how can i get paid to type?
March 13, 2009 11:08 AM   Subscribe

i believe myself to be quite gifted when it comes to typing. can this be parlayed into an income somehow?

i have only a GED and have never been to college. i'm twenty four and have a slightly spotty work history. i am very personable and highly intelligent however. i don't really have any marketable skills and the only jobs i've excelled at tend to be administrative. when it comes to dull office jobs, i'm a superstar, but i absolutely hate that kind of work. the only real marketable skills that i have are my advanced computer proficiency and my extremely fast and accurate typing.

when it comes to typing, people tend to be blown away -- it's kind of funny because anyone can type, and most people do it well, more or less. however, anytime someone happens to see or hear me typing, a comment almost always ensues. it seems like data entry work tends to be 'bottom of the barrel' in terms of pay and regard. but i feel like there are probably teams/departments in certain businesses who do strictly this, and while admittedly half-joking, i could probably replace several above-average typists with my skill.

my mom has always suggested that i go to school to be a court reporter, but i lack motivation and follow-through with such a random idea as that, though i'm not entirely disinterested.

so i guess my question is whether or not it's possible or in any way realistic to hope for an opportunity to make decent money from typing. i am very dependable with most any sort of administrative work, even if somehow advanced, but i guess i just have a hunch that no one really pays people well to type, because in the end it's still 'just typing'. but as far as the work itself goes, i've got to be about as good as it gets.

i had a job once that required entering orders of athletic jerseys into a database prior to shipping them, and after a few weeks of being hired (this was in a warehouse that paid shit and had no interest in retaining employees - i made $5.50), i had developed this sort of rythm with the software we used and i would just fly through every order. it was funny to even me, as i would just kind of get into 'the zone' and would be entering the information faster than i could think about it. on a few occassions, management emerged from their air-conditioned offices with a stopwatch and would just stand there and watch me work, amazed at my proficiency. there were a few others who would do the same thing as me, and i must have had ten times the output. but in the end nobody ever acknowledged this as a valuable skill. i'm sure there are other companies who would have been more perceptive, but still.

so as data entry tends to be peon work for the most part, i'm sure the turnover tends to be high. so is there any way to subvert that notion and to get real recognition for this skill?

thanks mefi!

any ideas? thanks mefi.
posted by austere to Work & Money (29 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
but i feel like there are probably teams/departments in certain businesses who do strictly this, and while admittedly half-joking, i could probably replace several above-average typists with my skill.

You are wrong.

Everyone in my office types 70wpm+. It's a function of people learning to type at an earlier age.

Plus, we have other skills to boot.

any ideas?

Stop thinking that you're superior at this thing that 80% of the workforce is good at, and develop some other skills.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:13 AM on March 13, 2009 [9 favorites]

Medical transcription sounds like it might be right up your alley. You can get paid pretty well, too.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 11:14 AM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

If I were you, I'd sign up with a temp agency. However, before you take the typing skills test, learn to consistently use your shift key.
posted by jamaro at 11:17 AM on March 13, 2009 [22 favorites]

Transcription work may be a possibility, if you can weed your way past all the "work from home" scams and find the real stuff.

(mudpuppie's point is a good one, however; what kind of WPM are you talking about? Your typing skill may look awesome compared to the average five-buck-an-hour data entry temp, but still be well below par for any halfway decent secretarial pool.)
posted by ook at 11:19 AM on March 13, 2009

I'd be fast too if I never capitalized anything...

Look, everyone types. Some better than others, but that mostly doesn't matter in an age where fixing mistakes is as simple as right-clicking and selecting the proper spelling, or using the backspace key.

In other words, accurate and fast typing, while nice, is not much more marketable than mediocre typing.

You do however know your way around a keyboard and possibly are familiar with office applications and the like. One option would be to take some classes in accounting at a local community college, get a certificate or something and then market yourself as an accountant. It can be dull work, but it's often stable.

One other thing: you're not too old to start college. Even with a GED you can get into a two-year school and come out with some sort of trade skill and certification. That will greatly enhance your job prospects. Furthermore, you can always transfer into a four year school and then the sky is the limit as far as employment and opportunity.
posted by wfrgms at 11:22 AM on March 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

If you figure the skills are transferable, you might could try to become a stenographer.
posted by box at 11:30 AM on March 13, 2009

Response by poster: it's been a couple of years since i've taken a legitimate typing test (which was indeed at a temp agency), but i want to say it was in the 130-140 wpm range without error. again, it's been a long time and that may be entirely unimpressive, or even impossibly superhuman - i really have no idea. and of course a lot of has to do with the nuances of what's being typed, and again, for me the 'rhythm' of it has a lot to do with it as well.

in retrospect i should have rephrased my question much differently, as i'm aware that this skill is a trait of my generation. what i should have clarified was that i'm just entirely unmotivated, and that it completely undermines my potential. i am an artist by nature, and am one of the countless lemmings who truly believes he's just biding his time until his big break, and so that is a part of my general disinterest. the thing is, i really have no interest in college, and so what i'm looking for is some ideas as to how i might spin one of the few standout skills that i have (again, i completely blow the usual office jobs out of the water, and i'm sure i could make decent money if i stuck it out with one company, but the boredom is such that this is very, very difficult for me).

so yes, the medical transcription thing is an idea, and i intend to look more into the court reporting thing this evening. i'm not entirely against formal training in some capacity, but i really have no interest in a degree.
posted by austere at 11:30 AM on March 13, 2009

learn to consistently use your shift key

I guess people are getting a bit snarky because of the tone of your post, OP, which is essentially: I rock at this stuff, but I have no interest in doing it. That's a very ironic and postmodern thing to say, but postmodernism went out right about the time the second print of "Generation X" hit the shelves.

i'm sure there are other companies who would have been more perceptive, but still.

I think you will not find a company that is interested in how fast you can enter data. The thing is that you were a statistical outlier, and not in any way relevant to the process of entering data. Not measurable, and not a benchmark to be used for your colleagues. Sort of a freak of nature, if you will.

There is a narcissistic undercurrent in your post, that assumes that people and entire branches of the economy are sadly overlooking your enormous talents. This may very well be the case. The thing is that most people will tend to take notice of your enormous talent if you show it off for a meaningful stretch of time (think: two to five years). There's tons of people with talent. There's a lot fewer people with talent and drive. The interesting jobs go to the latter category.

I don't want to sound negative here. I think with a strong narcissistic drive, it's a good choice to become self employed. After all, you'll be working for the most interesting person you know (yourself). The company is yours. Should you have any employees, they have to listen to you. My advice would be to use one of your talents (typing, or computers), think long and hard about what you would like to do that people will pay money for, and take it from there. And then, before anything else: go to school to get a degree in the field you'll be pursuing. You'll build a network there of professional people. You'll be taken more seriously. It will teach you stamina. Good luck.
posted by NekulturnY at 11:36 AM on March 13, 2009 [4 favorites]

Your typing is probably not as exceptional as you think it is (, and fast typing is almost certainly not as marketable a skill as you think it is.

A thought experiment: Imagine all the Mefi folks reading this. Now imagine how many of us type faster than our bosses.
posted by box at 11:41 AM on March 13, 2009

Then again, you don't leave parentheses lying around all over the place.
posted by box at 11:42 AM on March 13, 2009 [3 favorites]

I think if you want to make money off of your typing skill, you need to learn to get over your boredom. I don't mean to be snarky, and I do think it's a valuable skill, but the common denominator of office work, medical transcription, and other transcription services is skull-crushing boredom. I can imagine that court reporting might possibly be interesting from time to time, but generally speaking, if you're sitting and typing something other than what's in your head--in other words, if you're typing someone else's words--it's going to get old fast.

I wonder if you might be able to get some work by calling local universities and either offering your transcription services or asking what company they use for transcription (I'm thinking specifically of interviews conducted by academics as part of their research)--you might possibly be able to get a job directly, but if they already have a specific company they work with (they probably do) then you'll know who to call to ask for a job with less risk of work-from-home scammers.

Alternatively, could you put your accurate typing and artistic leanings together and learn web design? I think you need a middle step between "typing" and "making money" even if it's not a degree.
posted by Meg_Murry at 11:45 AM on March 13, 2009

Not to break your spirits or anything but I have a close friend who is around 160wpm who had been where you are. It's impressive but not in any way that makes business sense. For the most part, typists type fast enough. Simply typing 2 times faster than an average typist isn't going to make you earn twice the average typist earns.

And even if you can land a job with that skill, it's not going to be anything that is better than those administrative jobs you love to hate.
posted by the_dude at 11:46 AM on March 13, 2009

Best answer: I was a typesetter for a newspaper for a while. (I was fresh out of high school.) You type up all the handwritten letters that are received, retype press releases--things like that. It was a little monotonous, but reading letters to the editor, before they get polished up, was rather fun. With this, though, you not only need to capitalize, but you also need to have a solid grasp on basic to more advanced grammar.

I have to wonder, though, why you're choosing to do this. You say you're an artist "waiting for your break." As a fellow artist, I do understand that sentiment, because our world is still very much made up of rubbing elbows and all but giving blow jobs to the right folks. Since you feel either uninterested or unmotivated by much of what you've listed here, I think you should avoid pursuing these things, whether they will make you some immediate cash or not.

What art do you create? Is it something you could better market or "get out there" in a different region? If so, consider moving after saving up some cash. This question seems a bit odd, all around. Why not link us to your art, so we can maybe give you advice as to how to utilize it in your day jobs or how to get your big break?

You talk about boredom and waiting. Life would be less boring and involve less waiting if you took the bull by the horns and went after the things you want, instead of waiting around in office jobs in (possibly) a region that won't likely nurture an artistic career. Just my opinion.
posted by metalheart at 11:52 AM on March 13, 2009 [9 favorites]

Performing a menial task fast isn't going to get you a bunch of money. It is what is it.

My only suggestion would to be find a data entry position that pays on the amount of data you enter and not by the hour.
posted by wongcorgi at 11:53 AM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oftentimes, employers are looking for a combination of skills and attitudes. If you lack motivation, are generally disinterested, and hate the kind of work you are good at, then all the skills in the world still don't balance that out.
posted by Houstonian at 11:54 AM on March 13, 2009

At 24 you sound like you do not know yet the secret of work: Everyone dislikes it. Working white collar jobs is boring and soul-crushing. Even people with cool-sounding careers get bored and sick of doing the same thing every day. Your artistic tendencies might make you feel your dislike of monotony and routine is unique, but it is not. You need to stop telling yourself that. If only you hated office work, we'd be spared the dross "The Office" turned into and all those embarrassing commercials for office products riffing off the office-work-as-hell theme.

You need to change your attitude about work and posting this question is a good start. You don't need to love your job, but you've got to work. You've gotten great advice in this thread: temp, get a 2 year certification that will provide a stable career, and here's my two ideas. One, go to a community college and in the course of getting that certification, take classes that challenge your mind. At 26 you might have a different outlook about education and then it's easy to transfer to get that B.A. Two, do what the hero of Office Space did-- manual labor. It pays well enough and you avoid office work altogether.

But if all you've got is a GED, a dislike of minimum wage jobs, and a belief that a skill everyone has is going to get you a prime job right off the bat, you need more education or the experience of real hardship to get your priorities straight.
posted by vincele at 11:55 AM on March 13, 2009 [11 favorites]

I used to work as a relay operator for AT&T. Now, the pay was low and the day I quit was one of the happiest of my life, but the only skill you need to get the job is fast and accurate typing. Knock yourself out, kid.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:00 PM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding vincele. You cant dismiss the work youre actually qualified for as "peon" work. Its dismissive and shows a sense of entitlement, which isnt really the right attitude to land a job. No one likes to work but we do it. Thats really the unspoken code of maintaining a full time job. You gotta see it as survival.

You could start at the bottom somewhere and work your way up. Half my job is automating things so we dont have to do data entry anymore, so I imagine its a dying field. Newspapers are digital now too. Its not 1965 anymore.

Every artist I know has a marketable secondary skill and FT job. I dont think being an artist, musician, etc is an excuse to not do the boring thing we call work. Personally, I find happiness and fulfillment is 80% in my head and 20% environmental. Considering we're all first world citizens who have probably never fled gunfire or gone more than a day without a meal, we should be ecstatic. Funny how the default condition of the human race is misery and complaints.
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:43 PM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Transcription work sounds like your best bet. A friend of mine found some temp work transcribing recorded speech to text. She was given tapes from focus-group sessions (where one or several people try out a new product and discuss their impressions) and would either have to transcribe it directly with all the weird grammar uses, ums and stammers in place, transcribe a slightly cleaner "this is what they meant to say" version, or just condense the information and provide the gist of the conversation.

She was paid for each recording she completed. Getting through the recordings at roughly half real-time (starting and stpping a lot) she considered the money to be decent for temp work. If you can consistently type fast enough to keep up with people speaking at a normal speed, I assume you could double what my friend was earning.

I hate to say it though: basically any job gets monotonous after a while, or at least has regular tedious bits in it. I know office dones who are bored, lab workers who are bored and, yes, I know several performing artists who have got bored of gig after gig in a constant blur of venues and hotel rooms. If a job is easy and/or consistently fun then plenty of people will want to do it and the employer can afford to pay almost nothing. As an example, I'd love to be a diving instructor, but so many others are similarly keen that it's almost impossible to earn much more than a subsistence wage. You just ave to suck it up, treat a job as a challenge and enjoy being good/great at it. Remember that every tedious afternoon takes you one step closer to promotion/affording an awesome holiday/buying a new guitar.
posted by metaBugs at 12:55 PM on March 13, 2009

I was a typesetter for a newspaper for a while. You type up all the handwritten letters that are received, retype press releases--things like that.

Before you wed yourself to the career path in the answer you marked as best, I just want to point out that 90% of correspondence and press releases received by publications these days will be received electronically and will not need to be retyped.
posted by mudpuppie at 1:39 PM on March 13, 2009

Court Reporters actually have pretty intresting jobs, I mean, they type the stuff that gets said in courtrooms. Murder cases, kidnappings, assaults, all kinds of crazy stuff. You get to see humanity at its worst and transcribe it.

However, your typing skills won't be much use because court reporters use chorded keyboards, where you press multiple keys at once, allowing you type at a far higher rate. You'd need to be able to type two hundred and twenty five words per minute in order to be a court reporter. The record is 375 words per minute, according to Wikipedia.

The last time I took an online typing test I got 80 words per minute after a couple runs over the same text and ignoring capitalization and some punctuation.
posted by delmoi at 2:14 PM on March 13, 2009

Medical transcription? Well, I guess. If you're living in India and know someone who can get you in to one of the companies that does it. Otherwise you're competing for an extremely limited pool of jobs domestically, and your competition not only has good typing speeds but upwards of decades of familiarity with medical terminology, records handling, and processes. When the hospitals laid off all their transcription staff to outsource the work overseas, the number of jobs available per qualified applicant plummeted.

My mother is a transcriptionist with decades of experience and knowledge of medical terminology and procedures that enables her to more easily comprehend, spell, and transcribe the increasingly poor quality of dictation. She has an actual education. She's been clocked over 200WPM at WAY more than double your age, and is so bad-ass at the job she's been ask to cover for an entire shift of transcriptionists. Guess what? After she and her entire department of records transcriptionists were laid off and outsourced, the only jobs out there are either the work-at-home scams that pay less than she made in 1970 doing the job or in India.

Yeah, about taking your unskilled, untrained, raw talent self and trying to do medical transcription? In this economy? When there is a glut of actual qualified people to do the skilled work? I think maybe you should reconsider your day job options.
posted by majick at 3:16 PM on March 13, 2009

Plenty of people still don't type well or fast. Universities are a good place to post fliers offering to do word processing. Some faculty still write articles on paper, and need them transcribed.
posted by theora55 at 3:21 PM on March 13, 2009

Until you find a permanent job (or even once you do), lots of people work on Amazon's Mechanical Turk doing some of the transcription / repetitive computer activities that you mentioned. You won't be raking it in, but from what I've read a lot of people use it to make some extra cash on the side in their spare time. There's definitely a market for transcription on the turk.
posted by sub-culture at 3:39 PM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

You typing speed will have temp agencies getting you gigs all the time, but at the same time, they're not going to be your biggest fans. I type almost as fast as you. I can't tell you how many times the temp agency sent me on what they said was a 2-3 week gig that I would finish in four days. The clients loved me, but the fact that I finished the job so quickly just meant the temp agency made less money on the gig. They kept me busy, but there were times when they had to send me on shit assignments because they didn't have anything else open.

Now, getting hired on at a company through a temp assignment might be a way to go. The clients will notice if you can do twice the work of a normal person and might offer you a job. Negotiate with them. If you can get twice as much done as a normal employee, get them to pay you 1.5 times as much. They're getting the productivity of two employees for the price of 1.5. But at the end of the day, you're still doing data entry. I never did this, so I don't know how realistic it is.

Typing, by itself, isn't going to get you a great job, unless you're willing to learn how to be a court reporter or some such thing. I can't agree with the folks that are saying, "Everybody can type, it's no big deal," either. I'm a web developer, so I'm in front of the computer all day. Being a fast typist didn't get me the job. Once I got the job though, it made me a rock star. I can just plain get things done a lot faster than any normal typist could. I'm only an OK developer, but my productivity has made me, in the words of my boss, the employee that would be the last person standing if they ever had to lay off everybody else in the department. It's led to 20% raises in a single year, awards worth several thousand dollars and leeway that nobody else is allowed (I get in at 11:30 every day, for example). Typing didn't get me the job, but it's allowed me to excel at my job. They've realized that it'll take at least a person and a half to replace me when I leave. So you'd need to learn some other skill that your typing will complement and allow you to excel.

Related to that, learn every keyboard shortcut known to man. Every time you stop typing to move your hand over to the mouse, move the mouse, click on something, move your hand back and then start typing again, it's a waste of time. A couple seconds might not seem like much, but compared to the fraction of a second it takes you to hit Tab-Tab-Space, it adds up fast. Learn macros. Spend $80 on QuicKeys. Any time you find yourself doing something more than a few times, record a macro to do it for you. Instead of typing a database query 8 times a day, you hit a single keystroke and the computer inserts it for you instantaneously, puts the cursor where you need it and you can keep on typing without losing a beat.

Whoa. Tangent. I'll stop now.
posted by hootch at 6:12 PM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine used to transcribe lectures at the local university for hearing impaired students. She would sit next to the student in the class and transcribe the lecture on a laptop while the student would read off of another laptop. It paid very well $50+ per hour. But she would only work a couple of hours every day. The university trained her on the use of the equipment and she did not have a college degree.
posted by calumet43 at 6:20 PM on March 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

Before you wed yourself to the career path in the answer you marked as best, I just want to point out that 90% of correspondence and press releases received by publications these days will be received electronically and will not need to be retyped.

I'm 22. I was doing the typesetting at the newspaper a few years ago (2006), before moving to Australia. While I am sure things have changed drastically, at least where I worked, the typesetting dealt with a lot of editing. Most press releases, and a lot of the letters to the editor, digital or not, are filled with senseless junk, emotive language, misspellings and grammatical errors. So, while you might not be a typesetter as much as I was, in the sense of retyping printed documents, there will most likely be a job dealing with touching up things like this. Editors will oversee what you do in it, but they don't have the time to go through and do the little things you'd do to these (mostly silly filler!) documents. So, the job name and description have probably changed a bit, but a job's still there, I reckon. Managing the posting and organizing of the articles to the newspaper's website is a job, too.

I think people on mefi probably assume far too much when it comes to electronic communication. People still send letters to businesses a lot (Formality dies hard, perhaps?), even though it's less likely each year. Most of us here probably aren't like the "average" computer user or letter writer. I haven't written a letter in, like, two+ years, but I assure you the 50+ age group has and anyone trying to make a certain impression probably has. But yes, you can likely expect to have a more semi-editing job than a strictly typesetting one.

I'm hoping you chose my answer as a best one, though, because of what I said about your career as an artist. Either way, good luck.
posted by metalheart at 10:00 PM on March 13, 2009

Unless you decide that maybe this isn't what you want to do, look into transcription of interviews at universities - specifically target disciplines that do interviews (e.g. sociology, counseling, psych?). It's very true that a lot of transcription work is getting outsourced, but the qualitative social scientists I know are very anal about all the "um", "ah" and assorted nuances that your average non-native English speaker would butcher. And on top of that, a lot of university folks don't have the transcription volume to build and maintain an overseas connection (but they most certainly will ask the person in the next office who they use). I can't remember what the going price per hour of tape is, but it's piecework - more output means more pay, unlike in an hourly wage situation.

Whatever you do, you're going to have to cobble together a few different sources - but damn, I would have paid a lot of my precious grad student dollars to have my interviews quickly and accurately transcribed.
posted by McBearclaw at 10:09 PM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Just a slight heads up, the highest typing score I've ever gotten was 120wpm. I temped my way through the first part of grad school, typing for lawyers, accountants, FAs, doctors... you name it. Through that work I was able to develop enough of a portfolio of skills to be able to get work as a high level PA, a job I now do to work my way through the rest of grad school.

I started my PhD in 2007. I now have carpal tunnel syndrome in both hands, and tennis elbow in both elbows. I can no longer type for any kind of income... (my typing speed is now more like 50wpm, and I can type without my voice recognition software for about 5 mins) so maybe developing some secondary skills is not the worst of ideas.
posted by Augenblick at 6:26 AM on March 14, 2009

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