En español | Returning to work is an economic necessity for some retirees and a personal choice for others. Either way, the prospect of long commutes and annoying coworkers can be daunting. A good compromise might be to find a work-at-home job.
That's what Jackie Booley did. In 2007, she retired from her position as an AT&T call center manager. Her husband had recently died from chronic kidney failure, and Booley, then 61, was exhausted from serving as his primary caregiver while holding down full-time employment.
But retirement proved to be short-lived. Two years later, with energy restored and her nest egg depleted, she found a part-time job that allowed her to work from home. Now, when you dial Office Depot's toll-free number, you may be speaking with Booley in the spare bedroom of her Ocala, Fla., home.
She doesn't work for the office-supply retailer, however. Rather, Booley is employed by Sykes Home, a call center service headquartered in Tampa. Incoming calls to Office Depot are routed to her home office. Sykes has 7,500 work-at-home customer service agents in 2,000 cities.
Booley logs in about 24 hours each week at $9 an hour, answering questions and processing orders. Plus, she contributes 5 percent of her earnings to Sykes' 401(k) employee-retirement plan, which her employer matches 100 percent. "Thanks to the plan, I'm now rebuilding my nest egg," Booley says.
"I absolutely love it," she says of her work-at-home job. "It gives me flexibility. I feel like I'm my own boss, and I can fall out of bed and go to work in seconds."
Beware of work-at-home scams
Working at home has a nice ring to it — sometimes too nice. Work-at-home scams have been around for decades, but in the past few years, the Federal Trade Commission has seen the number of complaints nearly double.
Two glaring red flags to look out for: jobs touted via email that promise to pay more than you ever dreamed, and firms that charge you a fee to obtain more information about a job. "Payment for the privilege of working is rarely acceptable, in our view," says Christine Durst, an Internet fraud and safety expert and cofounder of RatRaceRebellion.com, a website that screens job leads on home-based jobs.
That said, there are legitimate work-at-home jobs in customer service and other fields, but you'll need to do legwork to avoid scams. Here are five jobs to consider. Pay ranges, which will vary based on experience and other factors, are primarily derived from employers and U.S. Department of Labor data.
1. Customer Service Representative
The nitty-gritty: You must have an up-to-date computer (usually a PC), a high-speed Internet connection, a dedicated landline telephone during business hours, a telephone headset and a quiet place to work.
In general, you're answering incoming calls, taking new orders and tracking existing orders. In some cases, you'll troubleshoot and help out with technical support. Online chat sessions and email may be part of the job. You'll need to toggle seamlessly between several computer screen windows at a time. Employers usually offer paid training sessions.
The solitary work demands a good dose of "get up and go" gumption and discipline to keep from being distracted. And don't skimp on buying a comfortable, ergonomically safe chair and headset. Remember, it's tax-deductible if you're an independent contractor.
Potential employers, including Hilton Hotels, American Airlines and 1-800-Flowers.com, might hire directly. Others use third-party companies who then hire home-based workers. In addition to Sykes, other virtual call center operators include Convergys, LiveOps, Arise, West at Home and Working Solutions.
The hours: Full-time, part-time and split shifts are available. Employers may require at least 20 hours a week, plus weekend slots.
Median pay range: The typical hourly rate is about $9, but workers can earn more than $20 an hour with incentives and bonuses. Some firms provide health, vision and dental benefits, or access to group plan rates. Paid vacation and matching 401(k) plans may be a perk, but you'll have to clock in enough hours to be eligible.
Qualifications: Job descriptions typically call for customer care or technical support experience. Think broadly. Prior experience in a retail store as a bank teller or in sales might suffice. Typically, an online test and a phone interview are required. Background, drug and credit checks are standard. Some firms charge $30 to $45 for such screens.
2. Online Juror
The nitty-gritty: Online companies such as eJury, OnlineVerdict and JuryTest will pay you to sit on mock juries to give attorneys and other jury consultants feedback on cases. Think of these as virtual focus groups. To sign up with online jury companies, you fill out an online questionnaire. When a lawyer needs an online juror that matches your demographics, you're contacted via email.
An attorney posts a case on a secure website for you to log on and review. You may listen to audio, view video presentations, or read material and answer questions. Then you submit a verdict. Once the minimum number of verdicts has been rendered (usually 50), the case concludes. A summary is posted later if you want to see the results.
The number of cases you may be asked to review will vary depending on the number of attorneys in your area who are using this service. Most companies will only have occasional work for you, so sign up for a few. Be sure to read all the disclaimers and details.
The hours: From 20 minutes to more than an hour, depending on the details of the case.
Median pay range: Payments usually start at $10 per case and can go up to $100 per case, depending on the length of the case and trial.
Qualifications: Essentially the same requirements as you would have for actual jury duty. In general, you can't be a lawyer, paralegal or legal assistant, or an insurance company representative. Nor can you be associated with liability claims adjustments. You must be a U.S. citizen, be of sound mind and good moral character, be able to read and write, have never been convicted of a felony, and not be under indictment or other legal accusation of misdemeanor theft, felony theft or any felony charge.
3. Virtual Assistant
The nitty-gritty: With shrinking payrolls, there's been a jump in demand — from small-business operators to executive-level professionals — to hire virtual personal assistants to do various administrative tasks. Duties range from making travel arrangements to sending out letters and other support services that can easily be handled remotely via email and phone.
The job can involve sitting for long periods, so take precautions to prevent eyestrain, stress and repetitive motion ailments such as carpal tunnel syndrome. Look for openings and information at the International Virtual Assistants Association, Virtual Office Temps and Team Double-Click.
The hours: Flexible, including split shifts and part-time.
Median pay range: $15 to more than $30 an hour.
Qualifications: Employers increasingly demand knowledge of computer software applications, such as desktop publishing, project management, spreadsheets and database management. You should be skilled in both Microsoft Word and Excel (for financial statements). Two years of work experience in an office administrative function is helpful.
Virtual assistant training programs are available at many community colleges. At Portland Community College in Oregon, for example, courses required to earn a virtual assistant certificate can be completed in two terms. All of them may be taken online, although traditional in-person classes are available for most. There is currently no national standard of certification for virtual assistants.
4. Online Tutor
The nitty-gritty: Private online tutoring is a growing area in the uber-competitive march to college admissions. The subjects in demand are the core curriculum: world history, physics, science, math and English. Foreign language specialties are also seeing an uptick. And help with preparation for standardized tests such as the SAT, GED and GRE is always in demand.
An online employer like Tutor.com, which offers one-on-one help to students, is set up so that when a student needs assistance with homework, he or she enters a grade level and subject into the computer log-on screen. The appropriate tutor (the firm has more than 3,000 on board) connects to the student inside the secure online classroom. The student and tutor can chat using instant messaging, draw problems on an interactive whiteboard, share a file to review essays and papers, and browse resources on the Web together.
See also: Is teleworking right for you?
With individual accounts, sessions are saved so that students and parents can review them at any time. Course levels range from elementary school through 12th grade and the first year of college to adults returning to school or searching for a job. Other online tutoring firms include Kaplan and Smarthinking.com. For general information about tutoring, visit the American Tutoring Association or National Tutoring Association websites.
Or you might opt to tutor on your own. You'll probably forgo the bells and whistles of the interactive whiteboard, but you can easily set up chat sessions and send files back and forth with your students. And you can develop an ongoing relationship that provides steady work.
The hours: Flexible. Some firms ask you to plan on at least five hours a week.
Median pay range: Hourly rates are between $10 and $14, based on experience, subject tutored, company and grade level. Part-time private tutors generally earn around $20 an hour, according to Payscale.com. Some private tutors, however, can make as much as $65 an hour. At Tutor.com, the "most active" chemistry tutors earn anywhere from $800 to $1,600 a month.
Qualifications: Teacher certification is preferred but not required. Professional experience opens doors. At Tutor.com, high-level math and science expertise is highly sought after. That means whizzes at chemistry, algebra and physics need apply.
In general, with a tutoring company, you take an online exam in the subject you wish to teach. If you pass, you will be given a mock session with an online tutor. Then you must pass a third-party background check and final exam. More than one subject is encouraged. Your computer must have high-speed Internet access and be able to run the classroom software provided. Mac users may be out of luck with some companies.
The nitty-gritty: You don't have to be a professional scribe to find work in this arena. You do need a clear grasp of sentence and paragraph construction, spelling, grammar and punctuation. Jobs run the gamut from copy editing and proofreading to résumé writing and technical editing. If you have expertise in a particular field or genre, that's all the better for opening doors.
Copy editors, proofreaders or writers can check out AARP's job search tool or sites like JournalismJobs.com for a range of postings for part-time writing and editing jobs. You can also set up your own shop to provide these résumé and essay-tuning services. Freelance writers can find postings on Freelancer.com or Elance.
For more general writing gigs, you might reach out to local associations and organizations, community newsletters and other regional publications. Ask if they need an extra hand on an assignment basis for online and print articles, brochures and press releases.
The hours: Freelance writers and editors typically set their own schedules based on deadlines.
Median pay range: A writer might expect to make anywhere from $9 to $74 an hour, according to Payscale.com. But few writing jobs are billed that way. Project rates may vary between $15 and $40 an hour. For creating a polished résumé for a client, you might charge a base fee of $200. Some publishers pay freelance writers by the word or by the article, and that fluctuates widely depending on your background and experience. Anywhere from 50 cents to $3 a word is not out of the ordinary. If you write for an online publisher, you might be paid solely based on the number of times Web visitors view your article or whether the content is licensed to other publishers. Copy editors can earn anywhere from around $20 an hour to nearly $85 an hour, depending on experience, according to Payscale.com.
Qualifications: No formal training is required. Employers often look for expertise in a variety of fields, from health care to taxes to résumé writing. For newsier publications, a grasp of the Associated Press Stylebook or the Chicago Manual of Style might be necessary. Plus, The Elements of Style by Strunk and White never goes out of style.
Kerry Hannon, AARP jobs expert, is a career transition expert and an award-winning author. Her books include What's Next? Finding Your Passion and Your Dream Job in Your Forties, Fifties and Beyond and Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy … and Pays the Bills. Follow her on Twitter @kerryhannon.
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