How Information Overload Changes the Career Navigation Game

In debate club, we often worked around given values that were usually not challenged. One of these was a simple on that was crucial to many debates – the more choices the better. Thus the evolution of the job-market towards a highly opaque system where we can see what our peers are doing, and what is available and what is available but not relevant to us, should have made the labor market more efficient and just plain better. While this may pass the test of cost-benefit analysis, we must also appreciate the fact that this evolution has greatly changed the labor market. Many of the tools or heuristics we use to think about the labor-market are, as a result, obsolete.

Job-seekers in previous generations knew about the labor-market mostly because of personal experiences and whatever relevant data they had from their personal world in general. Without a deluge of alternatives the individual would choose from a relatively small field of choices. Perhaps doubt would creep in, but it would not be consistently reinforced. Imagine this to be a school of fish swimming in the dark. The fish would stick with fish that they started near, via sense of feel.

Now imagine that light filled this tank of water. The fish can see one another and can look far away and see the rest of the school. Naturally the fish would, out of curiosity or maybe a tasty morsel, quickly swim over in the direction of whatever interested him. But the fish finish eating the snack! Now the fish must swim to where he started, or perhaps something else will grab his attention.

Like the metaphorical fish, the career-seeker is dissuaded at every step by oversaturation by information and doubt. These limitations are not easy to deal with because they are so internal. Here are the limitations that are caused by information overload:

  • Role Envy: Stacey sees a friend get a job as a salesman at a large bank, and causes her to downgrade her own achievements. Decides to follow the path of this friend.

  • Role Confusion: Arnesh reads a well written blog post from a credible source exhorting everyone to act as entrepreneurs at heart. Arnesh is well-trained and risk-averse with a well-paying, stable job but feels doubt. He begins to wonder if he maybe should be an entrepreneur.

  • Fear of Snatching an Opportunity: John has played Counterstrike for all of his life and loves it more than anything else. He is considering getting involved in the growing professional scene, which would give him an outlet for his communication degree. But he is afraid of taking this unconventional position: none of his other friends have done this

There are many ways in which the availability of information has improved the labor market. But whether or not there is a net benefit compared to the cost imposed by information overload, the game has changed and career support services need to adapt. Or else they will face irrelevancy, or worse, mis-prepare an entire generation of workers for the future.


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