<Image by Ted Percival http://www.flickr.com/photos/tedpercival/3115404982/>
I read Barry Schwartz's The Paradox of Choice recently (after Erik Duval recommended it). The title kind of tells you all you need to know, but his basic argument is that, contrary to what we might think, greater choice isn't always a good thing. As we get more and more choice, we become either paralysed by the possibility of making the wrong choice, or we revert to standard, old practice, ignoring the choice we have.
This came to mind recently when both selecting people for a job interview and talking to someone else who was trying to shortlist. The 'problem' is that in times of financial hardship you get a lot of applicants for every job. In order then to shortlist and also to meet regulations on fair selection, you need to apply a score to the job criteria. With so many applicants, you are effectively looking for reasons to reject, not to include. For example if you have 100 applicants for a post, you can only interview 6 maybe in a day. That's a 94% rejection rate you need to get to in order to progress.
So, what happens is that you reject people who don't get a perfect score on every criteria. This may mean you get an excellent candidate. But compare what would happen if you only had 20 applicants, say. There you might reject half of them as not having the right skills, but the remaining 10 you would whittle down by looking for who was possible to include. This means you may include people who look interesting, for example, but who haven't quite got the appropriate experience or not exactly the right skills.
The danger of the paradox of choice in job selection is that it essentially narrows your field. You inevitably end of selecting people who are like existing members of staff, because they will most readily meet the criteria. In the long term this may be harmful to the diversity within an organisation. You don't even get to interview people who might be interesting, and offer some alternative views. It might also be harmful for a society going through an economic crisis, because people find it difficult to switch between careers as their experience will not be as readily matched to the criteria.
I know that people can make a case for equivalent experience, but the combination of dealing with an excess of applicants, fair selection criteria and the paradox of choice, almost inevitably leads to the end result of employers getting a narrower range of candidates, not a wider one.
I'm not sure anything can be done about this, I'm not blaming anyone, rather highlighting how this combination of effects may conspire against the long term goals of an organisation.