Carlos D. Romo, Ph.D. works from home as translator-interpreter and mediator. — Michael Winokur
Working from home has a nice ring to it. You can’t argue with the commute to an office off the kitchen. The freedom to set your own hours is a real carrot.
For Carlos D. Romo, Ph.D., 67, working as a translator-interpreter and mediator has allowed him to tap into a language he loves – Spanish. As a child, it was the language spoken in his remote hometown of Mora, N.M.
The Reno, Nev., resident retired three years ago from his administrator post at a local community college. When he stepped out of the day-to-day fray, he knew he wanted to keep doing something. Taking on translating assignments that could be done from his home office was a no-brainer. “It’s in my blood,” Romo says. “I knew there was a need, and I wanted to put my skills and passion to good use.”
Because of the large Spanish-speaking population where he lives, Romo communicates with others in Spanish almost daily. Also, during his day-job years, he taught evening Spanish classes at the local community college in topics ranging from Spanish for travelers to Spanish for medical professionals.
When he decided to tap into the market for translators, he began by marketing his services the old-fashion way, word of mouth. “We’ve been in the community for 39 years, so people know me,” Romo says. He listed his background and contact information with the Language Bank at the Northern Nevada International Center. The bank provides translation and interpretation services in over 60 languages to businesses and organizations.
The variety of work keeps it interesting. From the comfort of his home computer, he has translated workplace safety manuals and brochures for Spanish-speaking employees of area businesses from casinos to hospitals.
Other freelance assignments require that he venture out. Local lawyers hire him to help Spanish-speaking individuals who need simultaneous translation. As a mediator in job discrimination cases and community-related issues, for example, Romo translates from English to Spanish or Portuguese, and vice versa. He has worked as a translator with the local school district, which employs him to teach English as a second language to Spanish-speaking parents.
In general, the pay swings as widely as the assignments, ranging from $50 to $120 an hour. “If it’s a nonprofit, I simply say ‘how much can you pay?’ One of my impetuses for working in retirement is to give back to the community,” Romo says. “This is one way I can do that. If I’m asked to be in court for an indigent pro bono, I’m there.”
The flexibility of the work allows Romo to pick and choose projects, which allows him and his wife Nancy, 65, to travel, spend time with their grandchildren, and devote time to community and church volunteer projects. They also devote time to AARP’s Ambassador program in Reno.
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The deeper reward: “It’s the satisfaction you get from being able to help individuals communicate,” Romo says. “In the courts, you have to be very precise. You translate the words the individual uses, and not what you think he’s trying to say … it can be a matter of their rights.” In other words, “no ad libbing,” he says.
While part-time home-based jobs like translation services can be a boon, keep in mind that work-at-home scams have been around for decades. In the past few years, the FTC has seen the number of complaints nearly double. Legitimate work-at-home jobs exist, but you’ll need to do legwork to avoid the unscrupulous operators.
Below are five great work-from-home jobs to consider. Pay ranges, which will vary based on factors such as experience and geography, are primarily derived from U.S. Department of Labor data.
The nitty-gritty: You may brag that you’re fluent in two languages, but are you really? It’s easy to get rusty. Just because you were a Spanish major back in college isn’t going to be enough. Languages evolve and being in synch with modern terms and slang is vital. Idioms matter. If you’re going to be a Spanish translator or interpreter, for example, you need to know the difference between Spanish spoken in Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico and Central America. Note: Interpreters deal with spoken words, translators with written words. Interpreters are the go-between for two parties, such as a doctor and patient, or client and lawyer. Translation work is generally done on a computer with files transmitted electronically back and forth. Online dictionary resources can be invaluable, but they don’t replace expressions gleaned from interacting with others who speak the language frequently. Spanish is the most in-demand language, but other languages are growing, such as Arabic. Specializing in a field such as the judicial system or health care and knowing the terminology will increase your job opportunities. This is precise work. Words have repercussions. If you don’t know the vocabulary, don’t take the assignment.
The hours: Flexible. Project-based.
Median pay range: $11.03 to $41.50 an hour. Depending on assignment and expertise, pay can top $100 an hour. Translation and proofreading projects are generally billed at a rate of 15 to 30 cents per-word, depending on the skill level.
Qualifications: Interpreters and translators must be fluent in at least two languages. A subject area of expertise helps. There are no official certifications required, although several are offered through trade organizations, such as the American Translators Association, which provides certification in 24 language combinations involving English for its members. Federal courts have certification for Spanish, Navajo and Haitian Creole interpreters, and many state and municipal courts offer their own forms of certification. The National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators also offers certification for court interpreting. The U.S. Department of State has a three-test series for prospective interpreters. The International Association of Conference Interpreters offers certification for conference interpreters. If you have solid language skills, you can get translation training at community colleges and universities to prepare you for a translator certification. The ATA has a list of programs it approves along with a job bank when you’re ready. The All Language Alliance also connects job seekers and positions. Internships, apprenticeships and volunteering via community organizations, hospitals and sporting events that involve international competitors will build your résumé. The ATA, for instance, works with the Red Cross to provide volunteer interpreters in crisis situations. Working with a mentor and networking with native speakers will keep your skills fresh. The ATA, for instance, offers formal mentoring programs and has chapters in many states. Other good resources: American Literary Translators Association, International Medical Interpreters Association, National Council on Interpreting in Health Care. Selling point: A good ear for languages.
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The nitty-gritty: Arbitration and “alternative dispute resolution (ADR)” have steadily gained converts from those hoping to bypass lawsuits with onerous fees and often a drawn out legal process. From divorce proceedings to housing and medical disputes, many people prefer to settle matters privately out of court. Some tense and sometimes frustrating debates can make your head throb, but you’re the pro equipped with the calm voice of reason. These jobs are not only for retired lawyers, mind you. An expertise in certain field of business can be your ticket. Experience settling workplace discrimination issues, marriage counseling and even a mental health background can land you a seat at the table to guide a sensitive negotiation. In general, you work out of your home office, but may have to go to another location for the official meeting. You’ve got to be “all ears.” Your task: impartially hear both sides of a dispute, cut through the sometimes-emotional verbiage, and intuitively home in on the critical details. It’s up to you to patiently direct and encourage both sides to keep talking in a civil fashion until a satisfactory resolution, or settlement, is struck. No taking sides.
The hours: Varies depending on caseload. Expect to put in the hours during negotiations.
Pay range: $14.69 to -$55.63 and upplus.
Qualifications: Many mediators have law degrees, but non-legal backgrounds are acceptable. Specific training, license requirements and certification vary by state. Mediators typically complete 60 hours of courses through independent programs or organizations, but some are trained on the job through volunteering at a community mediation center, or teaming up with a practicing mediator. Some colleges offer certificates or advanced degrees in dispute resolution. To tap into cases, network with local bar associations, insurers, realtors, and human resource departments at area businesses and hospitals. Increasingly, credentialing programs are being offered through professional organizations such as the American Arbitration Association. The American Bar Association Section for Dispute Resolution provides a trove of information relating to the dispute resolution field. Mediate.comis another source for international, national and state conflict resolution organizations and more. You must have a gift for peacemaking.
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3. Graphic designer
The nitty-gritty: The canvas is wide. You might find assignments to design letterhead, business cards and logos for local businesses. Bigger projects: marketing brochures, snazzy websites and email marketing pieces. Most design work can be done via your home computer. You must be at ease with manipulating computer graphics and design software, and possibly know how to program animated graphics. You may, of course, find yourself sketching the old-fashion way with pad and pen as an inspired idea takes shape. It takes more than visual communication to shine in this field. You must be able to translate your concept into words and writing for your client, too. An underlying ability to perceive what appeals to your client is essential. Sometimes they don’t know themselves what they want. It’s your job to help them see the possibilities. Skip the artistic temper. This is a collaborative process. Tweaking and redesigns come with the territory. Be prepared for hours at the computer and last-minute crushes for deadlines.
The hours: Hours can be irregular. You will need to adjust to client schedules.
Median pay range: $12.60 to $36.98 per hour and up.
Qualifications: Your success ultimately rests on your flair for design and meeting deadlines. That said, degree programs in fine arts or graphic design are offered at many colleges, universities and private design schools. Most curriculums include principles of design, computerized design, commercial graphics production, printing techniques and website design. Associate degrees and certificates in graphic design also are available from 2-year and 3-year professional schools. The National Association of Schools of Art and Design accredits about 300 postsecondary institutions with programs in art and design. A go-to resource for career information is the American Institute of Graphic Arts; The Art Directors Club site has an extensive job board. Other job sites to scroll through includeAIGA Design Jobs, Coroflot, Krop and AARP. Let the color wheel spin.
4. Grant/proposal writer
The nitty-gritty: You must have a knack for research and be detail-driven. Each funder has exact guidelines that you must follow to a tee. While your proposal must be persuasive in tone, this is a form of technical writing, so save the flowery lingo. Matching a nonprofit or for-profit with a foundation grant requires a solid understanding of the mission of your client’s organization and grasp of the concept or program for which funding is being sought. You’ll need to create a compelling pitch for why and how the requested funding can make a difference in the outfit’s immediate needs and long-term goals. Former journalists often shine in this no-nonsense line of work. This is computer-based work that can hit high gear at deadline time.
The hours: Flexible, but can ratchet up as deadlines near.
Median pay range: $17.86 to $48.51 per hour and up; part of compensation may be based on the value of the grant obtained.
Qualifications: A bachelor’s degree in communications, journalism or English is often the baseline. Some jobs may be geared for those with both experience and a degree or knowledge in a specialized field — for example, engineering or medicine. A working knowledge of computer graphics is helpful because of the increased use of online technical documentation. The Association of Fundraising Professionals offers several options to obtain certification and there’s a mini-grant proposal writing on the site. Grant Writing for Dummies can help get you started. Many community colleges offer grant writing certificate programs. Check out The Foundation Centeronline program. The center also maintains a broad database on U.S. and global grant makers. Check online job boards like The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Idealist.org and AARP for postings. Tip: Remember, it’s not your job to get the grant, but to make the best case possible to suitable funding organizations.
The nitty-gritty: You’re signing on for a panoply of roles: part accountant, part tax expert, part cashier. Duties can run the gamut from processing payroll checks, to handling invoicing, accounts receivable, accounts paid and other financial reporting. Buying office supplies may even be your bailiwick. Some firms may ask you to monitor checking and savings accounts and track credit card bills. This is detail-oriented record-keeping work and requires a focused, organized approach. Tracking down delinquent accounts can be trying on the nerves. Delivering bad financial news to a client requires a matter-of-fact, business approach.
The hours: Vary by business; frequently limited to one week mid-month and one week at the end of the month for invoicing or bill-paying functions. Some firms will want you on call at least once a week.
Median pay range: $10.23 per hour to $24.25; $50 or more is possible depending on advanced training, degrees and location.
Qualifications: A degree in accounting or business is generally required. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certification is best. Relevant experience or formal training in accounting-auditing services is a plus. Other key skills to have in your kit: data entry and adept with financial and related computer software such as QuickBooks. The American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers lists jobs and offers a national certification for bookkeepers, which may help you land a job if you don’t have prior practical experience. You might consider posting your résumé toeLance.com and surf the big job boards, AARP and Monster. Networking with your local business groups, industry associations or Rotary Club for leads is often your best approach. Bean counters, rev up your calculators.
Kerry Hannon is the author of What’s Next? Follow Your Passion and Find Your Dream Job.
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