advice/perspective on jobs, work and management

I don’t want another corporate desk job

I’m in my early 60’s and in need of a regular paycheck. I’m not interested in returning to the corporate world, however, or even a desk job. I’m in decent physical shape for my age – in fact, both for health reasons and as a personal preference I’m looking for work that requires sustained physical exertion. Nothing too strenuous, though (like a cinder-monkey), or too dangerous. I’ve toyed with the idea of being a dockworker, restaurant dishwasher and room service waiter. Is this realistic, or at my age will no one even consider me for these professions? – Name withheld

Cinder monkey?

You haven’t been job-hunting in a while, have you? (For those unfamiliar, a ‘cinder monkey’ is someone who shovels coal into a blast furnace, or a locomotive’s engine. Yes – trains used to run on coal.)

In In Transition (1991) Mary Lindley Burton and Richard A. Wedemeyer have plenty of advice for those who, like yourself, are looking to make a mid- to late-career change. Making the most of your network, updating your resume, interviewing tips and strategies; it’s all there.

Part II of their text is devoted almost entirely to self-assessment, however. The mature job-seeker is encouraged to first figure out what they’d actually like to do going forward, as well as where their professional strengths and weaknesses lie. Chapter titles in this section include: The Self-Exploration Process (Chap 3), Styles, Values, and Motivations (Chap 5), Skills (Chap 6), and To See Ourselves as Others See Us (Chap 9). The point, of course, is to identify work you’ll not only excel at, but also enjoy.

I, however, am going to suggest a slightly different approach.

Based on the jobs you’re considering, it appears you don’t care much what you do. As long as it offers a steady paycheck and doesn’t give you bedsores, it seems you’ll be happy. With this in mind, my advice is to focus on the one aspect of your future job most books like In Transition either gloss over, or outright ignore.

Your manager.

As you’re probably well aware, no single factor will impact your work experience more than the person you’ll be reporting to. What you do, how much you’re paid, your schedule, and how you’re treated more generally. All of this will largely depend on your manager-to-be.

That’s even more true in your case because the jobs you’re considering—‘unskilled’ entry-level frontline work—can be especially demanding. Sure – the hours can be long, the working conditions uncomfortable, and the pace of work unrelenting. But what often makes these jobs even more difficult is the treatment you can expect to receive from your manager and management. Unrealistic performance and availability expectations, little accommodation for personal requests—even the occasional verbal berating—and no patience for anyone who attempts to advocate for themselves. Trust me, I’ve worked with restaurant dishwashers before. This is often the day-to-day reality for those who languish on the lowest rung of the organizational ladder.

So first and foremost, look for a good manager Or better yet, someone you know personally, have worked with before, or perhaps even consider a friend. This will give you the best chance of being treated like an actual human being, as opposed to just another cog in the machine.

It’ll also increase the likelihood of your being hired in the first place.

As you correctly anticipate, getting employers to take you seriously may be a challenge in itself. No one’s going to doubt you can do the work. But given your age, experience and professionalism, most employers will assume you have plenty of other, more ‘pleasant’ options to chose from, making it unlikely you’ll put up with what they’re about to dish out any longer than you absolutely have to. This one won’t last two weeks, they’re going to think – and I won’t argue they’re wrong.

Someone you know, on the other hand, will take you at your word, and give your candidacy the consideration it deserves.

To their credit, the authors of In Transition do in fact acknowledge the manager question. But their tone is cautionary. ‘Avoid the common trap of looking for an ideal boss,’ they advise.[1]

I’m suggesting you to do just the opposite – or at least try. Not only will this increase the likelihood of your being hired, it’ll improve your chances of sticking around once you are.

And that’s going to be true whether you end up unloading shipping containers on an wind-blown dock in February, or delivering eggs Benedict to fussy hotel patrons at 3 AM.

Best of luck, and let me know how things turn out…



[1] Burton, Mary Lindley and Richard A. Wedemeyer. In Transition. 1991 (New York: HarperBusiness), p. 89.


  1. jjr2023

    This is great advice!

  2. Manny P

    So glad I stumbled across this article while searching for info to share with my Gramps. He’s a former cinder-hog (just kidding – he was the head of HR at a mid-size company in my hometown. He retired about 5 years ago but is finding with some health problems Nana has, that he needs a little more income than what’s coming in from retirement funds.

    So he’s taken to trying odd jobs – he loves calling them “gigs, like it’s something so novel and strange to say. (hahahah) Anyway, it’s great that he’s open to trying new things but the work’s irregular. I do think he’d be happier and enjoy life more if he and my grandma had a PREDICTABLE income stream. I’m going to show him this article but I just have a feeling he’s gonna scoff at it (even tho it’s very practical, sound advice). He’s not a big fan of authority and is getting more dug into that as he gets older. But you never know. I’ll let you know how it goes – definitely worth a shot.

    Btw, I poked around into some other articles. Really appreciate you providing references / sources (books, etc) to delve in more deeply into your topic of the day. Good stuff pertinent to me too. So thank you Sir

  3. sunburst Strat

    Where the whole “manager really matters” thing strikes me, is that in these generic interviews it feels like you have to sell your soul to convince hiring managers that you are worthy. When what should REALLY happen is managers should bend over backwards to prove to a potential new employee how THEY will be a great fit for YOU. Will things change in that regard you think??


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