5 Real Work-from-Home Jobs for Everyone (Plus the Jobs to Avoid)

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No matter what your schedule or area of expertise is, you can find a lucrative work-from-home job to suit your lifestyle. However, if you’re considering working from home, watch out: there is any number of scams and not-quite-scams out there you’ll need to watch out for. We’ll walk through the best jobs available, and point out a few jobs you should think twice about.

In this article:

Virtual Assistant
English as a Second Language (ESL) Tutor
Web Search Evaluator
Legal Transcriptionist
Virtual call center worker
What to watch out for

1. Virtual Assistant

  • Pay: $5-$20 an hour
  • Time commitment: Varies based on employer
  • Flexibility: Varies based on employer

A virtual assistant can serve in a variety of capacities, from sending thank-you cards on a busy executive’s behalf, to website maintenance, to bookkeeping, to market research and more. It’s a competitive marketplace, so be sure to sell your individual expertise:

  • Data presentation: Take a mass of raw data and put it into a PowerPoint that outsiders can understand.
  • Social skills: Write holiday or thank-you cards, or follow-up emails after a meeting.
  • Scheduling: Arrange meetings and book flights.
  • Copy-editing: Proofread emails or web pages for grammar and tone.

Helpful websites include Zirtual and VirtualAssistants.com.

2. English as a Second Language (ESL) Tutor

  • Pay: $20-$40 an hour
  • Time commitment: Varies
  • Flexibility: Fixed schedule

International students gunning for an American education, business professionals looking to get an edge, travelers – all are looking for a fluent English speaker to help them improve their language skills. While knowledge of another language is helpful, it’s not always required, particularly if you’re helping in a specific capacity like reading over a college application.

Tutoring websites like Wyzant, italki or TutorTutors serve as directories to make you easier to find, but these sites can charge either a commission on your earnings or a flat membership fee. Your best bet might be to contact an interested party directly by searching for jobs on Elance, Craigslist or Monster, thus avoiding the fee.

Other useful websites specifically for business English include I Speak U Speak and GoFluent. Human English is a good resource, but requires certification.

3. Web Search Evaluator

  • Pay: $13-$15 an hour
  • Time commitment: Varies by company
  • Flexibility: Set your own schedule

It’s ironic, but the data-crunching machines that are Google and Bing often rely on good ol’ human intuition to validate their algorithms’ search rankings. A web search evaluator performs a search, then tells the company whether the result was what he or she expected. A couple of companies run search engine evaluator services:

  • Appen Butler Hill:
    • Time commitment: 4 hours a day, Monday through Friday
    • Requirements: Qualification exam
  • Leapforce:
    • No time commitment
    • Requirements: Pass a two-part qualification exam; you may not retake the exam if you fail.
  • Lionsbridge:
    • Minimum 10 hours a week, maximum 20 hours a week

However, word on the street is that these exams are both long and incredibly difficult to pass. Some have said it takes 10-15 hours to study for the test – time that’s unpaid – and that you still pay struggle to qualify.

4. Legal Transcriptionist

  • Pay: around $20 per audio hour
  • Time commitment: Varies – can be project-based
  • Flexibility: Set your own schedule

A legal transcriptionist is provided with an audio file and is then asked to write down what he or she hears. Unlike with medical documents, legal transcribing work usually doesn’t need a specialized certification. However, excellent English skills are required. You can usually find one-off transcription projects, but occasionally you’ll be able to find a longer-term offer using sites like Elance or Odesk.

5. Virtual call center worker

  • Pay: $9-$12 an hour, depending
  • Time commitment: Varies greatly depending on employer
  • Flexibility: Fixed schedule

If you’re a people person who enjoys solving problems and talking on the phone, you might enjoy being a call center worker. You’ll have a fixed schedule, but the time commitment can vary, from as little as 2 hours a week to as many as 40. This is a great job if you can block off a solid chunk of time to being 100% committed to your work; it’s not so great if you need to be looking after your kids or cooking dinner while you’re on the clock. If your workday is frequently interrupted, project-based jobs like transcription might be better suited to you.

Here are a few nationally available call center jobs:

  • Accolade Support: Up to $9 an hour
  • Sykes Home (Alpine Access): Around $9 an hour. Note: if you’re offered a job, you’ll have to pay $45 for a background check.
  • Xerox: $10 an hour. Search their jobs database for “home” and “virtual” to find opportunities

You can also search Indeed.com, Monster and the like for “virtual call center” and see what comes up in your area. A word of warning: Call center jobs often have very strict technological requirements. For example, you might need to have DSL or broadband (wireless typically isn’t allowed); most places also require that you have Windows. Check the technical requirements before you spend time applying.

What to watch out for

There are more work-from-home scams than there are stars in the midnight sky. Here are a couple not-illegal-but-still-oh-so-sketchy schemes and red flags to look out for:

Multi-level marketing (MLM): This category includes Herbalife and Avon, and Amway, but the plain truth is that it’s pretty much a Ponzi scheme. You have to purchase the products you plan to sell, then (hopefully) resell them at a profit. But selling the products never really makes you any money. Instead, you bring in the bucks by roping in new salespeople – who then sink their money into products they’re unable to sell. There are some pretty scary statistics on how little money you make actually selling the products. Don’t get caught in a situation where you have to put your friends at risk.

Training fees: For a small fee, you’ll receive training on [insert way you can make thousands a month while working from home]. But once you’ve paid the fee, there’s never any work to be done. There are quite a few variants on the training-fee theme, including:

  • Envelope stuffing
  • Rebate processing

Buy before you earn: These schemes require you to purchase equipment from the company – sewing machines, hardware tools, software – before you can start earning money. Medical billing “jobs” are a particularly nasty variant of this scam, because they can require you to spend thousands of dollars upfront.

Protect yourself from work-from-home scams by following these steps for every job you consider:

  • Look up the company on the Better Business Bureau
  • Make sure that if you do need to purchase equipment that the money isn’t going to the company you’ll be working for. They should have no financial incentive in you signing up but then not being able to work.
  • Read at the company’s terms and conditions. Figure out:
    • When, how and how much you’ll get paid
    • How the company came up with its pay estimates – is it commission-based or hourly? Are they looking at the average worker or the “senior” workers whose ranks you might never join?
    • Under what circumstances the company can refuse to pay you or cancel your contract
    • How the company itself makes money
    • What you’ll have to pay the company, if anything (membership fees are a red flag)
  • Finally, do a Google search for “[company name] work from home scam.” You might turn up a lot of false positives – people complaining without real justification – but it’s a good idea to see what other people are saying.

If you’ve been scammed, you can file a complaint with the FTC, the Better Business Bureau or your state attorney general.