If you’ve been dealing with wicked weather days lately, you might be thinking about how great it would be to work from home. Even if your weather’s been spectacular, finding a work-from-home job can be pretty appealing, too — no commute, no need to buy work clothes and the joy of flexible hours. Working from home part-time can also be a good way to bring in income when you’re retired.
But how can you find a work-from-home job — especially one that’s legit and not a scam?
The key is to take your time and research the possibilities. Fortunately, there are many surprising remote jobs — at FlexJobs, we’ve seen listings ranging from a telecommuting neurosurgeon to a remote golf instructor.
(MORE: How to Run a Business From Home)
Here are four steps to find a work-from-home job that might be right for you:
First, learn about the at-home job market. Work-from-home-jobs — also called telecommuting, remote, virtual and at-home jobs — are becoming steadily more common, according to work-from-home data we’ve turned up. Remote job listings grew 27 percent in 2014 and 83 percent of human resource professionals surveyed say telecommuting will be more prevalent in the next five years.
The most common work-from-home jobs: writer, consultant, customer service representative, account manager, teacher, tutor, case manager, adjunct faculty, interpreter, business development director, marketing manager and project manager.
The career fields with the most opportunities for remote work are medical and health, customer service, sales, administrative, education and training, computer and IT, marketing, software development, research and accounting and finance.
But if your own career field wasn’t mentioned, don’t worry. At-home jobs exist in almost every career field these days.
Next, determine your job-search goals. There are so many work-from-home options that it can be a bit overwhelming when you first start searching. That’s why it’s best to go into the process with a solid understanding of exactly what you’re looking for.
Answer these four questions to gain a better sense of your needs and wants:
1. Do you need to work part-time or full-time?
2. Do you want to continue in your career or try something new?
3. How much (per hour or per year) do you need or want to make? A general range is fine.
4. Do you have the equipment to work from home? You may need to make investments in a computer, phone, printer, speakers, webcam, microphone or high-speed Internet, depending on the type of job you want.
(MORE: 6 Steps to a Workable Home Office)
Then, research companies that offer remote jobs. When trying to pinpoint companies that are open to hiring remote workers, it’s important to look locally, nationally and even globally.
FlexJob’s recently released 100 Top Companies With Remote Jobs list showcases telecommute-friendly firms that posted the most remote job listings in 2014. It’s a good bet they’ll continue hiring remote workers this year. (The list has links to all the employers on it.)
Some of the most surprising companies (plus government agencies and nonprofits) leading the telecommuting trend are Amazon, American Express, the American Heart Association, Apple, CVS Caremark, General Electric, Hartford Financial, IBM, Teach for America, UnitedHealth Group, The U.S. Department of the Interior and The U.S. Department of Transportation.
Additionally, think about the big and small companies in your city and state. Their career pages may offer insight as to whether they hire remote workers. Look for keywords like remote, telecommute, virtual, home-based, distributed team, and geographically neutral.
Finally, customize your job applications for the best chances of working from home. Employers who permit telecommuting really value applicants with previous home-working experience. So if you’ve ever worked from home, even temporarily, note it on your resumé and in your cover letter.
In an interview and in your cover letter, discuss the qualities that would make you a fantastic remote worker: self-management skills; the ability to focus; organization and time management skills; excellent oral and written communication abilities and a basic level of technological know-how to help troubleshoot basic computer issues.
Successfully finding and landing a remote job requires laying a solid foundation for yourself, through research and self-examination. After that, it’s a matter of applying to the positions which match your criteria and showcasing your best self for employers to admire and to hire.
Sara Sutton Fell is the CEO and Founder of FlexJobs, a career website for telecommuting, flexible, freelance, and part-time jobs. She is also Founder of the 1 Million for Work Flexibility initiative and was named as a Young Global Leader (class of 2014) by the World Economic Forum for her work in technology and the employment fields.