College grads: Your first job doesn’t have to be in an office

May 6, 2015, 3:05 PM UTC
Family lifestyle
Photograph by Nick David — Getty Images

Dear Annie: Please settle an argument. I’m graduating from college in a few weeks and have been dragging my feet about accepting a job offer — I’ve had three — because I dread the thought of being stuck in a cubicle. What I’d really like is a job that I could do from home, or even from the road if I’m traveling. Friends, however, tell me that companies where you can work from a remote location, or more than one, always require that you do some time in an office first. Is that true? — Footloose

Dear Footloose: You’ll be happy to hear that your friends are a bit behind the times. It’s true that, until recently, telecommuting was a privilege extended almost exclusively to people who had proven themselves in an office setting first, and maybe worked from home on a trial basis for a while until they demonstrated that they weren’t spending the day watching MacGyver reruns.

A few employers still approach telecommuting that way, but more and more, work is becoming untethered from the office, partly thanks to technology and partly because of Millennials like you.

“A new batch of college graduates is entering the workforce, and they’re demanding work flexibility,” says Sara Sutton Fell. She is CEO of, which lists flexible and telecommuting jobs. Fell says the number of these job postings went up 26% last year alone. FlexJobs’ database now has a database of about 30,000 companies, including positions at IBM, Apple, Amazon, Salesforce, American Express, and Aetna.

To give you an idea of the kinds of work you can do from home without doing time in an office first, here’s a current sampling:

  • Teacher. Virtual teaching positions are proliferating as more private and public schools go online. Requirements are similar to those for classroom teaching jobs: A bachelor’s degree, state certification, and at least six months of student-teaching experience.
  • Sales consultant. Here you’d be assigned to win new customers, and provide some service and support to existing ones, in a given region. Strong communication skills, problem-solving ability, and a willingness to travel required.
  • Product associate. Sometimes called product managers, these folks conduct field research for sales and marketing departments and work with external vendors. Most openings require strong research and communications skills.
  • Background investigator. You’d be working with clients to research, interview, and screen people for national security clearance. A bachelor’s degree (in any field) is a requirement, along with good communication skills.
  • Translator. Jobs are always plentiful for people who are fluent in two or more languages and have an academic background in fields like science, engineering or health care. The role requires the ability to translate specialized technical jargon.
  • Technical editor. Publishing companies and other businesses need people with backgrounds in software, engineering, and robotics to proofread and edit product manuals and other kinds of technical materials.
  • Gaming support representative. Open to college grads who are also experienced gamers, these jobs require you to provide technical support and troubleshooting to fellow gamers.

Here’s another thought: Since you mention you’ve already received three job offers, have you talked with any of those employers about your reluctance to be “stuck in a cubicle,” as you put it? Most companies (84%) now allow or even encourage telecommuting for “some or select” employees, according to the latest survey on flextime and telecommuting from the Society for Human Resource Management.

Even better, almost as big a majority (70%) say they’re fine with telecommuting “on a regular basis” for any employee who can make the arrangement work. So, assuming you’re interested in one or more of the positions you’ve been offered, why not see if you can negotiate to work remotely? The deal might call for an agreed-upon period of getting your feet wet in an office first, but even so, it’s worth a try.

Talkback: Does your company encourage telecommuting? If you’ve ever done it, how did it work out for you? Leave a comment below.

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