In general, a candidate search is not quite like walking down a grocery aisle. Finding a qualified executive is a bit harder than picking out your breakfast cereal. But particularly in a period of high unemployment, many head hunters are bound to find themselves overwhelmed with potential choices - not unlike looking at that wall of brightly-colored boxes.
Information overload has been an issue in the U.S. for decades, but it jumped into the national consciousness in 2004 with a book from psychologist Barry Schwartz, "The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less." Schwartz's point was that shopping has become a source of unnecessary stress, as people struggle to deal with the enormous number of choices they have to make.
The situation is a bit different in recruiting of course. Generally shoppers are looking for conveniences, so the added stress really doesn't help anything. But a candidate search is meant to find the best person for a position, and if it takes a bit of stress on the head hunter's part, that's really just part of the job.
But take a step back and consider what Schwartz's book really means: adding more options increases the difficulty of making a decision, whether it improves the ultimate choice or not.
Psychologist Susan Weinschenk points out that people are naturally inclined to look for more possibilities as well. We see having choices as a plus on itself, so we tend to search out more options than we really need or can realistically handle.
She points to study in which people were much more likely to purchase jam after a tasting when they were limited to only six options instead of 24. There are a few ways to take this, but it seems plausible that people are better able to make comparisons between limited options. Weinschenk notes limitations on human memory, suggesting it might be best to limit choices to only three or four options.
And NPR points to related research about dating showing that the more choices people have, the more likely they are to choose attractive people. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it suggests people with too many options might be inclined to rely on more superficial qualities.
There usually aren't as many qualified candidates for demanding positions as there are brands of bread or cereal. But with people flocking back to the workforce as the situation in the U.S. improves, be careful not to let yourself get drawn into considering too many options.