by Dr. Nicole Gravagna, PhD, interviewIA VP, Behavioral Design

Memories are untrustworthy. We tend to remember some things and completely forget about other things. When we interview candidates in a hiring process, our imperfect memories of the interview itself are a dangerous source of recall bias.

Recall Bias is a specific type of error in measurement that stems from relying on human memory to accurately recall information. Researchers, and other people who gather information for a living, are trained to be careful not to allow recall bias to undermine their data. It’s important to control for recall bias, because it is a prominent source of error, and it is one of the easiest biases to manage through technique alone.

This is the first in a series of articles exploring the most common biases that impact hiring interviews.

Ask yourself, how many interviewers are usually involved in your interview process? How many days or weeks go by between the interview and the final decision? What critical information was lost along the way?

“If it’s important, I’ll remember it.”

We do tend to remember things that are important to us, according to neuroscientist Fernando Nottebohm, Ph.D., who spent his career understanding how the brain retains information. We tend to remember things that fall into two categories: repetition and importance (https://www.jstor.org/stable/2891700). We remember something longer when we hear it many times and we remember something when it matters to us.

In an interview, you are working to judge whether the candidate is the right person for the job. That’s often a broad and unclear task. Although we interview people regularly throughout our careers, few of us fully respect the difficulty of the undertaking. To interview fairly, we must be able to accurately judge the capabilities of a stranger in just an hour or so of discussion.

That’s a hard thing to do!

When interviews are unstructured, it leaves you at risk of remembering only whether or not you liked the candidate. Other critical details are lost.

Because all humans are subject to recall bias, we are likely to forget the details of an interview almost immediately. Short term memory lasts only about 20 seconds, not minutes (https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/short-term-memory). So if we wait until the interview is over to make notes about the meeting, we’ve already lost critical information.

When we reflect on an interview that we conducted hours or days prior, we tend to recall two types of information: information that we’ve heard repeated many times and information that is important to us.

Some candidates are more likely to be forgotten than others.

The candidates who have a standard career history and common skills will be more memorable to interviewers. The interviewer’s mental review of candidates who have familiar names, education history, or past roles will be stronger memories. This happens because, from the interviewer’s perspective, the information associated with those people is familiar. A stronger memory forms around those candidates because of your own exposure to unrelated repetitions of similar types of information.

It’s easy to assume a candidate made a stronger impression because they were a better candidate, but their ability to stick in your mind is potentially unrelated to their ability to do the job.

Recall bias puts a memorability burden on candidates who have unusual names, unusual experience histories, or unfamiliar educational paths. When it’s time for interviewers to share their thoughts about candidates to make a decision about hiring, they will more easily overlook candidates who bear that memorability burden.

We don’t forget candidates because they are unfit candidates, we forget certain candidates because we all suffer from recall bias.

 

A two-pronged solution to combat recall bias

To prevent recall bias in your hiring process, you’ll want to focus on two things:

  1. Make sure interviewers know exactly what they are looking for in a candidate. When interviewers are primed with a list of specific qualities, skills, experience, or abilities that are desirable, those qualities are valued as important and are therefore more memorable (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5624811/).
  2. Make sure interviewers are documenting their interviews as they go, not after the interview is over. You have less than a minute to hold new information in your short-term memory before you have to write it down or risk introducing error through recall bias

The interviewIA Hiring Methodology starts with a focus on creating clear role criteria for the Job Description & Alignment to make sure that all hiring managers and HR staff are primed to know exactly what candidate qualities to listen for in the interview. Our Scalable Structure & Consistency allows for all interviewers to document their interviews during the interview so that no information is lost to recall bias.

The hiring process is rarely as fair, unbiased, or intentional as we want it to be. Human nature is a complex web of biases that are incredibly difficult to account and correct for. To prevent bias from undermining your interviews, you can create a hiring process that corrects for the specific biases that can change outcomes in hiring. Contact us to learn more about how interviewIA’s interview platform can empower you to trust your hiring process.