9 Legitimate Work-at-Home Jobs

Career Opportunities

Has a personal setback like losing your job or acquiring a disability kept you out of the workforce? Perhaps it's also put you in the sights of scammers who target the unemployed with bogus work-at-home scams. Throughout the past year, unemployment ramped up in the majority of states, and as Associated Press recently reported, only 36,000 new jobs were added to company payrolls in January. With fewer jobs available and consumer costs on the rise, it’s no wonder many Americans are desperate for a new source of income. Working from home can be a great option for Americans who want to cut back on commuting, juggle parenting duties and make a little extra cash on the side, but that’s not to say it’s for everyone. It takes real discipline to balance the comfort of being at home with the demands of a career, but for many, avoiding the hassle of an office job is worth it, despite the threat of scams. To help you sort out the scams from the gems, MainStreet tapped job experts to find the 10 most legitimate work-at-home jobs that could help you bounce back in 2011. Read on to see which one’s right for you. Photo Credit: Getty Images


Executive Recruiter

Michael Whalen, an executive recruiter based in Atlanta, loves the flexibility and pay of his work-at-home lifestyle. On a typical day, he works with companies to identify job candidates, then he presents them to the company to “initiate the process,” which includes scheduling interviews and delivering paperwork to the employer. The pay can be lucrative—Whalen said he often bills clients in the six-figure range—but he admits it’s not steady. “Most of my work is going to be a contingency search, so I get paid if I find a candidate for the companies,” he says, “and some firms work strictly on retainers, where they give a deposit on the search to cover initial research costs, and when a candidate’s identified, they’ll pay the balance.” But freedom is a double-edged sword, Whalen adds. “The financial rewards are only limited by your own efforts,” he says. “You have to be able to stay focused, stay motivated and get out and meet people from time to time.” If executive recruiting sounds right for you, Whalen recommends “self-educating” in your field of interest while reflecting on your work experience to see how that ties in. Next, “identify the decision makers,” or big players in the field and get in touch. “The better a student you are of that industry, the more effective and seriously you’ll be taken,” Whalen says. Photo Credit: Getty Images


Web Software Engineer

Helping companies design and develop computer software can be a lucrative gig for at-home workers, especially for techies who know the open-source Web application Ruby on Rails. Some earn average salaries of up to $84,000, a year according to PayScale, a salary tracker. “I have a guy making $85 an hour sitting in Denver,” says Sioux Logan, an executive recruiter with RedStream Technology. “Just being proficient in technology is going to provide work-from-home opportunities.” Logan suggests that interested candidates get active on the open-source community Github.com, or if they’re currently in an IT role at a company, to talk to their employer about working from home. By sharing tech issues and exchanging ideas online, “[GitHub] has definitely landed people jobs,” she says. “It’s almost like networking for computer guys.” Photo Credit: Getty Images


Graphic Designer

Creating eye-catching designs and logos with software on a home computer sounds like a dream job for nerdy artists, since they not only get to work in their pajamas, but earn up to $40,000 in their first year. Still, one thing to keep in mind, says Logan, is that “there’s not always going to be full-time, open-ended work. You can find some of that on Monster.com with the smaller companies,” she says, but in general, the jobs will be on an independent contractor basis and temporary, and a degree from an accredited design school may be required. Photo Credit: Getty Images


Interpreter and Translator

The demand for bilingual skills in today’s job market hasn’t been lost in translation among the myriad corporations looking to hook new customers who speak another language at home. Latest estimates from the Census Bureau’s 2009 American Community Survey found more than 57 million Americans speak a language other than English. That’s a lot of potential customers, and a real opportunity to make money. Wages for interpreters and translators vary with experience ($13-$25/hour), buge getting certified can make you more competitive. Photo Credit: Getty Images


Medical Coder

To navigate complex billing schemes and code them medical coders require specialized training, says Tory Johnson, a work-at-home expert. That training is available at technical schools across the country, and with the medical industry expected to grow wildly as more baby boomers retire, this could be a long-term career that’s worth the investment. The pay varies with experience, and can be up to $15/hour, but these jobs require prior experience, so you need to have been working in an office for some time. Photo Credit: Getty Images


Virtual Concierge

Home-based concierge agents “do everything from finding the dress in a Julia Roberts movie to planning your kid’s birthday to dry cleaning,” says Johnson. “It ranges from the ordinary to the extraordinary,” and clients tend to be wealthy executives and employees of world-class companies who are willing to pay for the convenience. “That really requires you to not only have great service skills but also marketing and sales lined up,” says Johnson. Plus, “you need to have clients” or know how to find them. You can start your own service online at vipdesk.com, a leading provider of virtual concierge agents, or contact employers in your area to see whether they’d like you to offer your services to their busy staff. Photo Credit: Getty Images


Mystery Shopper

Though it’s too sporadic to pay the bills, mystery shopping is still a decent side hustle, says Johnson. The job entails shopping and eating at restaurants, then reporting back to the business’s corporate headquarters on the quality of service and cleanliness to help improve the customer experience. While this is a legitimate job done outside of an office, you still have to be careful. “If you have to pay to become one, I would stay away from that,” Johnson advises. Find legitimate mystery shopper jobs on mysteryshop.org. Photo Credit: Getty Images


Direct Salesperson

Remember the Avon lady? Well, she’s still in demand, and has what Johnson calls one of the best work-from-home jobs today. “It’s a lot of hustle, but it boils down to two categories,” Johnson says. “One side of what you do is just selling your stuff: setting up parties where you can display and showcase and take orders in a fun environment, and chatting it up in all that you do.” The second aspect involves building a team “beneath you” by recruiting potential colleagues to push products to their networks. A job that has you selling a product to an end user is a key indicator of a legitimate operation, says Johnson, because “a scam is just recruiting people and never having to sell anything. All you’re doing is recruiting people into this web, but you’re never selling to an end user, just selling people on the starter kit.” Start researching direct salesperson opportunities online at directselling411. Photo Credit: Getty Images


Create Your Own Product Line

Ever dream of creating your own stickers, jewelry, art and more? If so, you could be on your way to earning six figures a year, says Johnson. Sites like etsy.com, zazzle.com and cafepress.com, spare you from investing in startup costs like equipment and stock, and make it easy to launch your own original product line through your own online store. “You’ll receive commission on all sales generated with your designs,” she says, but self-promotion and marketing are key. “It’s not simply about putting your stuff up and hoping it’s found,” Johnson says. “The people who are very successful work it. They have a significant social media following, and they maybe also partner with a retailer to help promote their stuff. Some are discovered on Etsy but also sell on another store, both wholesale and retail." Photo Credit: Getty Images


Avoid Work-at-Home Scams

Before you embark on your work-at-home career, Johnson offers some tips to avoid common scams: Know the difference between a ful-time job and an opportunity. “Most programs or offers are [independent contractor] opportunities versus [full-time] jobs,” Johnson says. “You’re not going to become an employee in an organization. You don’t just get hired from home.” Watch out for limiting language. “A legitimate opportunity has no limited number of spots or a timetable for signing up.” Avoid empty promises. “Stay away from language that promises you the moon and the stars on a silver platter,” says Johnson. “’$4,000 week, no experience necessary’—If that kind of stuff existed, we’d all be doing it.” Have every cost clearly spelled out. Never pay anything upfront and ask the representative what to expect. Make sure help is on hand. Companies using Yahoo or Gmail accounts are notoriously dubious, as is broken English, says Johnson. Someone should always be available to answer your questions no matter what. Avoid check cashing. Companies using this scheme are never legitimate and should be avoided. Check the source. Even the supposed news sites promoting a company can be shady. Watch out for too-good-to-be-true “Gazette” or “Tribune”-styled websites that promote a great lifestyle but mask a scam. Photo Credit: Getty Images


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