How to be a Mediator: 7 Steps
Reviewed by Jacob Imm
Jan 25, 2023
How to be a Mediator in 7 Steps
Have you ever thought about becoming a mediator? Well, in some ways, you already are. We use mediating skills in everyday life anytime we compromise with friends, partners or employers.
With that said, some people are better at mediating their way through conflict than others—and those people can go on to do it professionally.
As a career, mediation is an exciting field that allows you to turn arguments into agreements. Court mediators work in civil or corporate settings to ensure that everyone is happy with the final arrangement. In other words, it’s important work.
If you’re wondering how to be a mediator, this guide is for you. We’re taking you step-by-step through the process of becoming a professional mediator.
Step 1: Understand the Role
Before you set out to become a mediator, it’s essential to understand what a mediator does. What is dispute resolution, and what is the role of a mediator?
Court mediators are unbiased third-party intermediaries who help two sides reach a consensus. By bringing together the two parties that have agreed to engage in mediation, these professionals encourage individuals or businesses to settle their disputes without going to court. Mediation isn’t exactly like a trial (the decision is unbinding), but overall, it’s a welcome alternative to costly legal battles or years-long public disputes.
It’s worth noting that there are several types of mediation to choose from, and the earlier you know which one appeals to you, the sooner you can start preparing for a career. Areas of mediation include:
- Employment mediation
- Education mediation
- Corporate mediation
- Civil mediation
- Divorce mediation
- Intellectual property mediation
- Real estate mediation
- Community mediation
- Family mediation
No matter which branch of mediation you choose, you’ll still fall under the overarching discipline of alternative dispute resolution, or ADR. ADR covers all forms of conflict resolution that occur outside of the court system, including negotiation, conciliation and arbitration.
Step 2: Prepare for Your Education
Working as a mediator requires at least a bachelor’s degree, but you can begin preparing for your continuing education and career before you apply for college.
Mediators rely on a wide range of hard and soft skills to help guide their clients toward satisfactory conflict resolution. Some of these competencies include:
- Interpersonal communication (written and spoken)
- Critical thinking
- Decision making
- Active listening
- Time management
- Close reading
Although you’ll have the opportunity to practice these skills in college, you can easily begin working on all of them today. What’s more, these qualities will serve you well regardless of the path you take in college and beyond.
To further prepare, you can spend your time reading about mediation skills and looking into shadowing opportunities with approved mediators in your community. By learning more about mediation and honing relevant skills, you can bolster your college admission essay application letter and excel in your courses. And when you do well in class, you improve your chances of landing a career after graduation.
Step 3: Earn an Undergraduate Degree
As per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a bachelor’s degree is a minimum requirement for all prospective mediators. Ideally, you’ll enroll in a program that includes mediation skills in its curriculum. For example, you may choose to study:
With that said, any degree can be your ticket to working as a mediator. In fact, earning a degree in a different field could allow you to mediate related disputes.
If, for example, you wanted to mediate cases in the pharmaceutical world, a science degree would give you the essential terminology and understanding you’d need to preside over a dispute in that field.
Step 3b: Join a Dispute Resolution Program
Some colleges also offer dispute resolution programs geared toward future mediators. These programs teach invaluable theories and skills that professional mediators use. Furthermore, such a program can improve your resume and ultimately increase your prospects of securing a job post-graduation.
Dispute resolution programs start with in-class lectures and discussions, but eventually move to real-world scenarios that allow you to test your new skills. For example, at North Central College, students in the dispute resolution program gain valuable mediation experience in courts, community groups and local businesses.
Step 4: Pursue an Advanced Degree (Optional)
Because mediators often work at a high level within enterprises, an advanced degree can be beneficial.
Once again, any advanced degree is technically applicable, though some of the best options for prospective mediators include:
- Criminal justice
- International studies
Doctoral law degrees or master’s degrees in relevant fields are also welcome, as they demonstrate a deeper understanding of laws and policies.
Overall, an advanced degree may help you find better employment or earn a higher salary.
Step 5: Gain Valuable Work Experience
With your post-secondary education behind you, it’s time to step into the professional world. This step may look different for every prospective mediator depending on the type you hope to become..
For instance, if you plan to mediate conflicts in the real estate industry, your first step after college may be to work in real estate. If you have your heart set on mediating corporate disputes, you may want to start by working in a business setting for a few years. By becoming an expert in your chosen field, you can become a better mediator.
However, if your goal is general mediation, you may take a different approach. Because mediators are often in charge of high-stakes situations, practical mediation experience is essential. To that end, you may instead train under an experienced mediator before working on your own.
Step 6: Obtain a Mediator Certification (Optional)
There is no national mediator license in the U.S—in theory, anyone can help individuals and corporations resolve their conflicts. However, the BLS notes that some states require a certificate to preside over more nuanced cases.
Luckily, obtaining licensure is not particularly challenging; certified mediator training courses usually take 20 to 40 hours.
Step 7: Work as a Mediator
Finally, once you’ve completed your education and mediator training, you can start working as a certified mediator. Most approved mediators take one of three approaches when starting their careers:
- Opening a private practice – If you’re an entrepreneur with a knack for finding new clients, you can open your own practice and offer your mediation services to businesses or individuals.
- Applying to work at a dispute resolution firm – If you’d rather jump into an existing practice, you can look into a position at a firm. Companies often hire dispute resolution firms to handle internal conflicts.
- Getting hired as a mediator – Some sectors, including government and healthcare, may need an internal mediator. In these cases, you won’t work with a firm; you’ll be a direct employee of the organization you work for.
Frequently Asked Questions About Mediation
With seven steps and several years between graduating high school and working as a mediator, it’s natural to have questions. We’ll answer some of the most common ones here.
How Much Do Mediators Earn?
The median annual salary for a mediator is $49,410 as reported by the BLS. At the top end of the scale, you can earn up to $110,350/year, so there’s plenty of room for growth.
Are Mediators in Demand?
Dispute resolution jobs are in high demand; the BLS notes that the demand for mediators will likely grow by 10 percent between 2020 and 2030. During that time, there will be an expected 400 new mediator jobs each year.
What is the Difference Between a Mediator and an Arbitrator?
What is an arbitrator, and how is it different from a mediator? While arbitrators and mediators both practice alternative dispute resolution, they have slightly different roles and responsibilities.
Mediators work closely with both parties to come to an agreeable decision. Through a collaborative approach, mediators seek to ensure both sides are happy. Although mediation is an official process, mediator decisions are generally non-binding; they’re more like recommendations.
Arbitration, on the other hand, is more like a conventional trial. An arbitrator acts like a judge, hearing both sides of the story and handing out an arbitration award to one side or the other. Arbitrators don’t necessarily try to help both sides come to a satisfactory resolution; instead, they make a ruling based on the evidence they hear from each side. Additionally, most arbitrator decisions are binding (though they can still be appealed).
How Does Mediation Differ from Negotiation or Conciliation?
Negotiation and conciliation are other forms of alternative dispute resolution.
Negotiation is like a “pre-mediation” approach that aims to stop conflict before it even starts. Using such an approach, negotiators work closely with the involved parties and try to land a contract or agreement that pleases both sides.
Conciliation is almost identical to mediation, except that conciliators never meet with both parties at the same time. Instead, conciliation involves separate meetings with both sides. As with mediation, conciliation is rarely binding.
Start Working Toward a Career in Mediation
Ready to begin your journey toward working as a mediator? It all starts with earning a bachelor’s degree from a reputable institution.
To that end, you’ll want to search for respected schools that also offer a dispute resolution program—schools like North Central College. When you enroll in a program designed specifically for future mediators, you gain the knowledge, skills and connections you need to help you succeed in the field.
If you’re not yet ready to start applying for colleges, the next best thing you can do is continue learning. To find out more about dispute resolution services, arbitration and other ADR careers, check out our other informative posts.
Jacob Imm is the associate director of communication in the North Central College Office of Marketing and Communications. He has 13 years of collegiate communications experience and has worked with hundreds of college students. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and a master’s degree from Northern Illinois University.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2022, April 18). Occupational Outlook Handbook: Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved August 12, 2022, from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/arbitrators-mediators-and-conciliators.htm