The paradox of choice in recruitment

The paradox of choice in recruitment



The freedom of choice is a personal liberty in Western countries. The progress of our society is sure to maximize our individual freedom by maximizing our choices. When people have freedom, they have autonomy in their daily decision making and this improves the wellbeing of everyone.


The more we’re free, the greater our welfare…

A study by Mark Lipper and Sheena Iyengar shows that for a population of Anglo-Saxons, freedom of choice has an undeniable impact on performance. After splitting children aged 6 to 9 into 3 groups, they must enter a room and do the same work but using different methods:

The first group arrive in the room and are presented 5 images and 5 different colored pencils. The scientists let the children choose the image they want and pencil to draw.

For the second group, it’s the same situation, but with different instructions. The scientists decide the image and the pencil.

The third group is told that their mother has chosen for them.

The results for the same activity with different freedoms of choice were that the children in the first group were 2.5 times more efficient than the other two. No matter what was required of them, the fact that their freedom was taken made them less efficient. The more one is free, the better the choices and more welfare.


…or not!

Now take a situation that could happen to you and that having the choice has the completely opposite effect on humans. Buying jeans is a perfect example that speaks to everyone, and Barry Swartz used this in his book “The Paradox of Choice – Why more is less.” Before, in order to buy jeans you came into the shop, said your size and leave happy. There was only one model (or so), and it would not necessarily do very well, it was not very comfortable and you had to wash them several times before you feel really comfortable in them. But it was sufficient.

Today, you go in a store, you say your size and then they tell you “Do you want a slim fit, easy fit, relaxed fit? A boot-cut, a right, a carrot? With buttons or a zipper? A stretch, a dark blue or bright jeans?”…etc. You therefore stay an hour in order to try on all the jeans and probably leave with the best jeans that you have ever had which costs you dearly. All these choices have led you to do better than before and yet you feel worse than when you did not have the choice…

Why is it that when given almost limitless choices and found something better than before, you feel worse after this purchase?

The reason is simple and human/. With all these options available to you, your requirements are naturally increased. And compared to your expectations, what you have is disappointing.


Now, let’s put this in recruitment.

Before, when a company posted a job, some candidates applied and the post was filled rather quickly. It probably was not the perfect candidate who was recruited and it might be some time before they fit in the company, however, they were satisfactory. Today, when a company posts a job, it is drowning in applications and it’s a long process before finding a candidate that is potentially good, but obviously not perfect. Similarly, just like the way we consume goods, the criteria has been revised upwards as the criteria of candidates for a company.

The result: at best, the candidate will be as you expect, but you will never have a pleasant surprise from the person.

Adding more options and more expectations of the quality of each increases. Eventually, you end up less satisfied with the results, even if they are better than before. If the evolution of our society and that of – what they will be – innovations have enabled us to acquire the choice and therefore freedom, but also that it has taken us from wellbeing to almost constant dissatisfaction.

Everyone (or almost) already had this phrase in mind: “It was still better than before.” In truth, it was not better before but you had room for pleasant surprises. Today, as all good industrialized citizens, we expect perfection in everything; we must go faster and with more quality in minimum time. Necessarily, with these requirements, you will arrive at best finding a candidate but as you hope you will never be surprised if you continue to work with a recruiting method that is not adapted to the world in which we live.

Obviously no one knows how many choices are ideal to keep it positive and not become a constraint.

However, there are some tools to make it simpler for urgent and important decisions. In marketing, you have KPIs that are measurable indicators that aid in the decision on your communication actions. They allow you to anticipate your revenue, the performance of your actions, and reduce the risk of failure. In recruitment, a measurable indicator to aid decisions on the performance of your employees and future employees is predictive recruitment. It allows you to increase your ROI, the performance of your employees, and reduces turnover.

Ask any marketing expert, it might not work as effectively without KPI for the simple reason that today you have such a range of marketing activities, you may not choose the most efficient method and losing money, time, and customers.

For recruitment, it is exactly the same today, recruiters are faced with a wide choice of candidates, and if you do not use the right tools, you will lose time, money, and talent.





AssessFirst Marketing Project Manager




Christopher Hanner

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