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’s employed by Alpine Access, a call center service headquartered in Denver. Incoming calls to Office Depot are routed to her in Florida. Alpine has 4,500 work-at-home customer service agents in 1,700 cities.
Booley logs in anywhere from 18 to 30 hours each week answering questions and processing orders. At $9 an hour, she usually earns between $500 and $600 per month. It’s not a fortune, but the extra money does allow her to go out to dinner and a movie without worry.
“I absolutely love it,” says Booley 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.” The topper: She’s banked enough hours with her virtual employer to take a paid vacation to England this year.
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 FTC has seen the number of complaints nearly double.
Two glaring red flags to look out for: jobs touted via e-mail 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 co-founder ofratracerebellion.com, a website on home-based work that screens job leads.
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 four work-at-home 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 land-line for your use while working, 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 e-mail may be part of the job. You’ll need the ability 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. It’s not a bad idea to brush up on yoga stretches to do at your desk between customers. And don’t skimp on buying a comfortable, ergonomically safe chair and headset. Remember, it’s tax-deductibleif you’re an independent contractor.
Potential employers, including Hilton Hotels, American Airlines and 1-800-Flowers, might hire directly. Others use third-party companies, which then hire home-based workers. In addition to Alpine, other virtual call center operators include Convergys, LiveOps.com, Arise.com, WestatHome.com andWorkingSolutions.
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 the screens.
2. 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 e-mail 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, or at virtualassistantjobs.com.
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’ 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, and all of them may be taken online, although traditional in-person classes are available for most. While there’s currently no set standard of certification for virtual assistants, the IVAA does offer three certifications that require passing a written test: Certified Virtual Assistant, Ethics Checked Virtual Assistant and the Real Estate Virtual Assistant. Hats off to the invisible workforce.
3. Online Tutor
The nitty-gritty: Private online tutoring sessions with students 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, GDE 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 help with homework, he or she enters their grade level and subject into their computer log-on screen. The appropriate tutor (the firm has 2,200 onboard) connects to the student inside the secure online classroom. The student and tutor 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.
With individual accounts, sessions are saved so that students and parents can review them at any time. Coursework ranges from kindergarten to 12th grade, college courses and adults returning to school or searching for a job. Other online tutoring firms include Kaplan and SmarThinking.com.
You might opt to tutor on your own. You probably will 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. If possible, firms ask you to plan on at least five hours a week between Sunday and Thursday from 4 to 11PM during the school year. Daytime hours are available. Vacations are easy to schedule. The typical tutoring session is about 25 minutes long.
Median pay range: Hourly rates are between $10 and $14 an hour, based on experience, subject tutored, company and grade level. 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: A certified teacher 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’re interested in tutoring. 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. And don’t expect a shiny apple on your desk, either
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 to proofreading, from resume writing to 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: Check out sites such as CareerBuilder for a range of postings for part-time writing and editing jobs, or Journalismjobs.com. Cybereditor.com offers assignments via ResumeEdge and EssayEdge, which provides tutoring for high school students. You can also set up your own shop to provide these resume and essay-tuning services.
For more general writing gigs, EHow.com publishes how-to articles in a variety of categories. Other sites to consider: AssociatedContent.com, Seed.com and Helium.com. You might also 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: Project rates may vary between $15 and $40 an hour. For creating a polished resume 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 if the content is licensed to other publishers.
Qualifications: No formal training required. Employers often look for expertise in a variety of fields from health care to taxes. If you’re interested in resume and cover letter jobs, Certified Professional Résumé Writers and Nationally Certified Résumé Writers credentials might be required. For newsier publications, a grasp of the Associated Press Style or the Chicago Manual of Style might be necessary. Plus, Strunk & White’s ‘Elements of Style’ never goes out of style
Read more from Kerry’s AARP Great Jobs column here.