NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Each year, the news offers conflicting reports about the economy: It’s bad. It’s picking up. It’s crashing over the fiscal cliff. But for qualified salespeople, prospects are without a doubt looking in the mortgage industry, as well as looking very different.

Tim Padavic can explain. As vice president of business development for Providential Bancorp, where he’s in charge of sales and marketing, he knows a thing or two about getting hired in the mortgage industry — and about change, as his path to working in the mortgage business was anything but traditional. He worked his way up from founding an apparel company while still in college, stopping midway to transform a tanning salon franchise.

His message to aspiring loan officers is that in the digital age, location is no longer important. Salespeople can work from home. What companies such as Providential do put a high premium on is worker productivity and loan volume.

Providential was established in 1999 and like its rivals, suffered the pain of the real estate downturn starting in 2007. But the company survived the “great shakeout,” Padavic says, and came out of it with an innovative strategy for hiring in an industry not known for innovation.

“Management focused our efforts on a new business model,” Padavic says. “We’ve made amazing improvements in recruiting and operations through innovations in technology.”

The company's breakthrough: connecting its loan officers to customers only online. “Since most people shop for mortgages online anyway, this new approach is consistent with customers’ expectations,” Padavic says.

Since the best and most qualified employees may not live close to the corporate office, Providential simply hires the best and sets them up in home offices. Employees can be anywhere in any state, as long as they are licensed — although this means people aspiring to work in the mortgage business should also develop a skill set for the digital age.

Once hired, salespeople undergo training via online webinars, never coming face-to-face with management or even visiting the corporate office in Chicago.

If it sounds like an easy gig, don’t be fooled. Working as a loan officer online is hardly for slackers. Padavic describes how by using proprietary software, managers track and scrutinize all activity of each sales rep to ensure the desired level of productivity.

“Providential provides all leads and tools required for each salesperson to be successful,” Padavic says, and loan officers can do very well if they follow the sales systems and embrace the culture. As with their competitors in the mortgage industry, Providential's telecommuter salaries are commission-based, with 20% of the sales force generating 80% of the loan volume. An aggressive loan officer who puts forth the required effort and serves customers well can earn income upward of $350,000 per year, and management opportunities are available, he says.

While upselling higher interest rates used to be accepted industry practice to pad a loan officer’s income, the focus today is on satisfying a buyer’s needs and providing a more consultative approach, Padavic says. If a salesperson wants to earn more, they need to generate more revenue by increasing loan volume. Volume is the name of the game for Chicago refinance.

And Providential plans to increase loan volume based on the sheer size of the market for Chicago home loans. They say they are adding 20 salespeople each month and plan to increase that to 30 per month by the second quarter.

“We have our sights set on growth,” Padavic says. “And we offer excellent opportunities for ambitious people.”