Is ‘Choice’ More Inhibiting Than Empowering?

In a world where we’ve never had more choice, are we really better off?  We’ve written before about Barry Schwartz’s ‘The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less’. It’s one of those seminal reads that has so many applications to various business contexts, and no more so than to the dynamics of hiring.

At the heart of it, Schwartz explores the glaring paradox of living in a free society. He contends that although we have more choices than ever, we’ve never been less happy or satisfied. He uses this concept to explain a number of feelings that are typical of our current world – such as the feeling of being ‘connected’ (via technology) but less able to ‘connect’ with people (or at least experience it in the same way as we did pre-technology) and the rise of a general feeling of dissatisfaction, depression and anxiety which he sees as, in part, a result of increased choice. With more choice, people are more likely to place blame on themselves when something goes wrong or doesn’t turn out as they expected.

Schwartz makes the argument that with more choice, we are more likely to either be paralyzed (by too much choice) or disappointed (as we will always think that we didn’t make the best possible choice).

In the world of recruitment, this is a very common dynamic, experienced by both employers and employees.

The Illusion of Choice: When you decide to hire, you have a choice. Taking aside any specifics on the volume of availability in the market (easy to find or hard to find), the fact is that people are more ‘accessible’ these days due to technology. You can go onto LinkedIn and find 100s of financial accountants at a few clicks. Which makes the perception of choice much larger when it comes to hiring. 15 years ago, you may have been recruiting for a financial accountant and had 5 applications, now you’ll have 200. Similarly, when you’re looking for a role, you may only have seen 1 job listed in the paper 15 years ago, now you’ll find many online and advertised across multiple channels, recruiters and organisations.

The Paralysis of Choice: Which, as Schwartz would tell us, can lead to paralysis. Faced with high levels of choice, decisions become a lot more difficult to make, as we become fixated on either the fear of making the wrong decision, or on the lure of making the ‘perfect’ hire.

Moreover, as suggested above, the presence of choice is an illusion, not actually an indicator of a better outcome and quality decision. More, doesn’t equal less. Moreover, with so much choice, the risk is that your initial expectation of an outcome may become heightened to such a degree that only ‘perfect’ becomes the right answer. You could spend months waiting for someone better to come along in a hiring process – because you’ve seen so many options already. Or vice versa, you could spend years looking for the ‘ideal’ next move – blocking any forward momentum in both cases.

Making Choice Work for You: Time and clarity are your secret weapons when it comes to dealing with choice. If you set yourself a certain time window in which to make a decision, with clearly defined parameters of what you’re hoping to secure, you’ll be in a better place. After all, let’s face it, what else does choice really give you? More of the same?

Remember that perfect should never be your metric, as it’s not a realistic output. But meeting all of your clearly defined competencies and skills areas is, when hiring for a role. Similarly, when looking for a role, once your ‘must haves’ are met, pick the best one within your time window, otherwise you risk delaying and losing opportunities that won’t come up again.

Good luck!


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