Becoming a mystery shopper

There's a lot of mystique centered around mystery shopping.

There's a lot of mystique centered around mystery shopping. For one thing, what exactly does the job entail? Does it really involve spying on people? And how does someone get a job in the industry? In fact, there's very little that's mysterious about mystery shopping, and staying informed will help you avoid scams that prey on inexperienced mystery shoppers.

Avoiding scams
The first step should be watching out for any job assignments that seem too good to be true or require money up front. A classic scam is to send someone a check and ask for a portion of the money in cash. Once the check bounces, the cash has already been sent to the scam artist, and the mystery shopper loses his or her time and money.

Finding the right work
Instead, look for companies with major bona fides to back them up. Mystery shopping businesses don't spring out of the ether. They exist as real, legitimate companies with histories and pedigrees. It's really the scam artists who appear to come from nowhere and post on shadowy message boards with vague promises of money, preying on those who don't know enough to be cautious.

So let's be perfectly clear right up front: Real mystery shopping jobs aren't much different from other contract jobs, and the opportunities are found in much the same way. Hunt a mystery shopping jobs board and be sure to apply to anything that strikes your fancy. According to Mystery Shopper's Manual, the biggest thing to consider when filling out the application is the writing sample. If the potential employer wants words about a good customer service experience, for example, be as specific and unambiguous as possible. Avoid floaty phrases like "top notch service," and say instead, "Responds to questions within a few seconds with exactly the answer I need." Mystery shopping companies don't want their contract labor to be anything less than extremely precise - more precise than you probably have ever been before when it comes to shopping.

If you really want to make a good impression on a mystery shopping company, try "mystery shopping" by yourself on a trial run. Calculate the time before someone in a store notices you, and record answers to typical questions on your phone. Do this as a prep to build your experience before applying for a real job.

Good jobs for beginning mystery shoppers
According to Mystery Shopper Magazine, you should start with easier work before moving on to harder work. Remember that a mystery shopper is kind of like a detective. In fact, mystery shopping agencies in Las Vegas are required to have private investigator licenses in order to do business. You have to remember that you need to own a watch that can very accurately record the time for you, such as a diving watch, and a phone or some other means of recording information unobtrusively. A good mystery shopper is like a good spy - he or she has a bland appearance and leaves no memory behind in the staff. At the same time, extremely accurate timing is being done, alongside very acute observations. The mystery shopper must see everything but remain relatively obscure and in the background. If this sounds like something interesting, then try it out at a relatively easy assignment, such as a casual dining restaurant.

It's easy to adhere to the guidelines companies set forward and to have all of your materials available without calling much attention to yourself. Up the ante by taking on assignments that require a backstory and extra timing points. Some companies will also want a copy of the business card or receipt you are given to prove you were there and to handle reimbursement.