Candidate skill-set? Better yet, ask about their pet.

We can see what the resume says. But who is this person really? Is he or she a dog or cat person? Are they more like their German Shephard or their Tabby?

Don’t scoff. For all you extremely talented recruiters out their schooled in the latest behavioral role playing or SWOT-style interviewing techniques, are you really delving into this candidate’s hidden psyche from a fresh angle?

According to University of Texas at Austin research psychologist, Sam Gosling, people who might define themselves as a “dog person” or “cat person” reveal much about their true nature. In Gosling’s 44-point assessment based on his study of 4,565 volunteers, the results were significant:

  • Dog people were about 15% more extroverted, 13% more agreeable and 11% more conscientious
  • Cat people tended to be 12% more neurotic, but 11% more open than their canine counterparts

The pattern in Gosling’s findings seems to correlate vigorously with dog psychology pioneer Stanley Coren. In a survey of 6,149 respondents cited in his book Why We Love The Dogs We Do, Coren’s statistics uncover:

                         Cat owners

  • 1/3 more likely to live alone and twice as likely to be living in an apartment
  • Exclusively cat owners tend to be relatively introverted/low on extroversion (confirmed by Gosling’s data)
  • Those same “cat only” owners are relatively low in dominance

                         Dog owners

  • More likely than cat owners to be married, living in a house and having children
  • Higher on a scale of dominance, which includes qualities such as forceful, assertive, persistent, self-assured and self-confident

Also from Coren’s study, cat owners were deemed “more trusting,” which includes the traits of “obliging, modest, straightforward and good sports.” Coren points out, by contrast, “people low on this dimension can be more suspicious and manipulative.”

In defense of what might seem like some bias against cat owners, a British poll revealed that 47% of cat owner-homes had a person with a college degree compared to 38% of dog homes. And the majority of those same dog owners were likely to live more routine lives compared to their more “open-minded, creative and variety-seeking” cat counterparts.

Depending on the role in your organization you’re trying to fill, you can see how having some of this information at your disposal can add a welcome pro or con to your list of reasons for hiring an individual. But, perhaps the still nagging question might be, can we put a finer point on anything along this already interesting avenue of exploration?

Let’s turn to the work of dog authorities Vicki Croke and Sarah Wilson. In their book, Dogology: What Your Relationship with Your Dog Reveals about You, Croke and Wilson were able to identify some specific personality traits by knowing the dog owner’s particular choice of breed.

Here are some of their results:

  • Retriever or Spaniel – family-focused, fun-loving and social, easygoing, active, positive perspective, favoring an open door policy
  • Pointer or Setter – passionate and determined, energetic and motivated, lover of luxury, rugged
  • Scent Hound – determined and focused, intense (even relentless), funny, food lover
  • Sight Hound – relaxed and introverted, quiet, lover of friends and small groups, organized
  • Terrier – fun-loving and funny, determined and focused, energetic, talkative and versatile, rough-and-tumble

On the subject of breed choice, professor Coren noted: “There was a spike in the popularity of Portuguese Water Dogs after the Obamas adopted one as a pet. You’re always going to have people who just pick dogs because they’re following a fad – that probably says something about their personality, too.”

Not to be left out of the debate, renowned “dog whisperer,” Caesar Milan, adds his own observation on the subject of dog breed and their potential owners: “The kind of dog people are drawn to is indicative of what’s missing in their life.” Milan further postulates that “Owning a bigger dog could signify a lack of protection or certain masculinity” in the owner’s lifestyle and mood.

While I had no intention of slighting other pet owners — from goldfish to iguanas — from this discussion, I surmise that even the most voluminous stack of studies will not deliver us to absolute conclusiveness. However, what this data points to is while we may continue to practice our tried-and-true habits of asking candidates the questions that might reveal their public personality (up to and including Myers-Briggs psychometrics), we must pause to ask ourselves:

  • Are we vigorously challenging the value of what we’re asking candidates each time out?
  • Are we tasking ourselves at every opportunity to break our routine and probe to find out more of what we need to know about each individual?
  • Are there ways to gain a wider spectrum of knowledge and understanding?
  • Can we make more enlightened decisions about the person who wishes to find their place in our organizational dynamic?
  • And will this broader view help us increase the odds of not only importing a better “fit,” but also adding a quality contributor to our well-defined culture?

I feel at least unearthing some of the doggone (or catgone) truths are steps in the right direction.

Views: 556

Comment by Emer O'Callaghan on December 18, 2011 at 10:13pm

What about those who have both dogs and cats (like myself)?  People in apartments probably choose cats as they are easier to look after and more suited to apartment living.  I think this might be as reliable as reading the horoscopes - I am always wary of generalising and putting people in boxes.  I can imagine the bio on the candidate I'm sending to an employer - 'So and so has excellent skills in blah blah gained from several years experience in company xyz plus he loves his German Shepherd.  Hmmm.....  Forgive my scepticism on this particular point.  However you do make some very valid points about gaining a broader knowledge of the candidate and culture 'fit'.  I often find I learn more about the candidate from the ongoing, general interactions during the recruitment process than from the actual interview where people tend to be more on their guard (the public personality).  Old fashioned relationship building!


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