Sunday, January 14, 2007

Cat Person or Dog Person?

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?


Gina said...

I'm a cat person myself, and I suspect most employers would rather hire a cat person. Think about it -- if you were an evil manipulative corporation, would you rather have an employee who craves constant attention and adulation (the dog person) or one who will continue to provide for a creature that treats its owner like a personal servant, to be ignored or scratched at whim (the cat person)?

brenda roger said...

All I know is that I'm a dog person and my mother-in-law is a cat person. That explains everything I need to know about that interview question.

Let's keep in mind, too, that cats poop in a box in your house (ew!) and my dogs have the courtesy to go outside. hmmm.

Cat people, please don't wait for me outside and beat me up after the next meeting!

Rob said...

I'm a bird person!

lisa curry said...

Gina, I never thought of it quite that way, but I like the logic and and it makes me laugh!

Brenda, it would be just like cat people to lurk in wait for you after a meeting, but not to beat you up. That would be too doglike. Cat people would strategically maim and cripple you and then torture you for at least half an hour before they finally got bored and finished you off.

Rob, interesting point about there being other pets people can like best besides cats and dogs, but I want to know what you think being a bird person says about your personality!

My theory on what the CEO was thinking has to do with the nature of the beast. Like maybe the pet we prefer is a reflection of our own nature? Dogs are naturally social, pack animals, so dog people are team players who enjoy working in collaboration with others. Cats are by nature solitary, territorial creatures, so cat people prefer to work independently, thriving on individual, rather than group, accomplishment. Quite possibly I am way off base with this theory, but since I am both a cat and dog lover (although admittedly a little more of the latter), it would explain why I chose a solitary profession like writing but can't stand to work at home by myself and am happiest in an office environment where my writing is one element of larger, team project.

brenda roger said...

What does it say about me that I compared the places where pets can deposit excrement? Dont' answer that. Now I'm worried.

Anonymous said...

Isn't a cat owner one who likes the attention of their pet but not want the demanding responsibilities (walks, training, etc.)of a dog owner. Hmm, as an employer, maybe I'd go for the dilligent dog owner.

Rob said...

Birds are actually a diverse group. In general, cockatoos wish to be surgically attached to their owners. African greys are a bit more aloft than cats. Conures like to play and scream at ear-shattering volume. Parakeets, if hand-raised and worked with, can be devoted companions.

They're all very intelligent, and they have a concept of past, future, and "planning." Chauncey stole a screwdriver, tied it up in some rope in his cage, and then when he thought we weren't around, tried unscrewing the cage screws -- which were slotted, not Phillips like the screwdriver he stole. See, he's not that smart!

Bird owners exhibit strong personal control. If you are bitten, suddenly jerking your arm away rewards the bird and may result in injury to the bird. When Chauncey chewed a 1" by 1" by 2 ft. chunk off the mahogany dinette, we didn't kill him. What we thought doesn't count.

Parrots can get bored, which leads them to be destructive, scream, and have emotional problems. A parrot takes a lot of work to keep it from getting bored, and bird owners are willing to invest that effort.

I've owned dogs in the past. Parrots are more equals, both in their outlook and intelligence. It takes work and even some negotiation. I say "negotiation," but only rarely is it the verbal negotiation, and that only happens with exceptionally intelligent birds. With most, it's more of compromises in behavior on both parts, although mostly on the part of the human.

Larger birds are an investment of time. In comparison, dogs and cats are temporary pets. If you make a mistake, wait a decade or so and the animal will eventually die and you can move on. African greys live to be at least 60, cockatoos over a 100. Even parakeets can occasionally live to 20 years, and one of our cockatiels has a leg band from 1983.

Not all bird owners are like us. There's a problem where people buy a bird and find out what they got into and wind up abandoning the animal. Most people should stick to parakeets and cockatiels, maybe a lovebird or two, when they get an avian companion. Too many people get a bird and then abandon it. Most of our birds are "second-hand, including both Chauncey and Cirrus. We took on other people's problems and made it work out.

Tory said...

I'm a cat person, and I think that means I value autonomy and personal space. Also, undeserved adulation makes me nervous. I attribute still being single to these traits.

Brenda: cats may go in your house, but with dogs you actually have to pick up the stuff in a plastic bag. Talk about ew! And I don't like the way dogs (even clean ones) smell. My cats only smell when they have poop stuck to them, which can be remedied.