By Harry Keaney During a job interview 36 years ago, Bernadette McManus got angry, and then she got more than even. In fact, her audacity launched her on a lifelong career as a personnel consultant.
"When I came out of school, I was looking for a job. Everybody wanted to be a secretary and I didn’t have any secretarial skills," recalled the former Bernadette O’Boyle, a native of Dooleeg, near Crossmolina, Co. Mayo.
During an interview with a placement agency in New York, she met "a condescending" interviewer who wondered what sort of a job she expected to get. "I got angry and I told him what he was doing didn’t look too difficult," she recalled. "Well, if it looks that easy, you sit here and find yourself a job," the interviewer told her.
McManus took up the challenge and, after her third call, had set up an interview for herself with Moodys Investors for a job as a financial writer. However, the placement agency was so impressed with McManus that it offered her a job too, which she accepted.
McManus eventually moved on to other employers but she remained in the personnel consulting and job-placement business. Today, she is senior vice president of the lower Manhattan-based Allen Personnel Agency, which she owns with a partner, Mike Merritt.
The Allen Agency has desks dealing with importing and exporting, insurance, financial and accounting, as well as a wholly owned subsidiary, City-Wide Temporary Services, which specializes in recruitment for temporary positions.
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"We place everyone, from administrative assistants to senior management," McManus said, adding that she herself specializes in marketing and human resources.
The agency has eight personnel consultants, also called counselors, all of whom are supervised by McManus. "I am responsible for all of the placings," she said.
The Allen Agency not only helps people find jobs, even change careers, it also assists corporations by placing employees, shortlisting candidates, conducting interviews and even providing human resource consultants to recruiting companies. Much of McManus’s own work is with Irish applicants and Irish companies.
"When I started in this business, the Irish were coming out here in droves," McManus said. "Some of those we interviewed are now supervisors and managers in their companies. About two years ago, a young man came and said, ‘You got my father a job.’ "
The biggest change McManus has seen among Irish job applicants is their education levels. "They’re coming highly educated today," she said. But, she added, Irish immigrants in the ’60s, with only a minimum of formal education, were passing tests that American high school students were often failing.
If McManus now knows as much as anyone about work, her life’s experience has also taught her plenty about life. One of a family of seven, her mother died when she was 11. One of her two brothers died when he was 7. Today, her other brother and two sisters are in the U.S.; there’s a sister in Dublin, and another sister, a nun, is based in Pakistan.
In 1952, about a year after her mother’s death, McManus, then 12, and her father came to live with an aunt and uncle in Jersey City. "My father worked here to keep the children in boarding school in Ireland and then brought them out here, one by one," she said. It was a situation not unlike what McManus would, in time, have to cope with herself.
She married in 1968 but 13 years later, her husband, Thomas, then only in his 40s, died, leaving her with four children. Her oldest, Peter, lives in New Jersey; two daughters, Deirdre and Eileen, are living in Arkansas, while another daughter, Maura, is in Houston.
"I raised those kids on my own," McManus said. "Thank God I was able to keep working."