does a person’s pet choice tell you about their potential talent?

February 26, 2015

Want to sniff out the best candidates? New research suggests novel way to pick the best of the litter - pet ownership preference indicates personality traits.

Are you “hounded” by bad hiring decisions? Has filling your roles with suitable talent been a “cat”astrophe” at your organization Is your hiring managers’ inability to consistently identify high-potential workers a pet peeve of yours? Maybe the next time you assess candidate quality, start by finding out what kind of animals they own.

Why is this important? A study recently published by researchers at UC Berkeley and California State University, East Bay in the US examined the personality traits and nurturing styles of people who identified as a “cat person,” a “dog person,” “both,” or “neither.” What they found may help you better understand whether a potential candidate has the personality fit for a particular role.

Now if you think this is further evidence of academia budgets gone astray, it’s not. The science behind pet ownership as a predictor of personalities is solid, and this isn’t the first time researchers attempted to collar the subject matter. In fact, a 2010 study at the University of Texas came to the same conclusion about people’s behavior based on the type of pet they owned.

assessing candidates strengths based on their pet choice
So what did these researchers discover, and how can it help you to better understand the personality types of candidates? According to the Berkley researchers, more than 1,000 participants were asked to identify their pet preference. Of those, 38% saw themselves as “dog people” while half as many (19%) said they were “cat people.” The largest respondent group (39%) said they were both “cat and dog people,” while just 3% said they were neither.

In examining the personality traits of cat or dog owners, the researcher concluded that cat owners tend to be more:
creative
adventurous
anxious

Dog owners, on the other hand, were found to be more:
extroverted
secure
resistant to adventure

What’s telling about the research is that it is the first U.S. study to incorporate the principles of human attachment theory – which assesses the bond between parents and children or between romantic partners — with pet owners’ personality types. While it didn’t specifically correlate the results to worker performance, some of the findings could be indicators of such. For instance, survey participants who were most neurotic were also found to provide the best care for their pets. So could such personalities also be an indicator of a worker’s attentiveness to detail and initiative to follow up on projects? Or could it also suggest a neurosis that may irritate coworkers and hamper team-building?

The researchers also examined how pet attachment translated into neediness. Survey respondent who scored high on anxious attachment tended to need more reassurance from the objects of their affection – typically younger people who identified themselves as “cat people.”

The Berkley study reinforced 2010 findings published by University of Texas Professor Sam Gosling, who heads up the school’s Human and Animal Personality Lab. A specialist in animals and psychology, Gosling has published other studies including one that concluded dog personality traits that could be a predictor of work performance. “Just as we find some human personality traits make a person a good manager, accountant or doctor,” Gosling said on the school’s website, “some dog personalities are better suited for working than others, and for performing specific tasks.”

So there you have it – another dimension in candidate assessment. Maybe the next time you conduct a job interview, the best question might not be about experience or education but whether the candidate prefers the soothing sounds of purring or the enthusiasm of barking.

Now if we only knew what to make of those aquarists!

Click here for more information on the Berkley research. 

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