Recruiting Talent is Like Choosing Jam
This is an odd and ludicrous statement. However, there is some truth to it. This article, and the comparison is more about behaviors that impact HOW we make choices more than WHAT or WHOM we are choosing.
When observing how 502 shoppers make decisions to purchase exotic jams in a study conducted by Sheena Iyengar of Columbia University and Mark R Lepper of Stanford University, they observed that shoppers were 50% more likely to stop by an extensive display of 24 different flavors of jam (60% of shoppers) vs. a more limited display of 6 different jam flavors (40% of shoppers). This was in a store that carries about 300 different varieties of jam.
If you like videos, watch the first 4 ½ minutes of this one below to see how this study was conducted.
So from this one part of the study, we can conclude that having more choices was more appealing to the shoppers passing by than it was for shoppers having more limited choices. In my experience, this has often been the case in working with hundreds of hiring managers over 12 years in recruitment. Hiring managers are often more impressed with recruiters that can quickly produce a large number of qualified and interested candidates for them to review, especially on a crucial, hard-to-fill requisition.
One may also conclude that those who chose to stop by the display with the extensive 24 choices ultimately purchased jam more often than the ones who encountered the display with only 6 choices. However, the results were surprising.
Is the initial attractiveness of extensive choice reflected in subsequent purchasing behavior?
“Our findings suggest not,” says the study. It found that only 3% of the shoppers who visited the extensive display actually purchased jam after sampling one or two different jams, while 30% of the shoppers who visited the limited display purchased after sampling one or two different jams. Essentially, a customer who encountered the limited display was 10 times more likely to purchase jam than the shoppers who visited the more extensive display. (By the way, the numbers were similar across gender.)
This situation is oddly similar to our experience with hiring managers. Many hiring managers initially desire being able to choose from an extensive pool of candidates before making a hiring decision. This delays, and sometimes overcomplicates, the decision. Many times, even after a manager has found the candidate they are most interested in, they still feel compelled to “keep the requisition open” in the event a more appealing candidate comes along. Meanwhile, they stall in making a decision which at best sends a negative message to a candidate and at worst may result in the candidate accepting someone else’s offer.
"So, in selecting jam, as well as in selecting talent, too many choices often delay or inhibit decision-making--and ultimately the hire."
How many is “too many” in recruitment?
We have found that for clients where we fall into the double-digits in terms of presenting qualified candidates, the chances of the hiring manager making a timely hiring decision goes down exponentially just as it did with the exotic jam study.
Another article by George A. Miller of Princeton University points to the reason why.
“Absolute” judgment can usually be performed perfectly on up to five to six items.
Additionally, the memory span of young adults effectively processes seven items. In other words, we can easily comprehend a one dimensional difference between five and six items and can remember roughly the same amount. However, the ability to differentiate and remember significantly is reduced in numbers higher than seven. In a recruiting environment, then, it stands to reason why it would become increasingly difficult to differentiate between more than six or seven candidates, and also remember what those differences are. So essentially the process becomes more like throwing darts blindfolded by presenting in excess of 7 candidates to the hiring manager.
So how can this be applied to recruitment?
The main conclusion is that a recruiter will initially enjoy more interest, as well as engagement, from hiring managers when they quickly produce a number of qualified and interested candidates. However, presenting a hiring manager with a large number of qualified and interested candidates (typically more than seven per posting) will make the process unnecessarily complex, delay the selection decision and ultimately lower the satisfaction level of the hiring manager. I will state the reasons behind this in my next article based on another study involving chocolates! (Stay tuned.)
If the recruiter is able to develop a process of sourcing and vetting that keeps the amount of qualified and interested candidates presented to less than seven candidates, it will yield the best possible results as it relates to decision-making.
I often hear in the industry that three is the optimal number of fully vetted, qualified candidates. I have not found specific data to support that, and to me it may be a bit low. Regardless whether the optimal number of fully qualified, vetted candidates is three or six, the message here is the same--the way our human minds process choices often indicates that limiting the choices help us make the best, most efficient decisions.
Please comment below if your experience as a hiring manager, or in working with hiring managers, has been similar or different to the findings above.
Additional articles to reference on the subject of choices: