I recently came across an interesting essay that described the Too Many Needles problem of information overload.  It immediately made me think of the different sources of job posts and the challenges job hunters and employers face.  It also gave me some ideas on how to ease the stress of job hunting.

What is the Too Many Needles Problem?

The problem, according to Oliver Burkeman, does not lie with imperfect filters in our technology.  The problem shows up when our filters succeed.  They bring back too much information.  We consider the stack of books, the list of blog posts, podcast favorites, RSS feeds, and social media as buckets.  

They are not buckets. It’s more like a haystack of needles.  We have too many needles, according to Burkeman.

But we all have buckets of information carefully curated to overflowing. So Burkeman suggests treating all these information sources as a river, not a bucket.  Our filters become too efficient at constantly filling these buckets.  So he suggests skimming what you’ve caught in your bucket and not worrying about the rest.  Dump it out.  Let it flow past.  It will be full again tomorrow.

I find this a relieving way to think about information flow without overload.

How Does This Problem Show Up For Job Hunters?

There are so many job boards and ways to filter. This problem of Too Many Needles definitely shows up for job hunters.  As you skim several job boards, how many times have the highly-touted filters brought back irrelevant jobs?  How many times have you found the same job posted on several job boards?  How many times have you seen a job posted that you feel is a fit, but you observe that applicants already show up in triple digits?

The buckets of the job hunters are always overflowing.

And as a job hunter, you are not only reading and absorbing information.  You must tailor a resume and possibly a cover letter with the right buzzwords to pass the initial screening.  You then have to do assessments or potentially record video interviews.  You then have to do live interviews — possibly multiple for some positions — if you make the next cut.

The Too Many Needles problem becomes expensive for the job hunter.  With the multiple rivers of job offers floating out there, maybe you should consider being a job fisher.

How Does This Problem Show Up for Employers?

Many job fishers know about Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS).  An ATS scans resumes to match the requirements of the job.  This is why people tailor each resume for the job.  In the early days of ATS, it reduced the number of candidates and saved tremendous time for recruiters who had to review resumes manually.  I know because I’ve used several of these systems as a hiring manager.

Have recruiters solved the Too Many Needles problem with an ATS? Some would say no. A Harvard study indicated that 88 percent of the recruiters they interviewed felt simple keyword matching by an ATS was filtering out good candidates.

Will AI help recruiters? Possibly. But like all our other filtering systems, AI may produce results that are too good. Time will tell. For now, it’s best if job fishers know the recruiter's tools to find and get past these filters.

How Do You Job Hunt (or Fish) Differently?

For now, job fishers in a busy job market are at a disadvantage as they battle to get past these ATS gatekeepers.  So what can be done?

First, know what you want to catch and keep.  I’ve known many people over the years who are surprised by layoffs and immediately seek a similar position with similar benefits. Are you sure that’s what you need now?  Take time to reflect on your previous job.  What worked for you, and what didn’t?  Is there something different you want in the next job?  Depending on how much of a financial cushion you have, give yourself some time to think about your next best role.  It not only benefits you.  It benefits your future employer because you work at your best when you enjoy the job.

Second, time-box your job fishing.  Job fishing does become a job in itself.  So set aside segments of time (timebox) where you sift interesting positions that match your ideas of the next best job.  Then, spend another timebox ranking these.  Next, set another time box for replying to the postings.  Finally, set a time box to do anything else.  Take a walk, play with the dog or your kids, or go work on a favorite hobby or sport.  Do anything that gets your mind off the job and frustrations of job fishing. 

Find the good spots to job fish.  I often find people job-fishing in too many places.  Find out from friends where there may be new opportunities — job boards – that many may not know about yet.  I’ve maintained a curated list of remote jobs over the years because people ask me, and I hear what works and what doesn’t for others.  

But the best place to fish for jobs is your professional network.  Who can you reach out to?  Offer to buy them lunch or a beverage to discuss your capabilities and if they know of positions opening up soon.  These are the roles that haven’t hit the job boards yet.  You are tapping into the river of information before others find it.

Some of you may be thinking, what about AI for the job fisher?  That’s for next time.

Hope this helps,


You can listen to a 9min 32sec recording of the Too Many Needles problem or read about it on Oliver Burkman’s blog.


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