Diversity & Inclusion, Recruiting

How Retrospective Bias Impacts Recruitment

When a position opens up, the goal of any hiring team is always to find the best candidate available to fill the role. However, when biases find their way into the hiring process this can prove to make the practice even more challenging. These biases are opinions, feelings, or inclinations that interviewers make about candidates when deciding whether they are fit for the job.

recall bias recruiting

One such bias is the retrospective bias, otherwise known as recall bias.

Retrospective bias occurs in recruiting when a certain trait of the candidate makes an interviewer remember another person from their memory who had a similar attribute and then link the two positively or negatively. This happens despite the interviewer being presented with facts such as tests or performance scores that say otherwise.

For instance, suppose the interviewer had an encounter with an employee from a certain ethnicity who was extremely difficult to deal with. Now, in front of him is a candidate from the same ethnicity, reminding the interviewer of the ex-colleague. The interviewer is now unfairly linking the two and making a decision based on the association formed in the mind.

You End Up with Bad Hires

For an organization to move forward and succeed, having a team that is composed of individuals who are the right fit for their roles and the company culture is paramount. However, rarely will you get the right people in your team if retrospective bias influences decision making during the recruitment process. Interviewer’s partiality for certain candidates who remind them of other individuals who they liked in the past can lead to passing over skilled and talented individuals, ultimately ending up with wrong hires in your team. 

The right people are motivated and engaged to give their best at work, improving team morale and collaborating to deliver top results. With the right addition to a team, you can enjoy improved productivity, business growth, and an overall improved bottom line. For those managing a global workforce, hiring the right people can also play a key role in improving your international human resource management and developing a bias-free global recruitment strategy should be a good place to start.

It Inhibits Diversity in Hiring

Embracing diversity in your organization benefits your business in more ways than one. In an era where people are pushing for diversity in backgrounds, skills, and experiences, having a diverse team enhances your reputation and brings different perspectives to bring to the table. This ultimately enhances innovation and creativity in the workplace.

However, your efforts to build a diverse team can be hampered by the presence of retrospective bias in the hiring process. This can happen if an interviewer passes over individuals from a certain country, gender, age, or race because of a bad experience they had with people in those categories.

Denies Equal Opportunity for All Candidates

Organizations should always be striving to provide equal opportunities to all candidates to access gainful employment. However, retrospective bias denies candidates with certain traits or who belong to certain groups a chance to compete equally with the rest of the candidates. This might lead to individuals in minority groups being left out of jobs even when they have the required skills and experience to perform in the position.

Using an applicant tracking system in your hiring can greatly help give every candidate an equal opportunity. This is possible through a standardized online assessment on skills, personality, and other tests that help standardize the interviewing process. Such a platform uses AI algorithms to predict the best candidate match based on pre-set criteria, eliminating any human influence from the search and hiding any information that does not affect the job requirements. 

Eliminating candidate data such as age, gender, name, and ethnicity from the initial screening phase of the hiring and solely focusing on skills and accomplishments of applicants should lead to a more objective overall candidate selection.

Turnover Rates and the Employee Experience

As said earlier, retrospective bias can also lead to hiring the wrong people for the job and missing out on the optimal candidate. After investing so much in training and onboarding, to then realize that a selection was not the right fit can be a costly discovery that sets an organization back in both time and financial resources.

Besides increasing your hiring costs, the challenge of bias can also impact the overall employee experience to certain groups of people when giving feedback. Employees can choose to leave the company to other organizations where there is potential for growth.

Just as retrospective bias affects external hiring, it can equally impact internal hiring and mentorship programs. Sponsors provide mentees with professional advice to help them progress in the organization. However, retrospective bias can influence the mentees that they choose to work with. In addition, it can affect the selection of people who have been recommended for promotion to higher positions in the company.


Any kind of bias is hard to eliminate as it is ingrained in the brain and most of the time it happens without realizing it. Whether conscious or unconscious, bias can badly hurt your recruitment strategy, making it harder to hire right the first time, leads to high employee turnover, and can inhibit diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Beck Rana is a Guest Contributor for HR Daily Advisor.

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