By Lisa Curry
Job interviews always make me a little nervous, but one in particular stood out for tough questions.
The year was 1991. The position was catalog copywriter. I had no catalog experience, but I’d been underemployed – and commensurately underpaid – as a temporary data-entry clerk after leaving a perfectly good marketing job in Atlanta to move back to Pittsburgh four months earlier. This was the first writing job I’d seen in the classifieds, and I wanted it – badly.
The interviewer studied my resume. “You did very well academically in college. Would you attribute that mainly to intelligence or hard work?”
His emphasis on “mainly” ruled out a safe, wishy-washy answer like, “Both.” So, gee, which would I rather label myself – stupid or lazy?
When in doubt, tell the truth, Mother always said. I told him my freshman-year grades owed to intelligence, because I really hadn’t applied myself. (Okay, I was drunk seven nights a week.) But once I knew I wanted to be a writer and changed my major to journalism, I worked hard and earned better grades. (Limiting drunkenness to three or four nights a week.)
The tale of youthful fecklessness vanquished by maturity and purpose must have sufficed. I got a second interview.
On that visit, I was ushered into the CEO’s office.
“What’s the last book you read?” this man asked without preamble.
His wall displayed MBA and law degrees from Harvard. Not a man to be impressed by a bachelor’s from IUP, even if I did manage to graduate magna cum laude while mostly intoxicated. If I said the last book I read was a paperback romance, he’d write me off as an imbecile. I’d be subsisting on PB&J while the gap in my resume widened for the rest of my life. I started to sweat. But wait…
“Barbarians at the Gate!” I blurted like a Wheel of Fortune contestant.
My boss at the temp job – bless him – had loaned me the account of the RJR Nabisco hostile take-over. It wasn’t quite the last book I’d read, but close enough.
“Really?” The CEO looked more interested, and we discussed the book.
Just when I thought I was on solid ground, he asked, “Are you a cat person or a dog person?”
What an odd question. “Both,” I said. “I have two cats and a dog.”
“But which do you prefer?” he insisted, proving my theory that wishy-washy doesn’t cut it.
I had no clue what the right answer was. Had the man been mauled by dogs as a child? Did he despise cats? What did pets have to do with writing catalog copy on computer networking hardware, anyway?
When in doubt, tell the truth. But I wasn’t even sure what the truth was. I loved my cats. I loved my dog. I forced myself to imagine life without one or the other.
“Okay, I’m a dog person,” I said, guilty over the admission.
I got the job. I worked there seven years, until the company fell prey to its own horde of barbarians at the gate. But before that, I did ask the CEO about that question.
“There’s no right or wrong answer,” he said. “Whether you prefer cats or dogs tells me about your personality. If you don’t like animals at all, that tells me something, too.”
His tone hinted that disliking animals might be the wrong answer, but I couldn’t be certain. And he never explained exactly what feline or canine affinity told him.
I have a theory, but how about you? Are you a cat or dog person, and what, if anything, do you think that says about you?