Flexible Jobs: How to Find Success - Not Scams

Mid adult woman sitting on floor, leaning on sofa, talking on, using laptop, side view

We are no longer a nation where "work" means going to an employer's site, putting in your 40 hours over a five-day period, returning home and not worrying about your job at night or on weekends. You might not realize it, but the nature of how and where people work has dramatically changed.

Despite Marissa Mayer's decree ending telecommuting for Yahoo's workforce, nationally, 67 percent of employers allow some of their employees to work from home on an occasional basis. That's up from 50 percent back in 2008, according to the 2014 National Study of Employers, conducted by the Families and Work Institute.

Flexible work can be anything different than the "normal" 40 hours at your desk. It might mean working some or all of your hours remotely, compressing a work week, working part-time or doing contract work or other freelancing.

"One of the things, from a philosophical standpoint, that drives me crazy about the market is that the general perception is that these types of arrangements are really fringe," says Sara Fell, CEO of Flexjobs, pointing out that these arrangements are clearly not fringe at all.

The same study states that, among other benefits, "employees in more effective and flexible workplaces are more likely than other employees to have greater engagement in their jobs, higher levels of job satisfaction, stronger intentions to remain with their employers and better mental health."

Today, flex workers typically range from age 25 to post-retirees and have a 60-to-40 female-to-male ratio. More and more often, they include management or professional roles.

Flexjobs itself, for example, is an entirely virtual company with employees scattered throughout different parts of the United States. Although the site is subscription based, Fell boasts that it currently has more than 21,000 jobs posted, all of which are vetted to make certain that they real positions for legitimate employers.

The top categories of flex positions include medical and health, sales, administrative and customer service. Job seekers most commonly search for positions in writing, editing, data entry, computer services, website development and marketing.

Still, this is a part of the job market that is fraught with dangerous scams that rob unsuspecting individuals of their identities, money or both. These scams take many forms, with online ads for jobs being just the tip of an iceberg.

Fell offers a few red flags to avoid when searching for a flexible position:

  • Some scammers do a great job of mimicking a legitimate employer's website and reaching out by email to potential scam victims. The only way to tell is to look carefully at the URLs of company websites and email address of anyone contacting you. A legitimate site might be "companyname.com," but the mimicked site might be something like "companyname.inc.com."

  • You might be asked to conduct an interview via Skype or instant messaging, and things could seem very legitimate. Then you are told you're hired, along with something like: "We are going to sent you a laptop to use, but we need to install $XXX dollars of proprietary software to make your work effective. Send me that amount of money, and you'll likely make it back in your first paycheck." It is much more likely, however, that you'll say goodbye forever to your money, spend countless months cleaning up your destroyed credit rating and reclaiming your identity and never see the laptop or a job.

  • Never search for online jobs using the keywords "work at home" or "work from home," as these are what Fell calls "scam bait." Instead, use keywords such as "flexible hours" and "telecommute."

There can be great advantages of nontraditional working arrangements, like saved expenses on wardrobe, commuting and parking. Often you can make your own hours and can be more readily available to attend to the needs of a child or elderly parent.

Keep in mind that to work from home effectively, you need a place where you can focus and be undisturbed. You also need the self-motivation to put in the necessary hours. Fell counsels potential flex workers: "Be honest with yourself about what kind of flexibility you want and why. Be skeptical, and make sure only to go to websites you have reason to trust."

Sometimes a great flex job is neither at an employer's site or your home. Fell tells the story of a woman who had retired but decided later that she wanted to have a part-time telecommuting job. She and her husband bought an RV and are now touring all over the U.S., taking her job wherever she goes.

Depending on your individual circumstances, it may well be worthwhile to investigate alternative employment situations. Just keep your eyes and ears open, and avoid the red flags you will likely encounter along the way.

Happy hunting!

Arnie Fertig, MPA, is passionate about helping his Jobhuntercoach clients advance their careers by transforming frantic "I'll apply to anything" searches into focused hunts for "great fit" opportunities. He brings to each client the extensive knowledge he gained when working in HR staffing and managing his boutique recruiting firm.