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TO BECOME A MYSTERY SHOPPER, AVOID EXPLOITATION

Dear Joyce: I heard you wrote about mystery shopping as a part-time job. Can you tell me where to break into the field?

-- R.T.S.

Dear R.T.S.: How to get a mystery shopping job is an eternal question to this space and has been since I wrote about it three years ago. That column must be all over the Internet or handed out with discount grocery coupons.

Mystery shoppers are anonymous secret shoppers who do evaluations of customer service, operations, employee integrity, merchandising and product quality. For example, as a mystery shopper, you might check out a store, make predetermined purchases and report back on how well you were treated as a customer.

Pay ranges from a good meal to $10 an hour to hundreds of dollars for an assignment, depending upon the complexity and the knowledge needed to do a competent job. Although a few standouts report earning thousands of dollars a month, they are the exceptions that prove the rule: Almost no mystery shoppers make a living solely from the work. Visualize earning part-time extra money or paid-for meals, products and services.

These sleuthing jobs have an enormous appeal to people who want to work from home, work a couple of hours per job and accept or turn down a job on short notice.

Unfortunately, the job lends itself to exploitation by dozens -- some researchers say hundreds -- of Web sites hustling you for a fee -- typically $30-- to teach you how to become a mystery shopper and e-mail you job opportunities. Most are worthless -- stocked with outdated mystery shopping resources with dead links, for example.

As for the scammers' money-back guarantees, I am reminded of the TV commercial in which a magician reaches into a magic hat and withdraws his hand with a rabbit that has chomped down on his fingers and refuses to let go as the magician shrieks in pain and runs offstage.

So how do you find mystery shopper gigs? The basic answer is to register for free with leading mystery shopping companies, says Steve Pearce, who is the director of business development with National Shopping Service.

Pearce writes the lead article, "How to Become a Mystery Shopper" in an excellent round-up of mystery shopping information by About.com job searching guide, Alison Doyle. The address is jobsearch.about.com/od/mysteryshopper/a/ mysteryshopper.htm.

Another don't-miss Web site is operated by the Mystery Shopping Providers Association, mysteryshop.org; click on Shoppers/Certification. The association offers certification both online ($15) and in day-long workshops ($115) available periodically in various cities.

A recommended book: Cathy Stucker's "The Mystery Shopper's Manual, 6th Edition," available through online bookstores.

A new career field

Dear Joyce: After working in the mortgage banking industry for over 10 years, I'm ready for a change. I'm currently attending school for my bachelor's degree in operations and supply chain management. I am very interested in an entry-level position if one should present itself. But what do I do about my resume where my mortgage experience overrides my objective and my past experience in other industries?

-- S.N.
Dear S.N.: The resume is the easy part: switch to a functional format. A functional resume focuses on what you can do, not where you have done it. Displaying portable skills or functional areas, you list previous employment and dates at the end of the document. For samples, type in "functional resumes" on your Internet browser.

The hard part is morphing into your new career field. This includes internships, job shadowing, professional organizations and referrals from your professors, former clients and friends.

Send career questions to Joyce Lain Kennedy at jlk@sunfeatures.com; use "Reader Question" for subject line. Or mail her at Box 368, Cardiff, CA 92007.

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