Is Too Much Information – Just Too Much?

Newsweek in its March 7, 2011 cover story Brain Freeze discusses the overwhelming problem that society is now experiencing –  information overload and thus the question we pose in a job search:  Is Too Much Information – Just Too Much?

” In a 2004 study, Sheena Iyengar of Columbia University and collegues found that the more information people confronted about a 401(k) plan, the more participation fell:  from 75 percent to 70 percent as the number of choices rose from two to 11 and to 61 percent when there were 59 optioons.  People felt overwhelmed and opted out.  Those who participated chose lower-return options – worse options.  Similarily, when people are given information about 50 rather than 10 options in an on-line store, they choose lower quality options.”

When it comes to a resume or even the number of candidates presenting their qualifications; is too much information detrimental to the cause?  Most experts believe that you best not inundate the recruiter with an enormous amount of background material.  The standard length of a resume for an executive position should be no longer than 2-3 pages.  When it comes to an educational position it is very acceptable to provide the 75 page vita with every article and presentation you have ever given but I would anticipate that if you provided such detail for any other position that you would not get past the first stage in a selection process.

The acceptable resume is in bullet form and is one that whets the recruiters appetite for a potential interview.  Anything in lengthy paragraphs or excessive descriptors can certainly turn a recruiter away.  A resume is not a diary of your life but rather a well written and abridged promotion document that can move you to the next stage of the selection process.

The real creative element of the package to a recruiter is the Cover Letter.  A Cover Letter is your opportunity to display your writting ability while also molding your skills specifically for the job at hand.  Do not overload the interaction with your life story but rather provide just enough to excite and interest the recruiter to investigate the resume and ultimately schedule an interview.

But what is too much information?  “If we manage to make a decision despite info-deluge, it often comes back to haunt us.  The more information we try to assimilate, the more we tend to regret the many forgone options.  In a 2006 study, Iyengard and collegues analyzed job searches by college students.  The more sources and kinds of information (about a company, an industry, a city, pay, benefits, corporate culture) they collected, the less satisfied they were with their decision.”

I would also contend that there comes a point, that a candidate must be concerned that he/she is providing too much information and might even be over-loading the interviewer with too much background material.  You certainly want to be revealing but be aware of the non-verbal cues in an interview when enough is enough.  Never cut off an interviewers question because you want to provide information.  Leave enough dead-time between the question and the answer so that no one will ever say that you are stepping on the questioner’s toes.

“A key reason for information’s diminishing or even negative returns is the limited capacity of the brain’s working memory.”   Quantity when it comes to information or even candidates does not alway equate to quality.

As an individual who has done his fair share of interviewing job candidates over the years,  it becomes very befuddling to remember the positive or negative attributes of a particular candidate after talking with more than five or six.  It behooves the candidate to find a way to stand out.  I am not advocating fireworks or weird behavior but it is imperative for successful candidates to impress upon the interviewer(s) that he/she is something extraordinary and that you should be so lucky to choose me for this position.  You do need to find something different and that difference must be unique to you and something that you can be comfortable with.

The bottomline is that you need not overload the process with too much information but you do need to impress with what you share.  A memorable or humerous anecdote about your career is appropriate and encouraged, but do try it out first with family and friends because your humor might not be as appreciated by others as you may believe to be the case. 

Another way to get attention is mentioning your favorite author, actor, mentor or hero; discuss why and impress that this individual has left a significant mark on your career and life for the following reasons.  That way you might be remembered as the individual that lived a life like Gandhi or Abraham Lincoln or Steve Jobs.  I would recommend to stay away from controversial subjects and heros because you never know what the interviewer politically or religiously believes.  Charlie Sheen is probably not safe right now to discuss.

Columbia Professor Sheena Iyengar in the 2010 book The Art of Choosing completes her thought on the matter by stating:   “In a world of limitless information, regret over the decisions we make become more common.  We chafe at the fact that identifying the best feels impossible.  Even if you made an objective better choice, you tend to be less satisfied with it.”

In the competitive world of job seeking you must position yourself with every positive means available to you.  Be aware of information overkill and do make sure that the cream does rise to the top by making yourself someone they cannot forget or want to eliminate from the process.


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