge. If you end up in a location that you hate, you can transfer, but if you love your team, you’ll have a fantastic run of it. Ultimately, we independents love corporations doing all the training so we can steal the best of the best when they’ve had enough of the publicly traded nonsense.

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Working for corporations isn’t as bad as everyone makes it out to be. If you go in knowing that a lot of the strategic direction of corporations is just bat-guano crazy and that upper management is populated with misguided egos, you will have calibrated your expectations accordingly.

Just remember to keep your mouth shut and do what you’re told. If you don’t play their game, you won’t be playing any game. But I suppose that’s no different than any other industry. Just keep your focus on giving families the best service with the utmost professionalism and compassion, and you’re going to be rewarded beyond your imagination, no matter what firm you end up working with.

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