Nevertheless, there's no shortage of people who dream of beating the odds and earning a living from home.
Durst, whose company Staffcentrix develops home-based and virtual career training programs, says people interested in work-at-home jobs primarily are:
- Parents who say they want to spend more time with their children
- Trailing military spouses who, according to Durst, by virtue of their spouse's career need to pick up and move every few years
- Retirees needing supplemental income
- People with disabilities
It's difficult to be a good parent and simultaneously work well at home, says Durst, because most jobs require blocks of uninterrupted time to accomplish tasks, and children's schedules are less than predictable. For those who do choose to walk the tightrope between paid work and parenting, consider deadline-oriented work. Durst says it's generally better for those with younger children than schedule-oriented hourly work.
Steven Rothberg, president and founder of CollegeRecruiter.com, says "an increasing minority" of entry-level workers, are attracted to these gigs. He says he believes social introverts make good candidates. "They like working with people (but) they like interacting by email and by being on the phone. They dislike working in person with a lot of others," he says, because of meetings and other "time-sucking problems" at an office.
Self-motivation, discipline, job skills and independence are key characteristics for at-home workers, says Stephanie Foster, a former medical transcriptionist who runs the website HomeWithTheKids.com.
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A growing number of employers appear to believe telecommuting is a good deal for them as well. It reduces overhead expenses, allows access to talented workers who may not be available locally, provides off-hours support and helps retain employees, says Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs.com, a website that aggregates hand-screened telecommuting/work-at-home jobs. "We've seen a real broadening of the audience of both employers and job seekers."
Consider these 10 jobs -- some rather traditional and others unexpected -- for interesting at-home work and good (if competitive) prospects.
10 good stay-at-home careers
- Virtual assistant
- Medical transcriptionist
- Web developer/designer
- Call center representative
- Tech support specialist
- Travel agent
- Franchise owner
This is a field with much potential, in part because the title description covers many things. "You can fit your offerings to what you know how to do," says Foster. One can own a virtual assistant business or work from home for a company that makes you available to other employees or clients. HomeWithTheKids.com, for example, currently features several such companies. Small businesses hire virtual assistants to help when they can't justify a permanent employee. The International Virtual Assistants Association, which Durst co-founded in the 1990s, began with 28 members and has grown to more than 600 and charges from $15 per hour to more than $100 per hour.
As Foster knows, being a medical receptionist is a demanding job, and nearly every company listed on her site seeks applicants with experience and/or training from certain schools. The work involves listening to and typing up dictation from doctors -- some of whom have difficult accents, slur words together, and even "eat, drink, chew gum (and) talk to other people in the room" while dictating, she says. But hearing about medical matters can be interesting, and good transcriptionists are in very high demand. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2010 data, the median hourly rate for transcriptionists is $15.82.