Recency Bias

A quote which is an example of recency bias.

Screening, post-screening

What is recency bias?

Recency bias is a cognitive bias that causes a person to remember the most recent events, activities or people, among others, more clearly than the preceding ones. This bias can influence judgement and decision-making, because we overemphasise the importance of recent experiences or information. Closely related and the opposite of recency bias is primacy bias, which is the tendency to remember the first piece of information better than the information in the middle. 

“It commonly appears in employee evaluations, as a distortion in favour of recently completed activities or recollections, and can be reinforced or offset by the Halo effect.”

Bogdan Manta - Neuroscience for Business Expert & Founder of The Essential Experts

Bogdan Manta - Neuroscience for Business Expert and Founder of The Essential Experts

Examples of recency bias

Recency bias can occur in all aspects of everyday life. Some examples are:

  • When asked to list all the meals you had this week, it is much easier to recall the meals from yesterday compared to what you ate in the beginning of this week.
  • Rather than evaluating the employees’ overall top performance over the past half year during the bi-annual performance review, the manager mostly focuses on the big mistake from last week and some underperformance from the past month. The top-performing employee does not receive a promotion, even though the under-performance of the past month could have been due to personal reasons and are thereby not an indicator for future performance. 

Examples of recency bias in recruitment

Application phase

The hiring manager is reviewing 50 CVs of candidates that applied. The candidates that the hiring manager reviewed lastly are more likely to be invited for an interview, because your brain’s short-term memory remembers the last few much better than the first few candidates. 

Interview phase

The candidate shows up on time for the interview and answers the first few questions really strong, but towards the last few questions the candidate does not answer to the requirements of the hiring manager. The last, more negative, moments of the interview will be remembered due to recency bias in combination with a potential horns effect

Selection phase

The hiring manager needs to make a decision and offer one of the 4 interviewed candidates the job. Two candidates were interviewed last week and two candidates were interviewed this week. Due to recency bias, the hiring manager tends to favour the candidates that were interviewed last because they are easier to remember, even though they might not be the best qualified for the job. 

How can recency bias be prevented?

Awareness about recency bias

Prevention of biases always starts with awareness about certain biases in the hiring process. If you are not aware of your biases, it will be incredibly difficult to prevent them from happening. Organise a training for your hiring team to discuss the different biases that can creep into your hiring process and educate them on how to eliminate biases, such as recency bias. 

Standardized criteria and evaluation 

Establish standardized criteria and evaluation forms to minimize interpretation, ensuring that every candidate is objectively assessed in the same manner. Make sure that the different criteria are specific and linked to the role that you are hiring for. Another tip to overcome recency bias is to continuously score a candidate through a step-by-step method during the interview instead of at the end of the day, because it is very difficult to memorise the entire interview after a long day. 

Randomize reviewing candidates

When reviewing the interviews it can be helpful to randomize the process, by reviewing the same section for all candidates before moving on to the next one, instead of reviewing candidate-by-candidate. 

You can even decide to randomise the order of the candidates per section that you review, for example: 

  • With the review of question 1, you start with candidate 1 and continue with the rest [ 2, 3, 4 … 10 etc.]
  • With the review of question 2, you can start with candidate 8 and continue with the rest [9, 10, 1, 2 etc.]

How do you avoid recency bias in an interview?

Take notes during the interview

Let all people present take notes during the interview and compare them right after among each other, to make it as objectively as possible. This way, you can look back at it later on when you are going to make a decision. 

Record interviews

Another solution could be to record the interview with the permission of the candidate. This might not always be possible and is more time-consuming than the other suggestions to overcome recency bias. It allows you to watch back the interviews of people that were first to recollect your memories of them and avoid offering the job to one of the last candidates just because you remember them more vividly, also known as recency bias. 

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