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Breaking In As a New Telecommuter

Telecommuting, teleworking, working from home. No matter how you chose to phrase it, this type of flexible work option is gaining momentum. And it should. Just recently, a survey mentioned on Telcoa.Org, indicated that the number one or number two preferred job benefits for job seekers was telecommuting--even over health insurance! It almost seems like getting a telecommuting position is the way to go. And, with hundreds of “work from home” jobs advertised on major online employment boards, it even looks like finding such a job might be a breeze.

Yet, how realistic is it for a new employee to telecommute without having to do what Fortune magazine’s Anne Fisher calls “face time”--that is, working onsite for a company first? There are many large corporations, such as Cigna and AT&T, that have formal telecommuting programs. However, to participate you must put in some “face time”, and then, based on your onsite performance, you might be approved for telecommuting.

Teleworker Barbara Chaderton, and now also owner of RPG911, offers some insight into how tough entering a new company as a telecommuter can actually be. An experienced RPG programmer, Chaderton chose to leave her secure onsite job to care for her aging mother at home. She has had little success expanding her client base as a remote AS/400 RPG programmer, even though she offers on-site consultation and routine visits.

Says Chaderton, “I usually interact with recruiters, not directly with employers. The recruiters either say, ‘I’ll need to speak with the employer’, and I never hear from them again; or, they stop dead in their tracks and end the phone call immediately.”

“Meanwhile,” laments Chaderton, “a perfectly qualified programmer risks losing all marketability.

Cheryl Demas, telecommuting expert and author of It’s a Jungle Out There and a Zoo In Here (Warner Books, 2003), suggests that while the concept of telecommuting has taken off with job seekers and some media, it isn’t necessarily a big hit yet with employers. Even if they’ve been educated about the benefits telecommuting can have for their companies, they’re still nervous, especially with new employees.

“I think that a lot of the resistance to telecommuting, from an employer’s perspective, is that they aren’t comfortable with not having control and not being able to monitor their employees,” surmises Demas. When counseling job seekers who visit her web site WAHM, Demas offers this suggestion: “Try to start with something project-based. Some examples might be: designing brochures, technical writing, logo design, or web design. This way, you are being paid based on the total project, not hourly. An employer is less likely to be uncomfortable since he or she doesn’t have to try to account for your every move.”

In spite of the hesitation many employers still have with allowing new employees to telecommute, there are some professions that seem to offer higher chances of this work arrangement than others. If you’re thinking of working from home, here are some of the more flexible occupations or fields. Hopefully, you will fit into one of them.

Sales - High-end sales often require account executives to be in the field a lot. Why rent office space for people who are never there? Take for example the lucrative field of pharmaceutical sales. Representatives work from their homes and cars, only popping in for occasional training sessions or meetings. It makes sense to have them work out of their homes and simply check in once in a while. (If you‘re interested in pharmaceutical sales job familiarization, and learning ways to enter this industry, PharmRepSelect, by Lisa Alexander, is a highly recommended best seller outlining how to interview for success and how to get in to this industry.)

Writing - Novelists have obviously always worked when and where they wanted. However, lately newspapers and educational companies are beginning to recognize that their reporters and technical writers might perform better in a quiet, unrushed environment, such as their homes.

Web Design - Perhaps no other person is more “connected” to the Internet than a web designer. Do these folks really need to have someone monitoring them at every moment? Fortunately, more companies are realizing that an office environment can be stifling for such a creative person. This would also apply to other creative people, such as graphic artists, illustrators, and photographers. (MomentumNetwork.com is an example of a place that seeks new virtual or telecommuting designers and even programmers.)

Coding and Transcription - (Medical, not legal) As I go about my research for telecommuter-friendly companies I am amazed at the number of coding and transcription companies that allow new employees to work from home. (Many even offer benefits!) This is possible mainly because of special software employees can download which allows them easy access to information necessary to do their jobs. Another reason for this is that many employers themselves are operating virtually: they, too, work from their homes, directing their crews through e-mail and other online methods. Why not! (Please note that I said “new employees“, NOT “new transcriptionists”. People usually need at least two years of previous onsite transcription experience somewhere before anyone will hire them to work from home. Do not be fooled by transcription “schools” that promise employment immediately after completion of their programs.)

IT-Technical - There are variations of IT jobs, some offering more possbilities for telecommuting than others. (We learned this already from talking with Barbara Chaderton.) However, many companies now operate completely online, and their staff, such as help desk technicians, programmers, or analysts, work strictly from their homes, too. (Net Temps is a wonderful place to find project based IT jobs.)

Telecommunications - Jobs such as telemarketing and customer service are quickly gaining momentum in the telecommuting arena. This is due, in large part, because of special software such as VoIP that allow employers to monitor workers’ performance as well as keep track of the length of time they spend on calls. In fact, “virtual agents”, as these workers are often called, are usually paid for the amount of time they are online, rather than by the hour. (The TeleXpertise Network is a good example of a company that uses this type of set up.)

After reading about some of the most telecommuting-friendly fields, you might be wondering why I didn’t mention medical billing, typing, craft assembly, envelope stuffing, e-mail processing and some other positions that seem to be so widely advertised. Here’s why: These “jobs” are scams. These companies spend unknown amounts of dollars advertising easy-sounding jobs, only to take money from people seeking work. Please do not, under any circumstances, try to apply to one of these advertised positions hoping that just maybe it will be legitimate.

If you don’t believe me, ask any established medical billing company and they would tell you that home-based medical billing is rare. Furthermore, to start out as a new, self-employed medical biller is almost impossible, so don’t even bother with those frequently advertised Medical Billing programs, either. People who have been bitten by any one of these job scams will tell you: Unless it’s a local high school hiring people to help them stuff envelopes, there are no legitimate envelope-stuffing jobs. And, unless some new entrepreneur in your town wants to open up a craft shop and needs help putting her crafts together, there are no legitimate craft-assembly companies.

Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to recognize scams until it’s too late. Especially when a company seems to be offering you the job you’ve been waiting for: Something nice and easy, lucrative, and that can be done at home. However, I can almost promise you that if you send in your resume to any one of these types of companies you will receive a request to:

It’s one thing to pay for career assistance, a resume makeover, or other job search assistance. But, as Cheryl Demas is known to repeat over and over again:

“Don’t pay an employer for a job, no matter what they say the fee is for. Legitimate employers pay you, not the other way around.”

So, what does all of this tell us about the chances of telecommuting for a new employee? It says that things are getting better every day. They really are! Companies increasingly are allowing new employees to start out with them as telecommuters. And, as more companies move into the virtual “sphere” themselves, it means no one has to put in “face time”. Not you or them.

- Pamela La Gioia

Telework Recruiting, Inc.

Pamela La Gioia is Founder and Administrator of Telework Recruiting, Inc. (www.teleworkrecruiting.com), a premier job-lead web site that provides thousands of telecommuting job leads and resources for the US, Canada, and the UK. She is currently writing a workbook on telecommuting, which offers step-by-step guidance on finding real home-based employment. Questions or comments are welcome and can be sent to Pamela at pam@teleworkrecruiting.com

© 2004, Pamela La Gioia