To pay or not to pay?

For the longest time we've been conditioned to ignore telephone pole and supermarket bulletin-board postings that offer lucrative work at home opportunities. Such scams are easy to weed out; unlike real jobs, they always offer great pay for no work and ask for money up front to give you the details.

The scammers have made it difficult for legitimate telework job boards to gain a foothold. So to distance themselves as much as possible, the first wave of telework-specific job sites generate revenue not from prospective employees, but from the employers looking to hire. While the model does protect workers from scams, it's failed to prod employers to offer telework jobs publicly, so their effect on the telework world has been minimal. Sure, telework jobs in big and small companies are out there, but until now it's been difficult, if not impossible, to negotiate for one up front. Smart prospects often don't even mention the idea of working from home until the firm's made an offer.

Despite the bad reputation of work-at-home offerings, a new job site called CareersFromHome is trying to jump-start the telework-specific job site market by charging prospective employees, not employers, for access to telework job leads. Launched in January, the site's reception has been mixed. Employers love it; 800-plus have signed up so far. It's the job hunters, often confused and skittish about paying anything, who've been reluctant to join.

The site is the brainchild of Denise and Tony Gauthier Jr. ; he is a former Web marketing exec, she, a former human resources professional, based in Atlanta. In 2001, Denise decided to work from home to spend more time with the couple's three school-aged kids, so she began selling memberships to a list of telework jobs she hand-culled from Internet job boards. When demand for the service became too great, and the e-mail method became too cumbersome, the Gauthiers built the CareersFromHome site.

Much of the site is automated. Job candidates use the resum‚ builder to format their resum‚s to work with the site's optional search service, and employers post their jobs directly to the site. While the site is well-designed and professional, Denise says they spend a lot of time and energy convincing prospective candidates it's OK to pay for services.

"We're also often battling unrealistic expectations," Denise says. "We're educating job seekers to what telecommuting really is - nothing like the work at home signs you see along the freeway. Even so, we get complaints because people expect to find a job right away."

No matter, the Gauthiers are doing a lot of things right. Recently, MediaMetrix found that CareersFromHome.com jumped from 17th to seventh of the most visited job-related sites.

The service costs US$9.95 per month or $45 per year, far from exorbitant. For no cost, employers can post a job description and receive resum‚s. For a fee of $100 per month or $800 per year, employers can search the resum‚s posted on the site.

Kistner is the managing editor of the Net.Worker section. She can be reached at tkistner@nww.com.

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