Searching for jobs you can do from home used to be a matter of scanning the Sunday classifieds for offers to get rich quick by stuffing envelopes.
Now, exposure to at-home employment opportunities has exploded, and a wide range of job ads are just a mouse click away. But so are the scams.
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Two years ago, when The Rat Race Rebellion began tracking at-home jobs, there were 30 scams for every legitimate opportunity. Now, with 4,500 to 5,000 work-at-home job ads screened weekly, the Web site finds 57 phonies for every one that's for real, says Christine Durst, CEO of The Rat Race Rebellion.
Nevertheless, there's no shortage of people who dream of beating the odds and earning a living from home.
Durst, who is also CEO of Connecticut-based Staffcentrix, which develops home-based and virtual career training programs, says people interested in work-at-home jobs primarily are:
- Parents who say they want to spend more time with their children.
- Trailing military spouses who, according to Durst, by virtue of their spouse's career need to pick up and move every few years.
- Retirees needing supplemental income.
- People with disabilities.
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It's difficult to be a good parent and simultaneously work well at home, says Durst, because most jobs require blocks of uninterrupted time to accomplish tasks, and children's schedules are less than predictable. For those who do choose to walk the tightrope between paid work and parenting, consider deadline-oriented work. Durst says it's generally better for those with younger children than schedule-oriented hourly work.
Steven Rothberg, president and founder of CollegeRecruiter.com, says "an increasing minority" of entry-level workers, are attracted to these gigs. He says he believes social introverts make good candidates. "They like working with people (but) they like interacting by e-mail and by being on the phone. They dislike working in person with a lot of others," he says, due to meetings and other "time-sucking problems" at an office.
Self-motivation, discipline, job skills and independence are key characteristics for at-home workers, says Stephanie Foster of Poway, Calif., a former medical transcriptionist who runs the Web site Homewiththekids.com.
A growing number of employers appear to believe telecommuting is a good deal for them as well. It reduces overhead expenses, allows access to talented workers who may not be available locally, provides off-hours support and helps retain employees, says Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs.com, a Web site that aggregates hand-screened telecommuting/work-at-home jobs. "We've seen a real broadening of the audience of both employers and job seekers."
Consider these 10 jobs -- some rather traditional and others unexpected -- for interesting at-home work and good (if competitive) prospects.
1. Virtual Assistant
This is a field with much potential, in part because the title description covers many things. "You can fit your offerings to what you know how to do," says Foster. One can own a virtual assistant business or work from home for a company that makes you available to other employees or clients. Homewiththekids.com, for example, currently features a dozen such companies. Small businesses hire virtual assistants to help when they can't justify a permanent employee. The International Virtual Assistants Association, which Durst co-founded in the 1990s, began with 28 members and has grown to more than 600, who charge from $15 per hour to more than $100 per hour.
2. Medical Transcriptionist
As Foster knows, being a medical receptionist is a demanding job, and nearly every company listed on her site seeks applicants with experience and/or training from certain schools. The work involves listening to and typing up dictation from doctors -- some of whom have difficult accents, slur words together, and even "eat, drink, chew gum (and) talk to other people in the room" while dictating, she says. But hearing about medical matters can be interesting, and good transcriptionists are in very high demand. Expect initial earnings of less than $10 per hour, but some transcriptionists earn $20 or more per hour.
Those with fluency in more than one language translate audio files or documents, not just word for word but often with cultural differences in mind. "Companies can access home-based translators with hard-to-find language skills without being held back by geographic location," says Fell.
Foster's site lists 15 companies that seek home-based translators. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook 2008-09, which groups translators and interpreters, notes a projected employment increase of 24 percent over the 2006-to-2016 decade, much faster than the average for all occupations.
The national mean hourly wage for translators and interpreters was $20.74, with a mean annual wage of $43,130 as of May 2008, according to estimates by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some industries pay significantly higher, with the highest paying jobs generally in the management, scientific and technical consulting services areas, in which the mean hourly wage was $56.50 and the annual mean wage was $117,530.
4. Web Developer/Designer
Information technology is the sector, Durst says, where most of the home-based hiring is being done. Terri Orlowski, a virtual assistant and Web developer based in Ledyard, Conn., offers services such as custom Web site design, template modification and redesigns, code updates, hosting, and usability reviews. She previously held administrative positions in a variety of industries, and makes a higher per-hour rate now. The job is in high demand. Of the more than 15,000 new monthly work-from-home job postings on Odesk.com, Web developers are in the greatest demand, says spokeswoman Elizabeth Gordon. A list of companies that post at-home tech jobs is available at ratracerebellion.com.
5. Call Center Representative
When you phone to order something from a catalog or infomercial, a big office with rows of cubicles may come to mind. But the person on the other end of the line is likely to be sitting in a home office. "It's a huge and growing industry," says Durst of companies that hire independent contractors to take calls from home. She says the "home-shore movement" started in response to complaints about the many companies that looked offshore for workers. While some Web sites, such as Alpineaccess.com, actually hire representatives, most use subcontractors. Just be aware that the pay may be by the minute rather than by the hour, so you may not be paid for time you spend waiting by the phone. A list of companies that hire call center reps can be found at Homewiththekids.com.
6. Tech Support Specialist
Call centers also hire technical support specialists to work remotely. Kate Lister, co-author of "Undress for Success: The Naked Truth About Making Money at Home," names it as one of her top three "best-bet work-at-home jobs." And according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, jobs for computer support specialists (on-site and remote combined) were expected to increase by 13 percent from 2006 to 2016 -- much faster than the average for all occupations -- with 71,000 new jobs.
7. Travel Agent
Scams abound in the travel industry -- particularly organizations that charge for information on how to break into the field. But operating a home-based travel agency can be an excellent business, says Tom Ogg of the Home Based Travel Agent Information Center. "Real home-based travel agents have experienced robust growth over the last decade, and there are probably around 35,000 of them and growing." A growing (although small) number of people earn $100,000 or more a year, he says. "A solid business concept and plan focused on profitability will take you a long way to achieving your monetary goals." There's also the joy of helping others enjoy their leisure time.
From postsecondary education to elementary schools, there are opportunities for students to learn virtually. Along with that, come opportunities to teach (and tutor) virtually. While distance learning is not new, advanced technology, collaborative multimedia software designed for schools and high-speed Internet connections have created more opportunities for teachers and students to work together from afar, says Fell. Durst has also noticed more teacher jobs being posted, and she knows of one professor who works mainly online and makes six figures -- although income "depends on how many hours you're applying to it and the type of classes you're teaching." A resource center for online teaching jobs is available at GetEducated.com.
Yes, the print publishing industry has been suffering, but Durst is seeing frequent listings these days for writing, editing and proofreading, particularly for the Web. Even those without writing experience can join the blogosphere. Not only can blogging be lots of fun, Foster says, but also there's money to be earned blogging for someone else's site, getting paid to post on your own blog or through revenue-sharing arrangements. A list of blogging opportunities, for which the pay range is less than $5 per post to more than $20 per post, can be found at Homewiththekids.com.
10. Franchise Owner
It's a no-brainer: Owning a business can be the road to at-home work. For an initial investment, franchises may offer a ready-made business with brand awareness, a system and a territory, says Leslie Truex, founder of the Web site Work-At-Home Success. She advises considering businesses that target the over-50 crowd or the self-employed, involve health and wellness, relate to the "green" movement, or involve electronic or online devices (i.e., accessories, applications).
When considering any at-home job, put up the scam-detection radar.
Durst suggests watching for these positive indicators of "real" employment:
- The hirer is an established company.
- The ad includes the company name and does not have applicants reply to a blind e-mail address.
- Human resources personnel are available for questions.
- There is mention of information commonly associated with "real" employment (benefits, vacations, policies, etc.).
- There is an application and interview process, not simply an e-mailed offer.
- The employer can detail the job duties and expectations.
- References/work samples are requested.
Melissa Ezarik is a Connecticut-based freelance writer.
- Christine Durst